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"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Arms Control and the 1984 Election
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Building a Safer World

Walter F. Mondale*

Public concern with the threat of nuclear war has grown markedly during the last several years. Half of America watched a gruesome television program showing a city in our heartland being destroyed by nuclear missiles— a depiction that actually understated the consequences of nuclear war. Hundreds of thousands read the book The Fate of the Earth and absorbed its main point that nuclear war is unique in human history because it may threaten the extinction of mankind. The term “nuclear winter” is a new and horrible addition to our vocabulary. The Catholic Church has raised serious questions about the morality of nuclear war. Millions have voted in convincing majorities for nuclear freeze proposals on ballots in many states and localities.

The troubled mood of Americans is driven by concerns with the general trends of the nuclear arms race—and the conduct of the Reagan Administration. People are concerned with the existence of some 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals. They are concerned that some of these weapons seem better designed to start wars than to deter them. They are concerned with loose talk in high places blithely suggesting that someone could win a nuclear war. They are concerned that the peaceful area of outer space is being transformed into a possible new battlefield. They are concerned that the number of nuclear armed states will continue growing. They are concerned at this fateful time over the collapse in nuclear arms negotiations.

These concerns are well founded. I believe we are falling far short of our responsibilities.

We must deal with these harsh realities. The leaders of the Soviet Union are no friends of freedom. They are cynical, ruthless, and dangerous. Their relentless military buildup—well beyond defensive needs—directly challenges our security and that of many other nations, including our friends and allies.

Thus the foundation of a safer world must be built upon the bedrock of our ability, together with that of our allies, to counter the Soviet Union’s military power. If we fail to maintain sufficient well-equipped, well-trained, and well-motivated forces, we court disaster. If we fail to maintain allied unity, we dissipate our strength. History has sadly proved that military weakness invites attack.

Recognition of the essential role of a strong nuclear and conventional defense is why I support a defense budget that is based on a coherent strategy and growing at a steady, sustainable rate.

While recognizing these realities, we must not be trapped by them. Military power is not an end in itself. But never in our history have our leaders given us less sense of purpose, less vision of the destiny our strength must serve. Instead there is growing anxiety at the prospect of an endless arms race and an inevitable conflict. Increasingly the question many people ask is not whether there will be a war, but when. We must reject the sense of fatalism that follows from this vacuum in leadership. Our world was shaped by human endeavor and we have the power to change it. There are positive arms control steps that we should take to reduce the threat of conflict and the menace of nuclear war.

Step 1. We should make certain that our nuclear forces support the objective of stability. Since the reason for nuclear arms is to deter attack, we should not field farces that invite it. That is why I support programs that pass this test, such as the Trident submarine, the Stealth bomber, cruise missiles, and improved command and control. These programs reduce the potential military gains an adversary might see in starting a nuclear war.

In contrast, the Administration’s proposal to place the new MX missile in vulnerable fixed silos fails this crucial test. This idea was also raised when I was the Vice President. I opposed it then as I oppose it now.

Our Minuteman force had become a problem because it could conceivably invite attack. It had been obvious for many years that increased missile accuracies, and even more important, MIRVed missiles would create such stability problems. That is why I originally opposed MIRVed missiles over a decade ago.

When I was the Vice President, I worked with the National Security Council in searching for a sound replacement for Minuteman. That search was a difficult one, but the continuing deterrent strength of our strategic bombers and submarines provided, and still provides, the time we needed to do this job right.

We examined a variety of missile and basing systems to find ones that would be secure from attack and consistent with arms control. My preference was for a smaller missile, if possible one that could be made mobile by deploying it on land, in our submarines, or even in an air-launched made. Since my time in the Senate, I had been convinced that mobility was an essential ingredient of survivability. Mobility, of course, had to be arranged for in such a way as to meet the arms control requirement of verifiability.

Ultimately it was determined that the MX could be deployed in a survivable basing mode and would be consistent with SALT II. On that basis I was prepared to endorse it. Now, of course, without mobility or even multiple protective shelters, the MX has lost survivability and become a vulnerable priority target.

I believe that, in the absence of a freeze or other effective arms control measures, our security would be enhanced by the Midgetman concept. Smaller, unMlRVed missiles would be deployed in a mobile configuration so that there would be no advantage for the Soviet Union to attack.

In light of the Midgetman alternative, it is amply clear that deploying the large MX in vulnerable, fixed silos is a step backwards. Rather than reducing the potential military gain of attack, it will place a premium on such an attack. Plans for putting MX in silos should be dropped immediately. We should concentrate instead on replacing Minuteman with a small mobile missile.

Step 2. We should pursue serious arms control agreements vigorously. Unlike this Administration, Americans recognize that sensible arms control strengthens our security. It can curb the arms race. It can reduce the arsenals. It helps us predict what the other side will do. It reduces the risks and costs of maintaining a military balance. It can ban or discourage destabilizing weapons developments. Reductions in nuclear arms can enable us to use scarce defense resources to strengthen conventional forces, as we must if we are to raise the nuclear threshold.

Serious arms control agreements must, of course, be verifiable. Appropriate verification provisions must be a critical part of any agreement. We should bring possible violations immediately to the attention of the alleged violator through established channels to clear up any ambiguities. We should insist firmly on adherence to the agreement, and be prepared to protect our national interests if the agreement is violated. We should press for negotiations on a mutual, verifiable nuclear freeze. We should update the SALT II Treaty and resubmit it to the Senate for advice and consent. SALT II is a good treaty that took seven years to negotiate. We can use its framework to seek even greater reductions, restrain the most destabilizing systems, and create incentives to move away from MIRVs.

We should develop a comprehensive approach that will enable us to press forward the negotiations on intercontinental, intermediate nuclear, and conventional forces. Such a comprehensive approach should facilitate reducing our dependence on short-range, or battlefield, nuclear weapons.

We must also reaffirm the ABM Treaty. President Reagan’s “Star Wars” proposals will inevitably lead to Soviet countermeasures, and touch off a destabilizing and expensive arms race. And, in the meantime, his development proposals threaten to violate and jeopardize the valuable ABM Treaty.

Reagan’s promises are also a cruel hoax. They try to persuade us that more defensive weapons can protect against the holocaust of nuclear war. This laudable goal is unfortunately a dangerous mirage. No effective population defenses appear feasible in the foreseeable future. Only preventing nuclear war can ensure our security and that of our children, and only a combination of prudent defense measures, effective arms control, and negotiation, not illusions of a perfect defense, can prevent nuclear war.

The neglect of diplomacy in dealing with the threat of an arms race in space is equally dangerous. Four years have passed since we negotiated with the Soviets on the issues of anti-satellite weapons and space warfare. It is high time to get back to the bargaining table to prevent outer space from becoming a new arena for tension and confrontation.

We must also resume efforts for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Further, in contrast to the Reagan Administration’s almost laissez-faire approach toward the spread of nuclear weapon capabilities, we should reimpose restraints on the distribution of materials that can be used for building nuclear weapons, and should rejoin the fight against nuclear proliferation.

Step 3. We should place greater emphasis on measures to reduce the possibilities for accidental nuclear war, or for an uncontrolled spiral into all-out nuclear war as a result of an accident or crisis. The Administration’s proposal to upgrade the “Hot Line” and to create new communication channels between the United States and the Soviet Union is a useful step, but more can be done.

Senators Sam Nunn (D. Ga.) and John Warner (R. Va.), for example, have recently made a bipartisan proposal that the United States and the Soviet Union establish nuclear risk reduction centers in Washington and Moscow. These centers would maintain a 24-hour watch on any events with the potential to lead to nuclear incidents. They would be linked directly to senior political and military authorities in both countries.

Some defense experts have also suggested adopting or negotiating one or more policies such as no-early- first-use of nuclear weapons. These proposals reflect a genuine fear that tensions in Europe could suddenly escalate to nuclear war. For example, nuclear weapons positioned close to the border between East and West Germany would be in serious danger of being overrun in the early stages of a fast-breaking conventional attack. The Alliance would feel pressures in such a situation to use the weapons, rather than lose them.

Reckless Administration comments about nuclear warning shots and winnable nuclear war have further fueled European concerns. Despite these irresponsible statements, we must not lose sight of the fact that nuclear weapons in NATO are a necessary deterrent to possible Soviet aggression in Europe, at least so long as the Soviets possess advantages in the balance of conventional forces there.

To reduce the risk of uncontrolled escalation to nuclear war in Europe, we should: (1) reaffirm NATO’s policy that we would use nuclear weapons only as a last resort; (2) review carefully our safety and security arrangements to ensure that our nuclear weapons cannot be used in an unauthorized way; and (3) examine the weapon stockpile and deployment pattern for Europe to make sure that we have only what is needed to meet NATO’s genuine deterrence requirements.

Step 4. We should reduce our dependence on nuclear weapons to deter non-nuclear, or conventional, attack. We can raise the nuclear threshold by strengthening our and our allies’ conventional forces.

To this end, we should strongly encourage our NATO allies to reaffirm and live up to the commitment they made in 1978 to raise real defense spending by 3 percent per year, if not do more. Indeed, authorities such as General Bernard Rogers, the NATO commander, and a broad-based group of U.S. and European experts have recently concluded that NATO can have a more credible conventional defense against the Soviets by the end of the decade—but only if our NATO allies increase their efforts. The failure of the Administration’s leadership was clearly in evidence when the recent NATO Ministerial meeting dropped the 3 percent commitment from its communique. And behind this unfortunate move lies a deeper failure. The Administration’s economic policies have curbed international economic growth—an essential ingredient of a more vigorous Allied defense effort.

Step 5. We should revitalize the Government’s arms control machinery. The Reagan Administration sharply cut back on funding for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and on its research. More funds should be provided. Research in arms control is relatively inexpensive and we need all the good ideas we can get.

Money isn’t the chief problem though—it’s people. By placing ideologues with little arms control experience in the top arms control jobs, the Administration has weakened the intellectual and political leadership for sensible arms control. It is no surprise that the best thinking on arms control today comes from sources outside the Administration, and that the strongest and most responsible advocates of arms control within the Reagan Administration have been the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If ACDA is to be a wellspring of good arms control ideas, it needs bright and experienced leaders who know how to encourage the generation of new ideas. When I am President, I will ensure that the Director of ACDA is an active participant in all important arms control decisions. He would be a regular participant at formal and informal meetings of my senior national security advisors. I would also appoint arms control experts to top-level positions on the National Security Council staff.

These five steps—nuclear forces that enhance stability, a vigorous arms control effort, measures to reduce the risk of nuclear war, conventional forces to reduce the dependence on nuclear arms, and revitalization of America’s arms control machinery—are actions that our citizens have the right to expect from the most powerful nation in the world.

To move forward, we need to talk with the Soviets. But today, negotiations have been suspended. As things stand, Mr. Reagan will become the first President since Herbert Hoover never to have met with his Soviet counterpart. The less we talk with the Russians, the more we feed their xenophobia and threaten peace.

I believe it is time for a summit with the Soviet Union; for annual, institutionalized summits thereafter; and for regular discussions between military and Cabinet officials of both nations.

By history, not by choice, America has had thrust upon it the responsibility for guiding the world toward peace. No other nation on earth can do so. President John Kennedy once observed, “Some say it is useless to speak of world peace, or world law, or world disarmament—and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I also believe we can help them to do it.”

We can do it by making sure that we have sufficient military power, together with our friends and allies, to defend our interests. We can do it by making sure that our forces and our doctrines do not invite attack or uncontrolled escalation. And last but not east, we can do it by taking the initiative to establish a new agenda of negotiations with the Soviet Union.

This agenda must encompass a comprehensive arms control effort, new institutions to control crises, and equally important, a revival of political dialogue aimed at eliminating points of confrontation. Only America has the strength, the regard for human values, the generosity of spirit, and the historical confidence to build a safe world. We have always regarded ourselves as a unique people in history, and we are. The world looks to us for the leadership required to ensure that history shall not end.

*Note: Ronald Reagan did not answer the survey in 1984.