What SALT II Doesn't Do


Perspectives WHAT SALT II DOESN'T DO BY CONSTANTINE C. MENGES Senator George S McGovern (D -S Dak) is opposed to the salt n treaty because he feels it allows the U S and the Soviet Union to...

...Perspectives WHAT SALT II DOESN'T DO BY CONSTANTINE C. MENGES Senator George S McGovern (D -S Dak) is opposed to the salt n treaty because he feels it allows the U S and the Soviet Union to continue expanding their nuclear arsenals Senator Henry M Jackson (D -Wash ) is opposed because he believes the agreement benefits the other side and is unvenfiable Both men are right salt n neither reduces nor adequately controls the deadliest weapons on this planet, and under present circumstances it gives the edge to the Soviet Union The treaty does establish an equal ceiling of 2,250 missiles and bombers, to comply, the USSR will have to dismantle 250 missiles by 1981 But 1,320 missiles and bombers would be allowed to carry varying numbers of warheads, enabling each nation to deploy over 13,200 bombs This means the Soviets could add some 5,000 bombs to their strategic forces, and no one doubts that they would The United States could also add over 3,000 warheads without violating the treaty However, as a result of delays in building Trident missile submarines, there will be a net decrease in our arsenal over the next few years It is the potential increase in warheads that disturbs critics on both ends of the political spectrum Clearly, people like McGovern are right m arguing that the threat to life is not diminished if, despite the scrapping of 250 missiles, thousands of extra hydrogen bombs are loaded onto the remaining missiles and bombers At the same time, people like Jackson, who are worried about the continuing Soviet military build-up in all areas, have genuine cause for concern as well To begin with, it is questionable whether the U S can know how many of the newer, smaller, more accurate hydrogen bombs would actually be placed inside the Soviet missiles capable of carrying 30-40 warheads (In fact, President Carter inadvertently revealed how serious a threat we face if Russia cheats by telling the Congress, "For one Soviet missile alone—the SS 18—the salt n limits will mean that 6,000 fewer Soviet nuclear warheads can be aimed at this country ") Yet even assuming Moscow sticks to the salt n limit of 10 bombs per land-based missile, there is valid reason for questioning whether U S forces would survive a Soviet first-strike The Carter Administration calculates that by 1981 more than 95 per cent of our land-based missiles and bombers could be eliminated by about 3,000 Soviet hydrogen bombs Under salt n, therefore, the USSR would still have at least 5,400 warheads on land-based missiles and 3,800 on submarines after the strike Our principal deterrents against a Soviet surprise attack are 656 submarine-based missiles, each of which would be permitted by salt to have up to 14 hydrogen bombs But half of the 41 aging missile submarines are nearing the end of their ability to withstand high water pressure, and current plans call for them to be scrapped during the next few years This, plus the fact that a series of budget cutbacks have delayed the new Trident submarines, will leave Constantine C. Menges a former research associate of the Hudson Institute and the Rand Corporation, frequently writes on arms control matters American ocean-based missiles below present levels until 1989 In other words, during the dangerous years of the early 1980s, the United States could actually have as few as 20 subs carrying 320 instead of 656 missiles Because one third of the fleet is usually in port for repairs and maintenance, virtually our entire second-strike force would be carried by 12 or 13 vessels Moscow might well be tempted to consider a Pearl Harbor-like attack if it could count on sinking or neutralizing our nuclear armada That is far from impossible Presidential orders to the submarines travel via communications satellites, the USSR has already conducted many successful tests of antisatellite weapons There are, moreover, above 225 Soviet hunter-killer subs assigned the task of stalking our ocean force Most worrisome of all, Moscow may have duplicated our ingenious program that tracks their submarines Undersea microphones record the unique "sound print" made by the propellers, broadcast this to satellites, which in turn feed the information to high-speed computers The technology has been in the public domain for years, so it is only logical to assume that Russia has matched us Knowing where our "invulnerable" subs are, the Soviets could dispatch 10, 20 or more of their remaining 5,400 land-based bombs to destroy them An extra 50-100 missiles would finish off the 50-odd important military targets outside the US, including airbases, supply depots, aircraft carriers, etc Thus an American president would be left with some hundreds of hydrogen bombs on tens of missiles, plus 50 bombers, for retaliation But it is highly unlikely that the planes could penetrate the thousands of Soviet air defense missiles and jet fighters Of course, none of this is to say that Moscow will necessarily attack if it perceives the U S as vulnerable Nonetheless, the situation would have dangerous repercussions, for it would increase the chances of Soviet political aggression in such places as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Latin America And the strategic imbalance obviously would be even greater if the Soviet Union cheated by hiding 30-40 warheads inside the huge SS-18 mentioned by President Carter Significantly, Central Intelligence Director Admiral Stansfield Turner is not willing to assure the Congress that the U S will be able to verify the contents of the Soviet missiles There is a short-term and a medium-term response to the looming danger For the short-term, the Umted States should maintain its submarine-based missile force at present levels, which are within SALT II limits To accomplish this will require speeding up the Trident program as well as temporary structural work on our existing subs to prolong their seaworthiness during the early 1980s In addition, the U S should embark on an effective mobile missile program President Carter's decision to begin work on the MX was a large but inadequate step in the right direction 200 missiles would each carry 10 warheads and be moved on rails among 40 launching stations, thereby confronting the Soviets with adding 200 x 40, or 8,000 new targets Unfortunately, even under salt n ceilings Russia could have enough hydrogen bombs to eliminate the MX, and in any event, the system would not be deployed until 1987 at the earliest A better, more immediately effective mobile land ICBM would use trucks, river barges or other launching platforms that were kept moving constantly in unpredictable patterns This would make it impossible for Soviet strategic planners to feel confident about their ability to eliminate enough missiles in a first strike—no matter how many warheads they were prepared to use First, though, the protocol to the salt n agreement that prevents either side from testing or deploying mobile land missiles until January 1982 would have to be altered Otherwise, the U S would be prevented from protecting its land-based missile force at the time of greatest danger—the years 1982-1986 The medium-term response involves a sustained effort to develop a workable antiballistic missile (ABM) system by 1985 salt i (and n) permits this research and development work, it also allows both nations to operate one ABM site The Soviets have maintained theirs, learned from it and invested heavily in further development By contrast, United States dismantled its site and let the technology languish The basic reason for our lag is that American scientists have been dubious about the feasibility of any ABM system Many feel this way because they recall failures in this area in the 1960s and the early 1970s Others are skeptical because they define a "successful" system as one that stops 90 per cent, rather than 60-70 per cent, of incommg bombs Yet it is important to recall that the scientists of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan concluded—happily for the Allies—that radar and the atomic bomb were unworkable because they had been unable to develop them We may be making the same mistake After his retirement as head of Air Force intelligence in 1976, General Thomas Keegan spoke publicly about evidence of an enormous Soviet ABM program based on an entirely new approach Many scientists proclaimed the Russian advance "impossible " They were to be shocked in late 1977 when a Soviet scientific journal published an article about a device that operated on those impossible technical principles After much delay, an American laboratory duplicated the Soviet device—and it worked Since then there has been growing interest in the Soviet ABM program and a decline in American skepticism The United States should now marshal its vast technological resources and start moving ahead on the ABM Eleven years of salt negotiations have only succeeded in establishing "limits" that have permitted the Soviet military build-up to increase at a rate similar to Hitler's in the late 1930s Our futile efforts to convince Moscow to accept real arms reduction should have taught us one lesson The Soviet Union slows down only when the U S lead becomes so great that it seems impossible to catch up This is what happened in the 1950s with bombers—once the U S was far ahead, Russia stopped competing and moved on to take the lead in missiles for a while When the U S overtook it in missiles, the USSR slowed down the building of its first generation and waited until it had mastered the new military technology to expand By repeating this scenario with the ABM, America would not merely be better able to protect its citizens with a more humane weapon, but would also be in a position to press for genuine reductions in the arsenals If we are the first to acquire a workable ABM, we could go to the salt m bargaining table and demand sharp cuts in warheads?on both sides—in return for our not deploying the defensive system Moscow might consider real reductions a better way of assuring its security than competing with a United States working at the technological frontier Then we could also press for more stringent verification procedures to make cheating harder—an issue that would take on added importance, because the fewer the remaining forces the greater the impact of hidden warheads Indeed, we might finally secure an arrangement whereby joint US-Soviet teams would choose missiles at random and physically count how many hydrogen bombs they earned With that kind of carefully worked out inspection system, both sides could agree to lower the total number of deployed warheads—perhaps to three on each of the 1,320 missiles A corrollary step would be the verified destruction —not the moth balling—of all other intercontinental missiles After that, permitted warheads on the 1,320 strategic delivery vehicles might drop to one apiece Seen from this perspective, should salt n be ratified'' Yes, if the U S will simultaneously resolve to take the military and political steps needed to prevent further Soviet gains, or if Moscow accepts changes that will reduce the arsenals and permit more effective verification Otherwise, no The West is better off with a new round of negotiations than with an agreement that merely creates the illusion ot arms control and detente...

Vol. 62 • July 1979 • No. 15

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