Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 75, January/February 2004
From Arms Control to Cooperative Threat Reduction
During the Cold War, the United States embraced deterrence and containment as the overarching strategic concepts to counter the Soviet Union. The risks inherent in relying solely on these strategic concepts to foil a geo-political and ideological foe - especially the risk of nuclear war - were widely perceived to be very great, leading a succession of US presidents to pursue strategic arms control, as well. Arms control was never conceived to be a stand-alone project. Instead, it became a supplementary approach to reduce nuclear dangers while manning the ramparts against Communism.
Strategic arms control during the Cold War also rested on two overarching concepts to ensure strategic and crisis stability. One - nuclear overkill -- was utterly predictable, in light of mutual worries about surprise attack and the political risks associated with appearing to fall behind in the nuclear competition. The second core concept - accepting national vulnerability - was very counterintuitive. Without it, however, superpower crises would have become even more dangerous, and bloated offensive requirements would no doubt have grown even further. While national vulnerability to ballistic missile attack did not lead to quick success in suppressing the growth of US and Soviet nuclear arsenals, it did provide the basis for a long-term process of arms control. Over time, this process became the vehicle to promote mutual transparency and reassurance, most notably through the acceptance of on-site inspections at sensitive sites. Intrusive monitoring would have been inconceivable in the absence of arms control. By fostering transparency and reassurance, as well as by mandating national vulnerability, arms control finally produced significant arms reductions in the last decade of the Cold War.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, strategic arms control lost bipartisan support in the United States. Those who now sought to ensure US national security through dominance derided arms control as a Cold War enterprise, while labelling arms controllers as misguided souls who feared an arms race against nations that couldn't compete and who continued to champion national vulnerability, even after the 9/11 attacks. Supporters of arms control had great difficulty answering these charges, in large measure because the arms control community was preoccupied in defending treaties against attack, but also because it was slow in formulating new strategic concepts to counter the post-Cold War challenges of asymmetric warfare and terrorist threats.
In my view, Cooperative Threat Reduction ought to be viewed as a core strategic concept for these troubled times, replacing the Cold War concepts of nuclear overkill and national vulnerability. In this context, the term "Cooperative Threat Reduction" should rightly be capitalised, and not be equated to the panoply of useful governmental programmes undertaken by various agencies of the US Government in the former Soviet Union. These programmes, while essential, are utterly inadequate in scope and level of effort to the national, regional, and international security problems now posed by poorly safeguarded weapons and dangerous materials that could cause grievous harm.
Cooperative Threat Reduction as Strategic Concept
Rather than be confined to the former Soviet Union, Cooperative Threat Reduction ought to be an open-ended pursuit, bounded primarily by the creativity of national leaders, the resources they can secure, and the political contours of great power relations. Current cooperative threat reduction initiatives grew as the intellectual and political capital behind strategic arms control was shrinking. This urgent practice, born of necessity after the sudden demise of the Soviet Union, and supported on a bipartisan basis in Washington, needs to go global.
Far too important and useful to be confined to one region, these activities need to be expanded and employed in other troubled areas, wherever dangerous weapons and materials are being held by states that are willing to forego them in return for economic or security assistance. Creative initiatives can be carried out unilaterally, bilaterally, or in regional groupings developed to suit the problem at hand. The time is ripe to transform Cooperative Threat Reduction from a series of bureaucratic programmes focusing almost entirely on the Former Soviet Union to a central organising principle for addressing global dangers associated with proliferation and terrorism.
Cooperative Threat Reduction deserves to become a full-service concept, covering the entire spectrum of dangers ranging from the control of dangerous materials at the source to the dismantlement of deployed strategic weapon systems. During the Cold War, strategic arms control often undercut nonproliferation initiatives, as the former was justified to domestic audiences as reinforcing deterrence, whereas the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was predicated on a commitment by nuclear weapon states to abolition. In contrast, the strategic concept of Cooperative Threat Reduction offers a direct, practical, and effective linkage to nonproliferation accords.
During the Cold War, Cooperative Threat Reduction programmes were an adjunct to treaties; now treaties could struggle to maintain co-equal status with Cooperative Threat Reduction. It makes little sense to pit one against the other, since the two work best in concert: Cooperative Threat Reduction initiatives are easiest to implement when backed up by treaty-based obligations for transparency and arms reduction. A cavalier approach to treaties make Cooperative Threat Reduction more essential, but also more difficult to implement.
The successful transition of Cooperative Threat Reduction from a collection of US government initiatives to a core strategic concept would require the wholehearted support of major powers. If leaders in Russia and China placed a higher priority on hard-currency transactions with states seeking weapons of mass destruction than on improved ties with the United States, then the scope of collaborative efforts would remain limited to programmes that provide narrowly defined mutual benefits. Ongoing programmes to dismantle and safeguard Russia's Cold War arsenal clearly fall within this narrow framework. Cooperation on early warning for missile launches might also proceed, given the clear dangers associated with Russia's blind spots resulting from the diminishment of its Cold War constellation of radar stations and satellites. However, the Kremlin's continued material support to states of proliferation concern would undermine and negate the true partnership needed to properly safeguard dangerous materials at the source and to reorient Russia's nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare centres - the broader conception for Cooperative Threat Reduction proposed here. US cooperation with China on sensitive regional security issues will also be coloured by Beijing's stance on proliferation.
The elevation of Cooperative Threat Reduction to a core strategic concept also requires new thinking from Washington. If Moscow and Beijing perceive that Washington seeks to devalue or negate their deterrents, Russia and China will collaborate more with each other than with the United States. Alternatively, if Washington is perceived as accepting a nuclear deterrence relationship with Russia and China, while progressively diminishing the role that nuclear weapons play in the US national security posture, the pace and extent of Cooperative Threat Reduction could grow significantly. The more Cooperative Threat Reduction takes centre stage, the stronger global nonproliferation regimes become.
The Illogic of Nuclear Deterrence
Consequently, one key indicator of American strategic objectives for both Moscow and Beijing will be the architecture chosen for US missile defence deployments. Missile defences keyed to troubled regions are essential. Missile defences that are sized and structured to negate the Russian and Chinese nuclear deterrents will shrink the zone of cooperation.
The second key indicator of US strategic objectives for Moscow and Beijing will be whether Washington seeks to seize the 'high ground' of space. Space has long been a medium in which military functions such as weather forecasting, communications, signals intelligence gathering and photo reconnaissance have occurred. However, the weaponisation of space-deploying weapons in orbit or satellite killers on the ground-was sidestepped during the Cold War. One reason why an arms race in space did not occur was the ability of the Soviet Union to compete. Russia and China will be watching whether, in the absence of a superpower counterweight, Washington will now seek to extend and reinforce its terrestrial superiority by dominating space. The more the United States takes the lead in pursuing anti-satellite weapons or weapons in space, the less Russia and China can be expected to cooperate in reducing asymmetric threats.1
Much therefore depends on whether US administrations seek to replace deterrence with dominance in their relations with major powers. A related question is the future role that US administrations will choose to give to nuclear weapons.
The British war historian and strategist B.H. Liddell Hart defined strategy as "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfil ends of policy."2 Under this reasonable definition, nuclear strategy is an oxymoron. The means of nuclear strategy-the targeting of an adversary-could certainly be justified as serving the ends of deterrence. If, however, deterrence ever broke down, and if war plans were truly implemented, there would be no 'art' to distributing and applying nuclear detonations. Means and ends would become indecipherable and horrific. Had nuclear exchanges taken place during the Cold War, the most crucial objective would have been escalation control, and not comparative advantage or other definitions of victory.
Escalation control is the province of political leaders; nuclear strategists have sought escalation dominance and other doctrinal devices to maximise deterrence. The resulting war plans have had their own internal logic based on targeting lists and damage expectancies. But these plans are unlikely to pass two significant external tests. The first test is public support. The more the cold logic of nuclear deterrence is explained in public discourse, the more it is likely to appal the general public and their elected representatives. The problem of public scrutiny has been largely avoided by pinning the highest secrecy classification on nuclear war-fighting plans. Indeed, the successful maintenance of these plans requires that they not be the subject of detailed debate.
The second test, as noted above, is escalation control. If the nuclear threshold were crossed, escalation control would be predicated on shared cost/benefit calculations with an adversary to whom one was meting out mortal damage. Mutual abilities to calibrate and control such calculations amid the radiological ruin of a nuclear war would also be needed. The fragility of these assumptions does not require explanation. As a consequence, the cold logic of nuclear warfighting had every prospect of breaking down should multiple mushroom clouds begin to form. Escalation control, in other words, loses meaning the deeper one side or the other enters the domain of its nuclear warfighting plans.
These conundrums were addressed by some of the finest minds during the Cold War. Nonetheless, nuclear strategy continued to be an oxymoron or, as Lawrence Freedman wrote, a "muddle" and "a contradiction in terms."3 Political leaders who dutifully signed off on nuclear war plans understood this fully, which is why, in every deep crisis of the Cold War, they sought mightily to avoid crossing the nuclear threshold.
The disconnect between nuclear strategists and political leaders has been most evident during these periods of heightened tension. McGeorge Bundy, who stood beside President John F. Kennedy during the harrowing days of the Cuban missile crisis, described this divide as follows: "In the real world of political leaders, a decision that would bring even one hydrogen bomb on one city of one's own country would be recognised in advance as a catastrophic blunder... Political leaders, whether here or in Russia, are cut from a very different mould than strategic planners. They see cities and people as part of what they are trying to help-not as targets."4 When confronted with the very real prospect of a nuclear exchange, political leaders and their advisors have tried to make sure that command and control over nuclear forces remained intact. Then they asked the nuclear strategists, in effect, to leave the room.
Nonetheless, Armageddon strategists were given wide latitude to ply their craft. For the last four decades, there has been little political benefit-and considerable political risk-in questioning the basic premises of nuclear warfighting plans. Throughout the Cold War, the discourse of political leaders seldom moved beyond affirmations of nuclear deterrence, which resonated quite positively with the public. The protectors of nuclear doctrine could therefore fend off attempts at radical reform simply by declaring that deterrence would be endangered. The requirements of nuclear deterrence could be downsized, but not questioned. Besides, few were properly cleared to enter these domains. Presidents and cabinet officers quickly moved on to other projects. Inherited war plans were modified to fit evolving targets and capabilities, and then put in the safe, from which it was fervently hoped they would never be retrieved.
The illogic of nuclear strategy remained intact throughout the Cold War because true believers held the keys to the kingdom. The consequence of genocide remained lurking in the background of these doctrinal refinements, but the word dared not be mentioned in serious company; to do so would result in the expulsion of the mentioner.
A central dilemma of nuclear deterrence is that proposed strengthening measures equate usability with utility. Nuclear weapon strategists argue that the more 'usable' the weapon, i.e. the more weapons' effects could be tailored to specific targets while reducing collateral damage, the more deterrence would be strengthened. In the Cold War, national leaders acted upon a much different calculus, since they were firmly uninterested in crossing the nuclear threshold. These parallel universes survived after the Cold War ended.
The strategists' quest for usability has continued unabated, as illustrated by the Bush administration's desire to pursue a uniquely designed 'earth-penetrating' warhead to burrow toward the hardened leadership bunker or the underground cache of lethal weapons held by a maverick leader. A new and improved capability in this regard might well require renewed nuclear testing.
Nuclear weapons strategists have long argued that the dictates of deterrence require continued refinements. Sceptics of nuclear deterrence seek to sidestep this dark and deep pit by pointing to the 'existential' aspects of nuclear deterrence. In this view, the mere holding of the weapon suggests a possibility of use, and hence deterrence. Serious nuclear strategists are made of sterner stuff. In their view, weapons need to be specifically tailored, modernised, and tested repeatedly to demonstrate usability.
These dictates led the United States and the Soviet Union to test nuclear weapons in excess of 1,700 times, or an average of once every three weeks, during the Cold War. The quest for utility and its equation with usability lends itself to varied explanations. In a Cold War context, these refinements could be explained as a bloodless surrogate for competition on the battlefield, or as a natural consequence of domestic politics and pressure groups. Additionally, the ceaseless quest to refine nuclear warfighting capabilities could be viewed as a product of having overlarge and competing nuclear weapon laboratories.
Another explanation, less explored than the rest, is that nuclear warfighting capabilities continue to be refined because nuclear strategists continue to seek the means to escape from deterrence. The ultimate escape from deterrence is to devise a nuclear war winning capability. In this context, the search for 'strengthening' deterrence becomes indecipherable from the quest for decisive advantage, which could be gained only by covering an adversary's target set, in toto. The language of negotiation and public diplomacy was that of sufficiency and equality, but the numbers inscribed in treaty texts were always consistent with the dictates of targeting. While diplomats searched for strategic stability, nuclear strategists engaged in the ceaseless quest of winning - or at least not losing - nuclear exchanges.
The most significant constraint in escaping from mutual deterrence during the Cold War was, of course, the above-mentioned construct of accepting national vulnerability, as codified in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Throughout the Cold War, the ABM Treaty presented a huge conundrum to those who sought to escape from deterrence and to devise war-winning plans. With the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, these calculations could finally be revisited.
A clear and clean break from Cold War nuclear deterrence practices is long overdue. US strategic superiority opens up two radically different paths. Both paths seek the same destination-a prolonged period of safety against the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction. And both would seek to extend and prolong US conventional military superiority. One path would pursue these objectives by maintaining nuclear warfighting and missile defence capabilities sufficient to take on all comers and to win decisively. This approach places a premium on advanced technology and numerical superiority. It assumes that dominance could be successfully applied to the art of war repeatedly, and at its most apocalyptic level. The other path, equally radical in approach, assumes that a nation enjoying strategic superiority would willingly choose not to extend dominance to the art of war at its most consequential level. This approach would seek a partnership with Russia and China against proliferation, rather than seeking to negate their deterrents.
The Bush administration's posture points in a number of respects toward the first path-that of assuring US national security safety through dominance. Vocal critics of this posture, at home and abroad, are not hard to find. Largely missing in this debate is an alternative US nuclear posture that would be compatible with a strategic concept of Cooperative Threat Reduction.
An Alternative Nuclear Posture
A more appropriate nuclear posture might have at least eight key elements.
First, because the United States would seek to accentuate its conventional military superiority and because a new cascade of nuclear testing would instead increase the salience of nuclear weapons, an alternative nuclear posture would maintain the moratorium on nuclear testing while seeking to secure entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Second, an alternative path would embrace the development of nuclear warhead designs that are utterly reliable and that would not need to be tested. A 'back to the future' approach to nuclear deterrence would emphasise uranium bombs that would provide 100 percent assurance of detonations under conditions of the CTBT's indefinite duration. Uranium bombs could be designed for a range of yields, but they would not be capable of destroying the entire panoply of targets in US nuclear war plans.
A third element in departing radically from Cold War-like concepts of nuclear deterrence would be to drop the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons below the number of targets in Russia. In other words, verifiable reductions would be low enough to disallow the successful, prompt execution of ambitious nuclear warfighting plans, thereby clarifying the deterrent nature of nuclear weapons.
Fourth, the destructive power of available warheads would be progressively reduced. Over time, warheads designed to kill hardened silos and underground command centres would be replaced by warheads that reflect an acceptance of mutual deterrence between responsible nations. The development and stockpiling of 'back to the future' uranium bombs that never need to be tested support this requirement, since they would have insufficient yield to destroy hardened military targets.
Fifth, the clear and clean break from nuclear war-fighting strategies of deterrence could also be demonstrated by the collaborative, verifiable dismantlement of stockpiled warheads designed for theatre and tactical nuclear warfare and for missiles specifically designed to destroy multiple targets.
Sixth, further collaborative reductions in alert rates would signal the same general intention.
Seventh, a clear and clean break from Cold War concepts of nuclear deterrence could be clarified by the issuance of declaratory statements by responsible nuclear powers against any targeting that would result in the destruction of cities. During the Cold War, the United States rejected the targeting of cities per se, while maintaining many targets in warfighting plans that happened to be co-located with cities, or down-wind of them, such as hardened leadership bunkers, command and control nodes and war-supporting industry, as well as garrisons, air bases, and missile fields that were within or close to metropolitan areas. Soviet targeting plans were similar in many respects. In other words, the deeper both sides delved into their nuclear war-fighting plans, the more genocidal they became. The massive damage from prompt nuclear effects would be compounded by firestorms and delayed biospheric destruction. These plans are still in place and need to be changed.
Mutual commitments to avoid the genocidal targeting of cities could not be verified, unlike most of the other proposals listed above. And needless to say, in extremis, a nuclear power could revert to the targeting of cities as the ultimate deterrent against a stronger foe. In effect, the targeting of cities would remain the last refuge of nuclear deterrence. Indeed, extraordinarily deep and verifiable reductions - to tens of warheads - would increase the likelihood of city strikes in the event of a breakdown of deterrence. But the United States and Russia are far, far away from reductions to this minimal number.
The eighth element of an alternative nuclear posture is a thoroughly familiar one - written accords that codify mutual obligations and provide intrusive monitoring arrangements to assess implementation. There is much to be said for clarifying mutual obligations and securing legislative approval. Such arrangements provide greater reassurance against reversibility than informal understandings, and reassurance, as has been noted above, is an essential element of Cooperative Threat Reduction. Moreover, the only treaty-based provisions for reciprocal US and Russian monitoring and intrusive inspections that currently exists - the verification arrangements of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) - expire in 2009. The extension and expansion of these arrangements are essential for a world that depends increasingly on Cooperative Threat Reduction to reduce global dangers posed by deadly weapons.
Written agreements also have disadvantages. Legislative concerns in either the United States or Russia could continue to delay or prevent the entry into force of the accords reached by unpopular or untrusted political leaders. The scope of agreed reductions has heretofore been limited to deployed forces, but as reductions proceed, the dismantlement of warheads and non-deployed missiles grows in importance. Yet expanding the scope of written accords to cover new areas could be very complicated and difficult to negotiate.
Alternatively, Cooperative Threat Reduction in the form of further reductions in deployed or non-deployed nuclear forces could be carried out by means of unilateral or reciprocal measures. This approach also has both advantages and disadvantages. Unilateral or reciprocal measures would be easier to implement than written accords, but they would also be easier to reverse. Intrusive monitoring arrangements for written agreements are spelled out; they would be voluntary or non-existent for unilateral or reciprocal initiatives.
If unilateral steps are pursued entirely as a substitute for written accords, many new problems could result. Even ambitious reassurance initiatives could be undermined or nullified by negative initiatives, such as moves to deploy space-based or anti-satellite weapons. The rejection of written accords and bilateral treaties would not be reassuring at home or abroad, and would likely have spillover effects.
When unilateral measures and reassuring initiatives are utilised as a supplement rather than as a substitute for written accords, downside risks and unintended consequences are reduced. The combination of written accords plus reassurance measures is more powerful than either standing alone. In the absence of structured cooperation covering strategic arms reduction, informal arrangements covering tactical nuclear weapons will be harder to orchestrate or monitor. Written accords offer more reassurance than informal arrangements, while unilateral or reciprocal measures offer more flexibility as well as powerful symbolism. Some changes, such as revisions in nuclear targeting or reducing the alert status of nuclear forces, can be realised only by unilateral or parallel steps. The combination of written accords and reassurance measures provide a strong foundation to keep alliances healthy, strengthen nonproliferation regimes, and reassure allies and partners.
The preferred mix of deterrence and reassurance suggested here would include long-term written agreements placing the United States and Russia on an extended trajectory of very deep reductions in operationally deployed warheads. The objective of this proposed transformation in US and Russian nuclear deterrence would not be reductions in general. Instead, deterrence would be reductions in the size and character of deployed strategic forces, as well as the warheads they carry, to the point where they could not execute, promptly and successfully, ambitious nuclear warfighting plans. Reductions of this nature would require considerable transparency, not only with respect to deployed forces, but also production lines and inventories of missiles and warheads. Parallel, verifiable dismantlement of stockpiled warheads would be required. The exact number that would be reached as a result of such reductions is less important than mutual reassurance along the way. The extent of such reductions would depend, in large measure, on the evolution of cooperative US-Russian relations.
Reductions in US nuclear forces below the Russian target set would still provide ample coverage of targets in China. A different kind of reassurance would be required for China, given the sparseness of Beijing's nuclear capability. Reassurance in this case requires the sizing of US national missile defences against maverick states, without seeking to negate Beijing's deterrent. In turn, Beijing would need to provide reassurance to Washington with regard to its stance on proliferation, the extent of its strategic modernisation programmes, and its posture toward Taiwan.
As noted earlier, US national missile defence requirements would naturally result from an interactive process of perceived threats and responses. To the extent that Russia and China become partners in restraining proliferation, especially proliferation related to extended-range missiles, US requirements for national missile defences would be depressed. Likewise, to the extent to which Beijing moderates its strategic modernization programmes, missile defence enthusiasts in the United States would lose standing for added deployments. Conversely, bad news abroad would generate increased worries for Russia and China about US deployments. The checks and balances of domestic US politics must now substitute for the ABM Treaty.
Reducing Nuclear Dangers
We are entering a third major transition in efforts in efforts to reduce nuclear dangers. The first transition took place in the period from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, when unrealistic, rhetorical policies built around general and complete disarmament and the quest for nuclear superiority gave way to a new enterprise of strategic arms control. The concept of 'essential equivalence' in the Nixon administration was crucial to this transition; without it, negotiations predicated on mutual security could not begin. The second transition occurred in the Reagan administration, when strategic arms control evolved into strategic arms reductions. The leverage provided by President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative - as well as efforts to protect the ABM Treaty from this open-ended initiative - were central to transitioning from the management of an arms race to its significant contraction. This phase lasted from the 1980s until shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The third transition, now underway, is marked by concerns over proliferation, terrorism, and asymmetric warfare. The most problematic threats during this phase are not the strategic nuclear delivery vehicles that preoccupied arms controllers and strategists in the previous two transitions. They are instead 'loose nukes', lax controls over deadly materials, and the crossing of proliferation thresholds. The core concept needed to manage this third transition and to secure a safer future is Cooperative Threat Reduction initiatives that safeguard dangerous materials and weapons at the source, and reassure states whose assistance is critical to contain and combat proliferation successfully. Cooperative Threat Reduction helps to fill the void created by partisan divisions in the United States over treaties, while strengthening nonproliferation regimes.
Cooperative Threat Reduction will not work in all cases, which is why the United States will retain unparalleled power projection capabilities. But unless Cooperative Threat Reduction becomes a core strategic concept, the United States will find itself exhausting its armed forces, alienating allies, and weakening ties with major powers, without whose assistance global efforts to stem and reverse proliferation are unlikely to succeed.
One key element of the third transition in strategic arms control is replacing the Cold War strategic concepts of assured destruction and nuclear overkill with a new mix of deep cuts and missile defence. This transition offers great opportunity as well as multiple dangers. To succeed, this transition must demonstrably reduce proliferation dangers. If the mix of deep cuts and missile defence is badly conceived, it could easily compound these dangers. This transition must be pursued in partnership with Russia and China, the two countries most likely to feel threatened by the displacement of mutual assured destruction, or MAD.
Another reason for embracing Cooperative Threat Reduction as a core strategic concept is that it can facilitate a successful transition from MAD to a mix of deep cuts and missile defence. We must now expand the intrusive monitoring and inspection provisions painstakingly negotiated during the Cold War to apply to a much wider set of security concerns. The application of intrusive monitoring on a global basis becomes far more difficult if the United States rejects such provisions, crafted with great difficulty over the previous decades. The Bush administration's refusal to make intrusive verification integral to the Moscow Treaty is a glaring misjudgement in need of correction.
The transition from MAD to a mix of deep cuts and missile defence has begun without adequate conceptualisation or discussion. We know intuitively that the old scales of nuclear deterrence, in which missile defences carried virtually no weight, no longer make sense. We also know intuitively that, in the future, the size of nuclear arsenals grounded in Cold War dictates will continue to be progressively reduced. But the particulars of a reassuring transition have not been carefully integrated. Instead, these matters have been left to nuclear strategists and missile defence enthusiasts whose scope is far too narrow.
It is necessary to be clear about the most meaningful subtractions from one scale and additions to the other. Reductions in nuclear offence would be helpful, but would not ensure the transition that is now imperative. Likewise, the wrong additions to missile defence capabilities would badly impair prospects for a cooperative transition. Widespread deployments of theatre missile defences are absolutely necessary, while limiting the national missile defences of major powers is equally necessary for reassurance and cooperation against more pressing threats.
Transition strategies are extremely hard to execute in an environment of strongly competitive US-Russian or US-Chinese relations. A cooperative transition is less daunting in a period of US primacy, when major powers have good reason to avoid confrontations with Washington, and when Washington has ample latitude to complement military superiority with reassurance and cooperation with major powers, friends, and allies.
The transition from MAD to Cooperative Threat Reduction requires as much effort and intellectual content as earlier transitions. Moving away from MAD to a mix of deep cuts and missile defence is far from a simple exercise. This process faces many serious technical and political hurdles. If the transition is driven primarily by technological enthusiasm or political triumphalism, it is very likely to go badly awry. Those who seek a safer alternative future would be obliged to expend as much intellectual capital conceptualising the next transition as the founding fathers of arms control did in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These pages provide little more than a beginner's sketch suggesting a way forward. There is much work to do in producing an improved set of drawings.
1. For an elaboration of this argument, see Michael Krepon with Christopher Clary, Space Assurance or Space Dominance? The Case Against Weaponizing Space (Washington: The Henry L. Stimson Center, 2003).
2. B.H. Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach (London: Faber & Faber, 1968), p. 334
3. Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983 edition), p. xviii.
4. McGeorge Bundy, "To Cap the Volcano," Foreign Affairs Vol. 48, No. 1 (October 1969), p. 12.
Michael Krepon is the founding president of the Henry L. Stimson Center and the author of a number of books on international security, arms control and verification. His most recent book is Cooperative Threat Reduction, Missile Defense and the Nuclear Future (New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003) from which this essay was drawn.
© 2003 The Acronym Institute.