SALT II: More Than a Possibility--A Necessity

Following a recent trip to the Soviet Union for discussions on nuclear arms control and reduction, I have talked with many groups about these issues. The current crises in Iran and Afghanistan, however, have challenged any easy optimism regarding U.S.-USSR agreements and have raised many questions. Following are some of those that I have been most frequently asked.

Why did the Soviets invade Afghanistan?

Anyone who gives a simple answer is probably wrong, and at this stage even the experts are still sharing speculations. There are, however, two major parts to the answer: one having to do with why they invaded now, and the second, with what they might be expected to gain and lose in such an invasion. Answering the first part is easier. The Soviets, we know, had pretty much given up on detente and, therefore, felt they had little to lose in terms of their relations with the United States. In conversations I had with a high ranking official of the Soviet Embassy just before Christmas, and therefore before the Soviet invasion, he indicated that his government was dismayed by the Senate's dealings with the SALT II treaty and had written off its successful ratification. He further indicated the real dismay that his government had at the U.S. insistence on placing a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe in the face of what he claimed to be the generous offer of President Brezhnev in October to enter negotiations on the European missile issue. He also noted the decision already made on the part of the U.S. administration to increase the arms budget 5 per cent above inflation and the agreement to go ahead with further plans for the building and deployment of the new MX missile system. But, if this explains the Soviet willingness to give up on detente, their move into Afghanistan still seems more complex. In one sense, it follows directly from their long-term geopolitical policies in the region. As any Soviet spokesperson will rapidly make clear to an inquirer, they look with anxiety to their southern borders, stretching from Turkey to a now unstable Iran to a potentially unstable Afghanistan (though, prior to the invasion, it already had a Marxist government which came to power through a coup d'etat in 1978) and to an openly hostile China. Some experts, therefore, clearly trace this invasion to Soviet concerns for their southeastern borders and the increasing belligerence with their Chinese neighbors. While Soviet officials proclaim their belief that in the long run Afghanistan must be non-aligned and neutral, they do not give a convincing timetable on their intended withdrawal of troops, and, indeed, they repeatedly indicate that it will be slowed down by any U.S. escalation of military activity in the region. The same high ranking Soviet Embassy official, in a more recent discussion, expressed strong fears that the U.S. was becoming involved with China to the detriment of the Soviet Union. He pointed back to Vice President Mondale's visit to Peking in September and the recent visit of the U.S. Defense Secretary. From the Soviet perspective, there is an enormously strong fear of a U.S.-Chinese alliance which has become a fundamental element of Soviet policy.


What does the Soviet invasion mean for Middle-Eastern peace and U.S. access to oil?

There is little doubt that the Soviets are fearful of instabilities on their southern boundaries, and in the case of Afghanistan, they showed their willingness to act with direct military intervention. One surmises that they are also concerned about the instabilities created by the Islamic revolution in Iran. But is is also clear that, certainly in recent years, they have not considered Iran part of the Soviet orbit and were willing to live in peaceful relations (including fairly extensive trade) with the repressive government of the Shah. This was much to the dismay of the Iranian Communist Party--the Tudeh--which often complained bitterly. The strong claims made so far by U.S. leaders that the Soviets were heading for the Persian Gulf and control of the oil fields, or at least the oil shipping routes, are broad speculation. To date, the Soviets are net oil exporters rather than importers, and while it is quite clear that they have a direct interest in the conduct of affairs in the Middle East, they do not have a record of direct military intervention there. At the moment, their penetration of the region is quite weak, with friendly governments only in South Yemen and Ethiopia. They have been invited out of Somalia and Egypt, from which they withdrew their military advisers, and they have lost significant influence in both Syria and Iraq which previously had been seen as friends, if not actual allies. The United States, by contrast, is now making strong claims to creating something like a protectorate in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea for the oil producing countries. I have been struck, however, by the lack of enthusiasm shown by the Saudis and other oil producing states for coming under American protection. It would seem that at this point it is in the best interests of both the United States and the Soviet Union to enter mutual agreements for fair and just access for all parties to the oil supplies of the Middle East rather than setting up the type of confrontation we are now witnessing.


Is the United States' response to Soviet actions bringing us closer to or helping to prevent the out-break of war--nuclear war?

As reprehensible as the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan clearly is, it seems to me that the U.S. response has so rapidly escalated the sitation as to provide significant threat in itself. The rush to draw lines, to enter alliances, to seek bases and the start the shipment of significant new armaments to countries in the region, all add up to a dangerous and rapid drift to war. To easily seek military alliances with repressive regimes like that of Marshal Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, or the royal family in Saudi Arabia, seems to be creating just the same kinds of situations that brought crisis and resentment after the fall of the Shah of Iran. Indeed, as we look at the confrontation building up in the Middle East, with the rapid deployment of U.S. naval forces in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, we are witnessing just the kind of scenario that experts have long predicted would be the most probable path for beginning a nuclear war. This was recently reinforced by reports of a Defense Department study claiming that adequate defense in the region would require the use of tactical nuclear weapons. We know that U.S. naval forces are armed with short range nuclear weapons, and it is probable that ground forces deployed in the region would also have tactical nuclear weapons their disposal. If nuclear exchanges begin, it is difficult to see how the line can be drawn against moving to larger scale exchanges, ultimately ending with strategic weapons. In a region which has been so unstable in recent years, it seems the height of foolishness to race to new arms and to promises to provide sophisticated newweapons to countries with long standing enmities such as those which exist between Pakistan and India. In addition, the U.S. decision to play the "China card" by supplying militarily useable technologies to that country seems to bear out the Soviet estimate of U.S. intentions. I can only look with dismay at what seems to a U.S. Middle East policy based more on election year needs than on prudent judgment about how to avoid war and secure a stable and peaceful Middle East.

What should be the U.S. response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the potential threat to the Middle East?

The alternative policy to the one adopted by the current administration with its cold war visions and its hard line rhetoric would be to attempt to find means for negotiated settlements. Such an agreement would take advantage of the clear interest of the non-aligned countries to keep both super powers out of the region and would encourage efforts among the non-aligned nations in the U.N. to find the means to allow the super powers to draw back from confrontation. A U.S. policy aimed at peaceful settlement would attempt to find agreements reflecting the interests of both parties on access to Middle East oil and to shipping through the region. It would be a policy aimed at including the Soviets in the Middle East peace process rather than following our current course of freezing them out. The Middle East, after all, lies on the southern borders of the Soviet Union and it is surely a mistake to think that real peace can be made in the region without their direct involvement.

What really happened with SALT II, and why was it having such trouble getting ratified by the U.S. Senate?

SALT II was in deep trouble because the hawks in the Senate and the Administration had refused to accept the basic tenet of the treaty--equality in nuclear arms and security--and instead insisted on the maintenance of U.S. superiority. They, once again, claimed a new "missile gap," forcing the President, even during the SALT ratification procedures, to agree to a substantial budgetary increase for new weapons and to commit the government to the production and deployment of the MX missile system. The really frightening thing about the new stage in the nuclear arms race, and it is just this new stage that we are moving to with SALT seemingly dead, is that it will bring us fully into the era of counterforce weapons and first-strike strategies. The relative stability of reliance on deterrent weapons--those used only in the event that an enemy launched weapons first--will be lost, and a much less stable situation where one must attempt to "out-guess" a potential enemy, firing first in order to knock out enemy weapons before they can be used, will take its place. Not only will the cost of the new weapons systems be staggering, but no new security will be gained. Indeed, at this point, with 30,000 nuclear warheads held by the United States and 20,000 by the Soviet Union, each side has the ability to kill the other many times over. It would seem that the only parties who have anything to gain in the newly invigorated nuclear arms race are the arms manufacturers who have been, incidentally, significant lobbyists against the SALT treaty.

Is nuclear arms control and disarmament still possible?

Yes, but only if there is vigorous public action to take control of the arms race out of the hands of the hawks and return it to those who would conduct careful negotiations and ratify meaningful treaties. SALT was, actually, not a great treaty in that it allowed each side to increase the number of warheads in some categories and to build major new missile systems. But even now, I think it is possible to control the arms race and put a cap on it if a will to disarmament is created. An immediate moratorium by both the United Sates and the Soviet Union on the deployment and production of all new strategic weapons would provide just such a possibility. Such a moratorium is not farfetched, but represents a very realistic approach. It could rely on the means of detection and verification that each side already has and had already acknowledged as adequate for monitoring the SALT agreements. It would restrict the Soviets from adding new multiple warheads to their large SS-18 missile and the United States from embarking on the production and deployment of the MX missile system. An important irony of the nuclear arms race is that more weapons do not give greater security, but instead add to instability. Each side has moved beyond the number of missiles that a rational system of defense would require, and instead has built--one goaded on by the other--nuclear arsenals which, if ever used, would be incredibly destructive. The frightening thing about the present crises is the resultant tendency to escalate to nuclear warfare. Indeed, President Carter was absolutely wrong in drawing back from ratification of SALT II, for as political and military instabilities increase, agreements on nuclear weapons are ever more necessary. No longer is there a question of whether nuclear disarmament is possible; rather, I am certain that it is necessary.

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