“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022
Arms Control and the 1980 Election
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The Arms Control Association believes that controlling the worldwide competition in armaments, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and planning for a more stable world, free from the threat of nuclear annihilation, are goals that should take first priority for the United States and its leaders. The voters who go to the polls in the primaries and the general election have the right to know in detail the candidates’ position on these issues. Accordingly, this year, as we did in 1976, we asked the leading candidates for president—Governor Ronald Reagan, Republican, and President Jimmy Carter, Democrat—for their views on a number of critical questions involving arms control, disarmament, and national security. Their answers, provided by their campaign committees, are reproduced in full in this issue of Arms Control Today.

ACA: Are you in favor of the prompt ratification of the SALT II Treaty and Protocol as reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? If not now, when, if ever, should they be ratified in this form? If you find problems in the Treaty and Protocol as reported, what specific changes do you consider essential before they should be ratified? How long do you believe ratification can be delayed to attain such changes?

Carter: In his June 18, 1979, address to the Congress President Carter stressed the importance of SALT II and the need for its ratification. He stated: “The SALT II Treaty must be judged on its own merits, and on its own merits it is a substantial gain for national security for us and the people whom we represent, and it is a gain for international stability.”

SALT II is much more comprehensive and better suited to America’s future strategic needs than SALT I. SALT II goes well beyond SALT I in almost all of its provisions. For example, the Treaty establishes a new precedent by setting equal ceilings on all major intercontinental strategic delivery systems, as well as important subcategories of MIRVed missiles. This requirement reflects a key demand expressed by the Senate when SALT I was negotiated. Furthermore, this negotiated principle of equality will require an actual reduction in the Soviet Union’s intercontinental forces. They will have to eliminate more than 250 systems.

The Treaty also imposes an effective upper limit on the number of warheads that can be placed on each MIRVed ICBM. This is critically important because it simplifies our future strategic planning and adds more certainty to our military projections.

SALT II also limits each side to developing and deploying one completely new ICBM before 1985. This provision will inhibit the qualitative expansion of the arms race, while still permitting us to develop an entirely new ICBM and a more secure basing mode for our ICBM force such as the mobile MX.

The Treaty unambiguously establishes that verification is a necessary component of arms control agreements in general, and SALT II specifically. It establishes that national technical means of verification, such as satellite photography, is the means for insuring compliance. It prohibits both interference with these means of verification and deliberate concealment that could impede the collection of necessary information. The agreement mandates that both sides follow special procedures to make verification easier.

These important steps significantly reduce the uncertainty about the threat each country faces. One of the major triggers of increased arms competition is uncertainty about what might exist. The SALT II Treaty takes a critical step toward reducing that uncertainty.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter asked that the Senate delay consideration of the SALT II Treaty so that the Congress and the executive branch could devote primary attention to the legislative and other matters required to respond to this crisis. Although the President has postponed consideration of the Treaty, he continues to believe that it is a sound treaty and should not be altered.

In a March 7, 1980 Message to Congress, the President stated: “I intend to ask the Senate to take up this treaty after these more urgent matters have been dealt with. As I said to you in my State of the Union Address, ‘especially now in a time of great tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of (such) treaties will be in the best interest of both countries and will help to preserve world peace.”

Reagan: I believe the SALT II Treaty should be withdrawn, and I especially believe that the U.S. should not abide by its terms prior to ratification. To abide by the terms of the proposed agreement would violate Article XXXIII of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act of 1961.

SALT II is not Strategic Arms Limitation; it is Strategic Arms Build-up, with the Soviet Union authorized to add a minimum of 3,000 nuclear warheads to their arsenal, and the U.S. embarking on a$35 billion catch-up program which will not be complete until 1990, if then, and there will be ten very dangerous years in between.

ACA: In the absence of SALT II, what should the U.S. do this year, and urge on the Soviets, with respect to continued compliance with the Interim Agreement on Offensive Weapons, which lapsed in 1977, and the signed but unratified SALT II Treaty and Protocol?

Carter: President Carter believes that SALT II is the most effective means for pursuing a constructive strategic relationship with the Soviet Union. However, until the Senate ratifies the Treaty, the President has pledged that the U.S. will not take actions that would undermine the spirit and purpose of the SALT II Treaty. He has also pledged that the U.S. will continue to abide informally by the terms of the SALT I Interim Agreement so long as the Soviets do likewise. In the absence of a new Treaty, the United States will continue to meet regularly with the Soviets in the SALT Standing Consultative Commission to discuss implementation of the objectives and provisions of the SALT I ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement as well as the September 30, 1971 Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Risk of Outbreak of Nuclear War.

Reagan: (No response)

ACA: As president in 1981, would you continue the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks? If so, what specific measures or positions would you propose the U.S. take? If not, what alternatives to SALT do you recommend?

Carter: The SALT II agreement is a major step forward in strategic arms control. But it is only one step. In the future, upon ratification of SALT II, President Carter will begin negotiation with the Soviets in SALT Ill on a complex agenda of arms control issues. These issues include significant reductions in strategic weapons, further qualitative limitations, limitations on long-range theater nuclear systems, and still further improvements in our ability to verify arms control agreements. At every step of the way the Administration will work closely with our NATO allies to insure that U.S. efforts in SALT Ill will advance their security as well as our own.

Reagan: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan indicates that the Soviet Union does not share American expectations for a future in which the role of military power is diminished; we must therefore be prepared to take arms procurement measures best suited to U.S. national security interests.

Should subsequent behavior by the Soviet Union indicate that a reversal of current Soviet policy is credible, then the U.S. should be prepared to discuss an arms limitation agreement which legitimately reduces nuclear weapons on both sides to the point where neither country represents a threat to the other.

ACA: Should the U.S. attain sufficient numbers of MX or other high-accuracy missiles to provide a presumptive counter-silo capability? Do you favor the deployment of the new U.S. high-accuracy MX missile in the mobile ‘racetrack’ basing scheme? If you do not favor the ‘racetrack’ mode for MX, what other alternative(s) to the anticipated vulnerability of fixed-site, land-based missiles do you consider appropriate? [Options proposed include: elimination or reduction of fixed-site, land-based missiles, adoption of a ‘launch-on-warning’ doctrine, deployment of preferential or ‘point defense’ ABM systems around missile fields, mobile deployment of missiles in vertifical shelters (the ‘shell game’), and development of a new shallow, underwater mobile (SUM) deployment vehicle.

Carter: As a result of increasing accuracy of strategic systems, fixed land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) located in silos such as our Minuteman, are becoming vulnerable to attack. Clearly, we would prefer a world in which the silo-based ICBMs of both sides are invulnerable to a first strike. However, we cannot permit a situation in which the Soviets have a counterforce capability against silo-based ICBMs and we have no comparable capability. Mobile ICBMs provide the best alternative for reducing the vulnerability of land-based ICBMs. In light of this situation, President Carter has decided to proceed with full-scale development and deployment of the land-based mobile MX. He made this decision to assure our country a secure strategic deterrent now and in the future.

Reagan: The growth in Soviet strategic nuclear power threatens the ability of U.S. land-based nuclear forces to survive a Soviet first strike because all American ICBMs are now located in concrete silos making it possible for the Soviets to target these forces in advance. These developments make it an urgent matter that the United States take steps to improve the survivability of our land-based ICBMs. The best approach is to make the next generation of ICBMs (i.e. the MX missile) mobile so that it cannot be readily pre-targeted. There are however, many alternative approaches to mobility other than the proposal advanced by the administration that could be more rapidly and cheaply procured. We should seek a survivable basing mode for the next generation of ICBMs that will be readily deployable at an early date.

The race-track deployment proposed by the Carter Administration is enormously expensive and complicated, and will require years to build. This proposed mode of deploying the MX should be scrapped, because it is unworkable.

ACA: In view of recent developments, how can NATO best pursue its December 1979 decision both to deploy 464 new long-range theater nuclear cruise missiles and 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles in Western Europe and to negotiate mutual limits on such weapons with the Soviet Union? As president in 1981, would you seek to alter or follow-up on this decision and why?

Carter: The Administration believes that SALT II relies upon effective deterrence. To achieve effective deterrence NATO must upgrade its capacity to stabilize a conflict in Western Europe and to control nuclear escalation effectively. Vice President Mondale said: “SALT II is the central element in the alliance’s policy of pursuing both defense and detente. SALT II provides a framework for the United States to pursue strategic programs to strengthen our security while also constraining the arms race. In the same way, SALT provides both a foundation for the alliance to build a consensus to proceed with essential NATO theater nuclear force modernization, and it also furthers arms control initiatives to control the Soviet threat to Europe.”

Reagan: I favor development and deployment of the neutron warhead for U.S. theater nuclear forces including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, artillery, and bombs. The neutron warhead is the most effective technological development available to meet the growth in Soviet armored strength (more than 100,000 troops have been added to Soviet East European deployments since the late 1960s) without risking a major increase in civil destruction. By greatly limiting the local damage from an attack on enemy troops, the warhead would help preserve the homeland of Western Europeans from the devastation of war.

The special characteristics of the neutron warhead would increase deterrence in Europe by improving the credibility of an effective NATO counter to Soviet military power. Such an increase in the credibility of deterrence would diminish the prospect that war would ever break out in Europe.

ACA: What steps would you take as president to deal with the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries and terrorist groups? Should the U.S. supply fissionable material, sensitive nuclear power technologies, or conventional weapons to non-nuclear weapon states and, if so, why and under what conditions?

Carter: In his inaugural address, President Carter pledged ‘perseverance and wisdom in our efforts to limit the world’s armaments to those necessary for each nation’s own domestic safety.” The Carter Administration believes that limiting the proliferation of nuclear material is an urgent priority. While the President has taken many initiatives on his own, the cooperation of other suppliers of nuclear technology and materials is essential.

In keeping with his non-proliferation efforts, President Carter has initiated a comprehensive program aimed at insuring that the continued peaceful use of nuclear energy does not contribute to the spread of nuclear explosive capabilities. To this end, the Administration began the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. INFCE is seeking to promote understanding and cooperation among nuclear consumers and suppliers on approaches to minimize the risks of diversion of fissionable materials to nuclear weapons at various stages in the nuclear fuel cycle.

In 1978, Congress enacted and President Carter signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act which established tighter control on U.S. support for International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards against the diversion of fissionable material to weapons use, the Non-Proliferation Act makes acceptance of such safeguards on all peaceful nuclear activities a condition of supply for non-nuclear weapon states desiring U.S. nuclear assistance on nuclear exports.

Reagan: (No response)

ACA: Do you support a comprehensive test ban treaty? If so, would you favor a short- or long-term agreement? Should low-yield nuclear tests be allowed to continue under such a treaty?

Carter: A comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty continues to be one of President Carter’s most important objectives in the arms control field as we seek to impose further qualitative constraints on the nuclear arms competition between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Administration has been involved in trilateral CTB negotiations involving the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union since October 1977. In the past two years, the three delegations have agreed that the treaty, which will prohibit all nuclear weapons test explosions, will have a fixed duration and will enter into force when a specified number of states have ratified it. The delegations have also reached agreement that a protocol, which will be an integral part of the treaty, will establish a moratorium on all nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. This moratorium will remain in force for the same duration as the treaty unless, in the course of discussions carried out after entry into force of the treaty and protocol, an agreed way can be found to preclude the acquisition of military benefits from nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes.

By demonstrating the willingness of the nuclear powers to accept restraints on their own nuclear capabilities and to abide by their own regulations, the CTB would put the United States in a more favorable position to pursue other key elements of its non-proliferation strategy.

Reagan: (No response)

ACA: As president, would you favor resuming discussions with the Soviet Union to restrict or ban the development, testing, or deployment of anti-satellite weapons? Under what circumstances would you favor a major U.S. program to develop these weapons?

Carter: President Carter has taken several steps to prevent an arms race in space and to minimize the threat to our own and our allies’ freedom to operate in space.

The United States and the Soviet Union have met for an initial discussion of anti-satellite matters. Two subsequent rounds of ASAT talks have been held. Although progress was made in these discussions, important issues still remain to be solved. A Joint U.S-Soviet Communiqué was issued at the last ASAT talk which stated that both sides “agreed to continue actively searching for mutually acceptable agreement in the continuing negotiations on antisatellite systems.”

The Soviets have conducted a series of tests with antisatellite systems. This limited Soviet ASAT capability represents an asymmetry that the President will not allow to go undecided. President Carter would prefer to eliminate the asymmetry through negotiation; however, in the absence of an effective ASAT agreement, the United States will continue working to improve the survivability of its satellites, and to develop an ASAT capability of its own.

Reagan: (No response)

ACA: What new arms control and reduction initiatives would you propose as president in 1981?

Carter: In the past three years, President Carter has laid the foundation for many new arms control and reduction initiatives.

In addition to seeking ratification of SALT II and negotiating a more comprehensive SALT III agreement the President will continue:
− negotiations on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. A CTB would put the Administration in a more favorable position to pursue other key elements of its non-proliferation strategy, such as gaining wider adherence to the non-proliferation treaty and persuading other nations not to develop nuclear weapons;
− to encourage nations to accede to the Non-proliferation Treaty;
− to seek greater constraints in the proliferation of fissionable material;
− negotiations to limit anti-satellite weapons;
− investigate the issues surrounding the export of technologies with military as well as commercial applications. The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency has taken an increasingly active role in advising on the implication of technology transfer;
− to reduce conventional arms transfer by exercising qualitative and quantitative restraint in U.S. arms transfer. While the U.S. will take the first step toward conventional arms restraint, large reductions in the worldwide traffic in arms will require multilateral cooperation. The bilateral Conventional Arms Transfer talks with the Soviet Union are central to this effort, and will continue to remain crucial in the coming years;
− the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions negotiations between member states of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact;
− to seek curtailment in European theater nuclear forces. In 1979 the NATO Special Group was formed to give special consideration to the role that nuclear forces can play in contributing to a more stable military relationship between East and West;
− to seek multilateral initiatives to limit arms through the 40-member Committee on Disarmament, an autonomous body linked to the UN through the personal representative of the UN Secretary General;
− to negotiate a ban on chemical weapons. In recent meetings, both the United States and the Soviet Union have outlined objectives for a convention to limit chemical weapons;
− to negotiate a Radiological Weapons treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In July 1979, the two governments successfully concluded the bilateral talks on radiological weapons and introduced a proposal incorporating the major elements of an RW treaty; talks to reduce United States and Soviet Union arms competition in the Indian Ocean.
President Carter considers prudent, equitable, and verifiable arms control agreements the preferred alternative to unrestrained arms competition. The effort to control the competition in weapons will require patience, wisdom, sound judgments and strength of purpose. President Carter believes these efforts are essential to achieve goals that are vital to the U.S. and to all mankind.

Reagan: (No response)