Institute News

Repost: “Assertive arms control– strategic defense”

By July 4, 2019 No Comments

The excerpt below is from an article written by Dr.Peter Pry and James Woolsey for RealClear Defense, which originally appeared on May 30, 2019. The original article in its entirety can be read here.


Historically, U.S. modernization of its triad of strategic offensive forces — intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), bombers and ballistic missile submarines — has advanced hand-in-hand with arms control treaties.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and then the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT I and SALT II) allegedly enshrined the principle of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) for the United States and USSR, while capping numbers of permitted strategic forces, even while allowing modernization. During the 1980s through today, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START and New START), and Presidential Nuclear Initiative (PNI) made deep reductions in strategic and tactical nuclear weapons (mostly on the U.S. side) while permitting modernization (almost entirely on the Russian side). There are political and strategic reasons for the United States linking modernization of the nuclear triad with arms control.

Politically, nuclear weapons are deeply unpopular with many, if not most Americans. After all, weapons of mass destruction are antithetical to a constitutional republic that derives its legitimacy from, and values most highly, the people — whose existence is threatened by nuclear weapons. Arms control provides “political cover” for those supporting nuclear forces modernization by signaling to the people that their political leaders are making a good faith effort to limit nuclear arms and to calm international hostilities through negotiation. Winston Churchill’s admonition, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war” is an oft quoted justification for arms control.

Strategically, arms control is deeply embedded in U.S. strategic culture. The State Department, Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community and academia mostly subscribe to the view that arms control really does constrain the nuclear threat — by limiting forces, by building confidence through verification and by lessening suspicion and hostility (“convergence”) through negotiations and the arms control process. In U.S. strategic culture there is a whole “science” of arms control with its own lexicon and theories about “strategic stability” developed over decades in entire libraries of books and journals, and believed by many adherents with something like religious fervor (see the Arms Control Association).

The notion of negotiating differences and compromise is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian culture, going further back than Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his Medieval ruminations over “Just War” doctrine. Unfortunately, the principles of negotiation, compromise, domestic and international legality and “win-win” outcomes are alien to totalitarian and authoritarian states. These are led by ruthless elites who have often murdered their way to the top, believe that “power comes from the barrel of a gun” (to quote Mao), and that the lives of men and nations is a “zero-sum” game of victors and defeated, of the living and dead. Before the 1960s, when we started calling it “arms control,” it was called the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact (outlawing war), and the Washington and London Naval Treaties — all of which were exploited by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in their nearly successful bid to win World War II.


R. James Woolsey was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Peter Vincent Pry served as chief of staff of the congressional EMP Commission and in the CIA

Read the original article in its entirety here.

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