Kennan’s Warning on Ukraine
Ambition, Insecurity, and the Perils of Independence
The summer of 1969 has seen men on the moon and almost half the American Senate voting against a defense decision supported by two Presidents. In the summer pride of the moon landing it is not pleasant to turn the mind back to the terrible topic of nuclear danger. Yet the splendid technical achievement of Apollo contains its own reminder that similar skills applied with similar single-mindedness have now led the two greatest powers of our generation into an arms race totally unprecedented in size and danger.
The next year or two offer to the United States and the Soviet Union what may be the best chance yet to limit their extravagant contest in strategic weapons. We Americans may not understand this opportunity very well, and our friends in Russia may not understand it either. That weakness of understanding, together with the transcendent importance of the subject, is an excuse for one more effort to put some light on it. I shall begin with a review of the ABM debate and then go on to consider some larger political questions which that debate did not address-questions which may grow in importance as strategic arms limitation talks (SALT for short) get started.
The debate on ABM deployment was remarkable less for its content than for the simple fact that it happened. The level of argument was high. In analytical force the Administration's supporters were less persuasive than its opponents. There were some excessive claims on both sides, but the overstatements of some Administration spokesmen, although not the President, offered particularly easy targets. What held a slim majority, in the end, was the traditional and powerful argument that in matters of this sort-especially with international negotiations in the offing-the sober recommendation of the President is entitled to the benefit of doubt. Both the case against the ABM and the case for supporting the President are likely to be at least as strong in the future as they have been this past summer, and the task of reconciling them is an important element in the work ahead.
Yet the central significance of this debate is less in the competing arguments than in an underlying agreement which pervades the hundreds of pages of the Congressional Record-an agreement that the arms race is taking a new and highly unsatisfactory turn. Senators disagreed on the remedy, and what happens so often in hard debates happened again in this one: the case against a given line of action was easier to make than the case for an alternative. Those who opposed ABM deployment were fearful that American action would increase the world's danger; those who favored deployment found the same result in lack of action. But there were no voices to suggest that the continuing race is either safe or easy.
One heavy element in the argument of opponents was cost. Here the Administration encountered an unanticipated and widespread reaction against defense costs of all sorts, and still more against the seeming financial irresponsibility of the massive defense machine. The one amendment which carried as the debate concluded was a requirement for better financial accounting from the Pentagon. Efforts to emphasize the limited costs of initial ABM deployment were painfully reminiscent of earlier Pentagon underestimates, and opponents were able to remind the Senate of such high- cost and low-yield enterprises as the massive air defense program of the 1950s. On the evidence before the Senate it seems highly believable that a fully developed ABM system might cost much nearer 50 billion than 10. Yet cost alone was probably not the central issue for most Senators.
The central issue was danger. The supporters of the ABM had in mind the one- sided danger of an emerging Soviet strength, to which they ascribed the deeply alarming characteristic of a capability to knock out the American deterrent. If this argument had been persuasive to opposing Senators, they could hardly have voted as they did, because there is no significant sentiment in the Congress or in the country for acceptance of the notion that any other state should ever have-or even seem to have-the capacity to make a nuclear attack on the United States without receiving a devastating reply. It is no cause for complaint that the Defense Department in the nuclear age must address itself to this question, and no cause for surprise that military men put this question first.
What is now open for argument is whether this basic question is being asked in the right way. Certainly the Senators who voted against ABM did not think so. To them it was not the Soviet menace which was now most severe; it was the arms race itself. Quite aside from the prospect of a new order of cost, the technological implications of ABM and other new systems were seen as profoundly destabilizing. While questions can be asked about this analysis too, there is much force in the case that stands in the record. These new systems, whether designed for defense or for penetration, do appear to share one highly disturbing characteristic: no one seems to know just what they will and will not be able to do, and no one will ever know with certainty unless there comes a dreadful day of actual use.
This uncertainty is multiple. Each side is unsure of what its own systems can do, and is still less sure of the quality of the other side's systems. There is a tendency to place a high value on the effectiveness of a system when winning support for its adoption. But when it is in hand, the prudent military course is to place a minimum value on its effectiveness, precisely in order to plan against the worst possible future case. The ABM debate, like previous debates, found the Pentagon casting doubts upon the effectiveness of the very systems whose value it had most praised in earlier years. This was not disingenuous; it was a natural product of the rhythm of technological contest.
It is still worse when one estimates what the adversary has or can have. Just as Soviet deployment of primitive defensive missiles around Moscow played a major role some years ago in turning us toward the new system of penetration called MIRV, so our own plans for an ABM force, carefully limited though they have been in different ways by different Presidents, must have important meaning for Soviet military planners. As they must see it, maybe our system will stay small, and maybe it is as ineffective as its critics claim-but maybe not.
It is not clear just how far the technological uncertainties of the next stage are more destabilizing than those of the last twenty years. On this point opinions have differed. Certainly it will be much harder to be sure about the number and quality of multiple warheads than about the number and size of fixed missile sites. But much depends upon highly sophisticated and subtle techniques of observation and analysis about which no outsider can be dogmatic. The first half of the 1960s saw an extraordinary increase in the capacity of each side to know the strategic strength of the other, and it is not likely that the technological revolution of intelligence is at an end. Unfortunately there is a long and growing distance between what the intelligence analyst knows and what is immediately apparent to his political superiors. In the great case of the missiles in Cuba, it was the persuasive conviction of the experts and not the naked appearance of the first photographs which was immediately conclusive to President Kennedy on October 16. If he had not learned to know and trust these experts, he might well have doubted their story. This problem may be more acute today.
If the danger of uncertainty and imperfect communication exists in the small circle of those who have full and current knowledge of the evidence, it is reasonable to suppose that the distance from that evidence to public understanding and confidence may be greater still. Moreover, at best, technical intelligence can show us only what exists and not what may be intended. The best example here may be our own Sentinel/Safeguard ABM system. The new Administration did not change the basic characteristics of that system when it changed its name, but there is a wide difference between the declared purposes of Secretary McNamara and those of Secretary Laird. Which one should a Soviet planner believe? The right answer may be "both," but if so, one's sympathy for such a planner must increase.
At the edges of the Senate debate, and more visibly in other public comment, another danger could be seen-that of polarization. Some of those supporting the Administration seemed to set no limit upon the number, cost and variety of desirable nuclear weapons systems. To such men the nuclear superiority-or even supremacy-of the United States was an absolute requirement. At the other extreme, and clearly growing in their importance, were those to whom any nuclear weapons system-and a fortiori any new one- must be bad. Ironically, to both sets of extremists the real relation between our power and that of the Soviet Union was irrelevant. Both were proceeding on the assumption that nuclear danger could somehow be handled by the United States alone. In so far as they considered Soviet behavior at all, it was only to assume it into conformity with their own preferences.
We have had sharp differences at the fringes of opinion throughout the nuclear age, but the debate of 1969 suggests that if the arms race does continue to expand, both fringes may grow sharply in strength. A rapidly expanding nuclear budget would probably require much more tub-thumping than we have seen this year, and the predictable response would be an increasing rejection of the whole notion of nuclear deterrence. Such a division would be very different from the sober debate we have just come through, and its consequences for nuclear safety could be grave. In Western Europe, for example, there is not yet any substitute for a stable, reliable and defensive American nuclear presence. Throughout the last twenty years the decisive military element in the safety of that part of the world has been the nuclear strength and commitment of the United States. That dependence has been uncomfortable but inescapable. One element in its acceptability has been the generally sober and responsible behavior of the United States in nuclear matters. If that sobriety and responsibility should be called in question, either by increasing nuclear militarism or increasing rejection of all nuclear weapons, or both, then the relations within the Atlantic Alliance could be shaken, and the temptation for Soviet adventure increased.
It is a long way from the wonder of Apollo 11 to this morass of division, doubt and danger. Yet both are products of technology and teamwork. Why should the technology and teamwork which can electrify mankind in one context spread so much fear and confusion in another? The most obvious answer is of course that modern weapons are instruments of totally inhuman destructive power, but for our present purposes there is a different and perhaps a more enlightening answer. The race to the moon is like a game of golf-each player is responsible for his own performance alone-and in the case of Apollo the last stages of the course were played out in an atmosphere comfortably free of competition. But the arms race is like a boxing match: what each contestant does depends as much on his opponent as on himself. It is this fact of interlocking behavior which decisively separates decisions on nuclear weapons systems from decisions on reaching the moon. In a boxing match and in the nuclear arms race a defense may be imperfect and yet seem necessary; a threat may be uncertain and yet seem compelling. So the very technological capability which can be used to insure complete reliability on the way to the moon becomes a force for uncertainty and terror. In their dependence on technology and teamwork the two undertakings are brothers, but the environments in which they live and interact are almost wholly opposite.
The endangering effect of technological gamesmanship is a subject on which others have spoken with the authority of close experience, and I cannot do better than to refer the interested reader to a paper by Dr. Herbert York in the August issue of Scientific American. Writing primarily from experience gained as Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the Eisenhower Administration, Dr. York reaches the conclusion that if there is to be any escape at all from the rapid crescendo of strategic cost and uncertainty, it must be through political and not technological decisions. I find this conclusion compelling, and the remainder of this paper is addressed to the present political situation and the prospects for such escape.
The first characteristic of the political scene is the dominant role of two nuclear powers. The nuclear age has other dangers which we cannot afford to neglect; there is persistent importance in controlling our own systems, for example, and also in preventing nuclear proliferation. But the heart of the matter in 1969 is in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. Throughout the nuclear age the two superpowers have made their strategic nuclear decisions almost exclusively in relation to one another, and the prospect of escalation makes this lonely interdependence more apparent than ever. No one is suggesting the early appearance of ABMs or MIRVs in any other countries. Whatever adjustment either power may wish to make because of its awareness of nuclear weapons in the hands of third parties, this element in the problem is marginal in comparison to the nuclear arsenals of the two great powers.
The dominance of the two-power relationship does not make it simple. The debate this summer sufficiently illustrates the complexity of decision- making in the United States. We have groups with special interests in and out of uniform, and on both sides of the question. What we tend to forget is that there are competing interests and attitudes in the Soviet Union too. There is evidence of at least four such forces. The first, and undoubtedly still the most important, is that of the party apparatus. Both doctrine and history confirm the importance of this element, and some of its characteristics are painfully familiar: conspiratorial suspicion of all non-communists and most non-Russians, massive preoccupation with the protection of power positions already occupied, practical concern for whatever crisis is most immediately dangerous to itself. A second major force is that of the managers and planners. Where these men are not military, we may expect them to have a heavy concern for the husbanding of scarce resources and the limitation of defense budgets. They may well be better placed in this respect than Americans with similar concerns who too casually assume that what is saved on weapons will automatically be spent on the cities. A third element is the military, and to put it mildly there is no reason to suppose that they are less powerful than our own defense establishment, although like our own military men they appear to have important differences among themselves on the priorities of different weapons systems. Finally, there are scientists and intellectuals. Though their views are better known in the West than they are to most of their countrymen, they clearly constitute a force for reconciliation. They operate on a sufferance which expands and contracts at the will of the party apparatus, and in the last year they have come under renewed restraints.
Sometime in the first half of 1968, the Soviet Government did reach the conclusion that it would be sensible to open a negotiation with the United States on strategic weapons. This decision in and of itself does not tell us much. The Soviet purpose in negotiation with non-communist powers is not always benign, and Soviet alertness for a one-sided advantage is proverbial. (There is no reason for resentment; in another context similar behavior is praised as Yankee shrewdness.) If one may extrapolate from the American experience, it seems likely that different elements in the Soviet Government may have had different reasons for urging or accepting negotiations of this sort. But at a minimum it must have been the judgment of the Soviet Government that the opening of negotiations might lead to an improvement in terms of Soviet interest and offered no unacceptable risks. A similar judgment had long been held by the Johnson Administration in Washington, and this spring the Nixon Administration has reaffirmed it. So both sides seem ready, at least in principle, for a major negotiation.
The prospect of negotiation is not in itself a prospect of progress. Under the pressure of world opinion the great powers have been discussing nuclear arms control in different forums and in different ways for a generation. During the ABM debate, one Senator extracted from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency the interesting statistic that there have been more than 1500 arms-control meetings between American and Soviet negotiators. The vast majority of these meetings have been fruitless, and with the single exception of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, neither of the great powers has accepted any significant restriction on its own capabilities. Both the Soviet Union and the United States have grown expert in the plausible presentation of proposals which they know in advance will be unacceptable to the other side. Even in minor matters each faces a complex task in framing a position which does not produce unacceptable opposition from internal interests. Neither one can wholly separate the nuclear problem from other questions. So discussions have been delayed at one time or another, by one side or the other, because of trouble in Berlin, Viet Nam or Czechoslovakia. In midsummer there seemed to be still another pause, this time in Moscow.
It seems reasonable to expect, therefore, that even without further delay in the opening of strategic arms talks there will be a wide distance between the parties at the outset. The first formal position of the Soviet Union may not go much beyond the enigmatic formulas in the Soviet memorandum of July 1, 1968. That memorandum did express readiness to discuss limitations of strategic delivery systems, and it also addressed itself to many other elements of the nuclear problem, but it is little more than a set of topic headings-hardly even an agenda. The initial American position, in turn, may well be more forthcoming in appearance than in reality. One may guess that there will be emphasis on inspection and verification, and there may also be an initial resistance to any possibility of an unpoliced moratorium on the development or deployment of new systems. Yet the slim progress we have made in the last twenty years has been possible only when we have skirted the issue of agreed international inspection, and it seems most unlikely that the particular weapons systems which are now in the offing can be restricted without some such initial device as a moratorium. If the last positions of the two great states are not different from their first ones, therefore, little will come of these negotiations, and there will be no successful transfer of the problem from technology to politics. Indeed, if the discussions are like those which have occurred in most of the 1500 earlier meetings, they will merely transfer to the language of diplomacy the differences of the technological contest itself. So we shall not meet the challenge of Dr. York's conclusion merely by moving from the nuclear laboratory to the conference table. If we are to escape from technology to politics, we must do something more.
The neglected truth about the present strategic arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union is that in terms of international political behavior that race has now become almost completely irrelevant. The new weapons systems which are being developed by each of the two great powers will provide neither protection nor opportunity in any serious political sense. Politically the strategic nuclear arms race is in a stalemate. It has been this way since the first deliverable hydrogen weapons were exploded, and it will be this way for as far ahead as we can see, even if future developments should be much more heavily one-sided than anything now in prospect. This proposition does not square with the complex measurements of comparative advantage which dominated the ABM debate, but I think it can be supported both by logic and by history.
In light of the certain prospect of retaliation there has been literally no chance at all that any sane political authority, in either the United States or the Soviet Union, would consciously choose to start a nuclear war. This proposition is true for the past, the present and the foreseeable future. For sane men on both sides the balance of terror is overwhelmingly persuasive. Given the worst calculations of the most pessimistic American advocate of new weapons systems, there is no prospect at all that the Soviet Government could attack the United States without incurring an overwhelming risk of destruction vastly greater than anyone but a madman would choose to accept. Conversely, even the most cold-blooded of American planners has always understood, at least since 1954, that the concept of a strategic first strike by the United States is wholly unacceptable because of the prospect of Soviet retaliation.
There is an enormous gulf between what political leaders really think about nuclear weapons and what is assumed in complex calculations of relative "advantage" in simulated strategic warfare. Think-tank analysts can set levels of "acceptable" damage well up in the tens of millions of lives. They can assume that the loss of dozens of great cities is somehow a real choice for sane men. They are in an unreal world. In the real world of real political leaders-whether here or in the Soviet Union-a decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb on one city of one's own country would be recognized in advance as a catastrophic blunder; ten bombs on ten cities would be a disaster beyond history; and a hundred bombs on a hundred cities are unthinkable. Yet this unthinkable level of human incineration is the least that could be expected by either side in response to any first strike in the next ten years, no matter what happens to weapons systems in the meantime. Even the worst case hypothesized in the ABM debate leaves at least this much room for reply. In sane politics, therefore, there is no level of superiority which will make a strategic first strike between the two great states anything but an act of utter folly.
My argument evidently rests upon an assumption of sanity. It does not protect against madness. But neither is there any protection against the madman in close calculations of "assured survivable destruction capability." Indeed it may be easier for a madman to understand the simple horror of any exchange between the superpowers than to be persuaded by intricate calculations of residual "advantage" after the world as we know it is destroyed.
What we have somehow forgotten, in the expanding megatonage of the age of missiles, is that already fifteen years ago we were scorpions in a bottle, able to sting each other only at the price of death. Yet what either side had then was insignificant in comparison to what both sides have now. Moreover, we have somehow let the necessary comparisons of one weapons system with another delude us into a belief that these calculations of cost- effectiveness are also calculations of real advantage. Certainly when we determine that a certain level of deterrent strength is needed (a calculation which has always been generous in both our countries), it makes very good sense to do our best to pick the systems that will do the job most economically, and it follows that close comparative analysis is well worthwhile. But the fact that Minuteman is better in these terms than the B- 70-or Poseidon better than Polaris-does not tell us anything about the real value, politically, of any one system, or of all our systems together. Their one purpose is deterrence. They must not do less, and they cannot do more.
Thus the basic consequence of considering this matter politically and not technically is the conclusion that beyond a point long since passed the escalation of the strategic nuclear race makes no sense for either the Soviet Union or the United States. Nothing in the national interest, the ideology or the personal political position of any leader in either country can be advanced by any strategic nuclear exchange. No weapons systems now in sight for either side can change that fact. It follows that in political, as distinct from technical, terms we have all been wrong to talk of nuclear superiority. President Nixon was surely right when he changed the terms of the discussion from "superiority" to "sufficiency." Sufficiency is what we both have now, in ample measure, and no superiority worth having can be achieved. It is sometimes argued that in the past nuclear superiority-ours over the Soviet Union or that of the Soviet Union over Western Europe-has had a decisive influence on events. I find this a very doubtful proposition. This is not the place for a close reëxamination of relevant crises like Suez, Berlin and Cuba, but my own belief is that in none of the three has the nuclear "superiority" of any major power been decisive. In all three cases the risk of escalation has certainly been an element in the problem, and in all three, in different ways, that risk has been a deterrent to action. But in all three cases, questions of will and purpose have been more important than questions of nuclear numbers. In none of the three cases, I feel confident, would the final result have been different if the relative strategic positions of the Soviet Union and the United States had been reversed. A stalemate is a stalemate either way around.
Since it is vital to avoid misunderstanding, let me emphasize here that in asserting the preëminence of the political judgment on the use and non-use of nuclear weapons I am not at all downgrading the importance of technical proficiency in the deterrent forces we do decide to maintain. It seems to me wholly plain that a credible strategic nuclear deterrent is indispensable to the peace, and for that reason no task is more clearly indispensable than that of maintaining and protecting such a force. There is a great distance between a belief in strategic stalemate and any suggestion that we should proceed to unilateral disarmament. We have bought and paid for parity, and we must not lose it. So it will be as true in a future of stable balance as it has been in the past of presumed supremacy that the men who stand guard over our strategic forces are men who place us all in their debt.
But it is one thing for military men to maintain our deterrent force with vigilant skill, and it is quite another for anyone to assume that their necessary contingency plans have any serious interest for political leaders. The object of political men-quite rightly-is that these weapons should never be used. I have watched two Presidents working on strategic contingency plans, and what interested them most was simply to make sure that none of these awful events would occur. Political leaders, whether here or in Russia, are cut from a very different mold than strategic planners. They see cities and people as part of what they are trying to help-not as targets. They live with the daily struggle to make a little progress-to build things-to grow things-to lift the quality of life a little-and to win honor, and even popularity, by such achievements. The deterrent that might not please a planner is more than deterrent enough for them. And that is why the deterrent does work, even at a distance, as in Berlin. Maybe the American nuclear commitment is not as firm as it seems- but what sane Soviet leader wants to put the whole Soviet society in the scales to find out?
It is also important to distinguish the nuclear sufficiency of the superpowers from the very different level of deterrent strength which has been sought by such a leader as General de Gaulle. French theorists have sometimes argued as if a very small number of thermonuclear weapons would be a sure and permanent deterrent. Most American analysts, in my view correctly, have been skeptical of this thesis. The armaments of the middle- level nuclear powers are indeed vulnerable to an obliterating first strike, and that situation may not entirely disappear even if they shift to seaborne missiles. But several orders of magnitude, and as many orders of complexity, separate the difficulties of an attack on such a force from those of a preëmptive attack on either the Soviet Union or the United States. The nuclear sufficiency of the superpowers is as far removed from the deterrent capacity of the force de frappe as the Great Pyramid from a molehill.
At this point in the analysis our effort to move from technology to politics may seem encouraging, but now we must take account of a much less cheerful aspect of the matter. The politics of the analysis so far is the politics of international relations-of what one state or another will actually do on the world stage. This analysis points plainly to the advantages of limiting the strategic arms race, since it tells us that the existing parity between the superpowers is all that they can hope to use internationally, and since no one in any society wants to pay tens of billions for nothing.
Unfortunately we have not exhausted the politics of strategic weapons. Along with this crude but powerful international politics of common sense goes the politics of consensus and consent within each superpower. Presidents and Politburos may know in their hearts that the only thing they want from strategic weapons is never to have to use them; in their public postures they have felt it necessary to claim more. They may not themselves be persuaded by the refined calculations of the nuclear gamesmen-but they do not find it prudent to expose them for the political irrelevance they are. The public in both countries has been allowed by its leaders to believe that somewhere in ever-growing strength there is safety, and that it still means something to be "ahead." The politics of internal decision- making has not been squared with the reality of international stalemate.
In consequence, the internal politics of the strategic arms race has remained the prisoner of its technology. The ABM debate showed a shift from an earlier emphasis on American "superiority" toward the question whether somehow now the Russians might move "ahead"-but there were only a few voices raised to support the notion that within very broad limits no one now can have a lead worth having. That may be the necessary premise of international political behavior; it is not yet the possible premise of national political debate. Internally, in both countries, the present premise of the debate leads remorselessly toward escalation. In both countries, moreover, this framework of argument is powerfully sustained by the force which Americans have been taught to call "the military-industrial complex." Since the opponents of escalation refuse to contest the basic political premise, they are driven back to technology; those who oppose the ABM tend to argue that it may not work technically-not that it is irrelevant politically. And while excellent answers were made to the Pentagon suggestion that the Russians might be "going for a first strike," there were few to suggest that the necessary assumption of any such scenario must be that the Soviet Government had gone suicidally mad.
What appears in our ABM debate appears also in Soviet behavior. The Russians continue to spend much too much money on large weapons which do them no good and whose only real effect is to frighten us into further efforts of our own. We can afford it better than they can, of course, and in terms of economic cold warfare there has always been a certain spurious attractiveness about trapping the Russians into a constantly accelerating competition. Fortunately, that particular brand of nonsense has never been anyone's official policy, and the tenor of the ABM debate suggests that it may be permanently out of fashion. But the fact that we are not trying to induce this sort of Soviet folly does not make it less real, or less foolish. In every international crisis of the last fifteen years Soviet leaders have shown their understanding that the strategic balance requires mutual restraint between the superpowers. But in their weapons decisions they have been as heedlessly and unproductively excessive as we.
There is a curious and distressing paradox in all this. The same political leaders who know these terrible weapons must never be used and who do not run the foolish risks of nuclear gamesmanship abroad still do not hesitate to authorize system after system. The usual resolution of the paradox is to describe the decision to build as an "insurance policy." But the argument is unsatisfying; the gap between what the political leader orders and what he can do with it is too great I know of no escape from the conclusion that both in his sensible abhorrence of nuclear conflict and his persistent attachment to still more weapons systems the political leader is reflecting his constituency. The fault is less in our leaders than in ourselves.
On the surface, this analysis suggests a dim future for the SALT talks. If our domestic debates are necessarily carried forward in terms of technological pros and cons, what chance is there that we can base an international negotiation on the cruder, simpler and less demanding realities of international political choice? If there is a real danger that this or that concession or limitation may affect the technological balance, if the technological balance has continuing importance in domestic political debate, and if suspicion and wariness on our side are easily outmatched on the other, then indeed the prospect seems unpromising.
But is the analysis complete? Not necessarily. The SALT talks carry with them not only the requirement of formal opening positions, but two much more promising and important opportunities. The first is the chance for all concerned to reaffirm the need of mankind for greater safety from the risk of nuclear disaster. The same American public opinion which gives general support to any responsible recommendation for a new weapons system has also steadily supported the struggle to stop the arms race. Some hard-boiled gamesmen have never liked the nuclear test ban treaty, but the American people have overruled them, and not one voice was heard in the recent Senate debate to reopen that national decision. So the SALT talks provide a major occasion for the mobilization of that part of our opinion which feels the essential futility of escalating the strategic arms race. And if, as is likely, many of us are divided against ourselves, believing things which do not really fit together, then the SALT talks and the discussion around them may help to clear our heads. What is true of Americans is likely to be true also of many in the Soviet Union. And what is still more plain is that a straightforward disbelief in the wisdom of the race in strategic weapons can be observed among those who are not Russians or Americans. I am not thinking here of those who have preached unilateral disarmament but rather of those who have always understood the need of each of the two great states for its own nuclear defense. The difference between one level of unspeakable disaster and another has never been interesting to sensible statesmen in third countries, and we may expect them to give persistent encouragement to those who may seek to move the SALT talks from technology to political reality.
A second opportunity of the SALT talks is the chance they should give for informal and often private communication. Each of the two great governments knows more about these matters than it has yet said in public statements. Each has an intense interest in learning more about the real thoughts of the other. If sophisticated understanding of the interlocking implications of weapons systems has come earlier and cut deeper in the United States, still there has been about the Soviet approach to these matters a certain rough realism which is not to be underrated. It seems at least possible that realism and sophistication could now converge toward the conclusion that enough is enough. As they explore each other's thoughts, moreover, the negotiators will have the chance to make it clear to one another that many forms of secrecy are self-defeating and, as the boxers get to know each other better, they may understand that all they can have is a draw, so that threats of a technical knockout are of no help to anyone. In any event, the presence in one place of American and Soviet officials in substantial numbers and interesting varieties should give an excellent opportunity for patient exploration of such possibilities. In this context there is a special reason for hope in the apparent present readiness of the Soviet Government for businesslike discussion of just such issues of mutual concern.
Neither public encouragement nor private conversation will produce agreement by themselves. Our analysis has already indicated what a long distance there is between the current posture of intense technological competition and the desired result of mutual recognition of a stable political reality. To put the proposition quite simply, each great power must move from a zealous concern for its own advantage to a sober acceptance of parity. Both the intellectual and the practical consequences of such movement are grave, and obviously there are interests and attitudes in both countries to which the shift will be unwelcome, at least at first. Moreover, a movement of this kind is not likely to come by negotiation and diplomatic agreement alone. Somewhere along the line-perhaps quite early-it will be important for one power and then for both to take practical steps in this same direction. In the much simpler case of the Test Ban Treaty, there was an informal moratorium, a temporary breach in the moratorium, and then a conclusion by both governments that a treaty should be signed. It is worth remembering that the Soviet Government had two sets of atmospheric tests after breaking the moratorium, against one for the United States. But what is most significant about that "imbalance" is that it was regarded as acceptable both by President Kennedy and by the Senate. It seems likely that major progress in the SALT talks will require a similar American broadmindedness at one point or another. We are still "ahead," and we may also be closer to a national recognition that such a lead means nothing. Our process of government does not impose a requirement of fear and suspicion that is remotely like that imposed by the Soviet party apparatus. We now have a fully developed public debate which will not die down, and since that debate is inevitable, prudent leadership will seek to take account of it. And finally, we can take the lead in practical steps for the simple and persuasive reason that even without agreement some such steps are in our own best interest.
Yet it would be a great mistake for Soviet negotiators to suppose that the Americans are likely to embark on a continuous course of unilateral strategic disarmament. Opinion in our country will never be separated from an observant concern with what the Soviet Union is doing, and neither international nor domestic political concerns could justify any American government in seeming to accept a wholly one-sided policy of limitation. I hope the logic of the argument I have put forward is strong, but logic alone will not permanently sustain a national policy of unilateral limitation. It will take two to cap the volcano of strategic competition.
Since it is evident that the negotiators will have much to do, we can take comfort in the fact that there is one major area in which there is no reason for them to have unmanageable problems-the area of their relations with their various allies. In the Soviet case the point is obvious: the Soviet Government has never shown any interest in sharing its nuclear responsibilities with other members of the Warsaw Pact, and the troubles of recent years make any such move less likely than ever. The situation in NATO is more complex, but its meaning for strategic arms talks is not different. While it is true that the presence of American men and nuclear weapons on the ground in Europe is still today a necessary element in the security of the West, it is also true that this decisive protection is unaffected one way or the other by the question of strategic arms control. The strength of the American guarantee will be neither increased nor decreased by acceptance of parity, and the level of American commitment in Europe is not a proper topic for bargaining in the SALT talks. It was never the American superiority in nuclear weapons that was decisive in protecting Europe; it was simply the high probability that any large-scale use of force against a NATO country would set loose a chain of events that could lead to nuclear war. For reasons we have already discussed, any war between serious nuclear powers would be as bad to "win" as to "lose," so that relative numbers of weapons have never been decisive in the credibility of the American deterrent in Europe. That deterrent has been made credible, ever since the first Soviet nuclear explosion, by two quite simple things: first, the American conviction, expressed again last winter by Mr. Nixon, that the safety of Europe runs with our own, and second, the confirmation of that conviction by the stationing of wholly persuasive numbers of American men and American nuclear weapons in Europe. Nothing in that conviction or its confirmation need be modified in the slightest by an agreement to keep the balance of strategic power both stable in shape and limited in size.
One cannot end any discussion of this somber subject without thinking about the burden that it places on the President of the United States. The debate in the Senate has been healthy, and the prospect of more debate is encouraging, but in the end the President does have a special and personal responsibility here, and it may well be that the President's need for understanding support is greater now than at any time in the nuclear age. That seems a lot to say if we look back at the decisions that four Presidents have faced. But if our analysis is right, it has fallen to Mr. Nixon to come to terms with the politics of parity-and to do it in a time when angry men at both edges of the argument would like nothing better than to pick a fight right through him.
In this situation Mr. Nixon himself has in the main been careful. Like many of the rest of us, he has a past on this subject, and he has been trained by his particular experiences to give the benefit of the doubt to those who urge the need for action to sustain our strength. Yet his own arguments have been restrained, and according to informal but authoritative reports from Europe he has been eloquent in reminding friends abroad that strategic parity is now both inescapable and acceptable.
It seems at least possible, then, that if the President is hesitant about arms limitation, it is less because of any misplaced faith in the will-of- the-wisp of "superiority" than because he does not yet see any solid political base, here at home, for relatively low-keyed, low-cost parity. His majority for ABM was small-but should he trade it in for nothing? Those who wish he had decided the ABM question differently have an obligation to examine that question.
My own answer is that the President does indeed have a claim on the help of those who seek strategic arms limitation, just as they have a claim on him. He and he alone can manage the process of negotiation, and in the end any agreement he may reach will have to have the confident support of the American people. No one is going to help that kind of negotiation or increase the chance of that kind of agreement by assuming that the President should be pushed around by noisy public pressure. It has been entirely reasonable for believers in arms control to place themselves where their own best judgment led them in the debate on the ABM, but as the SALT talks begin the President has a necessary claim to trust.
This Presidential claim need not be extended to a blanket advance endorsement of any sentence that any American delegate may utter. The very primacy of the President himself in these matters requires a certain freedom to help him out by complaining of his subordinates. The long distance we have to go is not likely to be covered at one bound, or even in a straight line. There are men with strong opinions around Mr. Nixon; some of them have said arguable things on this subject already, and on the long journey from here to a sensible bargain there will be many occasions for objection. By the same token, the partisans of arms control will not all be right all the time. The position which they must avoid is that of a self- righteousness which offers the President only sermons and never support. Presidents, like other men, have a limited tolerance for counsel unaccompanied by help.
What one may hope for from the President, in return, is that he will indeed maintain the continuous review of our strategic position which he announced on March 14 along with his first ABM decision, and also that he may be willing to look again at the doctrine which found its way into his Colorado speech-a doctrine according to which arms races do not make conflict, but the other way around. That doctrine is not so much wrong as incomplete. It is quite true that the differences between nations are the ultimate source of their military arrangements, but it is also true that arms races can develop a life of their own, and that nuclear arms races have a menace of their own. The American and British navies were still in a foolish arms race with each other as late as 1930. The current race has become a wildly irrelevant technical competition which brings no help to statesmen, and sooner or later the true statesman must say so. Indeed the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union may well be unique in history and in politics, as it is certainly unique in technology. The notion that its escalation is politically dangerous is somehow plausible to nearly all of us, even when we choose to think it is all the other fellow's fault. It is well worth our while to consider the converse proposition: if we can slow it down, or perhaps even turn it back, will that not perhaps help us both-even help us all-politically?
As a nation we cannot afford a great division on these issues, and we must look especially to the President to hold us together. Throughout the nuclear age we have expected our Presidents to show not only prudent concern for defense, but also strong personal leadership on the hard road away from nuclear danger. Every President so far has found himself more and more caught up in the effort for arms control as he has lived with the nuclear realities. Mr. Nixon's chance comes early in his term, and his predecessors might well be envious if on this subject they had not all been forced to move far beyond personal pride.
I believe that the American people know in their bones that nuclear weapons are different, and I believe they will support the President in decisions based on that difference. In particular I believe he will find solid support for the kind of reassessment that could lead to a decision that the United States, on its own, will take a small step away from the nuclear arms race. That small step too could be a giant leap for mankind.