Once again there has been a long and bitter fight in the Senate over the President's nominee for Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Like Paul Warnke in 1977, Kenneth Adelman has now been confirmed, but by such a narrow margin-and with such substantial political baggage-as to cripple his ability to manage the agency and promote its objectives.

The Adelman dispute is only the latest chapter in the agency's stormy history. Born in controversy in 1961, ACDA has been a headache for every President since John F. Kennedy. Repeatedly purged, always distrusted, criticized by its friends, savaged by its enemies, the agency has been the center of turmoil and discord for more than 20 years. These controversies reached new peaks of viciousness in the 1980s, however, and after cuts of nearly one-fourth in the agency's staff and one-half in its research budget, the firing of Eugene Rostow, the first director appointed by President Reagan, delays of two years or more in appointments to most of its executive positions, and the present director's inauspicious beginning, there is little question that ACDA is in no position to fulfill its responsibilities effectively.

The factors which have weakened ACDA's ability to serve as an effective voice for, and implementer of, the nation's arms control policies have existed since the agency's creation. They are structural in character, consequences of the ambivalence which dominated the reasoning behind, and thus the design of, the agency and its relationships with other executive organs. From its inception, ACDA was supposed to be both an integral part of the executive branch and a watchdog over its activities; a component of the State Department and an independent agency reporting directly to the President; a promoter of the modest idea of arms control and a partisan for the radical policy of disarmament. These contradictions are neither trivial nor transitory. They represent immutable conflicts-characteristics which can coexist only in the most artificial and unstable circumstances. Little wonder that the agency has been consistently beset by controversy.

This unhappy history raises certain far-reaching questions. Is assigning primary responsibility for the development and implementation of arms control policies to an independent agency the best way to assure success in these endeavors? We doubt it. Could ACDA, even under different political circumstances, ever have fulfilled the purposes for which it was established? We do not think so. Is there a better way to organize the government for arms negotiations? We believe there is.

The creation of a separate agency to carry out arms negotiations has only made the task of such negotiations more difficult. It has given us the symbol of arms control but not its potential benefits. The agency's problems not only reflect, but also contribute to, the controversy which surrounds arms control policy. How to limit armaments, particularly nuclear weapons, has become the most severely politicized issue facing the nation, a fact which greatly hampers negotiations and all other efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war. We are all the victims of this political conflict: Democrats and Republicans, pacifists and militarists, nuclear freezers and nuclear advocates. That arms negotiations should be hostage to these bureaucratic and political wars is an outrage, an unspoken scandal about which public scrutiny and corrective action is long overdue.

It is time to integrate arms control with the rest of the nation's security agenda. Negotiations to limit arms are only one of several policy instruments we use to gain greater security. In this sense, arms control talks are no different than weapon programs, or diplomatic initiatives, or alliances, or economic assistance. If there is to be more rapid progress in the talks, citizens must come to understand that ACDA has not fulfilled, and cannot fulfill, the hopes and expectations which attended its creation. It would then be possible to abolish the agency, along with the myths which accompany its existence, replacing both with public expectations and bureaucratic structures better suited for the effective pursuit of arms limitations.

Conceptually, a broader segment of the population must understand that while arms negotiations potentially can result in substantial reductions in weapons, they will never lead to radical disarmament-not until there are equally radical changes in the international political system. These negotiations can only attempt, in an imperfect world, to make us somewhat safer, buying time for more fundamental and longer-term policies to resolve the political conflicts which are the fundamental causes of war. To say this is not to diminish the importance of arms negotiations, only to place them in more realistic perspective.

Organizationally, we believe that four elements are necessary for the effective pursuit of arms control: a greatly strengthened component of the State Department to implement policy on a day-to-day basis; an interagency committee of principals to formulate policy and monitor negotiations; a watchdog group jointly appointed by the Congress and the President to assure diligence in these activities; and the assignment to congressional organs of certain quasi-regulatory functions now carried out ineffectively by ACDA.

To propose these changes is not to denigrate the positive contribution which ACDA, and the capable people who have staffed it, have made over the years to American security and the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. Rather, these changes are intended to permit the experience and technical expertise now reposing in ACDA to be incorporated more centrally in the agencies which actually plan and carry out arms control policy. They would permit arms control considerations to become an integral part of our overall security policy, cushioned from political winds and buffered from raw bureaucratic conflicts. They would give necessary authority and responsibility to those officials in positions to make timely decisions about arms control issues, yet assure continued attention to these matters by both the President and the Congress.

In the last analysis the effectiveness of arms control policy depends on the resolve and grasp of the President himself, on his communicating that resolve to his principal Cabinet officers and advisers, and on the assignment of clear responsibilities to them for submitting recommendations and for carrying out policy. These organizational reforms, however, would at least enable a President who cared to pursue arms negotiations vigorously, to do so more effectively.


When the Congress established ACDA by passing the Arms Control and Disarmament Act in September 1961, the concept of arms control was new, ill defined and suspect. The effort to institutionalize arms control as an integral aspect of national security planning suffered greatly, moreover, because ACDA's creators were compelled to accommodate competitive constituencies in defining the new agency's missions.

ACDA stems from two principal legacies: the postwar concept of general and complete disarmament, and the incremental approach to arms limitations that emerged from nuclear test ban initiatives in the late 1950s. The perspectives and purposes associated with these two legacies have always been divergent, if not at cross-purposes. Nonetheless, their inherent ambivalence was papered over in a compromise over the agency's name, forcing an artificial merger of the modest goal of arms control with its visionary second cousin, disarmament.

Some saw ACDA as the embodiment of the initial postwar notion of how to prevent future wars: General and Complete Disarmament (GCD). By 1961, this concept had sparked some 70 multilateral conferences aimed at devising broad disarmament schemes under the rubric of the United Nations. Popular reaction to the ravages of World War II and the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had created substantial public sentiment in favor of GCD, requiring at least tacit U.S. government support for such initiatives. Within the government, however, most officials saw the approach as essentially messianic and impractical, viewing these conferences largely as a part of the struggle with the U.S.S.R. for world opinion. Even so, some ACDA supporters, including Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, hoped to capture public sentiment favoring GCD as part of the political constituency necessary to bring the agency into being.

For others, the notion of creating a separate agency for arms control grew out of more pragmatic motives. There was growing recognition in the late 1950s that the development of Soviet nuclear capabilities, dramatized by Sputnik and culminating in debate over the "missile gap," had irrevocably altered the basis for American defense planning and strategy. The fact that the Soviet Union could now pose a threat of nuclear annihilation to the West, a reality which no degree of new U.S. military capabilities could eradicate, spurred the beginnings of an official constituency for contemporary notions of arms control-detailed technical discussions of specific limitations on nuclear weapons, initially on their testing.

In this context, the practical rationales for according arms control a larger bureaucratic role were essentially threefold. First, because the technical and scientific expertise required to design test limitation initiatives had outstripped that available within existing government agencies, the need was seen for a new organization that could attract the necessary talent, formulate the new policies, and see to their implementation. The ad hoc nature of arms control diplomacy during the last part of the 1950s-relying on panels of private experts, advisory committees, and special presidential advisers-had proven increasingly inadequate as the United States developed more than a passing interest in seeking controls on Soviet nuclear programs. In particular, the experience of the Geneva Surprise Attack Conference in 1959, which had foundered into stalemate in part because the United States was insufficiently prepared to deal with the complexity of technical issues, prompted support for an enhanced and more focused arms control apparatus within the government. It was recognized widely that attracting and retaining qualified personnel for these functions would only be possible if arms control officials were accorded greater bureaucratic stature.

Second, there was a desire to give arms control a clear voice within the government. This purpose proved more contentious. Developing a cadre of government experts capable of analyzing alternative proposals was one thing, but encouraging those experts to become bureaucratic advocates suggested a policy-formulation role that many officials in existing departments found threatening. This concern was especially pronounced in light of the proposal that the new agency assume the lead in the guidance and conduct of negotiations. Opponents voiced fears that the new agency would undercut the State and Defense Departments, aggrandizing its authority to the point of actually sabotaging the work of these much larger organizations.

There was further concern that ACDA's focus on arms control would mean that it would inevitably place negotiating considerations ahead of national security concerns, becoming an advocate within the government for disarmament at any price. This opinion was expressed most succinctly by former Defense Secretary Robert Lovett, who argued in congressional testimony that the agency "is going to be a mecca for a wide variety of screwballs. It will be a natural magnet for those rather uninspiring groups that have slogans 'Better Red than Dead,' 'Surrender and Survive,' or the give-up groups." Overstated, certainly, and not the viewpoint which prevailed, but Lovett represented the more muted concerns of large segments of the government and public-concerns which have plagued ACDA throughout its history.1

The third major factor in ACDA's bureaucratic design was the desire to give arms control policy an autonomous channel to the President. This purpose also was controversial, but it received strong backing from leading figures in the Kennedy Administration. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, in particular, argued that the agency should have sufficient stature so that its director would have access to the President and the ability to deal effectively with other senior government officials and world leaders. At the same time, the consensus view was that the multiple interests involved in arms control-those of a "substantial political character," as Rusk put it-necessitated that the agency's director also report to the Secretary of State. In its final version, the legislation establishing the agency reflected the pressures of compromise, giving ACDA its current hybrid bureaucratic character. The director became the "principal advisor to the Secretary of State and the President" on arms control, but ultimately was under the policy direction of the Secretary. How he could serve in both roles was left unexplained.

Despite these important pragmatic arguments for establishing a separate arms control agency, the base of popular support for an incremental arms control approach remained small. Thus, ACDA's architects could not abandon the GCD constituency during the congressional debate. On the contrary, marshalling sufficient support for creating ACDA required that such confirmed GCD advocates as the World Federalists play a central role. Unfortunately, while casting support for ACDA as a "moral imperative" may have helped to sway some congressional votes in its favor, such postures worked equally to exacerbate fears that arms control was simply a euphemism for unilateral disarmament and anti-militarism. When President Kennedy's representative, John J. McCloy, presented the draft bill proposing a "U.S. Disarmament Agency for World Peace and Security" in June 1961, most of his testimony focused on reassuring skeptics that the United States was not committing itself to unilateral disarmament. Even so, Kennedy himself is reported to have considered the eventual passage of the legislation in September as miraculous.

The series of political and bureaucratic compromises that were necessary to garner sufficient support for the agency's creation presaged the difficulties which ACDA has had in securing an effective policy voice in subsequent years. In the almost 22 years of the agency's existence, decades in which arms control has come to play a central role in U.S. foreign and defense policy, ACDA officials have spent the better part of their time and energies fighting for their bureaucratic survival. The original conflicts over ACDA's mission and character, never resolved, continue to distort the political debate about arms control; increasingly, however, these ancient battles have become irrelevant to the real roles of arms control in the contemporary world.


ACDA's problems begin with its director's supposed status as an independent official reporting directly to the President. This channel was intended to assure the agency's independence and standing within the bureaucracy, and thus its ability to articulate and pursue arms control objectives forcefully and effectively. In fact, the agency's independence is illusory. Its directors have only rarely had direct access to the President, much less been the principal formulators, negotiators, or even spokesmen for arms control. Similarly, at all levels of the bureaucracy, relationships between ACDA and other government agencies have most often been troubled, a fact which severely constricts the agency's ability to fulfill its purposes. This latter problem has been complicated in recent years by congressional actions assigning to ACDA a number of quasi-regulatory functions. And finally, all these problems-unresolved for so many years-have led to severe difficulties within the agency itself.

The Director's Role

Special meetings or communications between Presidents and ACDA directors are rare, despite the legislated direct line between them. The tremendous demands on the President's time, to say nothing of the implications of such meetings for perceptions of the President's priorities within the government and among the public, assure that such private sessions occur only in extraordinary circumstances. Several other factors also restrict the director's ability to play an active role in the formulation of arms control policy. In practice, his policy-formulation role is largely derivative, depending upon the relationships he is able to establish with the three principal foreign policy officials-the Secretaries of State and Defense and the President's national security adviser-along with the administration's most senior political advisers.

The director is not a statutory member of the National Security Council, a fact which somewhat restricts his ability to participate in the formulation of arms control policy. Although legislation is currently being considered in the Congress which would correct this deficiency, in practice it would help little. Not since the Eisenhower Administration have full NSC meetings been a major decision-making forum. For the past six administrations, they have been held infrequently, and then largely to ratify decisions taken in smaller and less formal settings. During the Carter Administration, for example, the President met weekly over breakfast with Vice President Mondale, Cyrus Vance, Harold Brown, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and one or two key political advisers, to discuss the most pressing international issues. The three foreign policy principals themselves had a weekly meal together, lunch this time, at which they attempted to resolve questions not requiring the President's intervention. None of President Carter's three ACDA directors took part in either of these sessions.

The four administrations which have had to deal with strategic arms negotiations have all set up interagency organizations and procedures to formulate positions and strategy in the talks. Although ACDA directors or their subordinates have always participated in these mechanisms, they have always been dominated by others. Henry Kissinger, for example, chaired and controlled the so-called Verification Panel, the key interagency group during the Nixon Administration; when Kissinger moved to the State Department, so too did effective leadership of the panel. Zbigniew Brzezinski relates in his memoirs how he chaired the comparable mechanism established during the Carter Administration, often using that position to frustrate the preferences of ACDA Director Paul Warnke or even those of Secretary Vance. At present, the interagency mechanisms for formulating arms control seem to be dominated by Secretary of Defense Weinberger and his subordinates, although William P. Clark, the current national security adviser, has lately appeared to play a larger role. In any event, the director of ACDA has hardly been present, much less decisive, in the Reagan Administration.

Nor has the director's putative role as principal negotiator proven feasible, at least for the most important talks, those with the Soviets on strategic weapons. Henry Kissinger's gradual undercutting of Gerard Smith during SALT I, eventually taking the most important elements of the negotiations into his own hands through the back-channel to Moscow, is well known and extensively documented. During the Carter Administration's pursuit of SALT II, the chief negotiating burden fell on Secretary Vance. Although Warnke manned the table and ironed out the details in Geneva, the crucial agreements were reached during meetings between Vance and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko in Washington and Moscow. Since 1981 there have been two separate nuclear negotiators-Paul Nitze, for intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), and Edward Rowny, for strategic forces-neither of whom is the director of ACDA. Rowny has even had the temerity to state explicitly in a memorandum that he would not take orders from Adelman.2

There are many reasons why the ACDA director has not been able to fill the negotiator's role, not least of which is the impossibility of negotiating in some foreign capital while managing the agency and participating in a wide range of additional arms control issues in Washington. More important, though, has been politics. As arms negotiations have become the subject of increasingly heated and significant political conflict, successive administrations have felt compelled to draw them into the daily purview of their most senior figures, and often of the President himself. Moreover, by virtue of their jobs alone, ACDA directors have become increasingly suspect, leading Presidents to diminish their prominence by restricting their roles.

The Congress has shared the view that arms negotiations are too important, and too sensitive politically, to be left to the director of ACDA. The key vote in the Warnke dispute, for example, came on his appointment as negotiator, not as director, a fact which almost necessitated Secretary Vance's dominant role in SALT II. The strength demonstrated by Warnke's opponents also led the Carter Administration to downgrade the ACDA director's role as the government's spokesman for arms control. Secretary of Defense Brown shouldered most of this burden, while the President's counsel, Lloyd Cutler, was given the responsibility of coordinating efforts to see the SALT II treaty through the ratification process in 1979.

Presidents have sometimes tried to deflect political pressures against arms control negotiations by appointing as directors individuals with records of conservative defense views and opposition to past agreements. Fred Iklé, the director who succeeded Gerard Smith during the Nixon Administration, George Seignious, who succeeded Warnke, Eugene Rostow, and now Kenneth Adelman all exemplify this trend. Ironically, both Seignious and Rostow came under furious attack from the right after having served only briefly at the agency. The practice is not without its costs in terms of the agency's mission. Iklé, for example, is believed to have joined Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in early 1976 in urging President Ford not to go ahead with a treaty based on the 1974 Vladivostok Accord, a crucial decision that greatly delayed progress in strategic arms control.

Relations within the Executive Branch

Just as the director has been unable to play the roles envisioned for him when the agency was established, the organization itself has not been able to fulfill its creators' expectations. The agency's ability to play an active policy role within the executive branch depends on access to routine intragovernmental documents and procedures, all of which are controlled by the larger and more senior departments. Even when an ACDA role is mandated by legislation-as in discussions of prospective arms sales, for instance-the agency's participation is never assured. In reality, ACDA officials must spend substantial amounts of time devising tactics and stratagems simply to learn of and take part in meetings-hardly an optimum use of their expertise.

In large measure, the degree of the agency's participation in any decision depends on the personal relationships between ACDA officials and representatives of other agencies. From an operational standpoint, dependence on this kind of informal leverage mitigates the ability and willingness of ACDA officials to articulate views which are in substantial opposition to the majority. Anyone with experience as the sole opposing voice in a group of colleagues seeking policy consensus knows that such a situation is sufficiently trying to the individual, and offensive to the collective, that it is bound to be short-lived. Over time, one either tempers objections or finds that one has ceased to be an effective contributor. In either case, the bureaucratic imperative to function as a "team player" tends to overwhelm the impulse to be a vocal opponent.

Given the continuingly suspect image of arms control, officials at ACDA soon find that the bureaucratic hazards of forceful challenges to consensus opinion are sufficient to propel one to professional obscurity. Instances of the directors' exclusion at key points are well known, beginning with Gerard Smith's limited role in the crucial decisions leading to the final content of the SALT I treaty. But the agency's effectiveness may be even more seriously undercut by the less visible, routine manner in which ACDA officials are excluded from the day-to-day definition of government policy. This phenomenon, which has persisted to varying degrees regardless of administration, did not even change markedly during the Carter years, despite the unprecedented priority then accorded to arms control initiatives.

Moreover, fear of such isolation imposes a pervasive tendency for ACDA representatives to forego opportunities for bureaucratic warfare, even over issues that have substantial congressional or public support. In 1970, for instance, ACDA felt compelled to modify its initially strong support for a delay in the testing of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). This was partly a tactical move aimed at protecting the existing consensus to seek limitations on ballistic missile defenses, but also resulted from a perception that the agency would erode its own standing by fighting what was generally perceived as a losing bureaucratic battle. This kind of institutional compromise-a necessity, given the overall configuration of the national security bureaucracy-nevertheless erodes public and congressional confidence in the agency and reinforces ACDA's image within the government as an aggregate of ineffectual hand-wringers.

True, ACDA has managed to make significant contributions to U.S. arms control policy. In particular, the agency's technical and analytical support of strategic arms negotiations has been extremely important. And the agency played a decisive role in the formulation and implementation of policies that led to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Its director during that period, William C. Foster, was the treaty's foremost advocate within the government. Still, the NPT was not as controversial a step as arms control initiatives that pit the United States against the U.S.S.R. (Interestingly, as efforts to restrain nuclear proliferation have moved onto more controversial ground, the State Department has had to play a larger role.)

Offsetting past successes are many other instances in which ACDA has been unable to carry out its institutional mandate. Moreover, the existence of this separate agency has sometimes reduced the coherence of American policy, misled foreign governments, and contributed to the public's confusion about arms control. Within weeks of his confirmation, for example, Kenneth Adelman stated to a group of European reporters that the United States would consider "a serious Soviet [INF] proposal" that included elimination of Pershing II missiles but allowed cruise missiles in numbers equal to Soviet SS-20s. This contradicted what had been the U.S. position for months, necessitating an immediate correction from the State Department.3

Regulatory Functions

ACDA's bureaucratic problems have been compounded by legislation giving it certain quasi-regulatory functions. The 1976 Arms Control Export Act, for example, requires that the director of ACDA evaluate prospective arms sales in terms of specific legislated criteria and advise the President and the Secretary of State as to his evaluation. The director is expected to testify before the Congress as to what his advice was, even when a prospective sale was seen to carry adverse arms control implications but was approved by the President nonetheless. This legislation has resulted in a bureaucratic process which consumes time far out of proportion to its contribution to policy, much less to arms control.

ACDA's conventional arms experts, who have varied in number and expertise over the years, do review and comment upon most prospective arms transactions. As concerns the most important and politically sensitive arms sales, however, their analysis is rarely considered on a timely basis. This was the case even under the much strengthened ACDA role which prevailed during the Carter Administration. Evaluations of prospective transfers necessarily are dominated by the short-term military and political implications of approval or rejection; the arms control implications in most cases are uncertain, vague and longer-term. When ACDA's view is sought on major executive arms-transfer decisions, it is mainly to create a "paper trail" sufficient to assure the Congress that the law has been obeyed. And when ACDA officials are required to testify on arms sales, as during the 1981 debate on the sale of advanced radar (AWACS) aircraft to Saudi Arabia, they invariably avow that their views have been considered and that, on balance, the proposed weapons transfer is in the nation's interest.

Most arms sales previewed by ACDA tend to be those at the political margin, giving the agency an opportunity to comment in a fairly benign fashion. These reviews have had positive results in some instances. Alert ACDA analysts once discerned patterns of transfers of seemingly innocent technologies which in the aggregate indicated the recipient was attempting to develop offensive missile capabilities. But on the whole, ACDA has served as little more than a clearing house, sometimes approving arms sales "with caveats," which register little effect with the State Department's Office of Munitions Control or other agencies.

A second quasi-regulatory function is mandated by a 1976 amendment to the legislation establishing ACDA. Attempting to prevent the executive branch from developing weapons which complicate efforts to control arms, the legislation requires ACDA to report each year on the impact of certain weapons programs on arms control policy and negotiations. These impact statements, which are public documents, are the subject of tremendous bureaucratic friction. Obviously, no administration is going to request funds from the Congress for a weapon system and simultaneously inform the legislators that the system would have an adverse impact on important negotiations. Thus, the legislation has led to the creation of a time-consuming bureaucratic process, having nothing to do with the actual weapon decisions, in which the government attempts to write statements which contain enough analysis to satisfy those few Congressmen who are interested in them, while not providing grist for the mill of the weapons' opponents.

Both these regulatory functions have costs beyond the time and effort wasted in the futile attempt to satisfy the terms of the legislation. The stereotype of ACDA as gratuitously in opposition to certain types of initiatives, a role which the legislation forces upon the agency, reinforces the tendency of other departments to cut ACDA out of deliberations. The correct perception that in these roles the agency is acting more as an agent of the Congress than the executive branch further aggravates the situation and feeds suspicions of ACDA's loyalties. When ACDA has attempted to fulfill these responsibilities conscientiously, the results have been bad blood that spilled into other areas of policy formulation.

Internal Problems

ACDA's continuing political problems and image as a bureaucratic dead-end greatly impede its ability to attract high-ranking civil servants. When effective bureaucrats are recruited, they tend to cut their tenure short or, in some notable instances, to be fired. A recent case in point was the two-year battle for Senate confirmation of Eugene Rostow's deputy, Robert Grey, a career foreign service officer, which ended with the Administration's collapse in the face of opposition by Senator Jesse Helms and a very small minority of the Senate.

ACDA has been the target of repeated purges and tends to undergo massive disruption after each change of administration. Wholesale firings in 1972, a purge promised by the White House in exchange for certain conservative Senators' support of the SALT I agreements, reduced top management by almost one-third. Upon taking office, the present Administration fired virtually everyone not protected by civil service status and reduced the overall size of the agency by almost 25 percent.

Civil service regulations ought to shield the agency from the worst of these travails, but actually offer little protection from politically inspired attacks. ACDA's personnel system has always been highly politicized, and the job security of the civil service can be circumvented through reductions-in-force or reclassification of positions. ACDA civil servants of both parties live in fear of displacement following elections, which if not manifested in outright dismissal is approximated by exile to the accursed ACDA offices in Rosslyn, Virginia-across the River Styx.

These institutional problems are rooted fundamentally in political forces. They stem most directly from the image of ACDA as an antagonistic player in the policy process, meant to exert a primal opposition to defense. This atavistic misperception of the agency's role is shared by both opponents and proponents of arms control and assures bureaucratic problems for ACDA. Critics on the left, judging ACDA to be an insufficient opponent of the Defense Department, often vilify its policies as hypocritical compromises with what they see as the "enemy." Critics on the right, continuing to see ACDA personnel, regardless of the specific policies they embrace, as soft-headed Kremlin sympathizers seeking arms control at any cost, excoriate the agency and its employees at every opportunity. Even when the agency has been perceived as "hawkish," as during the second Nixon Administration, the overarching perception of ACDA as subversive remained.


Suggestions for reorganizing America's arms negotiating machinery have usually coincided with a lack of progress in arms negotiations. Some have proposed integrating ACDA with the Defense Department, either as part of the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Others have suggested putting responsibility for arms negotiations directly in the White House, either under the supervision of the national security adviser or, most recently, in the person of a Special Counsel.

We have considered both these alternatives but find them wanting. The first is unattractive because the potential of negotiations for enhancing the nation's security is unlikely to gain an adequate hearing within the Pentagon. The backgrounds and orientations of defense officials tend to be incompatible with the skills and experiences necessary for the day-to-day consideration of the diplomatic and political factors intrinsic to the process of arms control. Moreover, certain interests which are deeply entrenched in the Pentagon tend to see arms negotiations as threatening; while Defense can be persuaded to go along with movement in arms talks, it is unlikely ever to supply the catalyst and engine for such progress.

The second possibility, assigning responsibility to the White House, is also flawed. Whether as part of the National Security Council staff or elsewhere in the President's immediate office, placing responsibility for arms control in a separate entity-still removed from the mainstream of bureaucratic planning-would inevitably focus political fire on what should be considered routine procedures and criteria for decision-making. Moreover, there are the difficulties which attend any assignment of routine and sustained responsibilities to the national security adviser. For one, he does not command the resources necessary to do the job; inevitably, there would be a huge growth in the NSC staff and duplication of effort. For another, and far more important, it would lead to a great increase in the diplomatic consultations carried out by the national security adviser with representatives of the U.S.S.R. and U.S. allies. Duplicating the diplomatic functions of the State Department could only lead to even greater inconsistency and incoherence in U.S. foreign policy.

Moreover, neither of these proposals deals with the need to integrate arms negotiations into an overall political strategy to enhance security. The first-order consequences of arms control are, after all, political. The primary direct effect of success or failure in arms negotiations is felt in America's relations with the Soviet Union and the NATO allies. This is not to discount the potential of these talks to influence the risk of nuclear war or the direction of particular defense programs, but simply to note that these effects are inseparably linked with the consequences of the talks for political relationships.

Strengthening the nation's ability to design and implement effective arms control policies thus requires, as a first step, more comprehensive organizational changes. In effect, we propose disaggregating the functions now assigned to ACDA by law and distributing them to more appropriate bureaucratic structures. If these changes were accomplished, the agency itself could be abolished:

1) Primary responsibility for the implementation of arms control policy should be given to the Secretary of State. Under him, enlarged and diversified bureaus of the State Department, reporting to a new Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs, would be given authority for routine activities;

2) Responsibility for the formulation of arms control policy, now nominally assigned by the 1961 Act to the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, should be recognized formally as residing necessarily in an interagency committee of foreign policy principals, operating within the NSC framework;

3) The present General Advisory Committee for Arms Control and Disarmament, a watchdog organization whose members are now appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, should be made explicitly responsible to both branches of government and tasked with reporting annually on progress or failure in arms control; and

4) ACDA's quasi-regulatory functions should be shifted to congressional agencies.

Under Secretary of State for Security and Multilateral Affairs

Under the President, the Secretary of State is the senior official responsible for the formulation and implementation of foreign policy and for the maintenance of good relations with other nations. He should be responsible for arms negotiations along with the other aspects of foreign policy, and he should have the authority necessary to carry out that responsibility, including the routine administration and support of negotiations, unencumbered by the ambiguities that have resulted from the creation of a separate agency.

Obviously, the Secretary of State cannot carry out this responsibility by himself. He will have to delegate it to a subordinate, whom we shall call the Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs.4 This individual would be the functional equivalent of the present director of ACDA, having primary operational responsibility for the implementation of arms control policy. To carry out this responsibility, the official would direct the negotiating teams and chair the interagency backup squads in Washington which support the negotiations. In short, although all relevant agencies would continue to participate in the various groups necessary to implement policy, their direction, coordination, and primary support would be the responsibility of the State Department.

Giving an Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs direct authority over all U.S. arms negotiators would clarify a debilitating and misleading ambiguity in the organizational structures that support U.S. arms control policies at present. During the 1972 purge of ACDA that followed completion of the SALT I agreements, President Nixon decided that the chief negotiator for strategic arms and the director of ACDA should not be the same person. This was largely to allay concerns in the Pentagon and the Congress that combining the two positions gave too much authority to the director and led to imprudent agreements. As we have noted, President Reagan further fractionated negotiating authority by naming separate senior negotiators for talks on intermediate-range and strategic nuclear forces. By suggesting that arms negotiators report directly to the President, and by naming senior individuals to these posts whose political standing is at least equal to that of the director of ACDA, successive administrations (and the Congress) have further reduced the agency's authority and created new sources of bureaucratic competition, leaks and policy incoherence. Paul Nitze's apparently unauthorized explorations of possible INF agreements in Geneva last summer is ample evidence of this problem, as are repeated public differences between Rowny and Washington-based officials.

Moreover, this procedure has perpetuated the myth that negotiators can have decisive impact on the success or failure of the talks. In fact, arms negotiations are nothing like the sort of bargaining, say, over the terms of a house sale, with which ordinary citizens have had experience. Negotiators are only proxies for their respective governments. They are given extremely limited bargaining room, and observers are present from all relevant agencies to assure that they do not stray from tightly written instructions. Communications with home capitals are rapid and frequent, and pass through several channels. And whatever is agreed to at the table (or in the woods) always has to be ratified in Moscow and Washington.5

This is not to argue that the skills of the negotiator do not make a difference; they do. But these skills pertain more to an ability to comprehend and analyze the opponent's position, and to put forth one's own country's position in a believable manner, than they do to actually eliciting changes in the other side's positions. In other words, negotiators serve mainly as scouts. No matter how persuasive they may or may not be, their persuasive powers must be transmitted through opposite numbers to decision-makers in Moscow; the substance of what they have to say is far more important than the style with which it is or is not said.

It would more accurately reflect the limited influence of the negotiators to have them subordinated to the officials directly responsible for arms control policymaking and implementation-the interagency committee for broad policy guidance and the Secretary of State and his Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs, backed by interagency working groups for day-to-day direction. The President might still wish to appoint senior people to negotiating positions, to signify the importance attached to the talks and to benefit from their experience, but their bureaucratic position as subordinates of the Secretary of State should be unambiguous. Such a change would remove at least one source of inconsistency and incoherence from U.S. arms control policy.

Happily, there is no need to establish a new Under Secretary's position to carry out these functions. The present Under Secretary for Security Assistance, Science and Technology was established in 1972 to assure the State Department's control and coordination of military and economic assistance. It has rarely functioned as was envisioned, however, instead being used largely as a sinecure to reward high ranking individuals for political favors.

There is an important need for an effective individual in this position. Often in arms control issues, as in other functional questions that cut across bilateral relationships between the United States and individual nations, positions preferred by those responsible for the functional interest run counter to the interests of individuals responsible for relations with specific nations. For example, stemming nuclear proliferation often requires pressures directed at countries which export or receive certain items of equipment or materials. Country desk officers, the Assistant Secretary in charge of the regional bureau in which that country is included, and his boss-the Under Secretary for Political Affairs-tend to oppose such confrontations or pressures.

Transforming the present Under Secretary for Security Assistance into the Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs thus requires more than a change in title. The individual chosen for the job will have to be a person with considerable experience and independent standing in the field; a person senior and respected enough to serve as the kind of leader originally envisioned for ACDA-with stature sufficient to deal with other senior officials and with foreign leaders. The Secretary must then make clear that this individual is the senior person responsible for arms control matters within the Department.

The Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs would be given responsibility for, and direct authority over, three existing bureaus: Politico-Military Affairs, International Organization Affairs, and Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. The responsibilities of these three bureaus currently overlap those of ACDA-because the Secretary of State has had to become intimately involved in arms negotiations despite the existence of the agency, considerable duplication has developed in recent years.

Even so, the three bureaus would have to be expanded and diversified. Most individuals that serve in the State Department are foreign service officers-career diplomats who rotate between assignments overseas and posts in Washington. Almost always very talented individuals, and often experienced negotiators, foreign service officers do not ordinarily have the specialized military, analytical, or technical backgrounds necessary to support arms negotiations. It would be beneficial to train progressively more foreign service officers in arms control problems, including their technical aspects, but even so the existing bureaus would have to be beefed-up with civil service positions to accommodate larger numbers of scientific and other specialized personnel, along with military officers on assignment from the Defense Department.

There is another reason for diversifying the personnel in the three bureaus. Like any organization with a career service, the State Department has a particular view of the world which tends to be shared by most of its officers. This includes a tendency to disparage technical and weapon issues in favor of broader political considerations and, more importantly, a general bias toward maintaining good bilateral relationships, even if they can be protected only at the expense of other national objectives. Greater numbers of civil servants and military personnel are needed in the Department, therefore, not only for their specialized knowledge and skills, but also to assure that arms control criteria receive adequate attention.

Because they would not rotate to overseas posts, a larger complement of civil servants within the State Department also could assure greater continuity among the personnel supporting negotiations and help retain institutional memory. A consequence of the repeated purges of ACDA has been loss of the intimate knowledge of past initiatives which only those actually involved in an enterprise retain.

Some will argue that abolishing ACDA as a quasi-independent agency, and the loss of the director's presumed direct access to the President, means devaluation of arms control objectives. Such access is necessary, they will maintain, to assure continuing presidential attention to arms control policies and thus their high priority. In fact, assigning responsibility for arms control implementation to the State Department would make possible even more frequent presidential consideration of arms control issues, causing them to be included in the Secretary's daily communications with the White House on a routine basis, like any other foreign policy subject. At present, when responsibility for arms control is partially outside the Department's portfolio, negotiating issues tend to be handled separately, a fact which both reduces the frequency with which Presidents address them and increases the controversy which attends their resolution when they are finally elevated to the President's attention.

Similarly, integrating ACDA with the Department of State would make possible more routine coordination of arms control policies with the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the National Security Council. Again, each administration works out its own procedures for such activities, but the elimination of a separate agency, one whose legitimacy is sometimes questioned by the others, can only ease what is always a difficult task.

Interagency Policy Formulation Committee

This will be the least contentious proposal, as it merely ratifies what has already taken place. As discussed above, each of the past five administrations has necessarily created interagency machinery, generally within the NSC framework, to formulate and coordinate arms control policy. The dual character of the subject of arms negotiations, both military and political, assures that both the Defense and State Departments see an important stake in the objectives and strategy the United States pursues in the talks. No Secretary of State or Defense, nor certainly the leaders of the armed forces, can adequately fulfill their responsibilities without having a direct and timely say in the formulation of arms control policies. This would include the articulation of broad policy objectives and strategy, the specific approach to be pursued in the major negotiations, the timing and substance of significant initiatives and changes in existing tactics, and related matters of high policy and politics.

Other individuals also must play a central role in formulating arms control policy. The crucial importance of verification arrangements assures that the Director of Central Intelligence will have to be involved from the beginning. The major implications which arms negotiations have come to suggest for domestic politics also assures a strong White House interest in the details of arms control policy formulation.

Given the high stakes which all the foreign policy principals perceive in arms negotiations, it is simply not possible for the director of ACDA to play the lead role in formulating policy, as envisioned in the legislation which established the agency. Particularly since the agency is charged with promoting arms control and is perceived as an uncritical exponent of this objective, other officials will not concede such an advantage. Moreover, the director would never have sufficient bureaucratic clout to implement the formulation role against such opposition, even if it were assigned to him by the White House. The agency is too small, its resources too meager, its political status too weak.

At the same time, neither can either State or Defense be given the formal lead. On too many issues, they will inevitably come into conflict, having differing perspectives on the priorities which should be accorded to the various objectives that could be pursued in negotiations. Thus, an interagency coordinating committee, under one name or another, loosely presided over by the national security adviser, has been the almost inevitable bureaucratic procedure devised to formulate arms control policy. Formalizing such arrangements would have the advantage of eliminating the misperception that arms control somehow enjoys substantive and political independence within the government, a misperception which often leads to expectations that cannot be fulfilled. It also would eliminate a continual source of interagency strife over who "controls" arms control policy.

The General Advisory Committee for Arms Control and Disarmament

The legislation which established ACDA also authorized the President to appoint a 15-member advisory committee on arms control and disarmament. Known as the GAC, this committee was intended both to assure that arms control topics remained high on the President's agenda, and to ride herd over the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, to assure that it did not become the haven for "kooks" and "disarmers" that was feared in 1961. Under the current system, members of the GAC are private citizens appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

To date, the Committee has only rarely played an active role in the formulation of U.S. arms control policy. Chaired by John J. McCloy from 1961 to 1973, it worked closely with ACDA in its early years-too closely for the comfort of agency officials who resented interference with their authority. During the first Nixon Administration, the GAC served with some effectiveness to encourage consideration of certain ideas, like a proposal to ban the deployment of MIRVs, which otherwise might have received short shrift from the bureaucracy. The GAC met regularly during the Carter Administration, but has since become moribund.

If restructured slightly, the General Advisory Committee could serve to assure that the changes in responsibilities for arms control negotiations we have proposed would not lead to diminished attention to the subject. The GAC should be made explicitly responsible to both the President and the Congress and assured of access to each on a regular basis.

Specifically, the GAC should remain a committee of private citizens, but a majority would be named by the Congress, four members by the congressional leadership of each party; the remaining seven members would be appointed by the President and not be subject to congressional approval. Members would be appointed to staggered five-year terms, to further distance them from the presidential electoral process.

The Committee's sole function each year would be to prepare a comprehensive report to the President and the Congress on arms control. It will need a very small staff to accomplish this task. The report would include a description of progress or failure in negotiations, a listing of accessions and declensions in signatories and ratifiers of existing treaties, an assessment of the current status of nuclear proliferation concerns, and suggestions for new initiatives or changes of direction in existing policies. Although the Committee would strive for consensus, provision would be made for a minority statement and footnoted exceptions to specific conclusions. The report would be prepared in both classified and unclassified versions to encourage greater candor.

Completion of the report each year would provide the opportunity for the Committee to meet with the President and to testify before the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees of each house. Its function would be strictly advisory; it would have no authority to formulate or implement policies. Still, the legislated requirement for an annual report would assure that at least once each year both branches of government would review the policies then being pursued, determine whether or not new approaches were desirable, and assess the performance of relevant officials. Without interfering with executive branch decision-making, it would make it more likely that arms control concerns would not be buried within the executive branch.

Quasi-regulatory Functions

The assignment of regulatory functions to the agency reflects the ambivalence with which ACDA is viewed in the Congress. On the one hand, it is expected to be an integral part of the executive branch so as to be able to influence decisions and carry out negotiations. On the other hand, it is seen as a sort of watchdog on the other executive branch agencies to assure that arms control considerations are given their due. In fact, when it has attempted to perform both types of functions, the agency has done neither very well. Sincere attempts to carry out the regulatory functions lead inevitably to conflict with other executive branch agencies; and the resentments which result from those battles then complicate the agency's attempts to carry out its policy formulation and negotiating roles.

Replacing ACDA with an integral component of the Department of State would alleviate part of this problem. A component of the new Under Secretary for Security and Multilateral Affairs could continue to examine the arms control implications of prospective arms transfers. And this mandate could be strengthened by giving State a role in internal executive-branch deliberations on weapon acquisition decisions as well-as noted, ACDA is presently required to prepare assessments of the impact of weapons decisions, but does not take part in the decision process itself. In both cases, the State Department should not be expected to break with the Administration and share its evaluations with the Congress.

To the extent that the Congress decided that it still required independent advice on the arms control impact of weapon programs or arms sales, it could gain such analyses by assigning these functions to its own agencies. The Congressional Research Service, for example, has a competent professional staff that could easily prepare impact statements. Or, for that matter, the General Accounting Office could be given the task.

The expectation of the Congress in assigning these quasi-regulatory functions to ACDA-that a part of the executive branch would have better access to necessary information and thus carry out the task more effectively-was never realistic. No official or agency of the executive branch can provide candid public reports that differ with current policy and remain an effective member of the administration. As the Congress must authorize weapons programs and has an opportunity to veto weapon sales in any event, why not have its own agencies report on the consequences of such actions for arms control policies and negotiations?


One of the drawbacks of the American system of government is that once an issue becomes politicized it becomes extremely difficult to resolve. No matter how evident the "right" answer might be, the fact that one party might gain if the other is seen to be implementing an objectively correct, but politically unpopular solution, causes both to shun the problem like the plague. We have seen a recent demonstration of this phenomenon as concerns social security reform. Although everyone knew what had to be done, it took an elaborate minuet lasting several years for solutions to be legislated.

Reforming the mechanisms through which we formulate and implement arms control policies could well present similar problems. There can be no doubt that the present system does not work well; the evidence is persuasive in the memoirs and testimony of individuals who have been involved, as well as in the continuing disarray of our policies. In itself, the fact that every new administration feels compelled to revise extensively the approach pursued by its predecessor suggests that U.S. arms control policies are not built on a solid enough foundation to assure continuity and bipartisan support. Demands by members of Congress during the MX debate this spring for a new bipartisan commission to reexamine U.S. approaches to arms control reinforce the point.

Certainly the present Administration is in no position to make changes in the organizational structures behind U.S. arms negotiations. The slightest move by President Reagan to implement changes like those suggested in this article would be seized upon by the Democrats, and even some Republicans, as compelling evidence of his Administration's continuing efforts to sabotage arms negotiations.

A new administration, however, particularly one which had campaigned on the need to revitalize and make quicker progress in arms negotiations, could easily implement these reforms. And a second Reagan Administration with a renewed mandate also could bring change about. It would naturally have to be done with the cooperation of the Congress. The leaders of both parties, as well as the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, and their relevant subcommittees, would have to be persuaded that the changes were meant sincerely, and that reform would not reduce their own oversight authority over arms control policy and its implementation.

In practical terms, one way to proceed would be to consult with congressional leaders during the post-election/pre-inauguration period. Assuming that the results of these discussions were favorable, the necessary legislation could be drafted in cooperation with congressional leaders and staff, and tabled at the opening of the new Congress. Once the legislation was passed, the new Under Secretary would review agency personnel to determine who should be brought over to the State Department.

Alternatively, a less direct approach could be tried. A joint congressional/executive branch commission could be appointed to examine the many existing proposals for reforming arms control policymaking. If such a commission reached conclusions similar to those expressed in this article, it might facilitate formation of the consensus necessary to pass the needed legislation. Indeed, such a commission might then be converted into the new GAC.

Abolishing ACDA would not be without its costs. The Soviet Union, for instance, can be expected to make much of the change internationally, pointing to the move as evidence of the warlike intentions of the United States. This complaint need not be taken seriously, however. The U.S.S.R's own institutions for planning and implementing arms negotiations leave almost all power in the hands of the Soviet military. The closest the U.S.S.R. comes to having an arms control agency is a division of the Foreign Ministry, an organizational scheme not dissimilar to that suggested here. Conceivably, some of our European allies might also worry about the implications of the change but, for the most part, European governments are likely to see it as a healthy move toward closer correspondence of negotiating positions with the requirements of foreign policy.

A more serious concern will be raised about the implications of these reforms for the ability of those who support arms control to implement their policies within the bureaucracy. It is the case that the existence of a separate arms control agency serves to offset, to some extent, the very conservative positions on negotiating issues sometimes adopted by the Defense Department. When the Pentagon advocates an extreme course, "A", and ACDA puts forth an equally extreme, if opposite course, "C", then the Secretary of State's support of the middle course, "B", looks more like a consensus position than if "B" were considered only in opposition to "A". When the Secretary of State and the director of ACDA, or their subordinates, have similar perspectives and good personal relations, this sort of bureaucratic game can be, and has been, played deliberately. To our minds, however, this minor bureaucratic advantage is a price well worth paying for the greater coherence and effectiveness which would result from the proposed reorganization.


In evaluating these proposals, one crucial caveat should be kept in mind. Organizational arrangements, no matter how carefully constructed, cannot guarantee sound and effective policies; indeed, they can only facilitate better decisions to a limited extent. Formal relationships among the various sub-units of an organization provide only the framework within which policy is made. More important in determining decisions are the priorities of the organization and its leadership, and the skills and personalities of the individuals filling the boxes on organizational charts. Anyone who has worked in a large organization is aware of individuals who have exercised power and influence far disproportionate to their formal positions, as well as those for whom official position was only a sinecure.

In the end, the ability of any administration to achieve meaningful arms control agreements depends on the President's goals, the priority he assigns to arms control policy, and the knowledge and skills of the individuals he appoints to key positions. The changes we propose would provide no panacea to the disarray in U.S. arms control policy and no guarantee of success. They would, however, make it somewhat easier for officials to conceive and implement effective policies, by assuring some protection for arms negotiations from political tides and by facilitating the integration of arms control with other instruments of U.S. security policy.

The creation of a separate agency to formulate and implement arms control policy has permitted administrations to pose as devoted champions of arms control but not helped them to become its effective advocates. It has concentrated political attention on technical issues better handled by competent specialists. It has turned debates about modest agreements, with only limited potential for either good or evil, into raging moralistic struggles for the nation's soul. It has contributed to illusions of what arms negotiations can or cannot accomplish even under the best of circumstances, raising fears and suspicions in some quarters, dashing expectations and creating cynicism in others. What it has not done is lead to effective constraints on nuclear weapons and continuing reductions in the risk of nuclear war. It is time for a change.

1 A Bill to Establish a United States Disarmament Agency for World Peace and Security, Hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 87th Cong., 1st sess., August 14-16, 1961, Washington: GPO, 1961, p. 87.

2 U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Press Release, "Committee Releases 'Rowny Memorandum' and Related Papers," March 23, 1983.

3 The Washington Post, May 1, 1983.

4 The second-in-command at the State Department is the Deputy Secretary; he acts as the Secretary's alter ego. Below these two, there are at present four Under Secretaries: Political Affairs, Management, Economic Affairs, and Security Assistance, Science and Technology. The Under Secretaries typically exercise loose authority over several bureaus, the primary organizational unit within the department, most of which are headed by Assistant Secretaries-the fourth level of officialdom.

5 These references to Mr. Nitze's activity in July 1982 are not intended to suggest criticism of him. Given the apparent total rigidity of the Reagan Administration's position in the INF talks at that time, it may well be understandable that he took matters into his own hands and conducted what were at least major exploratory discussions without authority. But (as the Administration's negative reaction to his proposals may itself suggest) such explorations are likely to arouse criticism or even hostility within the key departments involved, based in part on their unauthorized character. The general practice, in our judgment, should be as stated in the above paragraph. This need not preclude the granting of express authority to explore possibilities, keeping Washington thoroughly informed and subject at all times to further instructions.



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  • Barry M. Blechman is Vice President of the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies in Washington. He was Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1977 to 1980. Janne E. Nolan is a Washington-based foreign affairs and defense consultant who also served with ACDA during the Carter Administration.
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