A Schizophrenic Policy Toward The USSR: Hard Line On Defense Cuts; Soft Line In Arms Talks

Responsible Rhetoric: A Strong Defense is Still Needed

In recent public appearances President Bush and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney have sensibly argued that the political situation in the Soviet Union is so dynamic and the military capabilities of the USSR still so formidable that the United States must resist the temptation to alter radically the U.S. defense posture. For example, the president noted yesterday at Fort Irwin, CA.:

It is important not to let these encouraging changes, political or military, lull us into a sense of complacency. Nor can we let down our guard against a worldwide threat. The Soviet Union still does maintain formidable forces. Military challenges to democracy persist in every hemisphere.

Similarly, Secretary Cheney observed yesterday on the CBS Evening News:


    There is absolutely no way for us to know with any certainty what fate holds in store for the current Soviet leadership, and it would be very risky business indeed for us to build national security policy that puts at risk the very safety and survival of our civilization on the hopes and aspirations with respect for Mr. Gorbachev’s success.

Reckless Policy: Anything Goes in the Arms Negotiations?

Unfortunately, these welcome indications that the Bush Administration is determined not to lower its guard or accept dangerous changes in America’s military strength contrast sharply with its seeming willingness to do so in the context of arms control negotiations. Indeed, the perception being fostered by the Administration’s headlong rush to complete various arms reduction agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev may have contributed as much as any single factor to the growing congressional and public appetite for cashing in on a "peace dividend."

Secretary of State James Baker has been the most forceful public exponent of the Administration’s effort to conclude a raft of U.S.-Soviet and multilateral arms control accords as quickly as possible. As he recently put it: "We should lock in good agreements…while we have an opportunity to get them. It will make it a lot more difficult…for subsequent leaders…to reverse the agreements that we [have] entered into." It follows from this logic that, if such agreements are to be had from Gorbachev, he must remain in a position to negotiate and sign them.

There are two important operational implications of the Baker approach: First, the Administration believes that the United States has an interest in shoring up Gorbachev’s position. This explains the extraordinary steps taken to identify itself with and support the Soviet leader’s hold on power. This policy has been manifested in such ways as: President Bush’s repeated statements about his commitment to Gorbachev’s success and willingness to be a "partner in perestroika;" the Administration’s identification with Moscow and against those in the Soviet Union seeking independence from it; the unprecedented official U.S. endorsement of the actual or prospective use of Soviet troops in Azerbaijan and Romania; the sudden U.S. willingness in effect to accept the Soviet demand of a neutralized Germany as the price for permitting its reunification; the spate of economic and financial concessions (notably observer status in the GATT, waiver of the symbolically important Jackson-Vanik amendment and negotiation of a comprehensive trade agreement); and the rash decontrol of sophisticated "dual-use" technology for sale to the USSR and its allies.

Second, lest Gorbachev’s "weak" political standing interfere with his ability to compromise in pursuit of arms control accords, the Bush Administration appears prepared to meet him more than half-way. Thanks to its willingness to subordinate the quality and content of an agreement to the perceived necessity of getting one (a tendency epitomized by President Bush’s single-minded determination to have a START Treaty ready for signature by his June summit with Gorbachev, despite the expressed concerns of senior U.S. officials that such haste will make waste) the Administration is evidently disposed to make significant and potentially quite ill-advised concessions.

START and the Baker-Shevardnadze Ministerial

The Center for Security Policy fears that the U.S. penchant for hasty arms control deal-making may be much in evidence in this week’s ministerial meeting between Secretary Baker and his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. Among other things, four strategically sensitive issues in the START negotiations may suffer as a result:


The United States is uniquely dependent upon its air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) to ensure the effectiveness of the most flexible component of its strategic deterrent — the manned bomber force. In the face of unconstrained and ever more competent Soviet defenses, large numbers of ALCMs have become essential to the continued viability of the B-52 fleet. Given the persistent problems that may compromise the future ability of the B-1 to penetrate those defenses and the uncertain political fate of the B-2 bomber, retaining the right to deploy a sizeable and technologically competitive U.S. air-launched cruise missile force is imperative.

Regrettably, even the current U.S. position would impose significant constraints on this force, particularly with respect to the number and range of its missiles. Today, this will likely permit the United States to field no more than 1800 ALCMs, down dramatically from the 4400 such weapons envisioned by the Reagan Administration when it initially proposed the so-called 50% reductions START Treaty.

Worse still, the Soviets are demanding a different approach in START, one that would have the effect of limiting the United States to perhaps as few as 900 ALCMs. They are also determined to lower sharply the range at which air-launched cruise missiles would become START-accountable from the present American position of 1500 nautical miles. Particularly if combined, these restrictions would have a real and adverse impact on the U.S. deterrent, especially on its day-to-day (i.e., non-generated) posture. If the capability of Soviet air defenses continues to improve unchecked, this problem would be compounded; it would be worsened further if the number of bombers in the U.S. inventory were reduced below the level now forecast due to budgetary, political or programmatic considerations.

Non-Deployed Missiles

Another issue up for "resolution" at the Moscow ministerial is the longstanding disagreement over whether non-deployed missiles would be limited by the START treaty. The Soviets have sought to leave such systems unconstrained. For its part, the United States has sought to ensure that certain types of non-deployed systems are limited, namely those involving mobile, heavy and modern ICBMs.

The issue here is whether a significant Soviet capability — one which readily lends itself to cheating or circumvention — will be constrained. Because verification measures associated with limiting such non-deployed missiles are intrusive, expensive and difficult, some in the U.S. government are urging abandonment of the American position. Were Secretary Baker to agree to do so, however, he would ensure that the actual effect of the so-called "deep reductions" regime would likely be an asymmetrical one, highly disadvantageous to the United States.

Data Denial

A third topic on the agenda to be resolved in Moscow is the difference between the U.S. and Soviet positions on the right to continue encoding of test flight data involved in non-ballistic missile systems. The United States believes that, while encryption should be banned for ballistic missile flights, it must retain the right to protect information associated with cruise missiles. Importantly, doing so will not interfere with Soviet monitoring of U.S. compliance with arms control commitments. For its part, however, the Soviet Union is demanding that such encryption be prohibited on both ballistic and non-ballistic missile tests.

After protracted internal review and debate within the United States government, it was determined that a departure from this position would unnecessarily and ill-advisedly jeopardize important American technologies. This position, too, may be jeopardized in the rush to a START Treaty.


Finally, the foreign ministers may revisit an issue that had previously been resolved when Secretary Baker announced, prior to the last such ministerial in October 1989, that the United States would abandon its demand that mobile missiles be banned under START. At that time, he offered a bizarre caveat: The American proposal for such a ban was withdrawn "contingent on the funding by the U.S. Congress of U.S. mobile ICBMs."

Even at the time it was made, there was reason to believe that this stipulation would go unsatisfied. More recently, it has become even more problematic. For example, three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been quoted as regarding the rail-mobile MX and the road-mobile Midgetman as "unnecessary." Even former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, a long-time supporter of the road-mobile Small ICBM, has testified that the program should be scrapped in favor of silo deployments.

The reality is that in the present environment, if for no other than for budgetary reasons, the United States is exceedingly unlikely to deploy either — to say nothing of both — of these mobile systems. Secretary Baker should, accordingly, reassert the earlier U.S. position that such missiles must be banned by START. In so doing, a significant contribution could be made to enhancing the verifiability of that accord. Such a step would also do the USSR a big favor. After all, the Soviet Union could realize significant economies by dispensing with its SS-24 and SS-25 mobile ICBMs, systems which are relatively expensive to field and operate.

As it happens, some in the U.S. government (particularly, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and some congressional figures) have already urged that the ban on mobile ICBMs be revisited — at least with respect to those equipped with multiple warheads (MIRVedsingle-warheaded Soviet mobile missiles than there is to accept a START treaty that would grant them a de facto advantage in both MIRVed and un-MIRVed mobile systems. missiles). At least one senior Soviet spokesman, General V. Chervov, has indicated that this proposal would meet with a favorable reception from Moscow. There is no more reason, however, for the United States to accede to a unilateral deployment of highly capable, (nominally)

START Ratification May Hang in the Balance

As Secretary Baker negotiates on these points, he would be well advised to appreciate just how much rides on the outcome. He is clearly disposed to be generous; Gorbachev’s latest, carefully scripted feat of derring-do — this time his reincarnation as a liberal democrat during the communist party plenum — will doubtless be seen by many in the Bush Administration as warranting a further show of appreciation and support, read U.S. concessions. What is more, if Moscow tries to take advantage of the Administration’s telegraphed concern that Gorbachev’s position may still be too tenuous to permit significant Soviet concessions by stipulating that if "progress" is to be made it will have to come from American movement, the U.S. negotiating position on the aforementioned and other key points could be seriously weakened.

Should this happen, President Bush may find himself in that unhappy position well known to several of his predecessors — with a signed, but egregiously deficient and unratifiable treaty.

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