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A NEW STRATEGIC ARMS AGREEMENT: TAKING THE LONG VIEW Theodore H. Moran and Peter A. Wilson .he Reagan administration is now embarked on its second major attempt to negotiate a strategic arms agreement with the Soviet Union. Like its predecessor, the new proposal is vast in scope and requires substantial changes in the Soviet nuclear arsenal, especially with regard to the heavy missiles that endanger our own fixed land-based deterrent force. The Soviets rejected the last American approach, so the Reagan administration has softened its position under pressure from Congress to be more "realistic." However, the Soviets are again dismissing the American proposal as "nothing but words." How far can the United States go, and on what issues, to conclude a successful negotiation? Conversely, what are the dangers to the United States if it keeps failing to reach an agreement? Given the linkage between the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and the controversial plan for deploying new intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, what strategy would preclude another negotiating failure? The United States faces two threats to its strategic force posture, and the Reagan administration has focused onjust one of these: the growing vulnerability of the fixed land-based missile system—one leg of the nuclear triad. The second threat is posed by the longer-term vulnerability of the other two legs of the triad—the American bomber force and the nuclear missile submarines. The United States must assess the threat posed to all three legs of the nuclear triad in determining the need for an agreement on arms limitations—nay, reductions—and what will happen if it does not reach one. The Reagan administration's principal preoccupation when it came Theodore H. Moran is Landegger Professor at the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. Peter A. Wilson is a consultant on defense issues. 117 118 SAISREVIEW into office was the so-called window of vulnerability, a term used to describe the Soviets' increasing accuracy and the heavy megatonnage of its missiles, thus putting the U.S. fixed land-based system at serious risk. The Scowcroft Commission tempered the discussion about the growing Soviet capabilities, arguing that Soviet advances would be slower and more uncertain than the administration's early rhetoric implied. Undisputed , however, was the commission's conclusion that—independent of partisan debates about how best to deal with the Soviets—the techniques of atomic destruction on both sides are outpacing the ability of civil engineers to protect fixed land-based missiles.* This, of course, has substantial adverse implications for the U.S. strategic posture. Fixed land-based systems are far more responsive to command and control, they can be retargeted faster and more easily, and their survival status is more dependably monitored. Most important, as the third leg of the American nuclear triad, they provide a synergism with bombers and submarines that renders the other legs of the triad much more secure against the sinister or desperate designs of would-be Soviet attackers. This combination of several different U.S. weapons systems diffuses and dilutes the Soviet military effort and helps ensure against the possibility of technological breakthroughs that could suddenly alter the East-West equation (i.e., in antisubmarine warfare). The land-based missile system, specifically, provides a timing problem for Soviet attackers that would enormously complicate a hypothetical Soviet first strike: A launch of Soviet missiles against U.S. silos provides thirty minutes' warning time for retaliatory bombers to take off; a quick submarine strike from close, onshore positions against American airfields , in contrast, provides an unambiguous signal to launch retaliatory American missiles. For this reason, the whole of the triad is greater than the sum of its parts—the loss of one leg would significantly reduce the efficacy ofthe other two, thus diminishing the retaliatory capability ofthe United States. The conclusion is inescapable: Without some form of the triad, the United States would be weaker and far less secure. Ideal negotiations with the Soviets would seek to achieve such large cuts in the Soviet counterforce capability that the U.S. land-based missile systems would remain invulnerable. The Reagan administration has consistently pushed for such reductions throughout the negotiation process, whether in the context of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
pp. 117-130
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-11
Open Access
No
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