The long-range cruise missile has touched off an arms control debate as controversial as the one seven years ago surrounding the MIRV (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle). Although it is by no means a "superweapon" which can give its possessor a credible first-strike threat, the new cruise missile's revolutionary characteristics-particularly its accuracy, near-undetectable size, and multiplicity of firing ranges and launch platforms-threaten to undermine the basic principles underlying successful U.S.-Soviet arms control agreements to date. Thus, the cruise missile-even more than the MIRV-puts the immediate future of SALT into jeopardy.

Distant prospects are even more bleak. The missile's capabilities obscure the already hazy distinctions between strategic and tactical missions, as well as between nuclear and conventional weaponry. Thus, looking beyond SALT, the cruise missile will complicate the process of finding a new framework for arms control. If arms control is to remain meaningful in the future, enforceable restraints on qualitative improvement of weapons systems must complement the the quantitative restrictions achieved at SALT. While the cruise missile is only one of many weapons in the qualitative arms race, halting its development would be a positive first step toward more comprehensive restrictions in this crucial area.


A cruise missile is basically a pilotless jet airplane. Unlike a rocket-driven ballistic missile, which leaves the atmosphere at supersonic speeds and sails to its target in a bullet-like, arched trajectory, a cruise missile is continuously propelled by air-breathing jet engines, and flies at subsonic speeds without leaving the atmosphere.

Cruise missiles are by no means new. They can be traced back to the World War II, German V-I "buzz-bomb." Other ancestors were deployed by the U.S. Navy on submarines, but abandoned because of their bulky size, short range, poor accuracy, and inability to be fired from underwater. The Soviet Navy still has many similarly primitive, short-range cruise missiles deployed on certain surface ships and submarines for use primarily in tactical anti-shipping roles. Both the U.S. and Soviet Air Forces likewise have some of the older, larger cruise missiles deployed for short-range attack purposes.

Until recently only ballistic missiles could achieve the long ranges generally classified as "strategic" (1,000-2,000 miles or more) and hit targets with a reasonable degree of accuracy while carrying warheads with a heavy payload. But today's advanced cruise missiles, as a result of rapid and simultaneous progress in several areas of technology (guidance, accuracy, engine propulsion-efficiency, fuel power and economy, warhead miniaturization), will be able to equal the performance of ballistic missiles in almost all respects-range, accuracy, kill-probability, penetrability-and at markedly lower unit costs. While slower than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles have the offsetting advantage of being less detectable.

The Air Force's new air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) and the Navy's sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) are quite similar in terms of their performance; while they cannot easily be used interchangeably, they can be treated as one for purposes of discussion. Twenty feet long and only 21 inches in diameter, they can be launched from standard submarine torpedo tubes, SRAM (short-range attack missile) launchers on B-52 bombers, or even Lance surface-to-surface missile launchers. To achieve a range of 1,500 nautical miles at 400 m.p.h. speed, the 3,000-pound cruise missile requires a turbofan engine of approximately 250 pounds, and 500 pounds of fuel within its 600-pound airframe-leaving more than 1,000 pounds for the warhead and guidance systems. As presently designed, the guidance package weighs a minimum of 800 pounds so the cruise missile can easily carry a 200-pound warhead which, today, means a maximum yield of 200 kilotons (the equivalent of 15 Hiroshimas, and about the same as that of the warheads on our MIRVed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles).

The cruise missile uses two guidance systems: first, an inertial system which updates the missile's pre-programmed targeting information in flight with altimeter-derived data on the weather conditions and the terrain over which the missile is flying; and second, a terminal guidance system built around a microwave radiometer that identifies the target and brings the missile to an accurate landing. Together the two guidance systems make the missile accurate to within 100 feet at ranges of over 1,500 miles; further technological refinements promise even greater accuracies. Moreover, since the guidance technology is not dependent on range, future increases in engine and fuel efficiencies will allow longer ranges with similar accuracies.1

Thus the new cruise missile can deliver substantial explosives with an incredibly high degree of accuracy, at long and short ranges. While presently slow and, once detected, easy to shoot down with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), the cruise missile's tiny size and ability to fly at low altitudes ("skimming the treetops") makes radar detection difficult. Even when the Soviets develop advanced look-down radar, it will be hard for their computers to identify an incoming cruise missile amid the "junk" on the ground. Moreover, imminent technological advances in turbofan engine design are likely to produce higher speeds and greater evasive maneuverability. Finally, the cruise missile will be much cheaper than existing strategic weapons, with estimated unit costs set at $500,000 per missile during full production.

As is so often the case, the cruise missile's capabilities were developed faster than a strategic purpose could be devised for it. Original rationales included the "assurance of future options" and the "matching of potential Soviet cruise missile capability." One important reason for its development was, in fact, interservice rivalry. The Navy sought a weapon that would equal the Air Force's conventional and nuclear capability in performing tactical and strategic missions, on land as well as at sea.

Even more central in the Navy's thinking was the apparent threat posed to its ballistic missile submarine fleet by the SALT I agreements. SALT I set a ceiling of 710 on submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, meaning that 12 of the Navy's 41 Polaris/Poseidon submarines (each carrying 16 SLBMs) would have to be scrapped when the ten planned Trident submarines (each with 24 SLBMs) were deployed. But since cruise missiles were not limited by SALT I, the Navy saw the SLCM as a means of refitting and perpetuating the strategic role of the Polaris submarines that might otherwise have had to be junked. (This reasoning, of course, became moot when the 1974 Vladivostok agreement set comfortably high ceilings on SLBM launchers.)

The Air Force, for its part, wanted to keep its strategic bomber force from becoming obsolete by obtaining air-launched cruise missiles that would help saturate ever-improving Soviet air defenses, and perhaps give a strategic standoff capability as well. Also, it saw the ALCM's low cost as freeing funds for other Air Force needs.

These and other bureaucratic imperatives to maintain funding and force levels eclipsed the cruise missile's arms control implications throughout its ten-year development. Although it is a strategic weapon, the cruise missile cannot be controlled within the existing SALT framework. SALT has been grounded upon numerical restrictions of strategic weapons launchers (not missiles or warheads), since these are about the only meaningful and mutually acceptable limitations verifiable by "national technical means" (satellite photo-reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping). SALT's success to date has rested on a mutually, albeit somewhat arbitrarily, accepted distinction between strategic and tactical weapons, with weapons being classified according to their mission. When SALT began, "national technical means" were sufficient to monitor the existence of all weapons that could be classified as strategic. Bombers, of course, blurred the distinction between strategic and tactical, but the Soviets and the Americans found it possible to agree on the inclusion in SALT only of such heavy, primarily long-range bombers as the B-52. While technically capable of performing strategic missions against the Soviet Union, shorter-range strike aircraft-most importantly our forward-based systems in Western Europe-were omitted from SALT since their primary role is tactical (theater defense of our NATO allies), and the more proper venue for negotiating their restriction is the MBFR (mutual balanced force reductions) talks. In any case, the numbers and location of bombers can be determined by satellite reconnaissance, so that any attempt to circumvent SALT restrictions by increased deployments of bombers would be virtually impossible to conceal.

But the cruise missile thoroughly blurs any strategic-tactical distinction-for the same cruise missile can carry small or large warheads and strike from long or short ranges. Because it is difficult to verify the range of a deployed cruise missile without actually taking it apart and measuring the weight of its warhead and fuel load,2 all cruise missiles would have to be classified as strategic in determining arms limitation ceilings; but this would inhibit their deployment in conceivably legitimate tactical roles. In any case, the tiny size and concealability of cruise missiles makes verification of numerical ceilings impossible except through the most intrusive sort of on-site inspection. And since the launch platforms for cruise missiles-unlike those for ballistic missiles-can be quickly reloaded, numerical restraints on launchers are, in any case, irrelevant.

With the ranges and pinpoint accuracies achievable, a cruise missile armed with a conventional warhead can conceivably perform strategic strikes such as knocking out a hardened ICBM silo. By the same token, the fact that its high accuracy assures against random, peripheral destruction means that nuclear warheads can be used for tactical strikes where only conventional warheads have previously been feasible. In other words, the traditionally manageable distinctions between strategic and tactical, nuclear and conventional are completely eroded, making it impossible to isolate "strategic" arms limitation from other areas of arms control.3

The cruise missile may have repercussions beyond SALT, for with its advent the nuclear threshold or "firebreak" becomes less clearly defined. The conventionally armed cruise missile raises the nuclear threshold: with conventional weapons capable of performing strategic strikes, nuclear weapons will not so quickly be brought into play. But by the same token, this conventional capability may make the temptation to strike first more irresistible, since one might gamble that an enemy is unlikely to retaliate with nuclear weapons to a nonnuclear counterforce attack. Thus, the net effect of the reduced reliance on nuclear weapons is an increased risk of superpower confrontation. In contrast, the nuclear-armed cruise missile lowers the nuclear threshold: with tactical nuclear strikes technically more feasible as unintended collateral damage becomes less likely, the use of nuclear weapons in limited wars-with their attendant risks of escalation-will become more attractive.

It is ironic, in view of the long-range cruise missile's potentially devastating impact on strategic stability, arms control, and conventions of military theory, that the United States originally treated it as a "bargaining chip" in SALT to be discarded in exchange for some Soviet concessions. Yet as its amazing capabilities became apparent, the Pentagon's planners devised many rational tactical and strategic functions for both the air-launched and sea-launched versions. Convinced that the cruise missile is essential to our future defense requirements, they no longer see it as easily negotiable.


There are numerous tactical missions in which the new cruise missiles, by virtue of their accuracy, undetectability, and payload-carrying ability, could outperform existing systems. Short-range SLCMs would be invaluable anti-shipping weapons; and short-range ALCMs would be highly effective in air interdiction roles, in penetrating air defenses, and as more accurate complements to existing short-range attack missiles in air-to-surface attack missions.4

However, since the technical characteristics of the new cruise missile make any tactically intended cruise missile a long-range strategic threat as well, it is impossible to argue for a tactical version and against a strategic one. No matter how pressing the need for short-range cruise missiles, the dangerous arms control implications inherent in their strategic potential make such deployments unjustifiable. Moreover, the need for a strictly long-range cruise missile is rather dubious.

Its supporters argue that a long-range cruise missile-either air- or sea-launched-would be cheaper than an ICBM or a SLBM in terms of "assured kill for the buck": its extreme accuracy, penetrability, and low initial cost and minimal maintenance requirements make it more cost-effective than all existing offensive strategic systems. But American deployment of cruise missiles would probably spur Soviet advances in SAMs and look-down radar technology, and concomitantly increase the vulnerability of our penetrating bombers, including the highly touted B-1. The inexpensive high kill-probability with cruise missiles is, therefore, deceptive in the long run; for the inevitable Soviet SAM and radar upgrades will dictate huge U.S. expenditures for development and deployment of effective countermeasures.5

And the history of the arms race shows that the Soviets will feel compelled to match any American long-range cruise missile capability, just as they felt obliged to develop their own MIRV, despite belated U.S. interest in restricting it at SALT I. Such a reaction will force the United States either to accept increased vulnerability to attack or to spend huge sums to improve radar coverage and to develop the massive SAM network that is now deemed unnecessary because of the relatively small Soviet bomber and short-range cruise missile threat. Therefore, since the 1972 ABM Treaty prohibits ballistic missile defense, the ultimately cheaper as well as safer course for both sides would be to limit themselves to existing MIRVed ICBMs and SLBMs rather than entering a cruise missile and anti-cruise missile race-at the end of which both sides' security will have been diminished. The United States would do better simply to improve the accuracy of its ballistic missiles by incorporating in them elements of the cruise missile's guidance technology. The verifiability of ballistic missile deployments makes them more conducive to further reductions and more stabilizing in terms of deterrence.

Nonetheless, some observers argue that long-range cruise missiles actually would enhance strategic stability. According to this rationale, the missiles' slow speed prevents them from appearing to pose a first-strike counterforce threat, since an adversary could launch its ICBMs well before its silos were destroyed. In addition, the cruise missile could reinforce SALT's launcher restrictions by preventing the reloading of ICBM silos. (If an ICBM silo can be reloaded, restricting the number of launchers is rather meaningless. To reload an ICBM silo, however, takes time; while the slow cruise missile could not knock out a silo on a surprise first strike, it could do so during the long reloading process.) Viewed in this light the cruise missile is stabilizing because it is most logically a second-strike-only system.6

Yet this same line of argument can just as easily lead to the opposite conclusion. Given the cruise missile's great accuracy and hard-site kill capability, it would be foolish for an adversary either to plan on "waiting out" a strategic cruise missile attack or to spend large sums of money on silo hardening and defense-thus leaving no recourse but a launch-on-warning strategy. Such a strategy is highly destabilizing because the accidental firing of a cruise missile or misinterpretation of radar data-and the latter is particularly likely given the difficulty of detecting cruise missiles-could trigger a massive retaliatory strike and thus lead to nuclear war.

Moreover, even if one accepts the argument that the cruise missile's slow speed makes it strictly a second-strike weapon, its importance may increase as succeeding rounds of SALT impose lower and lower ceilings on ICBMs, SLBMs and bombers. As the numbers of the more obviously first-strike-capable systems are restricted and the threat they pose diminishes, the unrestricted cruise missile may well emerge as a central first-strike threat, albeit a second-best system. In fact, both sides will probably be tempted to circumvent the lower SALT ceilings by deploying more cruise missiles.

Turning to some of the newly conceived missions for the cruise missile, one of the most frequently advocated uses for the long-range air-launched version is as a complement to the B-1 bomber. ALCMs would be deployed in groups of 20 on the older B-52s; fired from that bomber's launchers, they would serve as decoys or penetration aids to saturate the SAM coverage, thereby guaranteeing that the B-1 would reach its key targets. The air-launched cruise missile would also enhance the B-52's own air defense penetration ability, extending its chances of surviving, and, perhaps, enabling it to attack strategic Soviet targets without penetrating the U.S.S.R.'s airspace (a strategic standoff capability).7 Yet if the Air Force is right to claim that the B-1 can penetrate without the cruise missile due to its own capability of firing short-range attack missiles, the ALCM seems unnecessary. By the same token, if the ALCM can in fact penetrate Soviet air defenses as effectively as the B-1, and at much lower cost, it seems unnecessary to spend billions on the new bomber. Since Congress has, after considerable wavering, gone ahead with further funding of B-1 development, this argument is probably moot. Nonetheless, the redundancy of a B-52 armed with long-range ALCMs and the B-1 remains; if the United States must have the one, it need not bother with the other.

Furthermore, deployment of long-range cruise missiles on some bombers would, as suggested earlier, destroy the already troubled SALT process. While the Soviets and Americans, at SALT I, were able to overcome the problem posed by similarly unverifiable MIRVs-by agreeing to assume that all ICBMs and SLBMs that could be MIRVed actually were-a comparable approach to the cruise missile would fail; the number of U.S. and Soviet aircraft that could function as launch platforms is so great that an accord based on a worst-case assumption would lead to absurdly high weapons ceilings.

The need for a long-range SLCM is even less compelling. The Navy argues that existing Soviet cruise missiles pose a strategic threat: with America's population and industrial centers concentrated on the coasts and continental air defenses minimal, even short-range Soviet cruise missiles can inflict a massive blow when fired from surface ships or tactical submarines. And with minor changes those missiles can reach inland cities as well. Following the Navy's rationale, since major Soviet cities and industrial centers are located thousands of miles inland, American SLCMs must logically have longer ranges to match the Soviet threat.8

Yet this argument ignores the fact that existing Soviet cruise missiles are big and slow, easy to detect with our advanced radar techniques, and easy to shoot down. Plus, to extend these missiles' range, the Soviets would have to fly them in a higher trajectory-a move that would only render them more vulnerable. Most likely, the Soviets' principal plan is to use their crude cruise missiles in strictly tactical, anti-shipping roles. If Washington really perceives these cruise missiles as a threat to its cities, it should improve coastal defenses. But if the United States "matches" the Soviet weapons with more accurate, undetectable, and longer range SLCMs, the Soviets would accelerate counter-deployments and/or air defense improvements.

There is a more fundamental question, however: Why should the United States deploy a sea-based strategic system that is now, or will eventually be, vulnerable to Soviet air defenses when it already has sea-launched ballistic missiles against which defenses are prohibited (by the ABM Treaty) ? These ballistic missiles are faster, carry larger payloads, and can achieve the cruise missiles' accuracy and kill-probability by incorporating similarly sophisticated technology. Substituting SLCMs for torpedoes on attack submarines would seriously limit these vessels' tactical flexibility, while adding a needless increase to the overkill potential of our already invulnerable sea-based deterrent. Plus, the proliferation of sea-based strategic cruise missiles increases the statistical probability of an accidental launch stemming from a command and control breakdown.

Even more dangerous, if attack submarines were armed with SLCMs, the Soviets would have to assume strategic intent no matter what their missions may actually be. In other words, until now only the 53 Polaris, Poseidon and future Trident submarines posed a direct strategic threat to the Soviets; but the deployment of any SLCMs would transform every one of our 65 nuclear attack submarines into a potential strike launch platform. The strategic results would be ominous: the increased uncertainties would lead to a "recoupling" of tactical and strategic antisubmarine warfare, and force the Soviets to intensify their efforts at improving antisubmarine warfare capabilities.9 By contrast, such a perceived need would be minimized by confining the sea-based deterrent-as the SALT agreements stipulate-to fixed and verifiable numbers of SLBM launchers, made ever more invulnerable by increases in missile ranges.


Not only can the development of the cruise missile complicate the Soviet-American strategic balance, weaken SALT, and possibly impede other bilateral efforts at arms control, it may also speed the "horizontal" spread of nuclear weapons. Until now, one of the main reasons why more countries have not gone nuclear has been the high cost of constructing reliable delivery systems. The most effective means of delivering a nuclear warhead-the long-range ballistic missile-is prohibitively expensive for most countries, while the cheaper method-the long-range bomber-is much more vulnerable to preemptive strikes on the ground and to air defenses. However, cruise missiles could soon offer an effective and inexpensive delivery system to many countries. Some might choose to build their own missiles, based on published information about U.S. systems; others, perhaps, would buy the weapons from U.S. manufacturers. (It should be noted that those manufacturers have projected large export sales-ostensibly to be confined to our allies, including Israel-to decrease unit costs of cruise missile production.10)

The acquisition of cruise missiles by America's NATO allies would transform their present token nuclear deterrent into a potent strategic force. With the United States no longer effectively monopolizing the West's defense, the bilateral nature of SALT would become anachronistic. But even if the multilateralization of SALT were possible, it would so complicate negotiations as to make meaningful limitations well-nigh impossible to achieve. More frightening, by facilitating nuclear proliferation, the cruise missile would increase the chances that local wars could escalate to a nuclear level, with the inherent danger of superpower involvement.

Yet another related danger inherent in cruise missile proliferation is the missile's ability to deliver strategic strikes with conventional warheads. Small countries, even without nuclear weapons, could thus acquire a strategic potential. In this way, the cruise missile might become the superpowers' nemesis: no longer would they alone be able to inflict massive destruction from beyond an enemy's territorial frontiers. Instead, the cruise missile might, in effect, decouple "strategic" and "nuclear" war and thereby diminish the deterrent effect of nuclear forces which have, for better or worse, inhibited the outbreak of world war for over 30 years.


The Vladivostok aide-mémoire, endorsed as the guideline for a SALT II agreement by the United States and the Soviet Union in the fall of 1974, limited both sides to a total of 2,400 strategic weapons delivery systems-strategic bombers (excluding U.S. forward-based aircraft in Europe) and missile launchers-among which 1,320 could be MIRVed. In 1975, it was revealed that the United States interpreted these ceilings as including only ballistic missiles and bombers, but not cruise missiles. In response to Soviet complaints that the United States was changing the rules after the game had begun, the American SALT negotiators disingenuously offered to exclude from the 2,400 ceiling the much less potent Soviet Backfire bomber, a plane with only marginal strategic applicability that probably would have been excluded from SALT II anyway (as a trade-off for our forward-based aircraft in Europe)-if not for the sudden need to find a makeweight to balance against the cruise missile.

The next formal American SALT proposal was to allow 200 Backfires in exchange for 200 "launch vehicles" for cruise missiles above the 2,400 limit. Since cruise missiles can be deployed in groups as large as 20 on bombers, and in larger numbers on transport planes and submarines (where they are reloadable), this was a blatantly self-serving scheme, even if the U.S. limit were hypothetically verifiable.

The Soviets responded with a rather ingenious SALT proposal in January 1976: ALCMs would be unlimited in numbers and range, but aircraft armed with them would (logically) be counted against the 1,320 MIRV ceiling.11 (The reasoning behind this was probably that the range of the air-launched version is less critical than that of the sea-launched version, since the bomber upon which it is deployed can make up for whatever range the missile itself lacks.) SLCMs with ranges over 375 miles would be counted as part of the 2,400 ceiling. But neither element in this plan could be verified by the national technical means integral to SALT. How could either side know for certain which planes had ALCMs? How could either side know whether the other side's unrestrained tactical SLCMs (under the 375-mile range) were not loaded with enough fuel to propel them to thousand-mile-plus distances? Even if both sides honestly declared which submarines were armed with long-range SLCMs, wouldn't their reload capability make meaningless their inclusion under the 2,400 launcher limit? And, of course, the fact that cruise missiles are easy to hide means that cheating would be easy. While the free press in the United States might make verification manageable for the Soviets, the closed nature of Soviet society in general, and of the Soviet military in particular, would make verification impossible for the United States.

A superficially appealing attempt to control the cruise missile was made in a U.S. Senate resolution-introduced on February 25, 1976, by Senators Kennedy, Humphrey and Javits-proposing a Soviet-American moratorium on testing of cruise missiles at ranges greater than 375 miles. The reasoning behind this was that if a long-range cruise missile could not be tested, its reliability could not be known, and thus it would not be deployed. Hindsight had indicated that MIRV deployment could have been prevented by a similar test ban, which would have been verifiable without on-site inspection.

However, the test ban analogy with the MIRV has two weaknesses. First, the new cruise missile is so small that satellite reconnaissance could not reliably verify compliance with a test ban; although, arguably, the probability that a few tests could be detected would sufficiently deter against cheating. But more important, the nature of the cruise missile is such that flight tests at short ranges can guarantee its reliability at longer ranges. The missile's guidance technology operates independently of range, and its engine is little more than a miniaturized and extra-efficient jet engine similar to those on conventional aircraft; once you know the missile can fly a few hundred miles you can be confident of its ability to go several thousand miles, just as you know that a 747 which can fly from New York to Chicago can also reach Los Angeles if supplied with enough fuel.12 Therefore a range limitation on cruise missile tests would not control the weapon. Range limits on the missiles themselves are necessary as well and these raise more difficult verification problems.

Range limits on new missiles are theoretically feasible and verifiable. Reconnaissance satellites can monitor the telemetry of a missile during test flights, and thus determine its maximum range on the basis of the fuel consumption rate and estimated fuel capacity. Therefore it is possible to know whether a newly tested cruise missile has been designed exclusively for short ranges, or whether it has both long- and short-range potential.

This area of verification, however, is more vulnerable to cheating than most. Extra weight could be placed on the test missile, so that fuel consumption would appear faster and derived estimates of maximum range lower. Nonetheless, even a one-in-ten chance that intelligence agencies will detect such cheating efforts would be enough to discourage them entirely. This assumption is common to all arms control agreements, for a requirement of 100-percent certainty for verification procedures is both unrealistic and technically impossible.

But the real problem with range limitations for the cruise missile is that it is too late to negotiate them. The U.S. cruise missile program is already well-advanced, with test programs under way, and deployments only two or three years off. The dual-long and short-range capability is already built into the system, and cannot be negotiated away. An agreement limiting the range of the SLCM only, as the Soviets desire, would be absurd since the air-launched and sea-launched versions share almost identical propulsion and guidance technologies. Furthermore, the modular design of contemporary weapon systems would allow longer range engines to be tested elsewhere and plugged into cruise missiles.

Recent rumors suggest that President Ford-with the Reagan challenge eliminated-may sacrifice the cruise missile so that a SALT II treaty can be signed before the election.13 But Pentagon resistance to such a course is strong, and the more likely prospect is that the cruise missile will simply be detached from a SALT II agreement based on the original Vladivostok ceilings. If that, in fact, occurs, the momentum toward U.S. deployment of cruise missiles in 1978 or 1979 will probably continue unabated. But if one strategic weapon is left uncontrolled or deemed uncontrollable, then success at SALT loses most of its meaning. Lower and lower limits on ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers will seem hollow if both sides can substitute for them hundreds of cheap, almost equally potent cruise missiles. SALT will not have retarded the arms race, but only redirected it from the quantitative to the qualitative realm.

If arms control is to go forward in the future, a new framework must replace that of SALT, which has clearly proven its inadequacy in coping with qualitative improvements in weapons design. A unilateral American decision to halt development or forego deployment of the long-range cruise missile might prevent a new competition which, in the long run, would only further erode both American and Soviet security. But the cruise missile is a mere harbinger of a revolutionary trend in weapons technology: its extraordinary capabilities will inevitably be incorporated (or surpassed) in future generations of existing weapons systems. Thus unilateral restraint in regard to the cruise missile alone will, at best, only delay the imminent crisis in arms control. The complete erosion of the distinctions between strategic, tactical, nuclear and conventional is inevitable unless the qualitative arms race can be brought to a quick and immediate halt.

This is a problem that is not likely to be solved by bilateral Soviet-American agreement unless it encompasses intensive on-site inspection that Moscow will never accept, barring a fundamental change in the Soviet system.14 Rather, both sides must develop an awareness of the arms control implications inherent in their technological advances. The United States, too often the leader (or culprit) in the introduction of new, more deadly technologies, must take the initiative.

A first step toward unilateral restraint might be to integrate arms controllers into the military planning and research bureaucracies. At the earliest stages of research on a newly conceived weapons technology, an "arms control impact statement" could be drawn up, just as new industrial projects now require an environmental impact statement. In this way, the decision as to whether research and development for a new system should proceed can be based not only on the questions: "Can it be done technically?" and "Will it be useful militarily?" Other important questions should also be asked: "Will it enhance the stability of the strategic deterrent balance?" and "Will it be controllable on the basis of realistic, i.e., mutually acceptable, arms control assumptions?"

Beyond this, unilateral restraint in deploying new technologies must be practiced. No longer ought new systems be developed as bargaining chips which, if arms control negotiations stall or break down, cannot be redeemed and, worse yet, may diminish security, since any temporary new advantage in weaponry is likely to be offset by the other side; the end result will be strategic instability coupled with great financial expense. A tacitly accepted, mutual policy of "no first deployment" of new technologies may be the only way to put a lid on the qualitative arms race. And the technological leader should be the first to demonstrate these intentions.

Thus, while military and financial rationales for cruise missiles may be persuasive, from an arms control perspective there can be no justification. From this perspective, the United States must, first, halt development of the cruise missile and, second, announce its resolve never to let this particular genie out of its bottle unless the Soviets go ahead with deployments of their own long-range cruise missiles. Finally, Washington should declare a policy of unilateral restraint regarding further deployments of new weapons technologies and try to induce the Soviets to be equally rational by reciprocating. There is no way to have both arms control and a qualitative arms race.


2 See Section V below for further discussion of range limitations on cruise missiles and cruise missile tests.

3 Richard Burt brings out the need to link SALT and MBFR in light of the blurring of traditional distinctions caused by the cruise missile. See "The Cruise Missile and Arms Control," Survival, January/February 1976.

5 See Tsipis, op. cit., for an excellent discussion of the real, long-run costs of the cruise missile beyond development and procurement.

9 See Tsipis, op. cit., p. 25, concerning recoupling of tactical and strategic antisubmarine warfare.

10 Budgetary requests for cruise missile development have based cost estimates on the economies of scale that will be derived from export sales. See Aviation Week and Space Technology, July 7, 1975, p. 41.

11 See Aviation Week and Space Technology, February 2, 1976, p. 12, for complete Soviet SALT plan.

12 This was the thrust of a press conference given on February 27, 1976, by head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Fred Ikle, at the time of the introduction of the Kennedy-Humphrey-Javits resolution. The resolution was defeated because of intense Administration opposition.

13 The Ford plan would include cruise missiles under the Vladivostok ceiling, without accompanying restrictions on Backfire. The only concession Washington might seek would be to lower the ceiling from 2,400 to 2,300, or even 2,200. See The Washington Post, August 9, 1976, p. 23.

14 The Soviet acceptance of on-site inspection of peaceful nuclear explosions under the recently signed Threshold Test Ban Treaty should not be interpreted as representing a change in Soviet attitudes toward on-site inspection of strategic programs.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Alexander R. Vershbow, a graduate of the Columbia University School of International Affairs and the Russian Institute, is an editorial intern for Foreign Affairs.
  • More By Alexander R. Vershbow