Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Although President Nixon's goal of achieving an initial agreement at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) before the end of 1971 failed to be realized, it still appears likely that at least some limitations will be negotiated by the time that he and Premier Kosygin meet in Moscow in May. After SALT recessed in Vienna the President reported in his state of the world message on February ninth that a consensus is developing that there should be a treaty setting comprehensive limitations on anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) and an interim agreement to freeze certain offensive arms.
The primary objective of an ABM limitation is to foreclose the acquisition of missile defenses with nationwide coverage, which might raise fears about the continued viability of a mutual deterrent posture. The treaty will probably be constructed along the following lines. The number of ABM interceptor missiles will be restricted to between 100 and 300. The lower value would be more satisfactory from security, arms control and economic points of view, but even the higher value would prevent the acquisition of ABM systems which could threaten either nation's deterrent. The argument about whether to retain 100 or 300 interceptors is spurious, since neither level will provide any realistic protection. More important would be limits on the location and perhaps also the number of large, high-performance ABM radars, which are most critical for a nationwide defense because of their size, time for construction, and expense. They would be almost impossible to deploy secretly. Under a treaty, their locations would probably have to be restricted to the Moscow area for the Soviet Union and the neighborhood of Minuteman sites for the United States; otherwise fears could be generated over a possible clandestine deployment of a nationwide ABM system.
The nature of a possible agreement on offensive weapons is much less clear, and the details may even be left for further negotiation. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard, in a press conference on October 21, 1971, said that an agreement on ABMs by themselves might be acceptable if it were a useful step toward the longer-term objective of containing the offensive buildup. This would then become a high priority follow-up action to the first stage of SALT. It is more likely, however, that there will be some agreed limitation on the total numbers of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles based on land). This could be in the form of a numerical ceiling or a freeze at existing levels. From the American point of view, it would be extremely useful to include in this numerical limit a sub-ceiling on the very large Soviet 88-9 type ICBMs. The new, very large launchers, about 30 of which have been reported to be under construction in the last year, would fall within this category. Such a sub-ceiling may present certain difficulties for the Soviets unless the United States is willing to accept some similar restraint, but they may be satisfied with their present force level of slightly more than 300 operational or under construction.
The United States also is reported to be seeking a halt on Russian submarine construction even though they still lag considerably behind the United States both quantitatively and qualitatively in operational submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Since the United States is unlikely to be willing to forgo its conversion of the Polaris to the Poseidon missile, which has four times the payload and ten to 14 MIRVs (multiple warheads each capable of being aimed at a separate target), the chances of agreement in this area do not appear very promising. However, they would be somewhat improved if the Russians were allowed to complete those submarines now only in the early stages of construction, since they would then have numerical but not qualitative parity with the United States. A failure to limit submarine missiles is not serious since these are considered as primarily deterrent weapons because they are invulnerable and would be difficult to use in a coördinated and accurate first strike against the opposing deterrent. The complete destruction of the other side's strategic forces by the nearly simultaneous launchings from about 30 submarines and follow-up firings to correct for initial failures presents extraordinary operational difficulties.
It is most improbable that the first stage of SALT will place any qualitative restrictions on offensive missile systems, apart from a possible limit on the number of large SS-9 type missiles. The replacement of existing weapons by new models will be permitted and, if the experience of the Limited Test Ban Treaty is representative, will be encouraged as a safeguard against possible violations. Certainly there will be no restrictions on MIRVs. The United States will be free to continue its Poseidon submarine missile and Minuteman III ICBM deployments with MIRVs, and the Soviets to begin testing and deploying MIRVs as well.
Even with an agreement of this limited nature, SALT will have made important strides toward slowing the arms race and stabilizing the present state of mutual U.S.-U.S.S.R. deterrence. The ABM limitation by itself will guarantee a continued secure deterrent posture on both sides regardless of what type of offensive programs are allowed to continue. MIRVs can threaten only the fixed land-based force and not the mobile submarine missiles which, by themselves, are more than adequate to provide an assured retaliatory capability as long as ABMs are kept small. There are no technological advances in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) which could provide in the foreseeable future a capability of destroying almost simultaneously an entire missile submarine fleet.
However, since there will be no controls on MIRVs, in time the ICBM and bomber parts of the deterrent force may come to be considered vulnerable. While at the moment there do not appear to be any reasonable methods by which both these weapons systems can be destroyed in a surprise attack-a Russian strike against our bomber force would alert the Minuteman ICBMs, or vice versa-nevertheless, some authorities have suggested that so-called "pin-down" tactics might be used to accomplish this objective. These tactics involve the maintenance of a continuous barrage of submarine- launched warheads exploding above our Minuteman fields, not to destroy but only to prevent the launching of the ICBMs. These explosions would have to be timed to coincide with a submarine missile attack on our bombers and continue for a minimum of 30 minutes until their ICBMs could destroy our Minuteman silos. While such an attack would involve immense and extremely wasteful expenditures of weapons and require extraordinary coördination, planners using worst-case assumptions may come to take it as more than a fantasy when, and if, the force levels become very large. In sum, even though a first-stage SALT agreement would be a major milestone, many additional actions will be required to permit it to endure and expand.
If the preceding picture of the strategic situation following an initial SALT agreement is generally correct, there should be two main follow- through objectives for our unilateral defense planning and future arms- control negotiations. First, we should make every effort to assure that neither side takes any actions which could erode the mutual deterrent posture established by SALT. In fact, every effort should be made to strengthen it still further. Areas of potential concern should be narrowed or eliminated wherever possible either by unilateral decisions on weapons programs, further arms limitations, or even by exchanges of information. For example, the construction of a large space radar might be misconstrued as part of an ABM system unless this was carefully explained to the other side.
This objective, however, may not always be very easy to achieve since SALT will probably not limit the qualitative arms race in any significant way. Unless care is exercised by each side in its weapons programs, actions that might appear to the other side as threatening its deterrent could be taken in the name of protecting against possible treaty abrogation or violations. Thus, development of a new MIRV guidance system might be construed, perhaps incorrectly, as an attempt to obtain a first-strike capability. Similarly, new sophisticated radars for anti-aircraft defense might appear to be ABMs in disguise. Soviet replacement of their present ICBMs by new hardened launchers could be misinterpreted as an attempt to circumvent a ceiling on large missile launchers. President Nixon's reference, in his state of the world message of February 1971, to a hoped-for alternative to a retaliatory attack against Russian cities could also be misconstrued as an attempt to erode the deterrent posture by providing a nuclear-war fighting capability.
Since most of these troubles will result from the failure of SALT to place any restrictions on qualitative improvements, a second major objective would be to move on to arms-control measures directed at rectifying this omission. This presents many difficulties in view of scientists' innate desire always to seek technological innovation. Research and development will be justified as a possible hedge against breakthroughs or cheating by the other side. After the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, expanded programs were even demanded in order to maintain the viability of the weapons laboratories in the event the Treaty was abrogated.
Limits on qualitative improvements present particularly difficult problems in the area of verification. Many important modifications of weapons systems result in no observable changes in the characteristics of a weapons system. For example, a missile guidance system can be made more accurate by substitution of a better computer inside the missile. Furthermore, research and development in the laboratory phases are difficult to monitor and easy to conceal or screen under the guise of legitimate activities. No amount of even intrusive inspection appears practical to provide assurance that secret research and development programs are not under way. One cannot station an inspector at every research facility; even if there, he could easily be misled. Only when a weapon or a component reaches the stage of field or flight testing does it become visible and even then not always adequately verifiable. However, limitations on field tests offer a good place to start in curbing the seemingly endless desire to make technological improvements.
Under a SALT agreement as visualized above, the submarine missile systems become, even more than at the present time, the primary component of the deterrent force. Therefore, every effort should be made by both unilateral decisions and multilateral arms-control actions to maintain and, where necessary, strengthen it. As long as ABMs are severely limited, the only threat to this weapons system can come from anti-submarine warfare. At the present time there is no technology which can in the foreseeable future place in jeopardy simultaneously a submarine force of 30 to 40 vessels, even if they did not employ countermeasures. However, in time, with concentrated effort, new developments might give rise to fears on this score, and efforts should be made to foreclose such an eventuality. Therefore, restrictions on anti-submarine warfare capabilities should be sought in much the same way they have been sought on ABMs. To date, very little attention has been paid to this area of arms control.
By comparison with ABMs, however, controls on anti-submarine warfare will be very much more difficult to achieve. In the first place, extensive, albeit strategically ineffective, anti-submarine systems are already available to both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as many other countries, and secondly, anti-submarine defenses have tactical as well as strategic military applications. For example, they are a key element in the protection of surface shipping, both naval and merchant, in a protracted warfare situation such as in World War II or even in more limited conflicts as might occur in the Mediterranean. Despite these drawbacks, there are a number of arms-control measures which can guarantee still further the indefinite viability of the submarine missile deterrent force. Fortunately, any antisubmarine warfare system, if it were to have dangerous capabilities, would have to be very extensive, would take a long time to build and would be obvious to all concerned. A clandestine anti- submarine warfare program to negate the Polaris deterrent would be impossible.
One control measure would be a limitation on the number of so-called hunter- killer submarines, i.e. submarines designed to follow and destroy other submarines. A large number of such ships would be needed in order to have a reliable capability to eliminate almost simultaneously 30 or more missile submarines. The continuous tracking of ballistic missile submarines, either by other submarines or surface vessels, might be forbidden in an arms- control agreement Another approach might be to designate certain ocean areas that did not include the sea lanes normally traveled by merchant and naval vessels as regions within which anti-submarine operations would be banned. The stationing of acoustic detection systems and submarine tracking ships and aircraft would not be allowed in these areas, which could then be used for the invulnerable deployment of the submarine missile deterrent forces.
Parallel to these measures, research and development could be continued on advanced submarine missile systems which would decrease their vulnerability to possible future anti-submarine measures. The American Underwater Long Range Missile System (ULMS) programs are examples of this. The most useful advance in this field would be the development of a new missile (originally nicknamed EXPO, now called ULMS I) with a longer range than Poseidon in order to permit the submarine to launch its missiles from larger ocean areas less subject to anti-submarine attack. This missile should be designed with a capability of being launched from existing Polaris submarines to avoid the very expensive requirement of replacing the existing fleet. In the longer term, if a threat to submarines should develop, quieter and less vulnerable, or smaller but more numerous, submarines might be other approaches. However, the present threat from anti- submarine warfare is not sufficiently near or even well defined to require construction and deployment decisions on these new weapons in the near future. Ship construction now would be a waste of scarce funds and might result in building weapons designed against the wrong threat. There is not even a requirement for a new missile at this time, and it is hoped that a race in this area can be avoided.
RESTRICTIONS ON IMPROVEMENT IN EXISTING SYSTEMS
With ABMs frozen at low levels, the need to improve further existing offensive strategic weapons systems may be largely eliminated. More advanced weapons would be required only if one were seeking to acquire a first-strike or nuclear-war fighting capability. And this would merely serve to increase the risk that a nuclear disaster might occur. Therefore, it is incumbent on both the United States and the Soviet Union to take such actions as possible to halt the qualitative arms race either by agreed measures or, more practically, by reciprocal unilateral actions. An agreement that no missile system could be upgraded by any change in its external configuration would be very useful, although it would not halt many improvements. Such a restriction would apply not only to the missile itself, but also to the characteristics of the launch site. Since only those changes that could be observed from the outside would be banned, such an agreement could be verified adequately by national or unilateral means. It would prevent the replacement of existing systems by those with radically new characteristics such as the substitution of much larger missiles for the present models.
Thus, the Soviets could not supersede their obsolescent early ICBMs with the newer SS-11s and 88-13s or even their SS-9s with still larger missiles (a possibility that has caused so much concern in some circles during the past year). The United States, however, would not be permitted to convert any more Polaris missiles to Poseidons. This would not, of course, prevent replacement of single warheads by MIRVs or improvements in accuracy, but these changes would be restricted within the envelope of the presently deployed models.
A still further and more useful step toward qualitative restrictions would be to place limits on the number of missile test firings that either the United States or the Soviets could conduct in any one year. A complete ban on test firings would probably not be feasible because of the necessity to conduct a number of tests in order to assure the reliability of deployed systems and to train crews. However, if the quota on allowed firings was kept reasonably low, to perhaps ten or even 20 per year, this would certainly place restrictions on development programs for new systems. Such an understanding could be monitored by our existing unilateral capabilities, and it could be reinforced by an understanding that the firings would be announced in advance and occur only on specific test, ranges. An agreement of this type would strongly inhibit the development of MIRV systems, particularly those with high accuracy. A specific ban on MIRV testing would be highly desirable, but the overwhelming American lead in this area and our previous reluctance to negotiate seriously on such a ban do not allow much optimism for its success.
REDUCTIONS IN NUMBER OF WEAPONS
Once an agreement has been reached to limit ABMs, it will become apparent that the present number of offensive launchers, presumably the ceiling agreed to in SALT One, would be more than adequate to provide a deterrent force. This would be even more obvious if MIRVs were allowed. In time, it might be hoped that either by agreement or by gradual, reciprocal, unilateral phase-downs, the number of these launchers could start being reduced. Since fixed land-based ICBMs will eventually come to be believed vulnerable, they should be the first candidates for elimination. Cutbacks would have not only security value, but also important international political implications. They would show that at least the nuclear powers were willing to take steps to decrease the very large size of their present arsenals. This would be extremely valuable in promoting our policies on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Of course, if the reduction reached a point where the number of land-based ICBMs became very small, then the vulnerability of this part of the deterrent to a first strike would be quite great; however, this would not be serious as long as the submarine deterrent remained secure. For this reason, it would, not be wise to reduce the submarine missiles until a very much later period at which time all five nuclear weapons countries might be party to the discussions. Reduction in the size of the ABM systems even further than promised in the first stage of SALT would also be a very useful factor in strengthening the deterrent. Intercontinental bombers could also be decreased, and new aircraft for replacement could be dispensed with, saving large sums of money.
FORWARD BASED SYSTEMS
The Soviets originally sought to include in SALT limitations on Forward Based Systems (FBS), i.e. those shorter-range nuclear delivery systems based in forward areas which have, nevertheless, the capability of striking the Soviet Union. However, they have apparently dropped this requirement, postponing negotiations on such systems to a later date. The fact that only the United States has such systems presents a serious problem in negotiating their control, and they should probably be tackled not in SALT, but as a part of agreements on European security and mutual and balanced force reductions.
However, their consideration cannot be indefinitely neglected since, to the Soviets, they must always be seen as a threat to their national survival, and they are unlikely to agree to any further significant reductions in strategic forces until they are dealt with. A first step might be a U.S. undertaking not to enlarge these forces. The phased redeployment of such aircraft back to the United States in exchange for Russian withdrawal of both nuclear and conventional forces in Eastern Europe would appear another useful approach to this problem. Reduction in their numbers could be traded off against reduction in Soviet shorter-range missiles which threaten European centers. The British and French nuclear forces would also have to be taken into account. The negotiation of limitations on armaments stationed in Europe has extraordinarily difficult and complicated political ramifications and cannot be expected to produce early results. However, the time has come to make serious moves in this direction.
COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY
An arms-control measure which would have beneficial effects far beyond the U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic balance would be the achievement of a complete ban on nuclear weapons tests. The achievement of qualitative restrictions on delivery systems has proven extremely difficult, but a comprehensive nuclear test ban would be a step to limit improvements on many of these. While both countries undoubtedly have warheads which are satisfactory for their first-generation MIRVs and ABMs, a test ban would inhibit the development of many second-generation systems. This could be particularly helpful to U.S. security. The Russians may not yet have developed warheads for a MIRV system that could threaten the Minuteman deterrent, since they have not yet had the first test of such a delivery system. A nuclear test ban in the near future would probably prevent the Russians from having warheads with the necessary yield, weight and dimension to be used in a missile which dispersed more than three accurate MIRVs.
It is also unlikely that the Soviets would have already developed a warhead for an advanced ABM system which might be clandestinely deployed under the guise of an air-defense weapon, since prior to an initial ABM agreement at SALT they would have had no requirement to do so. Thus, a comprehensive test ban treaty would provide increased confidence that the ABM limitations at SALT were being honored. Fears have also been expressed that, without testing, our stockpiled nuclear weapons would become unreliable. However, in the past, deterioration due to aging has been checked by dismantling weapons ; never have we conducted nuclear tests solely for the purpose. If a complete ban on testing were, over a period of years, to decrease confidence in the reliability of offensive warheads, this would only enhance the existing state of mutual deterrence, since it would reduce confidence in an ability to carry out a first strike.
In addition to such effects on the U.S.-U.S.S.R. strategic balance, a comprehensive test ban treaty would be an important factor in reinforcing U.S. nonproliferation policies. It would make much more difficult the acquisition of a reliable nuclear force by a non-nuclear nation. Continued nuclear testing by the United States and the Soviet Union will inevitably mean that advanced weapons technology, which may be of marginal value to them, will eventually be available to many countries and to many people. Furthermore, restraint on the part of nuclear powers would provide additional inducement for the non-nuclear nations to accede to the nonproliferation treaty (NPT). A country such as India, which has refused to sign the NPT, might find it extremely difficult politically to refuse to adhere to a comprehensive test ban treaty since it has been a key element in its past disarmament polices.
Neither France nor China is likely to adhere initially to any test ban treaty, the former primarily for political reasons and the latter because it still requires considerably more development to acquire a varied nuclear arsenal. While unfortunate, this still does not significantly reduce the value of the treaty, which would once and for all end the continuing attempts of the United States and the Soviet Union to advance nuclear weapons technology. China is still so far behind both the United States and Russia that it is inconceivable that any unilateral nuclear testing on her part could require additional tests by either of the other two nations within the next ten to 20 years. Our more than 500 tests over 25 years have provided us with a large stockpile of weapons-design information. Nuclear weapons to deal with the U.S.-U.S.S.R. confrontation are more than adequate to handle the slowly emerging Chinese nuclear capability-or in the case of Russia with that of France as well.
In the unlikely event that this were no longer true in the distant future, any treaty would undoubtedly have an escape clause similar to that in the Limited Test Ban Treaty which would provide the right to withdraw if extraordinary events related to the subject matter of the Treaty jeopardized our supreme interest. The unlikely occurrence of a Chinese or French nuclear breakthrough would certainly fall into this category.
Finally, the negotiation of a comprehensive test ban treaty is not only militarily and politically opportune, but it is also timely from a technological viewpoint The results of U.S. research and development programs have now demonstrated major improvements in seismic capabilities to detect and identify nuclear tests. The value of on-site inspections, and the risks from clandestine testing, have now been very greatly reduced. While there will always be some threshold below which an occasional secret test might be conducted, the risks from a violation of this type would be more than overbalanced by the gains from halting all tests of high yields.
An important outgrowth of SALT can be the continued exchange of views on strategic policies in order to reduce misunderstandings. This might be maintained by the continuation of SALT negotiations or by some newly established mechanisms. Even with the best of intentions on both sides, many legitimate unilateral actions may be taken which could look threatening to the other side or seem to be violations unless explanations can be provided. This will be particularly significant since continued qualitative improvements will probably not be forbidden in the first stage of SALT.
For example, the Soviet Union might choose to begin deployment of mobile ICBMs in order to decrease the vulnerability of their land-based missiles to American MIRVs. To the United States this might look like a Russian attempt to increase secretly the size of their force since it is more difficult to count the number of mobile missiles deployed at any one time. It is not practicable to have simultaneous observation of the entire Soviet Union. Conceivably, the Russians might be able to reassure American authorities by providing information to reduce uncertainties on the total number of missiles deployed. Similarly, the U.S. development of new methods for penetrating an ABM could look to the Russians like a system for attacking Soviet ICBMs. An American explanation of the purpose might reassure the Russians, who in turn might be able to provide information which could alleviate our concerns about their air defenses.
With or without an arms-limitation agreement, the most important element in keeping the strategic arms race from getting completely out of hand has been the ability of both nations to have accurate information on the deployed weapons of the other side. For years now our Secretaries of Defense have been reporting with little argument the number of Soviet ICBMs and missile submarines deployed and under construction. Only on future programs or intentions have there been, differing opinions. Without this information it would have been impossible even to have contemplated the type of agreement being discussed for the first phase of SALT. If for any reason these capabilities were lost, then any SALT agreement would be in serious jeopardy.
It has been reported by some sources, but never confirmed, that the Soviets have tested a space vehicle which might be capable of intercepting a satellite. Any such system would be susceptible to countermeasures. However, if either nation were to interfere with the other's systems for gathering information, this would be a very serious act, perhaps only just short of war. Certainly, satisfactory reassurances against any recurrence would have to be provided or the entire SALT agreement would soon break down. Since it would be at least several years before such loss of information could provide an opportunity to obtain a meaningful strategic advantage, there would be ample time to take countermeasures. Perhaps one of the outcomes of the first phase of SALT, or of the next, could be an understanding that neither side would take any steps to negate unilateral information-gathering systems that do not infringe on national sovereignty.
Even if the first phase of SALT succeeds only in holding ABMs to a low level, it will have a major effect in slowing the strategic arms race and ensuring the continuation of a mutual deterrent posture. However, since at best the restrictions on offensive weapons will be quite limited in scope and probably place little or no controls on qualitative improvements, further steps will be needed to strengthen and broaden the agreement. Decisions on unilateral weapons programs as well as further arms limitations must be made with an eye toward ensuring that the application of new technologies does not weaken deterrence. Actions justified as safeguarding against abrogation or violation of a treaty must not be allowed to destroy the original purpose of the agreement. Continued bilateral consultations will be required to clear away misunderstandings.
An initial agreement at SALT, even if limited in scope, can mark the beginning of a new era in the nuclear weapons age. Opportunities will be opened up not only for halting the upward march of the arms race, but also for redirecting it downward so that the risks of a nuclear conflagration are reduced and the economic burdens of weapons programs lightened. Many of the new measures proposed will not be arrived at easily. Strong pressures for new weapons programs as hedges against possible treaty violations will have to be resisted vigorously. Complacency after an initial agreement must not be allowed to slow the drive toward further limitations.