You might have missed it, but it was boomed in January.
(From the March, 1985 issue of The American Spectator.)
Nuclear weapons kill people. They should be limited and,
ideally, completely dismantled. Satellites and other systems that
defend people against those weapons should not be limited. Indeed,
they should be encouraged: It will be easier to limit offensive
arms if such defenses are allowed.
This, in a nutshell, is the U.S. arms control position that emerged from the furious parlaying at and around Geneva. In the face of Soviet attempts to use negotiations to kill our “Star Wars” defense program, Ronald Reagan and his spokesmen — Caspar Weinberger, Robert McFarlane, George Shultz, and Kenneth Adelman — made it clear before, during, and after the talks that Star Wars is no mere bargaining chip. Rather, strategic defenses are the foundation of a whole new structure for arms control talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
This new Reagan Doctrine was conveyed time and again in the weeks surrounding Geneva. In a major speech on Star Wars before Christmas, Caspar Weinberger stated emphatically that Star Wars will not be traded away. He also gave several reasons why the American left and the Soviets should welcome a gradual build-up of defenses and a gradual build-down of offenses as a step toward disarmament. Asked about Weinberger’s speech, Reagan reiterated that he does not intend to trade Star Wars away. Pressed by reporters to explain if this would eliminate any “linkage” at Geneva, Reagan publicly announced his instruction to Shultz that he should inform the Russians we will not trade away Star Wars to get an agreement on offensive arms. Rather, he said, we will talk about limiting or eliminating almost any offensive system, but only under an umbrella of defensive protection. Shultz effectively did this in refusing Gromyko’s demand that the U.S. freeze its Star Wars program while talks on offensive weapons continue.
All the signs that this was the official U.S. position were somehow missed in what must have been a million words of sometimes perceptive, often inane commentary by Western journalists. The press insisted on jumping for joy when the U.S. and Soviets agreed to talk about space weapons. Some even praised Reagan for cleverly using Star Wars as a ploy to get the Soviets back to the table. Yet at a press conference the evening after the talks closed, President Reagan emphasized, as he had for Margaret Thatcher just before Geneva, that our aim at the talks would be to explain that the encouragement of defenses will promote progress on eliminating nuclear weapons, not hinder it.
Ironically, by treating the mere opening of talks on Star Wars as a major victory for arms control, the press unwittingly implied that the legitimacy of such weapons is no longer in doubt. Where does that leave the 1972 treaty on anti-ballistic missiles, which outlawed strategic defenses? As Morton Kondracke astutely pointed out, the real meaning of Geneva is that the ABM treaty, in effect, will have to be renegotiated. This will have no bearing on whether Star Wars will proceed, but rather on the larger issue of whether the limits on defenses established twelve years ago will ever apply again. How could so many commentators and pundits miss such a radical change of arms control course? Part of the answer lies in simple fatuity. Television and even newspaper journalists were so busy reading entrails — Did the inflection in Shultz’s voice change from the first meeting? Was Gromyko smiling, or didn’t he like the shrimp cocktail? — that they had no time to listen to what Reagan and his deputies were saying.
What is fortunately beginning to sink in is that Star Wars is not some hopeless boondoggle. If it were, we would not be seeing such a panicky determination on the part of the Soviets to kill it. Indeed, the Soviet Union’s frenzied effort to stop Star Wars has convinced many conventional wisdomers — Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Charles Krauthammer — that it may be useful in providing the Soviets with a great incentive to bargain, constituting a “chip” in the old arms control sense.
But the bargaining chip argument ends the moment the chip is traded away. And if Star Wars really is so effective, why squander it? This is the essence of the Reagan Doctrine, which sees that defenses are one thing that should not be traded for “progress” on other fronts. Rather, both sides should vigorously pursue Star Wars and other related ideas because the protection of defense-oriented systems will make it easier to negotiate both arms control and, ultimately, disarmament.
THIS PROPOSITION SOUNDS radical only to those mesmerized by the countervailing logic of Mutual Assured Destruction, on which the ABM treaty was based. The idea of “defense protected build-down” was in fact first stated by the Soviet Union. In a long-since forgotten speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1962, Andrei Gromyko set forth the case for what is now the Reagan Doctrine:
Policy-making officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries can be heard saying that the best guarantee against a new war is the “balance of fear.” Means of destruction and annihilation have become so powerful, argue the proponents of this view, that no state will run the risk of starting a nuclear war since it will inevitably sustain a retaliatory nuclear blow … . But to base the policy of states on a feeling of universal fear would be tantamount to keeping the world in a permanent state of feverish tension and eve-of-war hysteria.
Instead, Gromyko and the Soviets argued for a swift program of nuclear disarmament. In case the West should suspect the Soviets of cheating on such an agreement, Gromyko proposed that both sides be allowed to build defenses against nuclear weapons, providing “a cover” against such trickery. Now, in 1962, the Soviets had rather more to gain than the U.S. from nuclear disarmament. The U.S. enjoyed a substantial strategic advantage, as the Soviets would soon learn during the Cuban missile crisis. We relied on nuclear weapons to back up the conventional defense of Europe. Nevertheless, John F. Kennedy was intrigued by Gromyko’s draft disarmament treaty, and rightly so. Kennedy was also receiving reports on a “Star Wars” program of his own — Project Defender, a proposed space-based defense against Soviet missiles under study since the Eisenhower Administration. Kennedy saw that Gromyko’s disarmament offer when combined with a Project Defender program might enable his administration to free the world from the nuclear threat, at the cost only of a slightly larger budget for the United States and Europe.
But JFK’s interest in strategic defense, and the Gromyko treaty, never had a chance to come to fruition. First the Cuban missile crisis, and then Lee Harvey Oswald, deferred any serious discussion of these ideas. In the aftermath of JFK’s death, Robert McNamara emerged as the chief creator of strategic doctrine in the Johnson Administration. And McNamara was seized by the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction, believing that in a few years, when the Soviets achieved offensive parity, the futility of MAD would make disarmament inevitable.
The Soviets, for their part, went along reluctantly. By the late 1960s, however, they became aware of how the MAD strategy was eroding America’s will. Suddenly, it seemed possible that the Americans really would not pursue strategic defense. It was even possible for the Soviets to envision and plan for a first strike of their own. With the signing of the ABM treaty in 1972, the Soviets codified the MAD doctrine that has made their buildup of nuclear weapons so effective.
The Reagan Doctrine enjoys even better technologies for defense than President Kennedy had in 1962. But it is based on principles similar to those outlined by Gromyko at the U.N.
In the first place, strategic defenses constitute a kind of “automatic arms control,” as Reagan science adviser George Keyworth put it. An 80-percent effective defense constitutes a reduction of an opponent’s destructive capacity just as surely as an arms control treaty requiring an opponent to dismantle 80 percent of his force. Of course, that still leaves each side with thousands of warheads. But then, so did the Salt II treaty. According to MAD proponents, defenses must be “perfect” to have any utility, whereas pieces of paper need only represent a “first step” in the right direction. The Reagan Doctrine, as expounded by Keyworth and Weinberger, simply undoes that old double standard, and says that defenses should he evaluated on the same scale as treaties: In other words, are they moving us in the right direction?
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