A review of Arms Control: Myth Versus Reality, edited by Richard F. Starr

This collection of essays makes a major contribution to public discussion by considering arms control as a problem involving fundamental principles of democratic regimes. The conjoined issue of arms control and what the authors call "political culture" is reflected on by an array of contributors including Colin Gray, Richard Harris, Werner Kaltefleiter, Robert Kiernan, Richard Pipes, Mark Schneider, Richard Starr, W. Scott Thompson, and William Van Cleave.

The cardinal defect in our policy has been our apolitical and astrategic approach to arms control. Ignoring the disparity between the American and Soviet regimes and their goals, arms control enthusiasts indulge in a mirror-imaging according to which the Soviets accept the global status quo and, like us, desire relief from the arms race. Both sides share a mutual interest in acquiring a survivable, stable deterrent and in reducing the risk of war. This misconception leads Americans to invert the proper relation between means and ends. Agreements for their own sake become the end rather than one means by which we seek to enhance national security. Failure to appreciate the underlying conflict between regimes perpetu­ates the delusion that successful arms control can be achieved apart from a genuine political accom­modation. As Churchill noted of the disarma­ment campaign of the 1930s, "It is the greatest mistake to mix up disarmament with peace. When you have peace you will have disarmament."1

The U.S. approach to arms control, moreover, neglected to integrate that enterprise into a coherent, overall strategy. Consequently, the influence of SALT produced a sharp discrepancy between our declared doctrine of limited, counter-force options, affirmed by four Administrations, and the actual programs we undertook. SALT restrained us, though not the Soviets, from deploying the kind of flexible threat that, if deter­rence should fail, would allow a rational defense of vital national interests.

A twenty-year pattern of treaty asymmetries to the advantage of the Soviets suggests that the dynamics of democracy make arms control negotiations a threat to national security. Democracies pursue arms control as a way to lower defense budgets; thus, due to the mistaken belief that SALT would curb armament, the Western defense effort steadily decreased during the 1970s, while precisely the opposite occurred in the Soviet Union. As the perception of a Soviet threat diminished, the political will for defense atrophied. Democratic leaders cannot one moment try to convince their citizens that another nation threatens their existence, then the next moment smile with that nation's representatives on tele­vision. The media's recent preoccupation with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's style encour­ages such self-deception.

Several essays in this volume treat the subject of verification and compliance in the arms control record. The baleful fact from the 1930s to the present has been democratic passivity in the face of totalitarian noncompliance with arms agreements. Compliance, not verification, is the primary issue in arms control.

Almost twenty-five years ago, Fred Iklé, now the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, named the decisive requirement for arms control: "In entering into an arms control agreement, we must know not only that we are technically capable of detecting a violation but also that we or the rest of the world will be politically, legally, and militarily in a position to react effectively if a violation is discovered."2

Thus, it is cause for considerable dismay that the Reagan Administration, like its predecessors, allows the Soviet Union to break agreements with impunity and fails to inform citizens of the danger this creates for their security. The President's letter of transmittal for the latest report to Congress on Soviet noncompliance reiterates the verity affirmed last year that "Soviet noncompli­ance is a serious matter. It calls into question important security benefits from arms control, and could create new security risks. It undermines the confidence essential to an effective arms control process in the future." The Administration asserts it will not accept anything less than "strict compliance with all provisions of arms control agreements" but, in fact, manifests an unwillingness to do anything about Soviet perfidy. Instead, it will "continue to press these compliance issues with the Soviet Union through diplomatic channels" while, incongruously, the United States will "carry out its own obligations and commit­ments under relevant agreements."

This latest report updates two similar reports in 1984 and contains ominous findings. In addition to other breaches of SALT and non-SALT treaties, the gravest violation stands as an indictment of the centerpiece of arms control, the 1972 ABM Treaty. The ABM Treaty was supposed to establish a stable nuclear balance by severely limiting the defensive capability of the United States and the Soviet Union, thus guaranteeing their mutual vulnerability to assured destruction. To prevent the erection of a terri­torial ABM defense, that Treaty limited the deployment of ballistic missile early-warning radars to the periphery of the country and stipulated that they be oriented outward; a 1974 Protocol permits each nation to deploy one ABM system at either its capital or at a single ICBM site.

The Soviets deployed an ABM system at Moscow, while we dismantled ours at Grand Forks, North Dakota, but they have lately con­structed a large phased-array radar at Abalakova in the Krasnoyarsk region of Central Siberia, which happens to be located near several SS-11 and SS-18 ICBM fields. According to the report, the siting, inward orientation, and ABM battle-management capability of the Krasnoyarsk radar violate the 1972 Treaty. Furthermore, "ambigu­ous" evidence pertaining to activities concerning mobile land-based ABM components and "prob­able" violation of the Treaty by testing SAM systems in an ABM mode lead to a dire conclusion: "The U.S. Government judges that the aggregate of the Soviet Union's ABM and ABM-related actions suggest that the USSR may be preparing an ABM defense of its national territory." When the report was released, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Director Kenneth Adelman remarked that he is often asked why we pursue new agreements with the Soviets when they violate existing ones. His reply that new negotia­tions do not mean we condone past Soviet actions and that we can obtain verifiable agreements skirted that poignant question. Adelman did add, however, "To be serious about arms control is to be serious about compliance."

A discussion of arms control invariably returns to the centrality of public diplomacy, the endeavor to depict the nature and scope of the conflict between a free regime based on the dignity and natural rights of man and a totalitarian one based upon the degradation of man. Our first problem is how to persuade the American people that the empire with which we deal is really evil. Until this is done, arms control negotiations will always be subject to asymmetrical pressure for agree­ment because American citizens will imagine both nations share common "values." In fact, until this is done, citizens will not understand why there should be any struggle worth caring about, much less sacrificing for, at all. Here, the chief obstacle transcends traditional partisan concerns and lies rather in the moral nihilism that pervades our age. In the Politics, Aristotle shows how truly human action is moral action. Through the faculty of speech men denote what is good and evil, just and unjust, useful and inexpedient. Men are political animals because in the first place they are moral animals. Loss of the capacity to distinguish between good and evil and of a spirited desire to fight for the good will result in the collapse of political community.

One should reread Joseph Cropsey's brilliant essay explaining morality's dependence upon freedom, which in turn is sustained by the integrity of a regime able and willing to go to war. The view that nothing matters but survival Cropsey aptly termed "nihilism without intes­tines."3 Before we can engage the totalitarian challenge, public diplomacy must first reeducate American citizens in the principles of liberty and the price that must be paid for it. The question is whether it is still possible, as Jefferson said of the intent of the Declaration of Independence, to place before them "the common sense of the subject in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent."


1Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm, Vol. 1: The Second World War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1948), p. 102.

2Fred Charles Iklé, "After Detection -What?" Foreign Affairs, XXXIX (January 1961), p. 208.

3Joseph Cropsey, "The Moral Basis of International Action," in Political Philosophy and the Issues of Politics (Chicago: Uni­versity of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 184.