- - Thursday, June 20, 2019


Historically, U.S. modernization of its triad of strategic offensive forces — intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), bombers and ballistic missile submarines — has advanced hand-in-hand with arms control treaties.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and then the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT I and SALT II) allegedly enshrined the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) for the United States and USSR, while capping numbers of permitted strategic forces, even while allowing modernization.

During the 1980s through today, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START and New START), and Presidential Nuclear Initiative (PNI) made deep reductions in strategic and tactical nuclear weapons (mostly on the U.S. side) while permitting modernization (almost entirely on the Russian side).

There are political and strategic reasons for the United States linking modernization of the nuclear triad with arms control.

Politically, nuclear weapons are deeply unpopular with many, if not most Americans. After all, weapons of mass destruction are antithetical to a constitutional republic that derives its legitimacy from, and values most highly, the people — whose existence is threatened by nuclear weapons.

Arms control provides “political cover” for those supporting nuclear forces modernization by signaling to the people that their political leaders are making a good faith effort to limit nuclear arms and to calm international hostilities through negotiation. Winston Churchill’s admonition, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war” is an oft quoted justification for arms control.

Strategically, arms control is deeply embedded in U.S. strategic culture. The State Department, Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community and academia mostly subscribe to the view that arms control really does constrain the nuclear threat — by limiting forces, by building confidence through verification and by lessening suspicion and hostility (“convergence”) through negotiations and the arms control process.

In U.S. strategic culture there is a whole “science” of arms control with its own lexicon and theories about “strategic stability” developed over decades in entire libraries of books and journals, and believed by many adherents with something like religious fervor (see the Arms Control Association).

The notion of negotiating differences and compromise is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian culture, going further back than Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his Medieval ruminations over “Just War” doctrine.

Unfortunately, the principles of negotiation, compromise, domestic and international legality and “win-win” outcomes are alien to totalitarian and authoritarian states. These are led by ruthless elites who have often murdered their way to the top, believe that “power comes from the barrel of a gun” (to quote Mao), and that the lives of men and nations is a “zero-sum” game of victors and defeated, of the living and dead.

Before the 1960s, when we started calling it “arms control,” it was called the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (outlawing war), and the Washington and London Naval Treaties — all of which were exploited by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in their nearly successful bid to win World War II.

Now the decades-long experiment in nuclear arms control has failed catastrophically, shredded by Russian cheating:

• The INF Treaty is broken by Moscow’s deployment of at least one and possibly four illegal missile types;

• The PNI is broken such that Russia now has an advantage in tactical nuclear weapons of at least 10-to-1.

• START and New START are broken, according to some astute analysts like Mark Schneider and Stephen Blank, by Russia having hundreds or thousands of strategic warheads over the allowed limits.

• Most recently, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia has been cheating on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for nearly 30 years, developing new generations of advanced nuclear warheads.

“Convergence” between Washington and Moscow toward mutual trust and a safer more strategically stable world order has not happened, as promised by arms control. The New Cold War with Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran may well be more dangerous than the old.

Yet the arms control community refuses to face these realities.

Instead, they remonstrate with the United States for withdrawing from treaties already broken by Russia. They complain about U.S. modernization of its nuclear deterrent, while for years watching Russia’s illegal nuclear build-up in uncomplaining silence.

Before the United States engages in another failed adventure negotiating arms control treaties with Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran — the State Department and larger arms control community should agree to support rapid expansion and strengthening of U.S. strategic defenses.

Space-based missile defenses like Brilliant Pebbles, according to former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, Ambassador Henry Cooper, can be deployed in about 5 years (by 2025) at a cost of $20 billion.

Brilliant Pebbles would close the window of vulnerability to the growing nuclear missile threat from Russia and others much more rapidly than modernization of the U.S. nuclear triad, mostly to be accomplished after 2030 at a cost of about $1 trillion.

Passive strategic defenses, hardening U.S. critical infrastructures against electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and cyber-threats, could be accomplished in an accelerated program in 3 years for $2-4 billion.

Strategic defenses could correct the catastrophic failures of arms control — call it “Assertive Arms Control.”

• R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Peter Vincent Pry served as chief of staff of the congressional EMP Commission and in the CIA.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide