Courtesy Reuters

The Race to Control Nuclear Arms

As the nuclear age lengthens and the opportunity for viewing it in perspective grows, its essential features seem increasingly related to successive eight-year American presidential administrations. Measures to control nuclear weapons have been seriously considered in each of the first four postwar "octades," and there has been an acceleration in the number of agreements reached-most notably in limiting nuclear tests, slowing nuclear proliferation, restraining the quantitative growth of the Soviet and American nuclear arsenals, and restricting defenses against nuclear weapons.

Yet, as the nuclear age enters its fifth octade, the race to control strategic arms is being lost. Numerous obstacles have arisen to block further progress in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), thereby creating the danger of a new escalation in "vertical" arms proliferation. And the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries-"horizontal" proliferation-appears to have been rekindled, attributed by some to the stagnation of SALT. Moreover, new weapons systems likely to be deployed within the next few years are certain to exacerbate the arms control problem, for the already shaky SALT process appears inadequate to the task of bringing them under control. Clearly, a major change in our approach to arms control is necessary-one that addresses more decisively and more urgently the interrelated problems of vertical and horizontal proliferation.

The present commitment to joint Soviet-American negotiations to preserve the nuclear balance at progressively lower numerical levels of armaments is wise and prudent, but it is not the only course. If this approach does not produce meaningful limitations and reductions, and if it means the neglect of the growing threat of horizontal proliferation, then it is possible that a reversion to non-negotiated management of nuclear forces and unilateral initiatives offers more hope of restraint than the deceptive pursuit of "arms control" that does not bring control.


Each of the four postwar presidential administrations has left its distinctive imprint on the nuclear age. The Roosevelt-Truman years, 1945-1952, the first octade of the nuclear age, comprised the development period of

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