Warnke's War


PRESIDENT CARTER'S nomination of Paul C. Warnke as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and chief American negotiator at the SALT II talks has become the focal point in the latest of what seems an interminable series of "Great Debates" about American strategic arms policy. Whether or not this latest harangue will be more productive of important policy revision than its predecessors, the Warnke nomination and the ensuing discussion of his views on arms control have at least raised refreshing questions about the fundamental elements of America's nuclear defense policy.

The nomination comes in the middle of a concerted effort by an assortment of Pentagon admirers to assert the cause of higher defense spending at the outset of the Carter Administration. The opening of the current push to expand America's nuclear arsenal was signaled during Ronald Reagan's campaign against former President Ford in the Republican primaries last spring. From New Hampshire to Texas, Reagan charged that the Soviet Union had opened up a dangerous numerical lead in strategic weaponry, a lead that could only be erased by substantial increases in American defense spending. After gaining his party's nomination, Ford carried the attack to the Democrats, attempting to paint Carter as dangerously "soft" on defense. Following the Ford defeat, the crusade for higher defense spending intensified in an effort to force favorable decisions from the new President on a multitude of major weapons projects--including the B-1 bomber, the strategic cruise missile and the M-X, a new, land-mobile ICBM.

Pentagon supporters in the Congress wasted little time in launching a determined and vehement assault on the Warnke nomination, led by Senate hawks like Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) and Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) of the Armed Services Committee. Although the Pentagon camp has often distorted Warnke's views (as in the anonymous memorandum circulated earlier this month in the Senate), there are two clear positions at the heart of the disagreement. First, Warnke has questioned the utility of numerical military superiority in the nuclear age. While conceding that deterrence requires a perceivable ability to retaliate effectively in response to an enemy first strike, Warnke has maintained that additional quantitative increases in missile deployment are of little military value. Thus, Soviet increases in weapons deployment need not cause concern if the essential American ability to retaliate remains. Moreover, Warnke has argued that strategic nuclear forces have no more political or diplomatic value than we concede them in our public announcements.

SECOND, WARNKE HAS advocated unilateral restraint in the development of new weapons that could destabilize the current equilibrium between the two superpowers. This position seems the product of an apparent dissatisfaction with the value of existing arms control agreements, which in Warnke's opinion became mere springboards for further defense spending. Weapons built as "bargaining chips" for arms control negotiations have a way of surviving, and they seem to encourage reciprocal Soviet developments rather than the victory of reason at the conference table. Warnke makes a strong case for unilateral restraint, arguing that our security may often be increased by not building new weapons if our developments are likely to be mirrored in the Soviet Union.

These positions have long been held in academic arms control circles, but they have never had an able, influential advocate in government. It is not surprising, then, taht Pentagon lobbies have spared little effort in seeking Warnke's defeat. But even if Warnke survives the confirmation process in the Senate, he will face obstacles on two fronts upon assuming office.


The first and most immediate problem will be the achievement of worthwhile settlement at the SALT II negotiations. While President carter has expressed strong support for both Warnke and armament reductions, there will be equally strong opposition from the Pentagon and its true-believers in the Congress to any imaginable SALT II agreement. In addition, Warnke may have reason to fear the sort of backdoor diplomacy practiced by Nixon and Kissinger in the SALT I negotiations. Such an approach would leave his own position in the talks essentially meaningless.

Despite domestic opposition, recent indications of Soviet willingness to negotiate significant armament restrictions offer an important opportunity for Warnke when the talks begin again next month in Moscow, but much will depend on administration support. Recent actions by Carter and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown offer little reason for hope. Although Carter's amendments to the Ford defense budget promise certain reductions, they are achieved primarily by stretching out purchases of new weapons systems like the B-1 and the M-X rather than aiming for permanent reductions. If these "reductions" are meant as signals to the Soviet Union of American restraint, they are feeble ones, hardly the sort of unilateral initiative envisioned in Warnke's earlier statements.

In addition, Brown's decision to proceed with development of the controversial air-launched cruise missile, a weapon that has been a major cause of the standing impasse at the SALT talks, is likely to make agreement even more difficult. The action is reminiscent, in kind if not in degree, of the American decision to deploy MIRVed warheads during the SALT I negotiations. That decision effectively dashed hopes of significant MIRV restraints in 1972. Finally, additional restraint on strategic development will be necessary even after the establishment of SALT II ceilings on missile deployment, if those ceilings are not to become merely the floor for the next escalation of the arms race. As Warnke wrote in 1975, "When the floor meets the ceiling, little living room remains."

ASIDE FROM Warnke's responsibilities at the SALT talks, he will face obstacles on a second front in his duties as Director of ACDA. The bureau was created in the halcyon days of arms control, in the era of the Test Ban Treaty. It was a conceptual offspring of the "National Peace Agency" envisioned by disarmamentminded scientists after Hiroshima. The agency--which physicist Ralph Lapp has termed "a bashful chrysalis reluctant to try its wings"--has little true policy-making authority, and while it is undoubtedly more inclined toward weapons-control than other bureaucratic divisions, it has hardly been independent or boldly innovative. Understaffed, underfunded and overshadowed by the authority of its giant older siblings, the Pentagon and the State Department, the ACDA has served more as America's symbolic token to the goal of a demilitarized world than an agency of real authority or influence.

The one opportunity the agency has had to make its voice heard has been the preparation of "arms control impact statements." Legislation passed two years ago requires an assessment of a weapon's impact on arms control before it is tested. But the Ford Administration made a mockery of the entire process. The statements' discussion of the impact of the cruise missile ran just two sentences; the B-1 bomber was given a short paragraph explaining that the number of bombers planned for procurement fit neatly under the ceilings negotiated at Vladivostok. The ACDA, under Warnke's predecessor Fred Ikle, politely acquiesced in the Pentagon's legalistic abortion of Congressional intent.

If Warnke is true to his belief in unilateral restraint, the arms control impact process could be a useful device with which to assert his agency's mandate against the burgeoning demands of the Pentagon. But again, the success of his efforts will depend largely on administration support, both in the public tone it sets for arms control and in its long term plans for weapons procurement. Carter's recent advocacy of arms control will come to naught if it is not followed by decisive action in the bureaucratic battles that are sure to follow in the months and years ahead.

Warnke has written that the Soviet Union has only one "super-power model" to follow in its defense policies, and he has urged that it is time for the United States to start presenting a wortheir model for the future: "The steps we can take in trying to start a process of reciprocal restraint are not drastic. They would create no risk to our national security. We can be the first off the treadmill. That's the only victory the arms race has to offer." Jimmy Carter has chosen for himself an able advocate and adviser in Paul Warnke. It is a pity that so much of the authority necessary to shape a wortheir model for a safer world are in the hands of others.