Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy

views updated May 29 2018

Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy

Kenneth J. Hagan and

Elizabeth Skinner

On 6 August 1945 a single atomic bomb (A-bomb) dropped from an American B-29 bomber, named Enola Gay after the pilot's mother, leveled the Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed well over 80,000 residents. Three days later a second bomb smashed Nagasaki, exterminating 60,000 inhabitants. Emperor Hirohito forced the Supreme War Council to allow the government to sue for peace. Although World War II ended in the convulsive birth of the atomic age, the fiery climax failed to validate the putative war-winning efficacy of "strategic bombing." On 8 August the Soviet Union had broken its neutrality in the Pacific and declared war against Japan. News that the Red Army was sweeping across Manchuria caused greater alarm in official Japan than the latest episodes in a relentless American aerial campaign that in previous months included the fire-bombing of Japanese cities at the cost of more than 300,000 lives.

President Harry S. Truman justified history's first use of an atomic weapon on the grounds of military necessity. By the middle of 1945 the United States had dismembered Japan's overseas empire, blockaded its home islands, and razed a total of 178 square miles in sixty-six cities targeted with incendiary bombs. Still, Japan had refused to meet the long-standing American demand for unconditional surrender, a stipulation reiterated in July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference of Allied chiefs of state. Thus, short of some deus ex machina, an American invasion of Japan proper seemed inescapable. Its advocates, the strategic planners of the U.S. Army, recognized that fatalistic and suicidal Japanese resistance would "make the invasion of their homeland a horrendously costly endeavor." The disputed estimates of potential U.S. Army and Marine Corps casualties have ranged from the tens of thousands to more than 500,000. These figures do not reflect the inevitably heavy naval losses to kamikaze and midget submarine suicide attacks. Truman understandably chose to seek a cheaper victory through the shock of atomic bombing.

Devastating though it was to Japan, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had more significance for the future than for ending World War II. By 1945 twentieth-century warfare had witnessed the introduction of several revolutionary weapons systems characterized by horrifying destructivenessthe machine gun, the tank, the strategic bomber, and the submarinebut none of these remotely approached the nuclear bomb in transforming strategy and diplomacy. In the nuclear age, for the first time in history, armies and navies were no longer the principal objects at immediate risk in warfare. With their soldiers untouched and still waiting to engage the enemy, nations now could be obliterated in their entiretypopulations, cities, societies. In his magisterial book The American Way of War (1973), Russell Weigley observed, "A strong strategy of annihilation could now be so complete that the use of atomic weapons could no longer serve 'for the object of war,' unless the object of war was to transform the enemy's country into a desert." After August 1945, it therefore became the prime objective of the statesmen of the great powers to repudiate Carl von Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is merely "a continuation of policy by other means." The "other means" no longer could include the unlimited warfare symbolized by the American Civil War and the eastern front of World War II.

Despite fundamentally opposed political philosophies and almost universal pessimistic expectation, the leaders of the United States and Soviet Union grimly and steadfastly refrained from using the ultimate weapons in their arsenals during the half century between Hiroshima and the sociopolitical implosion of the USSR in 1991. Time and again, Soviet and American heads of state substituted statecraft for warfare as they patched together agreements aimed at curtailing the enlargement of one another's stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Time and again, after seeming to establish a numerical ceiling, one or the other superpowerbut usually the United Stateswould make an "end run" around the existing agreements with a technological breakthrough in delivery vehicles or nuclear warheads. Then the game began again. Amid mutual recriminations, Soviet and American negotiators stitched together another diplomatic limit governing the nature and quantity of weapons in their arsenals. The number grew to uncountable thousands, but not one nuclear weapon was ever actually launched at the opponent and detonated in anger.

The noted Cold War historian John L. Gaddis has described the Soviet-American era of nuclear restraint as "The Long Peace," and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., has suggested that "nukes" be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Gaddis falls somewhat short of the mark, and Schlesinger seems facetious, but each was trying to encapsulate the magnitude of a phenomenal achievement, one without precedent and probably without sequel. The sobering reality is that in the 1990s nuclear strategy and diplomacy entered a new epoch, one in which the inexorable proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction" among second-and third-tier states posed unforeseen and highly complex challenges to the major powers' desire to avoid actual use of such weapons in combat.


Historians today agree that ending World War II dominated the president's thinking in the summer of 1945. However, for many years "revisionists" contended that Truman's desire to practice what the scholar Gar Alperovitz aptly called "atomic diplomacy" strongly affected his decision to authorize the nuclear attack on Japan. According to this thesis, Truman sought to influence Soviet policy by dramatically proving that the United States possessed an unprecedentedly destructive weapon that American leaders were willing to use against an enemy. With one awesome stroke Truman could show his mettle as a tough warrior, end the war, depreciate the Soviet Union's claim to share in the occupation of Japan, and discourage Soviet communism's expansion into Europe and Asia. Overstated though it was, the Alperovitz thesis described one very real rationale for dropping the atomic bombs on Japan, and Truman certainly anticipated that a great geopolitical advantage would accrue to the United States from its atomic monopoly. What he did not foresee was the vehement reaction of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, who interpreted the atomic bombing as an anti-Soviet action disruptive to the postwar balance of power. No matter how unrealistic it was in the first place, any lingering hope of Soviet-American harmony in the early postwar world was doomed on 6 August 1945.

In a radio address delivered the day Nagasaki was bombed, President Truman elaborated the fundamental tenet of his postwar nuclear policy. Because the atomic bomb "is too dangerous to be loose in a lawless world," he warned, "Great Britain and the United States, who have the secret of its production, do not intend to reveal the secret until means have been found to control the bomb so as to protect ourselves and the rest of the world from the danger of total destruction." It soon became obvious that in the minds of American policymakers, "control" connoted some kind of global inspection system.

At first, prospects for negotiating the international regulation of atomic weapons appeared deceptively bright. In December 1945 the foreign ministers of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met in Moscow. They jointly proposed the creation of an atomic energy commission responsible to the United Nations Security Council, where a veto precluded any action abhorrent to one of the five permanent members. The guidelines for the proposed commission also included the inspections demanded by President Truman.

On 24 January 1946 the General Assembly voted unanimously to form the UN Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) precisely as envisioned by the three foreign ministers. In June the commission met to forge the machinery for controlling atomic weapons. The American delegate, Bernard Baruch, immediately derailed the negotiations by introducing the concept of an International Atomic Development Authority that would operate independently of the Security Council. This autonomous body would have the power to punish, possibly by atomic attack, any nation that violated its pledge not to construct nuclear weapons. In a single sentence that broke the Moscow agreement, Baruch tersely explained the American rejection of the Security Council as the ultimate punitive agency of the United Nations: "There must be no veto to protect those who violate their solemn agreements not to develop or use atomic energy for destructive purposes."

Baruch's astringent tone reflected the views of a president increasingly worried by the deterioration of American relations with the Soviet Union. During the spring of 1946 the Soviet Union and the United States had failed to agree about the admission of Soviet satellite states to the United Nations, the composition of the Security Council's military arm, and the future of Germany. Moreover, Truman was upset by Soviet penetration of Iran and Manchuria, the latter an area of historic interest to the United States. According to the official historians of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the president recalled the Manchurian crisis of 1931 and 1932, reasoning that if Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson had been able to threaten the use of force at that time, World War II would have been avoided. For all of these reasons, Truman decided that the veto rendered the Security Council impotent against any transgression by the Soviet Union.

By the middle of 1946 the Soviet Union had also shifted its position on the international regulation of nuclear weapons. Five days after Baruch spoke, the Soviet delegate, Andrei Gromyko, addressed the UN Atomic Energy Commission. Ignoring the American's remarks, Gromyko proposed a multilateral treaty binding the signatories to destroy "all stocks of atomic weapons whether in a finished or unfinished condition" within three months. The Russian made no provision for inspections to ensure compliance, thus rendering his proposal utterly unacceptable to an American president who refused to "throw away our gun until we are sure the rest of the world can't arm against us."

Truman was not the only senior American to favor the threatening metaphor of a gun. In September 1945, at a reception held during a London meeting of the foreign ministers of the United States, Soviet Union, and England, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes chided Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov, "If you don't cut all this stalling and let us get down to work, I am going to pull an atomic bomb out of my hip pocket and let you have it." This crude sortie into atomic diplomacy led to what the historian Gregg Herkin has described as Molotov's "reverse atomic psychology." The durable old Bolshevik made several dismissive jokes of his own, the import of which was to let the United States know that Byrnes "could not use the threat of the bomb to gain political concessions from the Soviet Union."

As hope for the international control of atomic weapons waned at the United Nations, the Truman administration began to shape a coherent nationalistic nuclear policy. The domestic political impediments were formidable. Congress was demanding sharply reduced postwar military expenditures and rapid demobilization of all branches of the armed forces. The army, for example, shrank from more than eight million men to fewer than two million in nine months. In this postwar environment, Truman won approval only for establishment of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in March 1946 and a test of the effectiveness of atomic weapons against ships at Bikini atoll later in the year.

Watchful waiting characterized American foreign policy immediately after the failure of the Baruch plan. Then, beginning in February 1947, a series of crises swept the noncommunist world. Britain's announcement of its inability to continue to sustain anticommunist forces in Greece and Turkey elicited an immediate promise of aid from President Truman, the first formal step toward the policy of containment. For sixteen months international tension mounted; in June 1948 it reached a peak with a Soviet blockade of land routes to West Berlin.

American nuclear diplomacy during that year and a half focused more directly on Great Britain than on the Soviet Union. In highly secret wartime agreements, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the approval of the Belgian government-inexile, had apportioned the rich Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) uranium ore reserves to Britain and the United States on an equal basis. At Quebec, in 1943, they also had agreed that neither nation would use atomic weapons in war without the consent of the other. By mid-1947 policymakers in Washington viewed these two agreements as detrimental to the United States. In order to enlarge its nuclear arsenal, the United States needed more than half of the annual supply of the Congo's ore. To exercise full control over its own foreign and military policies, Washington had to eliminate London's voice in the use of atomic weapons. Britain finally agreed to these American demands in December 1947, receiving in exchange the promise of technical aid in the search for peaceful uses for atomic energy.

The military facet of Anglo-American nuclear interdependence manifested itself in the early weeks of the Berlin blockade (June 1948May 1949), when the British permitted the newly autonomous U.S. Air Force to deploy to England three squadrons of B-29 bombers, which may have been modified to carry atomic bombs. This deployment was the first forward staging of American strategic airpower since World War II. It complemented the growing emphasis on military aviation within the United States, as evidenced by appointment of the aggressive General Curtis E. LeMay to head SAC, accelerated development of long-range atomic bombers, and agitation in Congress and the new Department of Defense for a seventy-combat-group air force. The American search for overseas air bases to encircle the Soviet Union and threaten it with nuclear attack began in earnest with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.

In August 1949 the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb, ending the American nuclear monopoly fifteen years earlier than anticipated by Washington. Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson, and members of the powerful Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy pleaded with President Truman to counter the Soviet technological surge by building a hydrogen bomb. The outgoing chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), David Lilienthal, openly expressed the fear of such scientists as J. Robert Oppenheimer that it was morally wrong for the United States to base its foreign policy on "a weapon of genocide." But other equally prominent scientists, notably the nuclear physicists Ernest O. Lawrence and Edward Teller, argued the Soviet Union would surely try to outflank the American preponderance in fission weapons by developing a fusion weapon, or H-bomb, as quickly as possible. The only way for the United States to retain overall predominance in nuclear weapons technology was through creation of the hydrogen bomb, which Truman ordered in January 1950. He simultaneously directed a thoroughgoing reassessment of American foreign and military policy by the State Department, Department of Defense, and National Security Council (NSC). By April, Paul Nitze of the State Department had written NSC 68, a blueprint for the future that Truman approved in September.

NSC 68 was a stark document whose authors attributed to Moscow a "fundamental design" of completely subverting or forcibly destroying the governments and societies of the non-Soviet world and replacing them with "an apparatus and structure subservient to and controlled from the Kremlin." Only the United States had the potential to thwart Russian expansionism and ultimately "foster a fundamental change in the nature of the Soviet system." But successful containment would require that America increase its own political, economic, and military power and aid its allies in strengthening themselves. To ensure maximum American strength, NSC 68 discouraged seeking a negotiated control of atomic energy because agreement "would result in a relatively greater disarmament of the United States than of the Soviet Union." Looking ahead to 1954, when the Soviet Union presumably would possess a substantial atomic stockpile of its own, NSC 68 postulated a time of maximum danger during which the Soviet Union could lay waste the British Isles, destroy the communications centers of western Europe, or devastate "certain vital centers of the United States and Canada."

This suspicious and bellicose attitude permeated the highest levels of the executive branch when the advent of the Korean War in June 1950 loosened congressional constraints on massive military expenditures. President Truman immediately sought and obtained supplemental appropriations for the defense budget. By 1952 he had nearly quadrupled annual military spending, which had averaged about $15 billion since 1946. Although the president allocated a great deal of the hugely expanded sum to Korea and the buildup of conventional forces for NATO, the increase also made possible an exponential enlargement of the American capacity to wage nuclear war.

Truman moved on several fronts. First, he accelerated production of a hydrogen bomb. In theory, H-bombs can have unlimited explosive power, and their deadly radiation effects vastly exceed those of atomic, or fission, bombs such as those unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Atomic Energy Commission successfully tested a fusion device on 1 November 1952. A viable hydrogen bomb was added to the American stockpile in 1956, a year after the Soviets had developed their own practicable H-bomb. The second most important item on President Truman's atomic agenda was multiplication of fission weapons. Discovery of rich uranium deposits in the American Southwest and construction of several plutonium-producing reactors contributed to this atomic proliferation, but the big breakthrough in sources came with the determination in 1951 that the amount of fissionable material required for a bomb could be cut in half by surrounding the nuclear core with a neutron shield. The new abundance of fissionable substances permitted a third advance, the creation of "tactical" nuclear weapons. General Omar N. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had publicly advocated this step in October 1949. Speaking as a soldier challenging the congressional popularity of the Strategic Air Command, Bradley argued that wars were won on battlefields, not by destruction of cities and factories. If Soviet armies massed to invade western Europe, tactical nuclear weapons could devastate them. Only in that manner could the thin divisions of NATO defeat a numerically superior foe.

Bradley won the endorsement of key nuclear physicists and congressmen. By the fall of 1951, Representative Henry Jackson of Washington State, a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, was urging an annual expenditure of between $6 and $10 billion for tactical nuclear weapons. Under this pressure, the Atomic Energy Commission moved energetically. In March 1953 it exploded a fifteen-kiloton device amid simulated battlefield conditions. Two months earlier, at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's inaugural parade, the army had displayed a cannon capable of firing nuclear projectiles.

The Truman administration and Congress created many highly sophisticated delivery systems for new weapons. The very high-altitude, all-jet B-52 Stratofortress bomber with a range of 7,000 miles was beginning to take shape as the principal strategic aircraft of the future. As a stopgap measure, to replace the piston-driven B-29 strategic bomber of World War II, Truman acquired bases from America's allies for the intermediate-range, six-jet-engine Boeing B-47. Congress allotted funds for the first aircraft carrier capable of launching jet-powered nuclear bombers, the Forrestal-class supercarrier with a flight deck nearly 1,000 feet long. The Atomic Energy Commission and Westinghouse designed a reactor to fuel some of the new aircraft carriers, but nuclear propulsion of submarines had the navy's highest priority thanks to the unrelenting vigor of one naval officer, Hyman G. Rickover. In June 1952 the keel was laid for a nuclear-propelled prototype, the USS Nautilus (SSN-571). It would signal "underway on nuclear power" on 17 January 1955.

At a rapid pace, the U.S. Navy fashioned and deployed two distinct types of nuclear-fueled submarines. The "attack boat," or SSN, came first. It was intended for the classic submarine role of striking ships or other submarines with torpedoes. Five years after Truman left office, Chief of Naval Operations Arleigh E. Burke prodded Congress to fund the first nuclear-driven, ballistic-missile-launching submarine (SSBN). Armed with ballistic missiles of ever-increasing rangefirst Polaris (1,200 nautical miles), later Poseidon (2,500 nm), finally Trident (4,000 nm)this truly revolutionary weapons system aimed warheads at cities and other targets deep inland. It guaranteed the navy a permanent place in the strategic or nuclear "triad" of weaponry intended to deter Soviet attacks on the United States, or to launch a devastating retaliatory strike if deterrence failed.

Truman did not intend these weapons for limited war, but of necessity he had to consider the employment of atomic weaponry in the darkest days of the Korean War. On 30 November 1950, as Chinese troops swept General Douglas MacArthur's vastly outnumbered soldiers and marines south from the Yalu River, the president held a press conference. In answering a question about possibly dropping the atomic bomb on North Korea or China, he said, "There has always been active consideration of its use." He immediately added, "I don't want to see it used. It is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women, and children who have nothing to do with this military aggression." But the doomsday alarm had been sounded. John Hersey, author of the widely read book Hiroshima, wrote, "There were glaring headlines in Paris. Big headlines in Finland gave the impression that MacArthur had already received the go-ahead. In Vienna, the story had the lead in all the morning papers except the Soviet army sheet."

A thoroughly aroused House of Commons dispatched Prime Minister Clement Attlee to Washington to determine exactly what Truman was contemplating. At an extended series of high-level meetings in early December, the president attempted to mollify the Briton with the prayer that "world conditions would never call for the use of the atomic bomb." But he would not categorically rule out use of the bomb if the UN position deteriorated radically and MacArthur was in danger of being driven off the Korean peninsula. As it was, the UN forces stemmed the tide and the front was gradually stabilized roughly along the thirty-eighth parallel of north latitude, the original dividing line between North and South Korea.

General MacArthur has been popularly condemned for advocating the use of atomic weapons, as indeed he did. In December 1952 he told his former protégé, president-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, "I would have dropped between 30 and 50 atomic bombs." But contemplation of a nuclear war in Korea was widespread in Washington between 1950 and 1953. The Joint Chiefs of Staff fantasized about implanting a cordon sanitaire north of the Yalu River with cobalt 60, a highly radioactive residue derived from reprocessed plutonium. Always eager to be involved in a bombing campaign, General Curtis LeMay, head of SAC, thought his airmen were well qualified to drop nuclear bombs because of their "intimate knowledge" of atomic weaponry. He almost got his chance. According to the historian Stanley Sandler, B-36s armed with nuclear weapons were deployed to Okinawa in June 1952 to induce the Chinese to sign an armistice. Across town from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Representative Albert Gore, Sr., a member of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, believed radiating a large strip of the Chinese-Korean border was "morally justifiable" since Korea had become "a meat grinder of American manhood." In the supercharged atmosphere of early Cold War Washington, there was abundant domestic support for a nuclear war in Korea. The "buck" stopped with the president, as Harry Truman said it always did.

The American commander in chief refrained from authorizing atomic warfare against Korea or China partly out of belief that the Korean War was a Soviet feint and that the real communist attack would come in Europe, in which case the United States would need all of its nearly 300 atomic warheads. Moreover, by using atomic weapons the United States could spark North Korean retaliation against Pusan or other South Korean cities with Soviet-supplied atomic bombs. British disapproval and the racist implications of again employing the ultimate weapon against an Asian people contributed to Truman's restraint. Atomic diplomacy also helped stay his hand. In the opinion of one veteran of the Korean War, the historian Stanley Weintraub, Truman realized that if the bomb were used in Korea without producing "decisive results, it would lose credibility as a Cold War deterrent." The president therefore accepted a stalemate in conventional warfare in Korea while simultaneously fathering what Atomic Energy Commission chairman Gordon Dean described in September 1952 as "a complete 'family' of atomic weapons, for use not only by strategic bombers, but also by ground support aircraft, armies, and navies."


Dwight D. Eisenhower, who succeeded Truman in January 1953, warmly embraced this monstrous "family." The new Republican president's conservative economic advisers demanded a balanced budget, and reduction of swollen defense expenditures was an obvious step in that direction. Complementing this fiscal orthodoxy was Eisenhower's conviction that Soviet leaders hoped their military challenge would force the United States into what he called "an unbearable security burden leading to economic disaster. Communist guns, in this sense, have been aiming at an economic target no less than a military target." He abandoned NSC 68's conception of a time of maximum danger and began planning a less costly strategy for the "long haul." Throughout his two terms (19531961), Eisenhower limited annual defense spending to about $40 billion. He sought to deter communist aggression with an array of nuclear weapons rather than a large army. His strategic mainstay was SAC, supplemented by the navy's carrierbased atomic bombers and its new fleet of submarines (SSBNs) armed with the Polaris ballistic missile. By the late 1950s, SAC was flying 1,500 intermediate-range B-47 jet bombers from domestic and foreign air bases, and the intercontinental B-52 heavy bomber became operational, the first of a final total of 500. If deterrence or tactical nuclear weapons failed to prevent a Red Army sweep through western Europeor if the Soviet air force dropped nuclear bombs on the United StatesEisenhower would employ his strategic airpower to destroy Soviet Russia.

Until 1957, when the Soviet Union demonstrated its technological sophistication by launching the Sputnik satellite and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of about 3,500 nautical miles, American policymakers generally considered a Soviet ground attack upon western Europe the most likely form of overt aggression. To cope with a Red Army advance in Europe, or a communist military offensive anywhere else, the Eisenhower administration adopted an asymmetrical strategy. On 12 January 1954, in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated that to meet communist aggression the United States would "depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and at places of our choosing." This public pronouncement of the doctrine of "massive retaliation" capped an intensive high-level review of American strategy begun the previous May. As early as October 1953, Eisenhower had approved NSC 162/2, a paper attempting to reconcile deterrence with reduced defense spending. The solution, labeled the "New Look," was to equip U.S. troops in Europe with tactical nuclear weapons whose destructiveness would permit him to reduce "the big, expensive army he had inherited from Truman."

To preclude bankrupting the U.S. economy with military spending, Eisenhower planned to shrink the army from twenty to fourteen combat divisions by mid-1957. He would arm this leaner army with atomic artillery and short-range, airbreathing missiles carrying nuclear warheads. In February 1954 he induced Congress to amend the Atomic Energy Act to permit divulging information about operational characteristics of American nuclear weapons to NATO allies. By December 1954 he had persuaded NATO strategists to assume that tactical nuclear weapons would be used in any future conflict with the Red Army. American General Lauris Norstad, NATO's supreme commander, succinctly summarized the new strategy in January 1956. The threat to use tactical nuclear weapons would "link the lowest and highest levels of violence and reinforce the credibility of the Western deterrent."

Although the rhetoric of massive retaliation usually did not discriminate between geographic areas, Eisenhower did have a different plan to meet aggression beyond Europe and the Western Hemisphere. If a noncommunist Asian nation were attacked, he intended to place the primary burden of defense upon that country's ground troops. The U.S. Navy's fiercely mobile aircraft carriers could be rushed into the arena, and in extreme cases the marines might be landed for finite periods. Nuclear airpower conceivably might be brought to bear, but only selectively. As Secretary of State Dulles said in a news conference on 18 July 1956, "In the case of a brush-fire war, we need not drop atomic bombs over vast populated areas." It might suffice merely to vaporize key military and industrial installations.

Abstract bombast about massive retaliation notwithstanding, in only three instances did Eisenhower actually warn other governments that the United States was prepared to launch a nuclear attack if its demands were not met. In April 1953 the Korean armistice talks between the communist Chinese and Americans had bogged down over the question of exchanging prisoners of war. At Dulles's behest, neutral India cautioned China that if peace did not come soon, the United States would resort to nuclear warfare. The two sides quickly agreed on international supervision of the repatriation of captured troops. Shortly thereafter, as the French position in Indochina disintegrated, Washington warned Beijing that direct military intervention in support of the communist Vietminh would be met with an American atomic attack on China. Finally, on 20 March 1955, as the communist Chinese bombarded the Nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu, Dulles publicly speculated about possible American use of "new and powerful weapons of precision, which can utterly destroy military targets without endangering unrelated civilian centers." This foolhardy boast sent shivers around the world, especially throughout Asia, where national leaders recalled ruefully that the only atomic bombs dropped so far had fallen on an Asian people. Eisenhower, who was privately determined to defend the islands with nuclear weapons if necessary, gradually realized that he could not rattle the nuclear sword without arousing global apprehension. According to the scholar Gordon H. Chang, communist China's conciliation had contributed significantly to ending the crisis, but at the cost of Beijing's realization that it would have to build a nuclear force to counter modern-day American gunboat diplomacy in the western Pacific.

The Soviets at the same time were providing additional stimulus for American reconsideration of the doctrine of limited nuclear warfare. They had detonated a hydrogen device in August 1953, unveiled the intercontinental turboprop Bear bomber (Tu-95) in 1954, and displayed the all-jet, long-range Bison bomber (M-4) in 1955. That year they also added a functional hydrogen bomb to their arsenal. Eisenhower's response was to build an extensive radar network and multiply the air force's interceptor wings. But the successful Soviet test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in the summer of 1957, coupled with the October Sputnik satellite launch, made these defenses prematurely obsolescent. The United States suddenly was exposed to a potential Soviet thermonuclear delivery system against which existing countermeasures were powerless. For the first time, all-out nuclear war would inevitably entail widespread death and destruction within the United States. Since it was impossible to ensure that escalation could be avoided once nuclear weapons of any sort were used anywhere in the world, the threat to use them thereafter must be restricted to crises involving areas absolutely essential to the United States: noncommunist Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

The stage was set for a policy of containment resting on conventional forces that the next president would adopt under the slogan of "flexible response." But Eisenhower's reluctance to spend large sums on defense prevented him from rebuilding or enlarging the army. For the same reasons of fiscal prudence, he also steadfastly resisted public and congressional pressure to disperse SAC aircraft more widely, to begin a crash program of ballistic missile development, or to spend tens of billions of dollars on fallout shelters. In August 1958, when the Department of Defense and some scientists warned him that discontinuation of nuclear testing would endanger further evolution of American tactical nuclear weapons, Eisenhower overrode their objections and announced a moratorium on atmospheric testing.

The sophistication of American aviation technology made restraint possible. Beginning in August 1955, the United States regularly flew extremely high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union. Dubbed U-2s, these gliderlike jets soared above the reach of Soviet air defenses. They returned with photographs proving that the Soviet Union had not built a massive offensive nuclear striking force, despite the technological capacity to do so. The sluggishness of Soviet production permitted Eisenhower to proceed at a measured pace with deployment of ICBMs and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), including the submarine-launched Polaris. Eisenhower also could accurately describe Democratic presidential candidate John Kennedy's alleged "missile gap" as a "fiction." What Eisenhower could not do was win Soviet acquiescence to any form of inspections. Negotiations in the United Nations for the limitation of nuclear armaments therefore remained deadlocked throughout his presidency.


President John F. Kennedy may have been perpetrating what one observer called a "pure election fraud," but it is more likely that as a candidate he decried the fictitious and nonexistent missile gap because he agreed with the militant representatives and senators in the Democratic Party who disliked Eisenhower's tightly controlled defense spending. In any event, upon becoming president in January 1961, Kennedy admitted that a gap in nuclear weapons indeed existed, but it was favorable to the United States. At that time the United States possessed at least 200 operational strategic missiles of varying range, while the Soviet Union probably had no more than sixteen. Despite this substantial nuclear advantage in missiles alone, in February 1961 Kennedy requested congressional permission to strengthen America's deterrent forces by accelerating the acquisition of second-generation, solid-propellant, land-based ICBMs and nuclear-powered submarines armed with longer-range Polaris ballistic missiles. In a clear reversal of Eisenhower's fiscal conservatism, Kennedy decided to "develop the force structure necessary to our military requirements without regard to arbitrary or predetermined budget ceilings."

The new president also reversed his predecessor by enlarging the nonnuclear, or conventional, forces of the United States. In the summer of 1961, Kennedy seized on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's bellicosity about the American presence in Berlin to extract from Congress a $3.2 billion supplement to the defense budget. With these funds he increased the armed services by 300,000 men and sent 40,000 more troops to Europe. This deployment underscored Kennedy's commitment to "flexible response," a strategy resting largely on nonnuclear weaponry. He refined the electronic "fail-safe" devices designed to prevent accidental firing of tactical nuclear weapons, discouraged planning that envisioned the use of such weapons, and retarded their technological evolution. These restrictions hampered NATO, which remained numerically inferior to the Red Army, by denying to the alliance the equalizing potential of clean and extremely low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. Thus, massive retaliation remained the only real deterrent to a Soviet military thrust into western Europe; and as the Soviets enhanced their ability to devastate the United States in any strategic nuclear exchange, the ghoulish doctrine became increasingly less reassuring to the NATO countries and less credible to the Soviet Union.

One reason for the Soviet nuclear buildup of the 1960s was the ambiguity of American strategy. From the beginning of the Kennedy presidency, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara insisted on maintaining clear strategic nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. With Kennedy's concurrence, McNamara increased the number of American ICBMs from about 200 to 1,000, completed the construction of forty-one submarines carrying 656 Polaris missile launchers, oversaw the development of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), and kept a large percentage of SAC B-52s in a constant state of alert. Some of these measures, notably the conversion to MIRVs, came late in the decade, but the trend was apparent in 1961. Equally obvious was the possibility that a huge increase in the American stockpile would create a "first strike" capability with which the United States could preemptively attack and destroy the Russian nuclear striking force, thus making Soviet retaliation largely ineffective if not altogether impossible. The Soviets had lived with fears of an American nuclear bombing offensive since 1945, but nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles were virtually impossible to intercept. Kennedy's multiplication of those weapons thus deepened old apprehensions. As if to allay suspicion, on 26 March 1961 the president promised, "Our arms will never be used to strike the first blow in any attack."

Despite Kennedy's reassurance that the United States would not strike first, Khrushchev announced in August 1961 that he was breaking the three-year-old moratorium on nuclear testing in the atmosphere. Worried by the dangers of radioactive fallout, Kennedy at first resorted to underground testing. In April 1962 he resumed atmospheric testing in order to evaluate sophisticated new warheads and to prevent the Soviet Union from scoring a technological breakthrough that would eliminate the American nuclear superiority. Khrushchev then sought a cheap and quick adjustment to the strategic imbalance by placing 900-mile medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) in Cuba. He also hoped to enhance his fading image as a supporter of overseas communist regimes, especially Fidel Castro's Cuban dictatorship, thereby answering hard-liners in Moscow and Beijing who deplored his efforts to ease tensions with the West. In this manner, rein-vigoration of the strategic arms race in 1961 led to the Cold War's most dangerous nuclear war scare.

On 14 October 1962, American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft photographed the Cuban missile sites while they were still under construction. For one week the Kennedy administration debated its response, finally settling upon a naval "quarantine" of further shipments of offensive missiles. As he announced his decision to the world on 22 October, President Kennedy also warned that if ballistic missiles were launched from Cuba against any country in the Western Hemisphere, the United States would counter with a "full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." While massing troops in Florida for a possible invasion of Cuba, the president insisted that the Soviet Union remove the missiles already on the island. The face-off lasted for another week and was highlighted by an intense debate among the president's most senior advisers over whether to offer a contingent palliative to the Soviet Union: removal of the fifteen American Jupiter IRBMs based in Turkey. Obsolete by the time they became operational in 1962, the Jupiters already "were supposed to be replaced by submarinelaunched Polaris missiles." Moscow nonetheless found their presence on the southern Soviet border extremely provocative and destabilizing. Evan Thomas, a meticulous student of the administration, sums up the situation: "President Kennedy was not inalterably opposed to swapping the Jupiters, but he thought it would be foolish to publicly offer right away to trade them." His brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, therefore privately assured Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin that once the Cuban crisis passed, the American missiles would be withdrawn. For the rest of his life, Robert Kennedy feared the political repercussions of his intervention. Dobrynin claimed Robert Kennedy told him that "some daywho knows?he might run for president, and his prospects could be damaged if this secret deal about the missiles in Turkey were to come out." The dour Robert was as much a political animal as was his glamorous brother.

Khrushchev capitulated and removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba because he feared losing control of the situation. Castro was beseeching the Soviet leader to launch a nuclear attack to stave off an American invasion of Cuba. In Washington, President Kennedy was under equally extreme pressure to take military action. A post-crisis outburst by the air force chief of staff expressed the attitude of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Curtis LeMay, who had masterminded the firebombing of Japan and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, shouted at the president: "We lost! We ought to just go in there today and knock 'em off." The president knew better. He had risked Armageddon because he regarded the Russian MRBMs as an unacceptable challenge to American strategic superiority and an immediate danger to the nation's security. The missiles were gone; he had achieved his strategic goal, and not incidentally thwarted Republican critics in a congressional election year. Most Americans probably agreed with him in 1962, but with the passage of time the ultimate gamble seems increasingly less defensible. "In retrospect," the strategic analyst Norman Friedman concluded soon after the Cold War ended, "it is difficult to understand why Soviet weapons in Cuba were worth a global war."

The Cuban missile crisis reverberated throughout the 1960s. The continental European members of NATO were shaken by the unilateral way in which the United States went to the brink of nuclear conflagration without consulting its allies. French President Charles de Gaulle reaffirmed his determination to reduce European economic and military dependence upon the United States. In January 1963 he vetoed British entry into the Common Market on the grounds that British membership would make the association "appear as a colossal Atlantic community under American domination and direction." Simultaneously he rejected Kennedy's plan for a multilateral nuclear force (MLF) as a transparent scheme to give the impression of multinational authority while in fact preserving the American veto over NATO's nuclear strategy. To end France's subservience to the United States, De Gaulle gradually immunized his military units from unquestioning subordination to the NATO command, and he ordered the removal of the alliance's headquarters from French soil as of April 1967. To document great power status in the nuclear age, he forged a French atomic striking force, the force de frappe. Britain at the same time was building its own strategic nuclear arsenal, but because of the special Anglo-American relationship it faced far fewer developmental obstacles. Kennedy simply provided the Royal Navy with Polaris missiles.

The impact of the missile crisis on Soviet-American relations was tragically paradoxical. On the one hand, the humiliating Soviet retreat strengthened the militants in the Kremlin who favored increased defense expenditures. They resolved that in the future the Soviet Union would deal with the United States as a nuclear equal. On the other hand, leaders in both countries were chastened by having faced nuclear annihilation. They installed a Teletype link, or "hot line," between the White House and the Kremlin to minimize misunderstanding during acute crises. Even in the midst of capitulating, on 29 October 1962, Khrushchev set the tone for further accommodation: "We should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, general disarmament, and other problems relating to the relaxation of international tension." For some months Kennedy hesitated. Then, on 10 June 1963, in a speech at American University he made a passionate appeal for peace as "the necessary rational end of rational men." Coupled with various Anglo-American diplomatic initiatives, Kennedy's speech broke the impasse in superpower negotiations. Within weeks Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited testing nuclear weapons in outer space, in the atmosphere, or under water. The treaty fell short of Kennedy's original goal for a comprehensive test ban that would have preserved American technological superiority by slowing or preventing improvements to the Soviet arsenal. Nevertheless, the U.S. arms control and disarmament director, William C. Foster, reminded Congress that half a loaf was better than none. With the limited test ban, he said, "improvements in yield-to-weight ratios would come more slowly through laboratory work alone. Some weapons effects phenomena would remain unsettled or undiscovered by both sides. In general, our present nuclear advantages would last for a considerably longer period." In September the Senate ratified the Limited Test Ban Treaty by a vote of 80 to 19.


Two months after Senate ratification of the treaty, on 22 November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The unspeakable tragedy abruptly ended any possibility of subsequent nuclear weapons agreements between himself and Khrushchev. The new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was focused foremost on ramming through Congress the domestic reforms he advertised as the "Great Society." For continuity and simplicity he kept Kennedy's foreign policy and national security advisers in place, including Secretary of Defense McNamara.

McNamara continued to espouse a variant of the old Dulles doctrine of deterring a Soviet attack through the threat of massive retaliation, a strategic premise not wholly shared by Moscow's leaders. As the secretary of defense explained in his "posture statement" of January 1964, the United States was building a nuclear force of such superiority that it could "ensure the destruction, singly or in combination, of the Soviet Union, communist China, and the communist satellites as national societies." In addition, it could "destroy their war making capability so as to limit damage to this country and its allies." The inconsistency of this statement is patent: there can be no need to destroy an enemy's nuclear arsenal if its entire nation has already been obliterated. But underlying what appeared to be a logical lapse was the dawning and extremely reluctant acknowledgment in Washington of the "difficulties of appreciably limiting damage to the United States and its allies." By 1964, as the strategic historian John Newhouse observed, "the recognition that the United States was in the autumn of its strategic supremacy had set in." The immediate upshot was an unresolved debate about whether nuclear missiles should be "counter-force" weapons targeted only against the Soviet Union's ICBMs and other military assets, or "counter-value" weapons targeted against major Soviet industrial centers and their populations.

A counter-force strategy was preferable for reasons of humanity if nothing else, but the possibility of a counter-value assault by a desperate nuclear power could never be altogether ruled out. The counter-value strategy enjoyed disconcertingly wide theoretical appeal. It lay firmly in the mainstream of the "strategic bombing" doctrines of the Italian theorist Guilio Douhet, who wrote approvingly in 1921, "A complete breakdown of the social structure cannot but take place in a country subjected to this kind of merciless pounding from the air." The army general William "Billy" Mitchell adapted Douhet to the American experience in the 1920s and 1930s, and in World War II the U.S. Army Air Forces had adopted these draconian concepts of annihilating the enemy and its urban-industrial infrastructure. The theories had helped to rationalize the decision to drop the first atomic bombs on Japan in 1945.

In this confused environment, both the United States and the Soviet Union began to design nuclear weapons and delivery systems that could withstand a nuclear first strike and mount a crushing retaliatory strike. The United States led in deployment of such innovative systems as hardened silos, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) of ever-increasing range, new generations of heavy bombers, and MIRVs (a MIRV consisted of several relatively small but highly accurate warheads atop a single ICBM, each destined for an independently preprogrammed target). Toward the end of the decade the ability to cripple the Soviet nuclear arsenal in a gargantuan strike seemed to be coming within America's reach. By 1968 the United States had deployed 1,054 ICBMs to the Soviets' 858, and the U.S. lead in the other indices of nuclear superiority was equally daunting.

Owing to this preponderance and to the enormous fiscal drain that the Vietnam War levied on defense resources, the pace of the United States buildup of strategic weapons actually began to level off at the height of the arms race in 1965. At the same time, the Soviet Union initiated a massive expansion of its strategic forces in an attempt to achieve parity with the United States. Finally conceding that the goal of limiting damage in a nuclear exchange had become unattainable, strategists in Washington began to use the term "assured destruction" in describing the standoff between the two nuclear powers. McNamara himself became convinced that neither further arms buildups nor the visionary antiballistic missile defense system (ABM) could guarantee Americans the security they craved. He began to search for a new formula for strategic stability. The answer was found in a 1946 book entitled The Absolute Weapon, in which America's preeminent strategist, Bernard Brodie, argued for nuclear equality between the United States and the Soviet Union. "Neither we nor the Russians," Brodie and his coauthors presciently wrote, "can expect to feel even reasonably safe unless an atomic attack by one were certain to unleash a devastating atomic counterattack by the other." McNamara now adopted this proposition, and it became enshrined in a telling acronym unfairly ascribed to him: MAD, for "mutual assured destruction." The converted secretary made it his mission to proselytize the American and Soviet leadership.

In 1967, U.S. leaders discovered that the Soviet Union was deploying a protective ABM system around Moscow. McNamara anxiously sought to avoid a reactionary massive increase in America's offensive nuclear forces. He persuaded President Johnson to bring up ABM defenses at the summit meeting with Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin in June 1967 at Glassboro, New Jersey. When Johnson was unable to convince Kosygin that antiballistic missile defenses would only trigger an offensive nuclear arms race, McNamara tried to explain the administration's reasoning to the prime minister. The secretary of defense described at length the action-reaction dynamic he foresaw if the Soviet Union persisted in deploying antimissile shields, and he insisted that the only way to prevent an endless arms race was to limit or even eliminate these embryonic protective systems. This reasoning infuriated Kosygin, who found the idea of abandoning defensive weapons in favor of offensive weapons to be irresponsible and immoral. His premises differed fundamentally from McNamara's. Like other Soviet leaders, Kosygin based his thinking on the cruel lessons of World War II, during which the Soviet Union suffered cataclysmic devastation at the hands of Hitler's invading armies. The imperative "never again" informed all Soviet military planning. For Kosygin, McNamara's proposal to abandon missile defenses was a direct invitation to a reprise of national disaster. Kerry Kartchner, an American disarmament negotiator, observed critically, "there is little evidence that McNamara took actual Soviet strategic thinking about nuclear weapons into account, either in determining what was required to deter Soviet leaders, or how the Soviet Union might react to American deployment of ABMs." McNamara also appeared hypocritical, because as spokesman for the Johnson administration he had testified before Congress in favor of a limited Sentinel ABM system intended to protect cities and ICBM silos from destruction in a Soviet nuclear attack.

By late 1967, McNamara's days in power were nearing their end. He and others within the Johnson administration were belatedly realizing that the parasitical war in Vietnam was unwinnable, and they soon faced incontrovertible evidence that their strategy for waging limited war had failed. The communist Vietnamese Tet offensive of January 1968 broke America's will to fight and precipitated McNamara's resignation as secretary of defense. It also induced Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from the presidential race. In November, Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected president. He inherited only one undeniably positive nuclear policy achievement from the Johnson administration: the multilateral Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signed by the Soviet Union and more than fifty other nations in 1968 and ratified by the United States in 1969.

The Nonproliferation Treaty set up a twotiered "regime" that divided the world into nuclear haves and have-nots. The United States, Soviet Union, France, Britain, and China were designated "nuclear weapons states" by virtue of the fact that they had tested nuclear weapons before 1968. All other parties to the treaty, officially designated as "non-nuclear weapon states," joined with the understanding that they would not seek to import or develop nuclear technology or materials for military purposes. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which had been founded by the United Nations in 1957, was given the task of verifying treaty compliance through an elaborate inventory procedure including on-site inspections at regular intervals. The five so-called weapons states were exempt from all such controls, but they were expected to honor the regime out of self-interest. Even so, France and China were dissatisfied and did not ratify the accord until 1992.

During the treaty negotiations, India led the nonaligned states in opposing the treaty's codification of elite status for the weapons states. The principal sop that the five nuclear-armed signatories conceded to the nonnuclear weapons states was the provision to share nonweapon nuclear technology "in good faith." New Delhi strongly objected to the absence of a provision for the enforcement of this obligation. In the end, several important countries, including India, Pakistan, and Israel, refused to sign the treaty; they remained beyond negotiated global nuclear controls. Such a treaty was a thin reed of hope for nonproliferation, as Richard Nixon well knew.


Unscrupulous and devious in many ways, President Nixon was the consummate realist in foreign policy, especially when guided and prodded by his national security affairs adviser, the German émigré and former Harvard professor Henry A. Kissinger. Upon learning that the Soviets were rapidly approaching nuclear parity with the United States, the new president sensibly abandoned the quixotic search for American superiority in nuclear weapons systems and accepted the concept of parity or "sufficiency." He simultaneously made the decision to expand ABM defenses in the name of damage limitation, citing not only the danger from the Soviet Union but also from the People's Republic of China, which recently had joined the special weapons club by testing and deploying a nuclear weapon. Unlike Sentinel, however, the new Nixon Safeguard system was designed exclusively to protect Minuteman ICBM silos. The administration made public its decision that, in light of the Soviet Union's burgeoning offensive nuclear capability, limiting damage to civilian targets no longer was possible. The United States could only hope to preserve a retaliatory capability, the existence of which would deter an opponent from striking first. To further underscore his tough-mindedness and enhance the American retaliatory arsenal, Nixon installed more MIRVs on U.S. ICBMs.

Considering himself to be in a position of diplomatic strength, President Nixon entered into the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) negotiations with the Soviet Union in November 1969. The Soviets, for their part, were now willing to negotiate because they were drawing abreast of the United States in numbers of ICBMs, if not in MIRVed warheads. A rough de facto nuclear parity had been achieved, and each side sought to freeze it in order to avoid the astronomical expense of building elaborate ABM systems, which existing technology could not make fully effective. The cost of the Vietnam War was driving American fiscal prudence; the chronic inefficiency of the Soviet economy was inspiring Moscow's circumspection. The two sides, however, were unable to reach any agreement and the SALT I discussions dragged on until the spring of 1972.

Fruition came at a summit in Moscow on 26 May 1972, when the Soviet Union and the United States agreed by treaty to curtail deployment of ABMs. Delegates of the two superpowers also initialed a five-year interim agreement freezing offensive strategic nuclear weapons systems at their existing levels. In essence, the United States conceded to the Soviet Union an advantage in large missiles with horrifically destructive warheads, and the Soviet Union yielded to the United States the countervailing advantage in MIRVs. "What are 3,000 MIRVs among friends?" Henry Kissinger joked, but he later regretted that he had not pondered "the implications of a MIRVed world more thoughtfully."

The ABM Treaty likewise failed to prohibit further development of new delivery systems, such as the supersonic intercontinental B-1 bomber to replace the B-52, longer-range Trident SLBMs to replace the Polaris-Poseidon system, and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Maintenance of nuclear parity at the 1972 level, therefore, gave the United States the chance to capitalize on its technological supremacy to make an end run on the Soviets. With characteristic insight and cynicism, Kissinger quipped, "The way to use this freeze is for us to catch up." The Senate showed its appreciation for the advantages of the ABM Treaty by approving it with an overwhelming vote: 88 to 2. A joint congressional resolution endorsed the five-year moratorium on development of new offensive strategic nuclear weapons.

Nixon's acceptance of atomic equality did not deter him from relying on nuclear weapons in his conduct of foreign and military policy. For example, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, he authorized a full alert of American strategic forces to forestall intervention by Soviet airborne troops. Similarly, as he progressively reduced the size of the U.S. Army, he permitted his advisers to revive plans for using tactical, or battlefield, nuclear weapons. In January 1971, when speaking about the American defense posture from 1972 through 1976, Secretary of Defense Melvin B. Laird said: "For those levels in the deterrent spectrum below general nuclear war, the forces to deter Soviet and Chinese adventures clearly must have an adequate war-fighting capability, both in limited nuclear and conventional options."

Hoping to capitalize on the success of the ABM Treaty, Nixon ordered new negotiations with the Soviet Union. SALT II opened with promise in November 1972 but soon foundered for several reasons: the scandal of the Watergate burglary and the forced resignation of Nixon in August 1974, Soviet-American disagreements over technical issues, and the objections of militants like Senator Henry Jackson who cried for the restoration of nuclear superiority.


The new president, Republican Gerald R. Ford, initially retained Kissinger as both secretary of state and national security affairs adviser, but the old diplomatic wizardry had dissipated. The secretary of state and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin met frequently and maneuvered endlessly for an advantage in arms control negotiations, warily proposing to limit weapons in which the other side had superiority while protecting their own favorites. In the interminable horse-trading, the United States claimed that the supersonic Soviet Backfire bomber (Tu-26) should be included in any new limitations agreements; the Soviets demanded inclusion of American nuclear-armed, ground-hugging, nonballistic cruise missiles. Technological strides kept raising the ante: the Soviet Union was perfecting the triple-MIRVed SS-20 IRBM, a terrifying threat to NATO; the United States was readying highly accurate Pershing IRBMs for NATO deployment and completing the Trident SSBN, with ballistic missiles that had a range of 4,000 nautical miles. Since neither side would yield, the dimming hopes for SALT II were bequeathed to the new Democratic administration of James Earl Carter in January 1977. When Carter took office, the U.S. nuclear inventory stood at 8,500 nuclear warheads in comparison with 5,700 in 1972, and the Soviet count had nearly doubled in the same period. If moderation of the nuclear balance of terror was the benchmark, the Nixon-Kissinger policy of détente had failed miserably.

President Jimmy Carter thought détente was worse than a failure. He believed U.S. strategic potency actually had diminished under Republicans Nixon and Ford: "We've been outtraded in almost every instance." The Naval Academy graduate and former nuclear submariner was perpetually torn between the "mailed fist" of his hawkish national security affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the "dove's coo" of his temperate and cautious secretary of state, Cyrus R. Vance. The president played off China against the Soviet Union, lectured Moscow on its policy toward Jews and dissident intellectuals, and at the same time tried to reignite the stalled SALT II talks. Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin lamented, "President Carter continued to attack us in public, in public, in public. Always in public."

Two months after Carter's inauguration, Secretary of State Vance flew to Moscow with a proposal to revive the SALT process by radically reducing the number of deployed ICBMs, not surprisingly the nuclear category in which the Soviets held the lead. Initially rebuffed, Vance persevered until Carter and Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty at a summit meeting in Vienna in June 1979. For the first time, each superpower accepted numerical equality with the other in total nuclear delivery vehicles. The total number of MIRVed launchers for each side was set at 1,200, and the quantity of MIRVs per missile was also fixed. Moscow and Washington promised to allow on-site verification of compliance by representatives from the other side, an unprecedented step forward. Excluded from the agreement were several new high-technology weapons systems: the American MX ("missile experimental"), an improved ICBM that could deliver ten MIRVs to targets 7,000 miles distant from the launch site; the Trident-II SLBM with MIRVed ballistic missiles almost twice the weight of their predecessors; the nonballistic, nuclear-armed cruise missile; and the supersonic Soviet Backfire bomber with a threatening range of 5,500 miles.

This qualified success fell victim to domestic critics and to Soviet-American disputes over hegemony throughout the world. Paul Nitze, the bellicose author of NSC 68, protested against SALT II. He said it was "time for the United States to stand up and not be a patsy." Senator Henry Jackson, always a patron of the arms industry and an intransigent foe of conciliation, complained that SALT II sanctified an imbalance in which the Soviet Union could destroy American land-based nuclear retaliatory forces in a preemptive first strike. In contrast, doves faulted the treaty because it was not comprehensive enough.

The objectors might have scuttled the pact regardless of international affairs, but in the fall of 1979 they were aided immeasurably by Carter's accusation that the Soviets were infiltrating a combat brigade into Cuba. The president vainly attempted to placate his critics and to warn the Soviets. He proclaimed a five-year military expansion program focused on European-based inter-mediate and cruise missiles, and his personal rage at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December of that year led him to withdraw SALT II from the Senate. Discredited by a wide variety of foreign policy failures, most notably the Iranian hostage crisis (19791981), Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, a charismatic movie actor and former governor of California.


Pledging to "make America great again," President Reagan carried enough Republican candidates on his popular coattails to win control of the Senate for his party. Reelected by a landslide vote in 1984, he was superbly well positioned to maintain a contentious posture vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, which he denounced with ideological fervor as an "evil empire." He and a kaleidoscopically shifting cast of senior advisers perceived a mortal U.S. disadvantage in strategic armament. The deficit arose primarily from the Soviet Union's greater aggregate "throw-weight," that is, the sheer tonnage of destructive power its missiles could deliver to targets in the United States and NATO countries. This simplistic measure of relative capability was used by the Reagan administration to warn of a "window of vulnerability" through which the United States could be devastated by a preemptive Soviet first strike.

To redress the Soviet Union's ostensible "margin of superiority," Reagan instructed the Pentagon to disregard budgetary restrictions and request whatever weapons it wanted. He goaded Congress to fund accelerated development and deployment of the B-1 bomber, the neutron bomb, the B-2 "stealth bomber," the Trident-II SLBM, the MX and cruise missiles, and mobile Minuteman ICBM launching sites. Thus fortified, President Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. "Cap" Weinberger undertook arms-reduction talks with the Soviet Union. The Reagan cohort would extort Soviet concessions by using the revived arms race to strain the creaking Soviet economy.

The Reagan administration soon was managing several approaches to strategic security in the wake of the inherited SALT II failure: a rapid buildup of strategic and conventional capabilities; negotiations in 1981 to limit intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF); the opening of talks on a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1982; and research into space-based antiballistic missile defenses. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), announced in March 1983 and derisively dubbed "Star Wars" by its opponents after the hit science-fiction movie, was an ambitious scheme to put laser-firing satellites into low orbit around the earth. These "killer satellites," assisted by a complex system of ground-based tracking radars, would intercept and destroy ICBMs at the height of their trajectory outside the earth's atmosphere. The program was projected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and it relied on future development of problematical new technologies. Domestic opposition based on cost, feasibility, and SDI's contravention of the ABM Treaty remained strong throughout Reagan's presidency.

In 1981, Reagan had suggested a "zero sum" option for tactical nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union promptly rejected. The president promised that NATO would refrain from deploying any American cruise missiles if the Soviet Union eliminated the ballistic missiles it had aimed at western Europe, including existing systems that had never been on the negotiating table before. This suggestion that the Soviet Union scrap extant missiles to preclude American deployment of systems that as yet were in the planning stage dumb-founded Soviet leaders. In November 1983 they broke off the INF discussions.

The U.S. arms buildup continued during a two-year hiatus in negotiations, as did NATO's planning for deployment of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. The inhabitants of NATO nations and other European countries did not wholeheartedly accept the alliance's decision to place additional U.S. tactical nuclear forces in Europe as counters to Soviet SS-20s, SS-5s, and SS-4s. Street protests erupted in the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands, while parliaments and citizens across Europe reacted with alarm. Any Soviet attempt to turn these apparent fissures in NATO to negotiating advantage was foredoomed by a rapid succession of top leaders in Moscow. President Brezhnev had died in 1982, his successor, Yuri Andropov, in 1984, and Andropov's heir a year later.

Negotiations based on versions of Reagan's 1981 zero sum languished until Mikhail Gorbachev became the new secretary general of the Communist Party in March 1985. Relatively young at age fifty-four, and refreshingly dynamic in contrast with the typical Soviet apparatchik, Gorbachev was absolutely determined to liberalize the Soviet political system (glasnost ), reform the economy (perestroika ), and reduce expenditures for arms, especially nuclear missile systems. According to Michael K. Deaver, who served as Ronald Reagan's personal adviser for twenty years, the president sensed in Gorbachev a kindred spirit. "With Gorbachev, Reagan could do business, and business they would do, eliminating entire classes of nuclear weapons and paving the way for the literal collapse of arguably the greatest enemy we have ever faced." In three separate summit meetings between 1985 and 1987, this unique rapport greatly facilitated negotiationsup to a point. At the October 1986 meeting in Reykjavík, Iceland, the two heads of state came tantalizingly close to agreement on sweeping reductions in nuclear armaments and withdrawal of all American IRBMs from Europe. But things came unstuck when Gorbachev told Reagan, "All this depends, of course, on your giving up SDI." The president reacted with extreme defensiveness, and the meeting collapsed.

START was paralyzed, but all was not lost. The less glamorous INF talks had been revived by Reagan and Gorbachev, and in 1987 the two superpowers signed a treaty that for the first time eliminated an entire class of existing weapons. On-site inspections would verify the elimination of all Soviet and American land-based, intermediate-range, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. There is debate as to how much the treaty actually lowered the nuclear threat. Both the Soviet and American intermediate-range nuclear forces by that time were becoming obsolete, and each side already was working on new systems. The INF treaty's successful conclusion, on the other hand, signaled that the two powers were ready to resume cooperation in arms control, and that they recognized a mutual need to maintain strategic stability. Gorbachev deserves credit for his flexibility and imagination in breaking the stalemate. He understood that he could not hope to match a U.S. arms buildup when his own domestic economy was on the verge of implosion. Reagan, too, deserves plaudits. In May 1988 he won Senate approval of the INF treaty by a vote of 93 to 5. Six months later, Reagan's phenomenal popularity helped elect his understudy to the presidency.


A former Central Intelligence Agency director and ambassador to China, Vice President George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan in January 1989. President Bush's one-term administration inherited a tentatively cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union, the moribund START I negotiations, and a well-funded research and development program for strategic missile defense. Gorbachev, meanwhile, had been proceeding with unprecedented reforms in the Soviet Union and its satellite states. As he cut the Soviet military by 500,000 men and reduced Red Army troop levels in Eastern Europe, public demonstrations demanding freedom from communist rule spread from the shipyards of Gdansk to the coffee shops of East Berlin. A totally unpredictable unraveling had begun. In November 1989 the Berlin Wall was literally dismantled by crowds of young people fed up with the economic and political sterility of the communist system. The destruction of the emblem of East-West division shook the Soviet Union to its core, but somehow in the midst of chaos Gorbachev managed to reach out to the new government in Washington. For its part, the Bush administration sharply slowed Reagan's very costly force buildup and began to reconfigure the planned missile defense architecture that had been created to support SDI. Eventually, the president would attempt to modify the ABM Treaty, but first he and Gorbachev sought to revitalize the START process, a casualty of the Reagan-Gorbachev contretemps over SDI. Meeting in Washington, D.C., in June 1990, Bush and Gorbachev initialed a trade pact and opened negotiations for deeper cuts in strategic weapons.

A year later, in July 1991, they met in Moscow to sign the START I treaty. The new accord reduced and limited total numbers of warheads rather than delivery systems. This was a breakthrough for arms control, although a cap of 4,900 ballistic-missile warheads does seem phantasmagorical. The approach had political appeal as a tool for both leaders to demonstrate to their constituents their seriousness about reducing the threat of nuclear war. It is equally true, however, that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact within six months of each other made the enormous size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal a political and economic liability more than a security asset. American strategic planners began to calculate the level of weapons actually needed to ensure the security of the United States in a world order no longer defined by nuclear bipolarity.

START I was Gorbachev's diplomatic swan song. On the evening of 25 December 1991, the hammer and sickle was lowered from the Kremlin's flagstaff for the last time, and the Soviet Union ceased to be. Boris Yeltsin, who had been outmaneuvering Gorbachev for primacy within the Soviet Union, became president of the new Russian Federation. Bush preferred to work with the less volatile Gorbachev, but in a typically pedestrian aside he said, "You dance with who is on the dance floor." The American pragmatist and the Russian usurper contrived to sign the SALT II agreement just before Bush left office in January 1993. It reduced the total of nuclear warheads to between 3,000 and 3,500 for each side. All MIRVed missiles were to be eliminated by the year 2003.

No matter how comprehensive, Russian-American cooperation was no longer a sufficient guarantee of nuclear security, as both Yeltsin and Bush realized. In the last decade of the twentieth century, Russia and the United States suddenly encountered a new and unprecedented danger of attack by "rogue states" equipped with nuclear missiles. It was common knowledge that Iraq and Iran had used chemical weapons against one another during their eight-year war (19801988), and it had been estimated in 1990 that the Iraqis were "perhaps one year away from deploying a nuclear device." During the Gulf War of 1991, Iraq brazenly launched short-range Scud missiles to terrorize Saudis in Riyadh and Israelis in Tel Aviv, and American-designed Patriot missiles performed marginally as counters to the Scuds. Sub-sequent arms-elimination inspections by the United Nations exposed an extensive and sophisticated Iraqi network of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons installations. Iraq and other so-called rogue states could no longer be discounted as insignificant to the international nuclear calculus. Something had to be done to ensure that the American homeland remained invulnerable to missile attack by minor powers possessing weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush reacted to the alarm with a new missile defense concept called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes. Bearing the friendly acronym GPALS, the innovation of 1991 showed that the proponents of Reagan's "Star Wars" had never really gone away. Like SDI before it, GPALS would take nuclear warfare into space, initially with space-based sensors but eventually to include actual missile interceptors in earth orbit. To allow testing and deployment of these new systems, the administration formally proposed changes to the 1972 ABM Treaty. Suddenly divested of its sacrosanct character, the treaty would remain under siege for the rest of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.


Throughout the tenure of Democratic President William Jefferson Clinton, Europe was experiencing a political reordering of a magnitude not witnessed since the signing of the Versailles Treaty in 1919. As a component of the continental reconfiguration, Clinton inherited from George H. W. Bush a wide array of unresolved nuclear issues. Some of them dated well back into the Cold War. Others were of recent vintage, the by-products of the disappearance of one of the Cold War's two principal protagonists and the global hegemonic ambitions of the self-proclaimed "one remaining superpower." Foremost among these dark bequests was the precipitous proliferation of nuclear weapons.

When the Soviet Union broke up, U.S. strategists were appalled to see the largest foreign nuclear arsenal suddenly scattered among four unstable, economically weak, and potentially antagonistic successor states: Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. Simply by declaring their independence, Ukraine and Kazakhstan became the third-and fourth-largest nuclear powers in the world. Russia, with U.S. concurrence, quickly declared itself the legal heir to the Soviet Union and the inheritor of its treaty obligations. Russia therefore became the only legitimate nuclear weapons power among the four successor states, according to the provisions of the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968, and it joined the United States in insisting that the other three disarm as soon as possible. Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan took the first hesitant step in this direction in May 1992 when they signed the Lisbon Protocol to the START I Treaty. This action made them parties to what was originally a bilateral agreement. They further pledged to adhere to the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty as nonnuclear weapons states, a move that would codify their acquiescence to the global nuclear order and put their civilian nuclear assets under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Clinton administration and Congress provided some monetary assistance to the Soviet Union's successor states for their transition to nonnuclear status. One means of aid, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act (CTR)also known as Nunn-Lugaradvanced $1.5 billion to the four struggling nations. With this aid, Russia would bring its strategic weapons inventory into compliance with START I limitations; the other three states would dismantle their segments of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal and sequester all weapons materials in Russia for indefinite safekeeping. Under CTR, President Clinton promised to purchase 500 metric tons of highly enriched Russian uranium for $12 billion over a twenty-year period. More immediately, in 1994 American technicians mounted a top-secret operation, code-named "Sapphire," which spirited 600 tons of weapons-grade uranium out of Kazakhstan. The objective was to keep this unprotected stockpile beyond the reach of Iran's nuclear weapons fabricators.

CTR attracted sharp criticism from some members of Congress for failing to focus narrowly on disarmament and for not adequately verifying destruction of nuclear weapons in Russia. Moscow, for its part, complained that most of the CTR money went to pay American contractors rather than to helping Russian firms develop the expertise to eliminate nuclear weapons. However, as one of the act's sponsors, Senator Richard G. Lugar, pointed out, the fact that most of the CTR appropriations remained in the United States was an essential selling point for the American people and Congress: "Eighty-four percent of Nunn-Lugar funds have been awarded to American firms to carry out dismantlement operations in the former Soviet Union. There are no blank checks to Moscow." As with the early Cold War's Marshall Plan, U.S. industry stood to profit from critical European instability.

Clinton supplemented the monetary inducements with diplomacy, but each of the three non-Russian nuclear-armed descendants of the Soviet Union presented unique impediments to the negotiation of nuclear disarmament. Belarus, highly Russified and sporadically ambivalent about independence, was the most readily compliant of the three; it also was the most lightly armed of them. Ukraine and Kazakhstan were tougher nuts to crack.

Bitterness against the former Soviet regime ran deep in Ukraine. Despite repeated assurances to George H. W. Bush's secretary of state, James A. Baker III, and to others concerning their intention to give up their nuclear arsenal, Ukraine's leaders stalled negotiations on assistance and delayed ratification of the Lisbon Protocol. By 1993 it was clear that Ukraine was working to establish positive controlthe ability to launchover its strategic arsenal. Ukrainian technicians already had gained negative control, which meant that President Leonid Kravchuk could prevent a missile launch by Moscow from Ukrainian soil if Russian President Boris Yeltsin should neglect to consult Kiev beforehand. Kiev's negotiators sought three main benefits from any agreement to disarm: attention and respect from the international community, money, and security guarantees from the remaining nuclear weapons states. Their intransigence delayed the Supreme Rada's ratification of START I until February 1994, and of the NPT until December of that year. Ultimately, Kiev simply had to acknowledge that it could not afford, either financially or politically, to maintain a nuclear arsenal in the face of intense international pressure.

Kazakhstan trod a path somewhere between the acquiescence of Belarus and the hard line of Ukraine. Security guarantees figured prominently in the negotiations of Alma-Ata (Almaty) with Russia and the West over disarmament. Located at the juncture of Russia, China, India, and the Middle East, Kazakhstan feared losing its nuclear deterrent without acquiring the compensating umbrella of a powerful ally. While the United States stopped short of giving positive guarantees that it would intervene if Kazakhstan were attacked, it did help to alleviate the Kazakhstani parliament's apprehensions when it joined Russia and the other weapons states in guaranteeing Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus that they would never be attacked with nuclear weapons. After holding out along with Ukraine as long as possible, Kazakhstan reluctantly faced up to the realization that it had neither the fiscal resources nor the expertise to maintain, much less use, its weapons. The Supreme Council of Kazakhstan ratified START I and the Lisbon Protocol on 23 July 1992 and, finally, the Nonproliferation Treaty as a nonnuclear state on 13 December 1993.

With Russia, nuclear matters were more complicated. When Clinton entered office in January 1993, the implementation of START I was under way and ratification of START II seemed imminent, but serious obstacles soon arose on both sides of the Atlantic. American opponents to START II raised the fear that swift action on arms reductions could leave the United States vulnerable if political instability in Russia should lead to a breakdown in bilateral arms control cooperation. An attempted parliamentary coup against President Yeltsin in October 1993 and the gradual deterioration of Yeltsin's ability to govern reinforced these concerns. Aside from the geostrategic relationship, domestic political maneuvering between the Republican-led Congress and the Democratic White House kept START II off the Senate's agenda for the better part of a year, until a quid pro quo on legislative priorities could be worked out between them. The U.S. Senate finally ratified START II by a large margin on 26 January 1996.

Strong opposition to key provisions of the treaty arose in the Russian Duma, whose members were sensitive to the changes in the U.S.Russian strategic relationship and distressed over Russia's uncertain status as a world power. If Russia were to give up its MIRVed warheads, opponents to START II argued, it would be forced to invest in the creation of a new single-warhead ICBM force, an expenditure it could not afford, or lose its superpower status. Others believed that START II already was outdated and that negotiations should move directly to START III, as a means of bringing the U.S. arsenal down to the level at which Russian strategic forces probably would find themselves anyway. START III, it also was hoped, would eliminate objectionable features of START II, such as the provision that the United States would keep half its MIRVed SLBMs while Russia would have to eliminate all its MIRVed ICBMs.

The increase in NATO's membership, first proposed by Clinton in 1994, dealt another serious blow to prospects for the Duma's ratification of START II. Enlargement of the pact would be "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire postCold War era," according to George F. Kennan, the "father" of the 1947 containment policy who was still alive and writing in the 1990s. The grand master of American political-strategic thinking predicted that such a move would inflame hard-line nationalism within Russia, damage Russia's nascent democracy, and shift bilateral relations back to a Cold War status. Within Russia, analysts argued that expansion of NATO, juxtaposed with the downsizing of Russia's conventional forces, would force Moscow to rely even more heavily on its strategic arsenal. To calm this apprehension, the Russian Federation and NATO signed the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security. They promised to build "a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security," and they proclaimed "the beginning of a fundamentally new relationship between NATO and Russia." While it did not satisfy the concerns of many who opposed expansion, the Founding Act did mitigate the damage enough for Moscow and Washington to continue cooperation on other issues. In 1997 Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton agreed to coordinate the START II and START III processes, with implementation of both to be complete by 31 December 2007.

Ratification of START II, and the START III talks themselves, unfortunately were soon paralyzed by the brouhaha over U.S. national missile defenses and the status of the ABM Treaty. This controversy, in turn, stemmed from the serious setbacks to nonproliferation that characterized the 1990s. The United States and Russia had been working feverishly to contain the threat of uncontrolled nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union at the same time that North Korea, Pakistan, and India were demonstrating their intention to crash the five-member Nonproliferation Treaty nuclear club at all costs.

The first eruption occurred in early 1993, when North Korea violated its signatory obligations to the treaty by refusing to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of nuclear waste sites. Agency inspectors had found radioactive evidence suggesting that North Korea was separating plutonium from reactor waste in direct violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. North Korean President Kim Il Sung accused the United States and South Korea of using the inspectors to spy on North Korea's military facilities and of planning to launch a "nuclear war" against the North as part of a joint military exercise, "Team Spirit." Tensions mounted throughout the spring of 1993. In March, Pyongyang threatened to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, while the United States sought sanctions through the United Nations to force North Korea to back down. At one point, the Pentagon raised the possibility of a preventive strike against the suspected facilities. Fearing an attack upon themselves as the U.S. allies geographically closest to North Korea, Tokyo and Seoul were urging Washington to consider diplomatic solutions that would avoid "cornering" Pyongyang. China and Russia also refused to support U.S. efforts to force North Korean compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency regime. A second war on the Korean peninsula, perhaps employing nuclear weapons, began to seem possible.

Pyongyang began to moderate its position eighteen months later, however, after Kim Il Sung's son, Kim Jong Il, succeeded his father as president. In October 1994 the Clinton administration and North Korea signed an accord known as the Agreed Framework pledging that North Korea would receive light-water reactors, which do not produce plutonium, and economic aid in exchange for free and full inspections of its declared nuclear facilities. Under the accord both sides agreed to make efforts to normalize their economic and political relations. As a further concession, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry canceled Exercise Team Spirit. U.S. public opinion, however, remained strongly opposed to providing any economic support for the "rogue nation," so financing for the assistance was arranged through an international consortium of private and governmental agencies from Japan, South Korea, and the United States. These imposed inhibitions on North Korea's nuclear aspirations did not last.

On 31 August 1998, North Korea rocketed a three-stage Taep'o-dong ballistic missile over Japan's main island of Honshu. Western intelligence attributed to the missile a surprising range of between 3,800 and 5,900 kilometers. This extended reach constituted remarkable progress in five years for the North Korean missile program, from the 500 kilometer-range Nodong-1 in 1993. It sparked American fears that North Korea might be working on an intercontinental ballistic missile to bring the western United States under threat of nuclear attack. More likely, North Korea's motives for unveiling the Taep'o-dong in such a dramatic fashion had as much to do with political posturing as with aggressive concepts of national security. Just before the test, North Korea's leaders indicated that they would halt the missile program if the United States lifted economic sanctions and compensated them for lost missile sales. There also were solid indications that North Korea's nuclear weapons program, halted under the Agreed Framework, had been put back on track in reaction to U.S. failure to provide the light-water reactors it promised in 1994.

The Taep'o-dong missile launch was not the only setback to Clinton's hopes for halting the diffusion of nuclear weapons in 1998. In May of that year India announced that it had detonated five nuclear devices at its testing range in the Thar Desert near Pakistan's border. The subcontinent had been problematic for the international nonproliferation regime ever since India's refusal to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968. India had become a de facto, but undeclared, nuclear power in 1974, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi authorized what Indian officials characterized as a "peaceful nuclear explosion." Governance of India's nuclear program was tightly held by its civilian leaders, to the almost complete exclusion of the Indian military. Since 1974, India had chosen to rely on an ambiguous "existential deterrent" policy toward its declared enemy, Pakistan, and toward its arch-rival, China. Although India clearly possessed the capability to deploy warheads, none were placed on delivery vehicles or deployed at launch sites; nor was their existence officially conceded.

Upon India's announcement of the tests in 1998, the United States and the United Nations immediately launched efforts to persuade Pakistan, long suspected of having a rudimentary nuclear capability, not to test in reaction to India. All threats and pleas failed, and Pakistan conducted six tests of its own within a month. With tensions between the two adversaries already soaring due to a chronic Islamic insurgency in Kashmir, world attention swung to the subcontinent as the next possible site for a nuclear war. In this quarter, the United States and United Nations faced a dilemma quite different from that posed by North Korea. The largest democracy in the world and a challenger to China for hegemony in South Asia, India was not constrained by the nonproliferation or safeguards conventions. Moreover, India's people and their political leaders had in the past proved remarkably resistant to threats or attempts at coercion regarding their nuclear status. Pakistan for its part was able to depend upon a close relationship with China to sustain its nuclear defense program in the face of international opprobrium.

UN Security Council Resolution 1172 of 6 June 1998, which had been sponsored by the five permanent members of the Security Council, demanded an immediate end to testing by New Delhi and Islamabad and called on the two countries to reopen negotiations over disputed territories. It enjoined them to sign the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 as nonnuclear weapons states. In the United States, the Glenn Resolution to the Arms Export Control Act of 1998 legally required President Clinton to impose sanctions on both countries in response to the tests. Military and financial aid was restricted, but commercial intercourse continued without impediment.

International opinion was divided on the utility of sanctions as a means to coerce India or Pakistan. Many analysts thought such attempts were more likely to harden than soften the resolve of the two countries' leaders, given the over-whelming domestic approval of the tests. There was the additional risk of intensifying Pakistan's political instability by disrupting an already unsteady economy and strengthening the hand of its military in political affairs. Finally, vigorous anti-American factions in both countries resented what they regarded as Washington's interference in their bilateral affairs, while each state was highly suspicious of the other's relations with the United States. This atmosphere limited Washington's ability to influence either government, particularly in the area of arms control. Clinton and the U.S. Congress therefore gradually eased or waived many of the Glenn Resolution's prohibitions, and the administration's diplomats continued to encourage nuclear prudence on the part of India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards regimes made no provision for admitting new weapons states or for safeguarding the nuclear facilities of states that lacked official treaty nonweapon status. This hiatus left Pakistan and India in a nonproliferation limbo, and their civilian nuclear assets remained beyond international oversight.

The dramatic proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and missile arsenals, together with the bombing of the World Trade Center by a group of international terrorists in 1993, the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and simultaneous car bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998, left Americans feeling uncomfortably vulnerable in an increasingly hostile and unpredictable world. Interest was revived in a total ban on testing nuclear weapons. First broached during the Kennedy presidency, the idea remained moribund until the 1990s, when it again gained currency as the most obvious means to halt nuclear weapons proliferation and arms races. In 1996 the UN General Assembly had formulated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and disseminated it for signature. President Clinton, one of the first heads of state to sign, characterized the treaty as the "longest sought, hardest fought prize in arms control history." He submitted the treaty to the Senate for approval, confident he would be able to cite its ratification as one of the chief foreign policy victories of his presidency. His confidence was premature. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, with the full support of Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, saw the treaty as a golden opportunity to thwart Clinton. They let it die in committee without a single hearing. In light of U.S. senatorial obstinacy, other governments began to question the wisdom of forgoing their right to test. By 1998 few countries had ratified the pact, and hope for a comprehensive test ban faded.

In retrospect, the monumental dangers of the Cold War's bipolar nuclear standoff had been manageable, and decades of arms control negotiations had made the likelihood of war between the two superpowers appear increasingly remote. In the afterglow of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Americans were faced with a world full of apparent enemies against whom the tremendous U.S. nuclear deterrent was impotent. The threat of massive retaliation simply could not be used to deter terrorists, not only because their provenance usually was unclear, but also because it was politically untenable and morally unjustifiable to carry out such a lopsided exchange.

The function of the nuclear deterrent in the postCold War world became a subject of intense concern, and the topical center of gravity within U.S. security and policymaking circles began to shift from nonproliferation to counterproliferation. A search was begun for promising new technologies to defend U.S. territory and citizens against possible attack. As the threat of rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction became a favorite subject of national security debates within Washington, Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" concept began a relentless comeback.

President Clinton gave missile defenses a lower priority than had George H. W. Bush, but he continued a modest developmental program. The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization metamorphosed into the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, with a much smaller budget than its predecessor had enjoyed. Drawing lessons from the Gulf War of 1991, Clinton shifted the program's concentration from strategic to regional or "theater" defense. Theater missile defenses (TMD) were seen by critics in both the United States and Russia as an attempted end run around the ABM Treaty, even though the treaty did not specifically cover TMD. Some TMD hardware could easily be reconfigured to counter strategic as well as tactical ballistic missiles, opponents argued. They predicted that development of TMD would induce Russia to build up rather than reduce its strategic arsenal, thus undoing the historic achievements of arms control negotiations and agreements. In 1993 the Clinton administration sought to alleviate these concerns by negotiating a "line of demarcation" between strategic and theater defenses based on Article 6 of the ABM Treaty, which forbade giving an ABM "capability" to non-ABM defense systems. This approach met with powerful opposition from the newly elected Senate Republican majority in 1994. The Republicans insisted that the Russians should not have a "veto" over the future of American missile defenses, as they did under the ABM Treaty.

Caught between these conflicting factions, Clinton worked directly with Yeltsin to fashion language that would evade both the legal triggers of the treaty and the political guns of the U.S. Senate. The result was a joint statement by the two presidents issued in May 1995. It paved the way for negotiating a demarcation agreement, recognized the validity of TMD in principle, and reaffirmed the importance of the ABM Treaty to the bilateral relationship. The negotiations themselves were complex. The current parties to the ABM Treatythe United States, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstanhad to hammer out a common interpretation of interceptor range and velocity, flight-testing, space-and land-based sensors, and other arcane technical issues within the parameters of the treaty before they could reach agreement on what any signatory actually was allowed to do with its missile defenses.

Meanwhile, the controversy in the United States over a national missile defense continued to evoke strong reactions from powerful international friends and potential adversaries. China and Russia were the most vociferous in their condemnation of what they viewed as a unilaterally destabilizing course of action. European and Asian allies asked whether the United States was attempting to withdraw behind a "Fortress America" defensive bulwark that would leave them facing potential threats without a credible deterrent. Having gotten itself entangled in some future overseas adventure, their argument went, the United States could retreat without fear of reprisal, leaving its allies exposed as defenseless targets for the missiles of disgruntled adversaries. The Clinton administration disingenuously countered that, on the contrary, a United States free from the fear of retaliation would be more willing, not less, to come to the aid of its allies in a nuclear emergency. This was a ghostly reprise of the American assertions that in the early 1960s had led a skeptical Charles de Gaulle to form a French nuclear force de frappe and to withdraw from NATO strategic planning. De Gaulle knew in the 1960s, as European leaders knew in the 1990s, that there was only a negative answer to the question, "Would the Americans really be willing to trade Washington for, say, Paris?"

To appease a dubious Russia, the Clinton administration in 1999 proposed that the two countries cooperate in the development of national missile defense systems. Before any real progress could be made, in December 2000, Yeltsin abdicated and was succeeded by the former secret police (KGB) officer Vladimir Putin. The new Russian president warned Clinton that abrogation of the ABM Treaty would force Russia to reconsider all of its treaty obligations with the United States, including the pending ratification of START II. Clinton vacillated. He had signed the 1999 National Missile Defense Act calling for an effective missile defense system as soon as one was technologically feasible, but he deferred a final decision to deploy one and passed that hot potato to his successor. Putin in the meantime was doing his best to keep the United States committed to bilateral strategic arms control and to salvage the ABM Treaty. Strong lobbying by the Russian president persuaded the Duma to ratify START II in April 2000. The desperate gesture's futility would be demonstrated soon after President Clinton left office.


George W. Bush, the son of Clinton's predecessor, entered the White House in January 2001 as a strange amalgam of neoisolationist and latter-day cold warrior. Lacking his father's lifetime of exposure to world affairs or to politics beyond Texas, Bush had very rarely traveled overseas. From the first days of his administration he showed an alarming tendency to discount the stabilizing results of a half century's patient negotiation, especially the thirty-year-old ABM Treaty. His most senior advisers were men and women with broad foreign policy expertise and extensive experience in managing the national security apparatus. Richard Cheney, the vice president, had been secretary of defense at the time of the Gulf War; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had held the same office under President Reagan; General Colin Powell, the secretary of state, was a former national security adviser who had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was a newcomer to high office but she brought to the Oval Office an intimate academic familiarity with the military and foreign policy of Soviet Russia. On balance, these counselors were aggressive and combative veterans of the Cold War; they were not inclined to dissuade the president from attacking the ABM Treaty as obsolete in a world of nuclear-armed rogue states, or from pushing the eastward expansion of NATO regardless of the objections of Russia.

Bush immediately made it clear that creation of a missile defense system would command his highest priority. At the same time, he began distancing himself from the traditionally close strategic and arms control relationship the United States had maintained with Russia since Nixon's presidency. In the earliest days of his administration Bush warned that if Russia refused to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty the United States might abrogate the pact. He further suggested that the United States would make future changes to its strategic arsenal on a unilateral basis. This autarchy would free the United States from the need to negotiate missile defenses in tandem with arms reductions, thereby decoupling Russian and American strategic interests for the first time in more than fifty years.

Early in 2001 the éminence grise of the Republican foreign policy establishment, Henry Kissinger, weighed in on the side of the opponents of the ABM Treaty, which had been negotiated when he was President Nixon's national security adviser. In a book entitled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Kissinger quite remarkably traced the treaty's origins to congressional and bureaucratic opposition to an ABM defense system that, he claimed, was what President Nixon had preferred. Kissinger said the opponents of Nixon's antiballistic missile program used the same arguments as were being used in 2001 to discredit President Bush's national and theater missile defense proposals. In Kissinger's version, the Cassandras incoherently predicted that a ballistic missile defense program "would not work; that it would work so well as to be destabilizing; that it would weaken the Atlantic Alliance by decoupling the defense of the United States from that of Europe; that it would drive the Soviet Union into intransigence and an arms race."

Kissinger and others who would scrap the ABM Treaty in order to construct antiballistic missile systems postulated that regardless of any treaty, the United States and Russia would not attack one another because each side had far more than enough nuclear weapons to obliterate its rival. On the other side of the debate was Thomas L. Friedman, the foreign correspondent of the New York Times. A strategic thinker who believed that "the information revolution and [economic] globalization" were radically transforming international relations, Friedman vigorously denounced Kissinger and "the Bush team's latest version of a high-tech missile defense shield." It was "an idea that, so far, doesn't work, [and] shows every possibility of unraveling the complex web of arms control and diplomatic initiatives that have kept the peace for 50 years."

President Bush met Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, for the first time in Slovenia in June 2001. Bush said he looked his counterpart in the eye, liked what he saw, and invited him to his ranch in Texas. Some naive columnists were quick to herald a breakthrough and a revitalization of Russian-American relations. But prudent skeptics wondered whether real Russian-American harmony could be established or persist given the substantive differences dividing the two countries. Asked about the U.S.Russian relationship in May 2000, the deputy chairman of the defense committee of the Russian Duma, Alexei Arbatov, replied without hesitation, "There are a lot of very bad feelings, bad expectations, suspicions and mistrust. A lot of those are not justified, some are, unfortunately, justified. Russia sees itself as now being an opponent of the United States. Russia is willing to compete in important areas such as the post-Soviet states, the Balkans, the issue of ballistic missile defenses and strategic offenses [sic]."

Another pertinent question to consider when assessing Russian-American relations in the first decade of the twenty-first century was whether the relationship between the two should really remain the central thread of American nuclear strategy and diplomacy. The United States might bill itself as the "one remaining superpower" in 2001, but the People's Republic of China was a nascent great power with potentially unlimited geopolitical ambitions and energy. Vociferous in denouncing the Bush administration's plans to build missile defenses as destabilizing, China shrugged off American accusations that it was benefiting from the ABM Treaty while the United States lay exposed to missile attacks by powers other than Russia. Beijing continued to vilify the United States as a "rogue hegemon" whose self-aggrandizement threatened the security of the rest of the world. At the same time, China modernized its own nuclear and conventional forces and opened mutual defense discussions with Russia. President Putin of Russia, seeking a counterweight to U.S. power, turned eagerly to China, where he found enthusiasm for cooperation in arms and technology transfers. A Sino-Russian voting alliance in the UN Security Council became less and less far-fetched, but this was not the most ominous development. Alexei Arbatov warned, "Russia certainly views China as its present partner. [F]or the nearest and medium-term future, China is perceived as much closer to Russia on international security issues than the United States and the West in general."

In mid-2001 it was hard to see how the emergence of a Sino-Russian bloc could do other than increase the Bush administration's resolve to abandon the ABM Treaty and go it alone with nuclear missile defenses. In July of that year a missile-borne "kill vehicle" dramatically intercepted a Minuteman II warhead 144 miles above the Pacific Ocean. The highly orchestrated test convinced credulous proponents of Star Wars "that we can hit a bullet with a bullet." Less than a week later, at a summit in the Kremlin, the presidents of Russia and China jointly condemned George W. Bush's national missile defense and his intended abrogation of the ABM Treaty as threats to the security of their countries. For the first time in fifty years, Beijing and Moscow concluded a treaty of friendship and mutual cooperation. This rapprochement between America's two former major antagonists was a far cry from the benign "new world order" that the first President Bush had proclaimed at the end of the Cold War.


The world has turned round many times since Harry S. Truman permitted the U.S. Army Air Forces to drop atomic bombs on Japan. Having borne the full moral responsibility for opening the age of nuclear warfare, he courageously repudiated advisers who would have him repeat the macabre performance in Korea or China. His five-star successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, constructed a magnificent nuclear armory and resolutely refused to use a single weapon in the inventory, despite the proclivity of his secretary of state for saber-rattling warnings of imminent Armageddon. After the bone-chilling scare of John F. Kennedy's Cuban missile crisis, a long period of mature Soviet-American nuclear diplomacy and restraint settled over Washington and Moscow. The well-understood rules of the nuclear-diplomatic road did not become obsolescent until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Thereafter, the restless new nuclear powers and a freshly assertive China cast the most ominous shadows over the future. It would take extraordinary American statesmanship to steer a safe course through a world of revanchist states armed with weapons of mass destruction. George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush were only the first of a long line of American presidents who would face a challenge for which the Cold War's nuclear policy offered precious little direct guidance.


Alperovitz, Gar. Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam. New York, 1965. The classic formulation of the revisionists' questions about the motives behind the atomic bombing of Japan. See also the author's revised edition (London and Boulder, Colo., 1994), in which, after reconsidering the evidence, he reasserts his earlier thesis.

Arbatov, Alexei. "Arbatov on U.S.Russian Arms Reduction." Proliferation Brief 3, no. 16 (18 May 2000) of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A pithy analysis of Russia's decision to ratify START II, by the deputy chairman of the Duma defense committee.

Bernstein, Barton J. "Roosevelt, Truman and the Atomic Bomb, 19411945: A Reinterpretation." Political Science Quarterly 90 (spring 1975): 2369. A prominent Cold War revisionist defends the Truman administration for dropping the bomb and refutes some of the Alperovitz criticism.

Bertsch, Gary K., and William C. Potter, eds. Dangerous Weapons, Desperate States: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. New York, 1999. An exhaustive study of export controls and the danger of illegal transfer of nuclear materials in the four nuclear successor states to the Soviet Union.

Brodie, Bernard, ed. The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order. New York, 1946. The scholarly argument for a balance of terror by the American master of military strategy.

Burdick, Eugene, and Harvey Wheeler. Fail-Safe. New York, 1962. Two political scientists resort to fiction to explain what would happen if SAC lost control of any of its aircraft and the superpowers had to choose which cities to offer up in a mutual sacrifice to prevent all-out nuclear war.

Chang, Gordon H. "To the Nuclear Brink: Eisenhower, Dulles and the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis." International Security 12, no. 4 (spring 1988): 96122. President Eisenhower took the United States closer to nuclear war with China in 1955 than has been imagined.

Cirincione, Joseph, ed. Repairing the Regime: Preventing the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. New York, 2000. Papers from the premier annual conference on controlling the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Dawisha, Adeed, and Karen Dawisha, eds. The Making of Foreign Policy in Russia and the New States of Eurasia. Armonk, N.Y., 1995. A glimpse into the complexities facing American policymakers in their dealings with the remains of the Soviet Union.

Deaver, Michael K. A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan. New York, 2001. An insider's frightening view of Reagan's mind and diplomacy.

Drew, S. Nelson, ed. NSC-68: Forging the Strategy of Containment, with Analyses by Paul H. Nitze. Washington, D.C., 1996. The document itself, accompanied by a post-hoc exegesis by the principal author.

Fitzgerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York, 2000. Antimissile defense systems thoroughly debunked with literary lucidity, by one of the great political and social critics of the late twentieth century.

Friedman, Norman. The Fifty-Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War. Annapolis, Md., 2000. A technologically oriented analyst's comprehensive account of the strategy and diplomacy of the Cold War.

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. New York, 2000. Businessmen, not bombers, hold the key to the world's future according to a leading opponent of visionary missile defense systems.

Gaddis, John L. Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York, 1982. Ideas formulated during strategy seminars at the Naval War College just after the Vietnam War.

. The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations. New York, 1992. Some projections about "where we may be going" written at the very end of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union was dissolving.

. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York, 1997. The distinguished conservative blames Stalin for the Cold War, credits Khrushchev with a victory in the Cuban missile crisis, and chastises revisionists for interpretive flexibility.

Herkin, Gregg. The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb and the Cold War, 19451950. New York, 1980. A finely balanced assessment of atomic diplomacy in practice.

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York, 1946. The classic conscience-shattering account of six who survived the bombing.

Hewlett, Richard G., and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr. A History of the Atomic Energy Commission: The New World, 19391946. University Park, Pa., 1962. The first of two volumes of the history of the AEC written with unflagging precision and based on the agency's documents.

Hewlett, Richard G., and Francis Duncan. A History of the Atomic Energy Commission: Atomic Shield, 19471952. University Park, Pa., 1969. The second volume of the AEC's history.

. Nuclear Navy, 19461962. Chicago and London, 1974. An extremely detailed study of Admiral Hyman Rickover's struggle for a nuclear-powered submarine, the first step toward the Polaris system.

Holloway, David. Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 19391956. New Haven, Conn., 1994. A full account of how Stalin instantly perceived the atomic bombing of Japan as an anti-Soviet act disrupting the international balance of power.

Huntington, Samuel P. The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics. New York, 1961. A superior survey of 19451960 by a pioneer in the study of strategy.

Isaacson, Walter, and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. New York, 1986. The makers of policy and strategy in thought, deed, and camaraderie from World War II through Vietnam.

Kaplan, Morton A. S.A.L.T.: Problems and Prospects. Morristown, N.J., 1973. A glimpse of the intricacies of arms limitations by a distinguished observer.

Kartchner, Kerry M. Negotiating START: Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and the Quest for Strategic Stability. New Brunswick, N.J., 1992. One of the best in-depth analyses of U.S. and Soviet-Russian policies and positions in the first START negotiations.

Kaufman, Robert G. Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics. Seattle, Wash., 2000. A highly sympathetic and comprehensive scholarly biography of the "senator from Boeing."

Kegley, Charles W., Jr., and Eugene R. W. Wittkopf, eds. The Nuclear Reader: Strategy, Weapons, War. New York, 1985. A variety of views from the American perspective on such crucial topics as MAD and civil defense.

Kissinger, Henry. Does America Need a Foreign Policy?: Towards a Diplomacy for the 21st Century. New York, 2001. A plea for admission to George W. Bush's inner circle, made at the price of disavowing his own ABM Treaty.

Kolodziej, Edward A. The Uncommon Defense and Congress, 19451963. Columbus, Ohio, 1966. A good summary of the military arguments presented to Congress each year.

LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War, 19451973. 3d ed. New York, 1976. A careful portrait of the diplomatic context shaping nuclear policies by one of America's preeminent diplomatic historians.

Lavoy, Peter R., Scott D. Sagan, and James J. Wirtz, eds. Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons. Ithaca, N.Y., 2000. This ground-breaking work seeks to explain why different actors want to obtain unconventional weapons and how they intend to use them. Case studies of six states and a chapter on terrorists.

Lodal, Jan. The Price of Dominance: The New Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Challenge to American Leadership. New York, 2001. Warning that complacency is unwarranted, the author proposes a comprehensive postCold War nuclear strategy for the United States.

Mandelbaum, Michael, ed. The Other Side of the Table: The Soviet Approach to Arms Control. New York, 1990. Excellent dissection of the Soviet Union's motivations and reasoning by an internationally recognized scholar.

McCullough, David. Truman. New York, 1992. A Pulitzer Prizewinning biography.

Messer, Robert L. The End of an Alliance: James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, and the Origins of the Cold War. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982. Documents the belligerency of the Truman cold warriors and casts doubt on the diplomatic efficacy of verbal bluster.

Mueller, John. Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War. New York, 1989. Advances the dubious thesis that historical conditions other than the advent of nuclear warfare account for the elimination of major war as a serious policy option.

Myrdal, Alva. The Game of Disarmament: How the United States and Russia Run the Arms Race. New York, 1976. A critical analysis of the arms race from the perspective of an advocate of disarmament.

Newhouse, John. Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT. Washington, D.C., 1989. A detailed and fascinating account of the first attempt to control the nuclear arms race through bilateral negotiations.

. "The Missile Defense Debate." Foreign Affairs 80, no. 4 (July/August 2001): 97109. The master of the subject again opposes an American missile defense system as technologically and politically impractical.

Pape, Robert A. Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War. Ithaca, N.Y., 1996. Thoughtful and critical evaluation of the utility of nuclear and nonnuclear strategic bombing as an instrument of policy.

Paret, Peter, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, N.J., 1986. A grand survey by authors who believe in wars of annihilation.

Paterson, Thomas G., J. Garry Clifford, and Kenneth J. Hagan. American Foreign Relations. Vol. 2: A History Since 1895. 5th ed. Boston, 2000. This revisionist but balanced survey contains at least one succinct paragraph on every major episode in Soviet-American nuclear relations.

Rhodes, Richard. The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York, 1986. Every aspect of the creation and use of the first atomic bombs.

. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York, 1995.

Rotblat, Joseph, ed. Security, Cooperation, and Disarmament: The Unfinished Agenda for the 1990s. Proceedings of the Forty-sixth Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, 27 September, 1996, in Lahti, Finland. London, 1998. A group of experts from twenty countries debate a broad array of issues facing the world, including nuclear arms control and disarmament. Valuable for its sometimes widely divergent points of view.

Sapolsky, Harvey M. The Polaris System Development: Bureaucratic and Programmatic Success in Government. Cambridge, Mass., 1972. A provocative explanation of why and how strategic weapons systems are built.

Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. New Haven, Conn., 1966. The argument for practicing coercive nuclear diplomacy or atomic blackmail by an originator of deterrence theory.

Schroeer, Dietrich. Science, Technology, and the Nuclear Arms Race. New York, 1984. A stunning integration of the technical and political components of the nuclear arms race by a nuclear physicist concerned about the loss of life that would attend a nuclear war.

Sherry, Michael S. The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon. New Haven, Conn., 1987. Strategic bombing in the context of the historical evolution of theory.

Sherwin, Martin J. A World Destroyed: The Atomic Bomb and the Grand Alliance. New York, 1975. Persuasively argues the pros and cons of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki and criticizes the strategic doctrine of unconditional surrender.

Stimson, Henry L. "The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb." Harper's (February 1947). The orthodox position on the use of the atomic bomb in 1945 by one of the participants in the decision making.

Takaki, Ronald. Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb. New York, 1995. A Japanese American finds Truman fully responsible, but with understandable military justification.

Thomas, Evan. Robert Kennedy: His Life. New York, 2000. A balanced look at the pivotal role the president's brother played in defusing the Cuban missile crisis.

Trachtenburg, Marc. A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 19451963. Princeton, N.J., 1999. Contends that Germany, not Soviet-American nuclear accommodation, held the key to global peace in the Cold War.

Van Cleave, William R., and S. T. Cohen. Nuclear Weapons, Policies, and the Test Ban Issue. New York, 1987. A conservative view that is critical of test-ban agreements.

Walsh, James, ed. The Future Role of United States' Nuclear Weapons. Defense and Arms Control Studies Program Working Paper. Cambridge, Mass., August 1994. Experts from the U.S. arms control community gathered in February 1994 to discuss the present and future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and U.S. strategic policy.

Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy. New York, 1973. The ageless and classic study of the American strategy of annihilation.

Weintraub, Stanley. MacArthur's War: Korea and the Undoing of an American Hero. New York, 2000. Puts MacArthur's advocacy of using atomic weapons in the Korean War into national perspective.

Weir, Gary E. Forged in War: The Naval Industrial Complex and American Submarine Construction, 19401961. Washington, D.C., 1993. A superb historian puts Rickover into context.

Wirtz, James J., and Jeffrey A. Larsen, eds. Rockets' Red Glare: Missile Defenses and World Politics. Boulder, Colo., 2002. Generally favorable analyses by U.S. experts of the arguments for development of a national missile defense. A wealth of historical and technical information for those unfamiliar with the issue.

York, Herbert. Race to Oblivion: A Participant's View of the Arms Race. New York, 1970. Disturbing criticism by a disillusioned nuclear scientist who was present at the creation.

Zubok, Vladislav, and Constantine Pleshakov. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev. Cambridge, Mass., 1996. Superb and readable discussion of the other side's nuclear diplomacy from Soviet sources opened after the Cold War.

See also Arms Control and Disarmament; Arms Transfers and Trade; Balance of Power; Cold War Evolution and Interpretations; Cold War Origins; Cold Warriors; Cold War Termination; Collective Security; Congressional Power; Containment; Deterrence; Doctrines; Ideology; International Organization; Military-Industrial Complex; North Atlantic Treaty Organization; Outer Space; PostCold War Policy; Power Politics; Presidential Power; Science and Technology; Summit Conferences; Superpower Diplomacy; Treaties .


"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in the first instance to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians."

President Harry S. Truman, 9 August 1945


"Local defense will always be important. But there is no local defense which alone will contain the mighty land power of the Communist world. Local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power. A potential aggressor must know that he cannot always prescribe battle conditions that suit him.

"The way to deter aggression is for the free community to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing."

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, 12 January 1954


"The National Military Program of Flexible Response should contain at the outset an unqualified renunciation of reliance on the strategy of Massive Retaliation. It should be made clear that the United States will prepare itself to respond anywhere, any time, with weapons and forces appropriate to the situation."

General Maxwell D. Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet, New York, 1960


"So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pridethe temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

Remarks by President Ronald Reagan, 8 March 1983, at the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida

Arms Control

views updated Jun 11 2018



As a term, arms control only came into vogue at the start of the 1960s, based on theoretical work that had begun in the mid-1950s. Initially it referred to attempts to stabilize Cold War military relations, and in particular the nuclear balance; it was contrasted with disarmament, which was taken literally to mean arms reductions, presented as a measure born out of idealism without thought for strategic stability. Arms control eventually came to refer to any cooperation between potential enemies in the military sphere, just as in practice disarmament had been given a similarly wide definition before that time. After the end of the Cold War, the rather precise focus on regulating types of weapons and military inventories encouraged by both arms control and disarmament tended to give way to a much broader concern with security, and any military measures were considered as part of a wider package designed to influence broad political relationships between countries that were either trying to move away from or getting into antagonistic relations. Because much of the relevant activity has been global in scope, the European element cannot be easily isolated, Europe during the twentieth century was so central to great power war and conflict that its security was at issue in all negotiations.

The initial enthusiasm for disarmament came after World War I as a direct response to the assumption that the catastrophe was the result of the prewar arms race. Not only was it important to avoid such vicious cycles in the future, but there might be a way of securing a virtuous cycle, whereby political relations between antagonistic countries might be improved, if ways could be found to move from arms competition to arms cooperation. Military expenditure was also often castigated as wasteful and designed to line the pockets of arms manufacturers and a diversion from welfare needs. Governments always proclaimed their commitment to disarmament as a principle (as they continue to do into the twenty-first century) and tended to blame others for the lack of progress, but in practice they also were reluctant to take great risks when it came to trusting the word of potentially hostile foreign governments. They rarely accepted the simple notion that fewer arms should mean more peace, and so negotiations for disarmament and then arms control tended to be quite complex in their purposes and their effects.

In the immediate aftermath of World War I, the main negotiations were on naval forces (the Anglo-German naval arms race having been blamed, inaccurately, for the war). The major all-encompassing disarmament negotiations took place in Geneva in 1932–1933 but, after little progress, they collapsed with the rise of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). There were some agreements but by and large they did not survive World War II, which rather, by its very occurrence, undermined the notion that peaceful gestures were of much value in the face of willful aggression. After World War II the arrival of the atomic bomb prompted activity at the new United Nations, but the developing Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union reduced the possibilities for progress. Only toward the end of the 1950s did negotiations begin in earnest again. The first agreements were on peripheral matters, but by the end of the 1960s there was an appetite for more substantial negotiations, and during the early 1970s the improvement in East-West relations was reflected in a series of initiatives that began to peter out as relations worsened again, only to pick up in the late 1980s as the Cold War moved to its conclusion. In some respects, the end of the Cold War made arms control in Europe much easier, but it also became unclear what exactly it was supposed to achieve.


Prior to World War I, the major purpose of disarmament negotiations was to contain war as a social institution. The aim was to limit the effects of war, usually by proscribing certain weapons (or at least their use) as excessively cruel in their effects or apt to extend the destructiveness of war. Though the scale and intensity of twentieth-century "total" war could have hardly been comprehended, this effort reflected anxieties both about the consequences of warfare burgeoning out of the categories in which it had previously been contained, and about the prospect of greater suffering on the battlefield, a greater exposure of commerce and civilian life to military attack, and a greater strain on national resources. The fruits of this interest can first be found in the St. Petersburg Declaration on exploding bullets of December 1868, and then in the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907. After World War I, this focus continued but now with heavy bombers, submarines, and poison gases as the main areas of concern. Efforts to control air warfare met with no success, though the problems of banning heavy bombers, and of writing effective conventions to restrict aerial bombardment to a "combat zone" or for use against solely military targets, were discussed during the 1920s and through the international Disarmament Conference of 1932– 1933. The major success was with the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibited the use of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and bacteriological methods of warfare." This did not prevent stockpiling of chemical weapons, so the enforcement mechanism was largely fear of retaliation. As this was a very real fear, the Protocol survived World War II, in part also because of doubts surrounding the military benefits of chemical weapons.

Less successful was the London Protocol of 1936, in which thirty nations agreed to grant the passengers and crew of merchant vessels some protection against submarines. It was too vague in defining when attack became legitimate and failed to acknowledge the structural weaknesses of submarines, which were too small to rescue passengers and crews and too vulnerable to come to the surface to make a visible challenge. Because of its limitations, the code was liable to be unintentionally violated. On the second day of World War II, a German U-30 submarine sank the unarmed British passenger liner Athenia, with the loss of 120 lives, in the belief that it was attacking an auxiliary cruiser. The British then ceased to rely on the submarine code and ordered the arming of all merchantmen, which meant that they were, in effect, participating in hostilities. By the end of September, Germany had announced that it would suspend adherence to the code.

After 1945, the atomic bomb was the obvious weapon to be singled out for special treatment. The United States introduced proposals to the United Nations in 1946 that would have put the peaceful exploitation of atomic energy under an international agency and prevented the stockpiling of atomic bombs. In the light of the developing Cold War, these proposals failed to impress the Soviets and thus came to naught. When the two sides began to negotiate again in the 1950s, there were some successes, most notably the partial nuclear test ban of 1963, which dealt with atmospheric testing (widely seen as a health hazard) but still allowed underground testing, and so provided only a minimal impediment to weapons development. In the 1990s, a draft comprehensive test ban treaty was agreed to, but the U.S. Senate refused ratification. The spread of nuclear weapons was restricted to particular areas (Latin America, Antarctica, the seabed, and outer space). These could be agreed upon without too much difficulty because there were few good reasons for putting such weapons there in the first place. The 1970 Seabed Treaty was likened to an agreement not to screw aircraft to the ground. Attempts to control the spread of weapons to new countries (after the United States, the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France, and China) through the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty can claim modest but not complete success, with India and Pakistan declared nuclear powers by the 1990s, Israel widely presumed to be a covert power, and Iran and North Korea on their way to developing nuclear capability. On the credit side, South Africa and Libya abandoned nuclear plans and Iraq was forcibly disarmed. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were briefly nuclear powers but they were persuaded by western governments not to attempt to retain this status, which would have also been expensive and technically demanding. The record on the abolition of "cruel and unusual" weapons shows a complete blank. Attempts at arms restriction have failed to impede the development of modern weaponry.


The pressure for disarmament after 1918 was reflected in policies of national demobilization and so did not require international treaties. This was not, however, considered a sufficient guarantee of peace so long as arms races were still possible. What could be demobilized could be remobilized. It was considered desirable that states should renounce the right to be the sole judges of their own armaments and place their trust in the Covenant of the League of Nations. To preserve national security, a formula was developed based on the assumptions that (a) force levels reflected calculations of the external danger and (b) a sharp reduction in absolute levels would not reduce the level of security if the ratio between national forces was maintained.

The first attempt to put this theory into practice came with the Washington Naval Conference of 1922. Here the United States, the British Empire, Japan, France, and Italy reached agreement on capital ships, setting ratios of 5:5:3:1.7:1.7. This more or less reflected the ratios of the time. This treaty demonstrated the problems with this approach to disarmament. To achieve acceptable arms ratios it was necessary to simplify strategic relationships, exclude many militarily relevant factors, and concentrate on a few prestige weapons. The naval parity between the British and Americans soon became irrelevant and the strategic significance of capital ships also declined in comparison with cruisers, carriers, destroyers, and submarines. Shipbuilding efforts were redirected into a race in heavy cruisers.

The attempt in the early 1930s to produce a comprehensive treaty failed because of the deteriorating political situation and the inherent complexity of the exercise. The greater the number of elements and aspects of military strength covered by negotiators, the less chance they have of reaching an agreement, yet simplifying the military balances in order to render them manageable may also render them politically unacceptable. The Germans saw disarmament talks as a way of escaping from the humiliating military inferiority imposed at Versailles; the French saw the same talks as a means of maintaining this inferiority, arguing that there was no satisfactory way of compensating for Germany's industrial resources and manpower except by undermining its capacity for military preparedness in every possible way.

This approach only enjoyed some success in the 1970s with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) between the United States and Soviet Union, which eventually mutated into the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) in the 1980s. In this case, the strategic value of vast quantities of nuclear weapons came to be questioned in view of the diminishing marginal returns on nuclear weapons beyond those required for "assured destruction." In principle this should have meant that disparities in actual numbers, so long as destruction was assured, should not have been of great importance, but in practice neither superpower liked to accept an appearance of even notional inferiority. The guiding principle became that of "parity"—a rough equivalence in military strength between two nations that allowed both to claim they are "second to none." Definitions of parity that required asymmetrical adjustments in force structures were unacceptable. Thus the prior existence of parity became a necessary precondition for the negotiation of an arms agreement seeking to create a formal condition of parity. This was one reason why the attempt in the 1970s to translate the SALT approach to conventional forces in Europe in the talks on mutual force reductions failed. As with those of the 1930s, the problems lay in basic asymmetries, in this case the preponderance of Soviet manpower and tanks in Central Europe. Warsaw Pact proposals preserved the existing balance; North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) proposals sought to create a new one.


The argument against putting restrictions on the "natural" development of armaments has been that peace depends on a healthy awareness of the costs of war, and that this awareness is helped by the imposing presence of well-stocked arsenals. The problem with this argument is that so long as war-avoidance is not the preeminent policy objective, then, despite the costs, other objectives lead to declarations of war. Furthermore, if war appears unavoidable, then, as the rapid descent into World War I demonstrated, the mobilization of forces and the strategic attraction of getting in the first blow might create their own imperatives before political leaders can fully exhaust diplomatic alternatives to war.

From the mid-1950s, arms control was presented as an approach to arms cooperation based on strategic realism. This approach accepted the continuation of the nuclear age but sought to dissuade political leaders from precipitate military action in the midst of a crisis by reducing the incentives for getting in the first blow. If it was not possible to stop political leaders embarking on war as a "rational" act of policy, then it might still be possible to make sure that they remained the masters rather than the victims of events. The cooperative management of the military sphere would ensure the primacy of the political sphere at times of conflict.

Arguably the origins of this approach can be discerned at the 1932–1933 disarmament conference, where one objective was to render aggressors impotent through the proscription of "offensive" weapons. Unfortunately no weapon readily falls into a strict category of "offensive" or "defensive." In the case of heavy artillery and tanks, designated the key weapons for a land offensive, there would be occasions, such as when it was required to dislodge invaders from a foothold, when the defense might wish to call on these weapons. Yet while these weapons might be useful to the defense, they would be invaluable to the offense. (In ordering German rearmament, Hitler stressed "offensive weapons such as heavy tanks and artillery.") Offensiveness or defensiveness might be considered properties of a total force structure, but does that mean it is necessary to ask whether or not a professional army is more suitable for aggression than a conscript army? At the conference there was intense debate about the point at which a particular weapon developed the qualities necessary for offensive action, for example when a tank moved from being "light" to "heavy." The British and Americans disliked submarines for their "offensive" role as commerce raiders, while the French and others considered them defensive as the only weapon that, at the time, enabled a nation with few capital ships to defend itself at sea. A sufficiently cunning and resourceful offense can still prosper by making full use of the advantages of surprise, geographic position, and enemy uncertainties, as well as by making inspired use of non-prohibited weapons. It was not, for example, until the German sweep through Europe in 1940 that the tactical uses of aircraft as an offensive instrument were fully appreciated.

There was also the question of what confidence could be shown in such agreements if political relations deteriorated. Until the 1930s, the strategic advantage that might be gained through the violation of an arms treaty was not seriously considered. During the 1920s, with the exception of the control commission to check Germany's compliance with the Treaty of Versailles (and here the problem was not a lack of knowledge of Germany's transgressions but the reluctance to do anything about them), it was assumed by most governments that compliance was not a problem; international law would be respected. With the worsening world climate of the early 1930s, the Americans, British, and Soviets all swung round to the emphatic and total endorsement of international inspection. In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower (1890–1969) suggested that transparency could be a confidence-building measure in its own right. His "open skies" proposal of October 1955 involved the mutual exchange of blueprints of "military establishments from one end of our countries to the other" and verification of these by reciprocal aerial inspection. This position was maintained by the United States in all arms negotiations with the Soviet Union after the war until 1958. The Soviets were reluctant to give up their high level of military secrecy, considered a great strategic asset, and saw "open skies" as just another form of espionage. Eventually this asset was severely diminished by the advent of reconnaissance satellites, which came to be accepted by both sides as a means of verification.

The open skies idea was discussed during the late 1950s as part of an East-West discourse on the specific question of avoiding surprise attacks. The American approach, which very much informed the original concept of arms control, depended on the need to reduce the possibility of getting caught out by a long-range nuclear strike that would remove the capacity for retaliation. The most deadly surprise attacks in the thermonuclear age, therefore, would be planned and executed within the territory of a superpower and would take the form of a first strike by long-range bombers or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). U.S. proposals started from the assumption that before concrete adjustments could be made in force structures, it was necessary to build up confidence in the pacific intentions behind current military dispositions and to develop a system of inspection so as to demonstrate that any agreements could be verified. They led eventually to proposals in the strategic arms limitation talks to remove antiballistic missiles (ABMs) on the grounds not only that these systems encouraged the proliferation of offensive weapons (the offense being always likely to retain the upper hand in any contest) but also, to be sure that the defense would be swamped, that they might give an aggressor confidence in the possibility of defense against any residual retaliation after an attempted first strike against the enemy's means of retaliation. The Soviets needed some persuading of this case before the 1972 ABM Treaty could be agreed to, and later Republican administrations in the United States also wondered about the wisdom of banning "defensive" weapons in this way.

Just as the American proposals were guided by a fear of a "nuclear Pearl Harbor," Soviet proposals reflected their past experiences of surprise attacks. They also reflected a traditional view that to prepare for aggressive war, it was necessary to concentrate forces suitable for an invasion. Therefore, if the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact could be prevented from getting too close to each other in the areas of major tension in the center of Europe, then the opportunities to start a war, deliberately or through miscalculation, would be diminished. Soviet proposals therefore involved reducing armaments in Central Europe, establishing a nuclear-free zone, and, in addition, setting up control posts at large ports, railway junctions, highways, and aerodromes to guard against "dangerous concentrations" of forces. The military sterilization of Germany was a recurrent theme, as this was the country that had launched a surprise attack against the Soviet Union in 1941. During the late 1950s, there was substantial interest in NATO countries in the idea of "disengagement" in Central Europe, but the ideas fell foul of the political realities of the time. There was a familiar problem of equitable concessions. Disarmament in a zone equal in area on both sides of the Iron Curtain would be strategically unfair to NATO in that NATO lacked defense in depth and its zone would contain more installations of strategic significance than the Eastern zone. A nuclear-free zone would also have been comparatively disadvantageous to the West. More seriously, while a zone that took the Iron Curtain as its central line might make military sense, it was diplomatically awkward because it required recognition of the division of Europe and, in particular, of the division of Germany.

This final objection was eased as a result of the move to détente in the early 1970s. By the time of the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the division of Europe was formally recognized. The new Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks involved a central guidelines area; nonetheless, the basic problem of asymmetry in force structures remained. Attempts to develop a compromise based on a trade-off between the prime offensive weapons held by each side—Western "tactical" nuclear weapons for Soviet tanks—did not get anywhere. Helsinki did lead to the introduction of confidence-building measures by the provisions for notification of and attendance at large-scale maneuvers. The experience of these measures, which the Warsaw Pact never took seriously, if anything, reduced confidence in arms control.


During the darker days of the Cold War, there was debate over whether measures of disarmament or arms control might be the key to an improvement in political relations, or whether they must wait upon such an improvement taking place for other reasons. The manner of the Cold War's conclusion confirmed that cooperative agreements on armed forces are shaped by, rather than shape, core political relations. Agreements were most needed when relations were poor, but the lack of trust made them hard to achieve. Thus the conditions in the late 1980s made traditional arms control more possible to achieve, with regular summits between the superpowers and the winds of political change blowing throughout the communist world, but also rendered the agreements largely irrelevant, though the informal aspects of the negotiating process may at times have provided important opportunities for communication and reassurance. In practice, arms control reinforced the dominant political tendency of the time. When tensions were increasing, it could aggravate the process (for example, through disagreements over compliance or intransigence over apparently trivial points of negotiating detail). When tensions were easing, it could accelerate an improvement in relations. During the last years of the Cold War, there were major breakthroughs with agreements in 1987 on intermediate nuclear forces (INF) that saw cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles (which had caused massive protests in Western Europe at the start of the decade) and Soviet SS-20 missiles being removed. Even more important was the major Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), which was signed to mark the formal end of the Cold War in November 1990. The CFE framework allocated force levels to individual states. These numbers represented high ceilings rather than realistic floors. As they were to be monitored, this element of transparency was hailed as an important source of confidence-building. But the political shift meant that many of its provisions were irrelevant and sometimes counterproductive as the states of postcommunist Europe started to reassess their strategic interests.

The problem, at least in Europe, shifted away from one of reinforcing stability in relations among great powers to creating stability in the internal and external relationships of medium, small, and in some cases quite tiny powers. The instruments employed by the international community in their attempts to rein in the various conflicts that erupted throughout the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s illustrate the new options: arms embargoes, air-exclusion zones, air and land humanitarian relief corridors, control of artillery pieces, cease-fire lines. All these measures suffered from partiality, in controlling only limited types of military activity, and also in tending to favor one side rather than another in the conflict. There is clearly much to be said for limiting the availability of weapons to the belligerents, but an embargo will tend to penalize the weaker, especially if geographically isolated (so that an embargo is readily enforced) and without an indigenous arms industry. The 1996 Dayton Peace Agreement on Bosnia, which included an arms control element, was turned into an agreement on force levels. Essentially the deal saw the Bosnian Serbs agreeing to cut down their arsenal (largely in the form of more elderly weapons) in return for a cap on the combined Muslim-Croat federation forces, which they could see growing through the combined efforts of the United States and a number of Muslim states. The agreement reflects the expectation of "balance," but of course the balance only exists to the extent that the federation holds together and that it is not upset by external sources in the event that hostilities resume. Stability here really depended on a continuing and strong international presence. The history of arms control warns that it can never be free-standing but is always a function of larger questions concerning the utility of force and security guarantees. It must also reflect the broad political currents of the time.

See alsoCold War; Disarmament; Helsinki Accords; NATO; Nuclear Weapons; Peace Movements; Warsaw Pact.


Blacker, Coit D., and Gloria Duffy, eds. International Arms Control: Issues and Agreements. 2nd edition. Stanford, Calif., 1984. A good assessment of efforts during the Cold War.

Blackwill, Robert D., and F. Stephen Larrabee, eds. Conventional Arms Control and East-West Security. Durham, N.C., 1989. Covers conventional arms control in Europe.

Bunn, George. Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians. Stanford, Calif., 1992. Another account of the negotiating process.

Graham, Thomas. Disarmament Sketches: Three Decades of Arms Control and International Law. An interesting memoir covering many key negotiations.

Madariaga, Salvador de. Disarmament. New York, 1929. Reprint, Port Washington, N.Y., 1967. A sharp, classic critique of disarmament over this period.

McKercher, B.J.C., ed. Arms Limitation and Disarmament: Restraints on War 1899–1939. Westport, Conn., 1992. On the history of arms control and disarmament up to World War II.

Pelz, Stephen E. Race to Pearl Harbor: The Failure of the Second London Naval Conference and the Onset of World War II. Cambridge, Mass., 1974. Covers naval treaties.

SIPRI Yearbooks: World Armaments and Disarmament. Oxford, U.K., 1968–. The best coverage of postwar discussions on arms control and disarmament.

Talbott, Strobe. Deadly Gambits: The Reagan Administration and the Stalemate in Nuclear Arms Control. New York, 1984. An inside account of many of the nuclear arms control debates relating to Europe.

Wittner, Lawrence S. Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. Stanford, Calif., 1971. Fully covers the history of the antinuclear movements pushing for disarmament.

Lawrence Freedman

Arms Control

views updated Jun 08 2018


Russia's governmentstsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviethave often championed arms limitation. Power and propaganda considerations as well as ideals lay behind Russian and Soviet proposals. Because Russia and the USSR usually lagged behind its Western adversaries in military technology and economic strength, Russian leaders often called for banning new weapons or abolishing those they did not yet possess. Russia sought to bring the weapons of all countries to the same qualitative level. If that happened, Russia's large size would permit it to field larger armies than its rivals. By contrast, the United States often led the world in military technology and economic strength. Accordingly, U.S. diplomats often called for freezing the existing military balance of power so that the United States could maintain its advantages. Such measures, if implemented, would often have put Russia at a disadvantage.

fundamental barriers to disarmament

Besides its large size, Russia had the advantage of secrecy. Both tsars and commissars exploited the closed nature of their society to hide weaknesses and assets. With its open society, the United States had fewer secrets to protect, so it advocated arms treaties that permitted onsite inspection. The usual pattern was that the United States wanted inspection first; disarmament later. The Soviets wanted disarmament first; inspection later, if ever.

Language differences magnified these difficulties. While English has just one word for disarmament, Russian has two, and thus distinguishes between voluntary and coerced disarmament. Voluntary disarmament, as the outcome of self-restraint or negotiation, is razoruzhenie, whereas disarmament by force is obezoruzhit. Vladimir Ilich Lenin, however, believed that razoruzhenie was a pacifist illusion. The task of revolutionaries, he argued, was to disarm its enemies by force. Soviet diplomats began calling for wide-scale disarmament in 1922. They said that Western calls for "arms limitation"not full razoruzhenie masked the impossibility for capitalist regimes to disarm voluntarily. Soviet ideologists averred that capitalists needed arms to repress their proletariat, to fight each other, and to attack the socialist fatherland.

Seeking a more neutral term, Western diplomats in the 1950s and 1960s called for "arms control," a term that included limits, reductions, and increases, as well as the abolition of arms. But kontrol in Russian means only verification, counting, or checking. Soviet diplomats said "arms control" signified a Western quest to inspect (and count) arms, but not a willingness actually to disarm. After years of debate, Soviet negotiators came to accept the term as meaning "control over armaments," rather than simply a "count of armaments." In 1987, when the USSR and United States finally signed a major disarmament agreement, President Ronald Reagan put the then-prevailing philosophy into words, saying: "Veriat no proveriat " (trust, but verify).

the making of arms policy

A variety of ideals shaped tsarist and Soviet policy. Alexander I wanted a Holy Alliance to maintain peace after the Napoleonic wars. Like Alexander I, Nicholas II wanted to be seen as a great pacifist, and summoned two peace conferences at The Hague in an effort to achieve that end. Lenin, however, believed that "disarmament" was a mere slogan, meant only to deceive the masses into believing that peace was attainable without the overthrow of capitalism. When Lenin's regime proposed disarmament in 1922, its deep aim was to expose capitalist hypocrisy and demonstrate the need for revolution. From the late 1920s until his death in 1953, Stalin also used disarmament mainly as a propaganda tool.

Nuclear weapons changed everything. The Kremlin, under Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, recognized that nuclear war could wipe out communist as well as noncommunist countries. Whereas Lenin and Stalin derided "bourgeois pacifists" in the West, the Soviet government under Khrushchev believed it must avoid nuclear war at all costs. Sobered by the 1962 Cuban missile confrontation, Khrushchev's regime admonished the Chinese Communists in 1963: "The atomic bomb does not respect the class principle."

Nuclear weapons also gave Moscow confidence that it could deter an attack. The USSR tested a nuclear bomb in 1953, and a thermonuclear device in 1953. By 1954, the Kremlin had planes capable of delivering Soviet bombs to America. In 1957 the USSR tested the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), leading Khrushchev to claim the Soviet factories were producing ICBMs "like sausages." He tried to exploit the apparent Soviet lead in missiles to extract Western concessions in Germany.

By 1962, increased production in the United States had reversed the so-called missile gap. By 1972 the United States had also produced a warhead gap, as it placed multiple warheads on ICBMs and submarine missiles. Still, by 1972 each nuclear superpower had overkill capability: more than enough weapons to absorb a first-strike and still destroy the attacker. Having ousted Khrushchev in 1964, Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the first strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT I) with President Richard Nixon in 1972 and a second accord (SALT II) with President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Each treaty essentially sought to freeze the Soviet-U.S. competition in strategic weaponsmeaning weapons that could reach the other country. SALT I was ratified by both sides, but SALT II was not. The United States balked because the treaty enshrined some Soviet advantages in "heavy" missiles and because the USSR had just invaded Afghanistan.

The 1972 accords included severe limits on antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses. Both Moscow and Washington recognized that each was hostage to the other's restraint. Displeased by this situation, President Ronald Reagan sponsored a Strategic Defensive Initiative (SDI, also called Star Wars) research program meant to give the United States a shield against incoming missiles. If the United States had such a shield, however, this would weaken the deterrent value of Soviet armaments. The Soviets protested Reagan's program, but at the same time it secretly tried to expand the small ABM system it was allowed by the 1972 treaty.

new times, new thinking

When Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as top Soviet leader in 1985, he advocated "new thinking" premised on the need for mutual security in an interdependent world. Between the two great powers, he said, security could only be "mutual." Gorbachev said Soviet policy should proceed not from a class perspective, but from an "all-human" one.

Gorbachev's commitments to arms control were less tactical and more strategic than his predecessorsmore dedicated to balanced solutions that accommodated the interests of both sides of the debate. In contrast, Khrushchev often portrayed his "peaceful coexistence" policy as a tool in the struggle to defeat capitalist imperialism, and Brezhnev demanded "coequal security" with the United States. Gorbachev, on the other hand, initiated or agreed to a series of moves to slow or reverse the arms competition:

  • a unilateral moratorium on underground nuclear testing from 1985 to 1987, with acceptance of U.S. scientists and seismic equipment near Soviet nuclear test sites in Kazakhstan
  • agreement in 1987 to the INF treaty, requiring the USSR to remove more warheads and to destroy more intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles than the United States (after which Reagan reiterated "veriat no proveriat ")
  • opening to U.S. visitors in September 1987 a partially completed Soviet radar station that, had it become operational, would probably have violated the 1972 limitations on ABM defenses
  • a pledge in December 1988 to cut unilaterally Soviet armed forces by 500,000 men, 10,000 tanks, and 800 aircraft
  • withdrawing Soviet forces from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989
  • supporting arrangements to end regional conflicts in Cambodia, southern Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East
  • acceptance in 1990 of a Final Settlement with Respect to Germany setting 1994 as the deadline for Soviet troop withdrawal from Germany
  • in 1990 a Soviet-U.S. agreement to reduce their chemical weapons stocks to no more than 5,000 tons each.

All members of NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization signed the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty in 1990. It limited each alliance to 20,000 battle tanks and artillery pieces, 30,000 armored combat vehicles, 6,800 combat aircraft, and 2,000 attack helicopters. In 1991, however, members of the Warsaw Pact agreed to abolish their alliance. Soon, Soviet troops withdrew from Poland,

Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Trying to compensate for unexpected weaknesses, the USSR tried to reclassify some military units to exempt them from the CFE limits. NATO objected, but Soviet power was shrinking and minor exemptions such as these mattered little.

In 1991 Gorbachev and U.S. president George Herbert Walker Bush signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). It obliged Washington and Moscow within seven years to cut their forces by more than one-third to sixteen hundred strategic delivery vehicles (ICBMs, submarine missiles, heavy bombers) and six thousand warheads. When the USSR dissolved later that year, the Russian Federation (RF) took the Soviet Union's place in START and other arms control regimes. START I became legally binding in 1994, and each party began steps to meet the ceilings set for seven years hence, in 2001.

In September 1991, after an attempted coup against Gorbachev in the previous August, President Bush announced the unilateral elimination of some 24,000 U.S. nuclear warheads and asked the USSR to respond in kind. Gorbachev announced unilateral cuts in Soviet weapons that matched or exceeded the U.S. initiative. He also took Soviet strategic bombers off alert, announced the deactivization of 503 ICBMs covered by START, and made preparations to remove all short-range nuclear weapons from Soviet ships, submarines, and land-based naval aircraft.

post-soviet complications

In November 1990 the U.S. Senate had voted $500 million of the Pentagon budget to help the USSR dismantle its nuclear weapons. In December 1991, however, the USSR ceased to exist. Its treaty rights and duties were then inherited by the Russian Federation (RF). However, Soviet-era weapons remained not just in Russia but also in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. These three governments agreed, however, to return the nuclear warheads to Russia. The United States helped fund and reward disarmament in all four republics.

President Bush and RF President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 signed another treaty, START II, requiring each side to cut its arsenal by 2003 to no more than 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads. The parties also agreed that ICBMs could have only one warhead each, and that no more than half the allowed warheads could be deployed on submarines. START II was approved by the U.S. Senate in 1996, but the RF legislature ratified it only on condition that the United States stand by the ABM treaty. As a results, START II never became law. Confronted by the expansion of NATO eastward and by deteriorating Russian conventional forces, Russian military doctrine changed in the mid-1990s to allow Moscow "first use of nuclear arms" even against a conventional attack.

Ignoring RF objections, NATO invited three former Soviet allies to join NATO in 1999 and three more in 2002, plus three former Soviet republics, plus Slovenia. The Western governments argued that this expansion was aimed at promoting democracy and posed no threat to Russia. The RF received a consultative voice in NATO. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush found themselves aligned against terrorism. Putin focused on improving Russia's ties with the West and said little about NATO.

The RF and U.S. presidents signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in May 2002. Bush wanted to reduce U.S. strategic weapons to the level needed for a "credible deterrent," but preferred to do so without a binding treaty. Putin also wanted to cut these forces but demanded a formal contract. Bush agreed to sign a treaty, but it was just three pages long, with extremely flexible commitments. START I, by contrast, ran to more than seven hundred pages.

SORT required each side to reduce its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade, with a target date of December 31, 2012. At the insistence of the United States, the warheads did not have to be destroyed and could be stored for possible reassembly. Nor did SORT ban multiple warheadsan option that had been left open because START II had never become law. SORT established no verification procedures, but could piggyback on the START I verification regime until December 2009, when the START inspection system would shut down. Putin signed SORT even though Moscow objected to Bush's decision, announced in 2001, to abrogate the ABM treaty. Bush wanted to build a national defense system, and Putin could not stop him.

See also: cold war; reykjavik summit; strategic arms limitation treaties; strategic arms reduction talks; strategic defense initiative; united states, relations with


Berman, Harold J., and Maggs, Peter B. (1967). Disarmament Inspection and Soviet Law. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana.

Bloomfield, Lincoln P., et al. (1966). Khrushchev and the Arms Race: Soviet Interests in Arms Control and Disarmamen The Soviet Union and Disarmament, 19541964. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press.

Clemens, Walter C., Jr. (1968). The Arms Race and Sino-Soviet Relations. Stanford, CA: The Hoover Institution.

Clemens, Walter C., Jr. (1973). The Superpowers and Arms Control: From Cold War to Interdependence. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Dallin, Alexander. (1965). The Soviet Union and Disarmament. New York: Praeger.

Garthoff, Raymond L. (1994). Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Kolkowicz, Roman. (1970). The Soviet Union and Arms Control: A Superpower Dilemma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Spanier, John W., and Nogee, Joseph L. (1962). The Politics of Disarmament: A Study in Soviet-American Gamesmanship. New York: Praeger.

Walter C. Clemens Jr.

Arms Control

views updated May 29 2018


It has been said that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most. During times of war, it is generally the most vulnerable members of society who are most affected. While the direct costs of war are often estimated in lives lost or disabilities incurred, the indirect costs of war can be just as destructive. Damaged infrastructures, disruption of health and other vital services, an increase in the prevalence of disease, and mental and emotional disturbances among participants and civilians are just some of the effects of war. Thus a failure to limit the proliferation of weapons of war and mass destruction has enormous public health consequences.

The tools of war, including land mines, bombs, grenades, and bullets, are all negative devices that maim and kill. Land mines, for example, kill or injure 28,000 men, women, and children a year. Those who survive often suffer lifelong disabilities.

Nuclear weapons are particularly destructive and pose an enormous threat to life. E. F. Frohlich has written that nuclear weapons "have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet. The radiation released by anuclear explosion would affect health, agriculture, natural resources, and demography over a wide area. Further use of nuclear weapons would be a serious threat to future generations. Ionizing radiation has the potential to damage the future environment, food and marine ecosystem, and cause genetic defects and illnesses in future generations. There are some forty thousand nuclear weapons in storage in the world today, representing an unimaginable threat to people everywhere" (Frohlich 1997, p. 2). According to Frohlich, the major arguments for eliminating nuclear weapons are based on "their destructiveness, the risk of accidental and inadvertent use, and the threat to the security of all by the danger of proliferation" (Frohlich, p. 5).

The United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice have unanimously agreed that the only guaranteed way of eliminating the threat of nuclear war is to rid the planet completely of these destructive devices. International law, however, cannot dictate whether it is lawful or not to threaten or to use nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense in the face of an impending enemy attack. The International Court of Justice cannot legislate to fill this void, as it is not mandated to do so. One possible way around this problem would be to introduce a joint non-first use undertaking between concerned parties. "China has taken a lead in this regard, by having reiterated its support of the goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, and its undertaking not to be the first to use such weapons" (Frohlich, p. 5).

Nuclear weapons are not the only threat to the health and well-being of populations. Chemical and biological weapons also pose grave dangers, especially when they are in the hands of terrorist groups and aggressive regimes. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict has reported that "Sadam Hussein used deadly gas to suppress the Iraqi Kurdish populations in 1998 and in 1995 the Japanese sect Aum Shinrikyo used sarin gas in a Tokyo subway. The desire for such inexpensive weapons of mass destruction has, according to some reports, prompted Libya to construct the largest chemical weapons factory in the world and the delivery systems to go with the weapons" (Holl 1996, p. 9).

Imposing sanctions are an effective way of making states realize that their actions can have consequences far beyond their own national boundaries. Sanctions can combine with military and diplomatic measures to limit a state's freedom and pressure it to correct inappropriate behavior. While sanctions can be very effective, they often cause innocent civilians to suffer. States under sanction "suffer economic hardship and fall behind in the increasingly competitive global economy, especially when important trading partners are not similarly constrained" (Holl, p. 12). Imposing more focused sanctions that directly target the malefactors would be one way of ensuring that only those directly responsible for the problem suffer.

Another effective means of combating violence is to work proactively to encourage peaceful, nonviolent solutions to tensions, conflicts, and potential threats. This is the core premise of preventive diplomacy. There is heartening evidence that "where sufficient political, economic, and military resources are properly mobilized for the task, conflict prevention can be successful. Bestpractices of conflict prevention rely on well-developed systems of early warning, explicitly provide for resource pooling and burden sharing among a range of diverse actors and agencies, aim at redressing underlying structural problems as well as the proximate causes of conflict, and apply diplomatic and military leverage appropriate to the problem at hand" (Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, p. 5). The effectiveness of any preventive action appears to rest on three essential elements: "Early reaction to signs of trouble, an extended effort to resolve underlying causes of violence ("root causes"), and a comprehensive, balanced approach to alleviating pressures ("risk factors") that can trigger violent conflict" (Holl, p. 6).

The lives of innocent people are continually threatened by war, and responsible governments and concerned citizens must continue to devise ways to combat violence. The means employed to deal with the problems posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will vary depending on the kinds of weapon involved, the geographic location in question, and the underlying reasons for the prevailing violence. "Adopting a policy of doing nothing simply defers the problem to a later date when the level of destruction and the costs of intervening are higher and the risks of action are even greater" (Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, p. 5). Better frameworks for understanding the dynamics of complex violence and mass destruction are needed. Sanctions, the pooling of resources, invoking the international community, and employing preventive diplomacy measures and international conventions such as the Ottawa Convention for the elimination of landmines are some of the workable means of reaching peaceful solutions to these problems.

Pamela Hartigan

Elaine Lammas

(see also: Terrorism; Violence; War )


Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict (1997). Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

(1999). Perspectives on Prevention Preventive Diplomacy, Preventive Defense, and Conflict Resolution: A Report of Two Conferences at Stanford University and Dichley Foundation. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

CBR News (1999). "War on Children." In CBR News 32.

Frohlich, E. F. (1997). Towards a Nuclear Weapons Free World: The Next Step. Australia: Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Holl, J. E. (1996). Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict: Second Progress Report. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

arms control

views updated May 11 2018

arms control Activity undertaken by powerful nations to prevent mutual destruction in warfare, especially with nuclear weapons. The nations attempt to maintain a balance of power by regulating each other's stockpile of weapons. See also disarmament; Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)

arms control

views updated May 21 2018

arms control See DISARMAMENT.

Nuclear Strategy

views updated May 18 2018

Nuclear Strategy. See Strategy: Nuclear Warfare Strategy.

About this article

nuclear strategy

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic