U.S. Strategic Nuclear Concepts in the 1970s: The Search for Sufficiently Equivalent Countervailing Parity
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Concepts 5 the 1 9 7 m l The Search for Sufficiently Equivalent Countervailing Parity What in the name of God is strategic parity, and what can you do with it? -anonymous Columbia University professor T h e United States confronted three important decisions in the late 1960s affecting the state of the Soviet-American strategicnuclear balance: whether to deploy antiballistic missile systems (ABMs), which had the potential of greatly reducing the destruction that a nuclear attack might produce, especially in a second strike (unless the opponent had offset the defensive effect of the ABMs by adding to its own offensive warheads); whether to deploy multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which had the potential of enabling whichever side struck first to deprive the other of its fixed-site intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)as secure second-strike weapons (unless the opponent had offset the offensive effects of the MIRVs by multiplying its fixed sites or defending them); and whether to deploy additional forces to keep pace with the additions the Soviet Union was making to its offensive forces, additions which (unless offset) had the potential of changing the strategic balance from one of American superiority to one of parity or even, perhaps, Soviet superiority. By the mid-l970s, the United States had made all three decisions. It decided to avoid, if it could, the deployment of ABMs, and in 1972the United States and the Soviet Union signed a treaty limiting ABMs to nominal levels and banning the deployment of other forms of ballistic missile defense. In contrast to their approach to ABMs, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union made a determined effort to negotiate an agreement to ban MIRVs or to limit them to nominal levels. The United States began to deploy MIRVed ICBMs in 1970 and MIRVed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) Wamer R. Schilling is the James T. Shokuell Professor of lntemational Relations and the Director of the lnstitute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. An earlier, undocumented version of this article is in Robert O'Neill and D. M . Homer (eds.), New Directions in Strategic Thinking (Sydney and London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981). International Securily, Fall 1981 (Vol. 6 ,No.2)0162-2889/Sl/020048-32$OZ.SO/O @ 1981 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 48 U.S. Strategic Coccepts in the 1970s I 49 in 1971. Soviet deployment began later: MIRVed ICBMs in 1975, and MIRVed SLBMs in 1978.' As for the Soviet build-up of offensive missiles, the United States decided not to match the Soviet deployments by adding to its own missiles but to try, instead, to negotiate through strategic arms limitations talks (SALT) an agreement which would place a limit on Soviet force levels. In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to limit ICBM and SLBM launchers to the numbers they then had built and building (2,358 for the Soviet Union, and 1,710 for the United States). In 1974, the two states negotiated a draft agreement that placed a common ceilingof 2,400 on their total number of ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and long-range bombers; and the two states incorporated this 2,400-vehicle limit in the SALT I1 treaty which they signed in June 1979.2 The attainment by the Soviet Union of numerical equality with the United States in strategic delivery vehicles was an event of major military and political significance. Starting in 1964, when the Soviet Union had 389 strategic delivery vehicles and the United States had 1,880, the Soviet Union had surpassed the United States in the number of ICBMs by 1970, in the number of SLBMs by 1975, and in the total number of ICBMs, SLBMs, and longrange bombers by 1973.In June 1979, when the two powers formally agreed to the common ceiling of 2,400 vehicles, the Soviet Union actually had 2,504 deployed delivery vehicles and the United States 2,O5tL3 1. A general treatment of these three decisions and the issues associated with them can be found in Jerome H. Kahan, Security in the Nuclear Age: Developing U.S.Strategic Arms Policy (Washington...