You might have missed it, but it was boomed in January.
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AS I SEE IT, the problem with the arms control movement is just that: It is an arms control movement, not a disarmament movement. The two, after all, are not the same. Indeed, such groups as the Harvard Nuclear Study Project have been at great pains to argue that disarmament is an unrealistic objective, that the world must “learn to live with nuclear weapons.” To do this, the Harvard group argues, we must discard the pipe dreams of defense and of disarmament, and seek as our objective a world in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union agree to freeze their strategic arsenal at some agreed-on, stable level. In other words, we must have as our goal perpetual nuclear stalemate. By this thinking, MAD is not a stopgap policy or a second-best means of keeping the peace until defense or disarmament is possible. It is an end in itself.
Such nonsense led Jonathan Schell, in his second book, The Abolition, to break ranks with the mainstream arms control movement. After all, Schell asked, can we expect to “live” with such arsenals forever without eventually using them? The hope that that situation will never produce a war is no hope at all. For making this common-sense point, Schell’s major thesis was roundly rejected by Paul Warnke, Jimmy Carter’s arms negotiator and probably the dean of the MAD-is-good school. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Mr. Warnke called the idea of total disarmament “incompatible” with arms control, indeed “alarming.”
Most rank-and-file freeze supporters would side with Mr. Schell. So, too, do a growing number of politicians on the left and right. Both hardliner Rep. Jim Courter and dovish Rep. Les Aspin have expressed an interest in proceeding with Star Wars while paring offensive systems that Star Wars would make unnecessary. And so, ironically, does Mr. Reagan, who persistently points to complete nuclear disarmament and not mere “arms control” as the goal of negotiations. Why, then, do Warnke, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and the rest of the arms control establishment so doggedly insist that MAD is the supreme objective?
In one sense, they cling to MAD because it keeps them in business. Just as the poverty worker has a kind of interest in the continuation of poverty, the arms negotiator has an interest in the continuation of MAD. If the world is somehow made substantially safer from nuclear weapons, Warnke and McNamara suddenly become much less important people. This is not to say that these men oppose such ambitious solutions as defense and disarmament out of a sinister desire to maintain their own standing. But it is only natural to regard what you’ve been doing the last twenty years of your life as important.
But if we clearly state that the goal of arms talks and weapons deployments is to make nuclear weapons “obsolete,” then it becomes clear that most of what has been exalted as “arms control” since the 1960s has been essentially a vain set of squabbles over relatively secondary objectives. This is so not because men such as Paul Warnke and Henry Kissinger are dupes, but because they have been laboring under a framework that cannot produce success. We might even say that arms control, by repeatedly focusing on short-term gimmicks and objectives and debates, has actually distracted the world from the only real solutions to the nuclear threat. We have argued and niggled over this many nuclear missiles or that many ABM interceptors, seeking after limits on systems that cannot be verified or can be verified but are not worth limiting — all without getting any closer to the real objective. We haggle over the next step without even asking whether it is a step in the right direction.
One party has a compelling interest in all this: the Soviet Union. After all, the supreme argument of arms controllers is that the Soviets and the United States have a mutual interest in limiting nuclear arms. But do they? In a chilling column in the New York Times, Harvard’s Nick Eberstadt challenged that assertion, asking readers to “imagine what the world would be like” if the U.S. and the Soviets were suddenly able to abolish nuclear weapons. Would the Soviets remain a serious international power? Would Moscow be able to compel Poland, East Germany, and Hungary to remain in the empire? Would Americans or most Europeans much care what the Soviet position was on any issue? Would the Chinese be content to engage in mere border skirmishes, or would they advance on the historically successful conqueror’s road to Moscow from the East? In short, would the Soviets be anything but a second-rate power?
In a vague, inchoate way the American left understands this, which more than anything else accounts for its deep psychological resistance to anything other than the prospect of continual arms negotiations with the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons, Phil Nicolaides once observed, are like a bright light, to which the West reacts like a frightened animal in the dark — frozen with fear, unable to move while the Soviet Union points the paralyzing lamp in its face. The connection is so deeply imbedded it no longer even has to be stated: The New York Times doesn’t say we can’t aid the freedom fighters in Nicaragua because it might lead to a nuclear war; it simply calls the policy “dangerous” and “provocative,” and our imagination supplies the rest.
Of course the one thing worse for the Soviets than a world in which both superpowers are free of the threat of nuclear annihilation is a world in which only the United States is. That is why Moscow will, eventually, be willing to go along with a U.S. Star Wars program as the basis for genuine arms control. It has no choice. With Star Wars, Mr. Reagan, like Bernhard Goetz, can now take the law into his own hands.
FOR WHAT STAR WARS promises is to inch us, ever so tenuously, toward a world without nuclear weapons, and that is why the Soviets, who have no interest in such a world, will fight it more bitterly than they have fought any American defense program in history. And yet, provided it is clearly and persistently explained, the Reagan Doctrine is well armed to resist any attack that can be launched against it.
The scientific argument against Star Wars will be repeated ad nauseam. But it will prove increasingly impotent, in part because such Star Wars advocates as George Keyworth, Daniel O. Graham, and Robert Jastrow have done a good job of swatting down the arguments of Carl Sagan, Ashton Carter, and other MAD enthusiasts, which have little to do with strategic defense. The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, begins its 100-page plus attack on Star Wars with the straightforward statement that it seeks to evaluate only a “total” ballistic missile defense. It goes on to assert that to be leak-proof, such a defense must catch all missiles in the “boost phase,” i.e., within minutes of firing. A criterion of this sort makes it easy to argue that strategic defense is unworkable. Indeed, the scientific critique of Star Wars is just another variant of the MAD argument that defenses must be “perfect” to have utility.
A more serious stumbling block to Star Wars has to do with the long lead time envisioned by the Administration. Even with its dramatically improved explanation of the program in recent months, the Reagan team plans to spend $25-to-$50 billion on research and development alone, stretching the first deployment until well in the 1990s. Will Star Wars still be popular eight years from now, when the American people find they have spent $50 billion and are not an inch closer to actual defense?
Robert Jastrow argues the program can survive even such momentous delays; Daniel Graham thinks not. History, and common sense, alas, are with Graham’s assessment that the present mega-year program will not survive the yearly budget assault of Congress. If a fifteen-year, business-as-usual procurement cycle governs Star Wars as it has the MX and B-1 bomber, the program could be doomed, and perhaps rightly so: By the time the Pentagon (with the usual kibitzing from Congress) has over-designed and overbuilt today’s emerging defensive technologies, the systems that result may well not be worth building.
Happily, the Administration has of late been inching towards the Graham model, though without giving its feisty author any credit. In recent congressional testimony, Fred Ikle, a top Weinberger aide, argued that “interim” Star Wars systems could be deployed much sooner on the road to future, more hi-tech layers. Even George Shultz said in January that the Administration might consider a deployment scheme to begin “by 1989.”
The final threat to the Reagan arms control doctrine, of course, is arms control itself. Patrick Buchanan framed the problem with characteristic concision in a recent telephone conversation: “What if the Soviets offer to trade away 2,000 missile warheads if we don’t build Star Wars? Can Reagan resist an offer like that?”
The correct answer to such an offer is not hard to discern. Mr. Reagan simply tells the Soviets, “Thank you for the offer, but we’re not giving up Star Wars. Tell you what: We’ll go ahead with that program, and we’ll tear up the 2,000 warheads.” It is not clear, however, whether Mr. Reagan would be prepared to give this answer. Yet, there are good reasons to think that when push comes to shove, he will stick with strategic defense.
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