Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Foreign Affairs

Re: What Price Reset

Regarding Julie's post below on Russia's missile defense technology sharing demands in the new START Treaty negotiations, our good-hearted liberal friend Joel Mathis weighs in with a comment thread to say, essentially, "And so's your old man!"  Ronaldus Magnus, he reminds us, proposed to share missile technology with the Soviet Union; why should we be reluctant now to consider the same thing?

To wit, three observations.  First, I recall Walter Mondale, even as he opposed Reagan's SDI initiative, also said it would be irresponsible to share the technology with the Soviet Union if we had it.  Another great example of how Reagan tied liberals in knots.  Second, this was one feature of Reagan's diplomacy that most annoyed Gorbachev.  Whenever Reagan brought up the "sharing" idea at summits, Gorbachev would say he found the idea simply incredible.  You won't even sell us advanced farm equipment, he complained; what makes you think I can believe that you'd share advanced defense technology with us (especially since Gorbachev knew that Reagan knew the USSR was cheating on the ABM Treaty)?  Reagan never had a very good answer to this.  

Moreover, Gorbachev argued sensibly, why do you need missile defense at all if we both disarm?  Here Reagan's answer partly anticipates the present moment.  Because, Reagan argued at the Reykjavik summit, rogue nations 20 years from now may develop nuclear weapons and acquire ballistic missiles.  He named Libya as one specific possibility.  (I suppose it would have been too awkward to mention Iran, since Reagan was selling them weapons at that very moment.)  Which brings me to the salient point: While today's Russia is less of a direct threat to the US than was the Soviet Union at the peak of it might, it is arguably more of a problem for the reason other respondents to Joel's comment point out: what makes us think Russia won't divulge our technology to Iran and other bad actors?  I have little doubt that Reagan would be much less likely to share missile technology today.  In this he'd resemble an example of Churchill's essay "Consistency in Politics:"

[A] statesman in contact with the moving current of events and anxious to keep the ship of state on an even keel and steer a steady course may lean all his weight now on one side and now on the other.  His arguments in each case when contrasted can be shown to be not only very different in character, but contradictory in spirit and opposite in direction: yet his object will throughout have remained the same.  His resolves, his wishes, his outlook may have been unchanged; his methods may be verbally irreconcilable.  We cannot call this inconsistency.  In fact it may be claimed to be the truest consistency.  The only way a man can remain consistent amid changing circumstances is to change with them while preserving the same dominating purpose.

The circumstances today are vastly different that under the bipolar world of the US--USSR.  I suspect Reagan today would share technology with allies against the rogues and not with Russia; he'd want partnerships with nations more reliable than Russia, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, who are keen to deploy our missile defenses.  Oh wait--that's right: Obama gave that away already, canceling our deployment plans with those countries.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Discussions - 8 Comments

Thank you for explaining well what I could only discuss badly.

I still think, remembering the time and what we knew of internal Soviet politics and given the history of negotiations with them, that Reagan never thought that they would let us in to see their secrets. As Jeeves would say, he knew because "it's the psychology of the individual" or in this case the ruling party of the that nation.

Russia has plenty of nukes, and some of them are still targeting America. It would be a mistake to take them for anything other than potential aggressors. It's my sense that most of their current leadership is smarting from their fall from preeminence on the world stage. Let's be vigilant.

The concern isn't Russian nukes, but Russian technology. We don't need to fear Russia launching long-range missiles at anyone who didn't attack them first. I doubt Iran wouldn't launch long-range missiles at Israel or the West shortly after attaining the ability to do so.

As people have already pointed out, since Russia doesn't have a problem with sharing its nuclear and missile technology with Iran, we can assume they wouldn't have a problem sharing missile defense technology either.

You know what? I'll concede the point: Reagan was willing to make concessions on occasion, but it was in the service of increasing our security. In a multipolar world, the calculations are different, and Steve—well, Steve's a Reagan scholar. I'm not. I'll defer to his insights.

Instead, I'll change the subject.

I do think it's worth asking my conservative friends if there are *any* tradeoffs, *any* concessions they're willing to make that might *look* like a lowering of the guard but might actually increase overall American security. Part of President Obama's mission—it seems to me—is to reduce the overall number of warheads in the world. Not out of some Pollyanna belief in peace, and certainly not to leave the United States without security, but mostly out of a simple ability to do math: the more nukes there are in the world, the more likely it is that one of them falls into the wrong hand and is used in anger. That, in turn, creates a greater likelihood that a lot more of those warheads will be used. It's difficult for me to see how worldwide armaggedon would serve the security interests of the United States.

Yes, President Obama proposes to—eventually—eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. Ronald Reagan (just to keep this near the original topic.) shared that dream—and though today's world is a less-predictable and thus in certain respects more dangerous, I will hazard a guess and suggest his horror of a nuclear holocaust would still be a motivating factor for him.

Right now, if I'm looking at the right reports, the United States has more than 5,000 nuclear warheads. Russia has 3,000. (These are *very* provisional numbers; estimates range widely.) It seems to me that we could reduce these numbers greatly, to just a few hundred on each side, and still retain both a meaningful deterrent and the ability to destroy all life on earth.

But we'd reduce the chances that a warhead would end up in those aforementioned wrong hands. We'd greatly reduce the costs of maintaining, modernizing, and protecting our arsenal. We would, it seems to me, be more secure.

Republican objections to the START Treaty have been couched in issues like missile defense, but my overall impression is that they don't buy into the logic I just laid out, believing instead that more! more! more! is the route to defensive superiority—or that President Obama is ready to give away the whole kit-and-kaboodle and leave us defenseless. But sometimes less is more.

That's a perfectly reasonably question, and actually I think I agree with your answer, or at least its premise, that a large stockpile of nuclear weapons doesn't really do anyone much good, even as a deterrent. A few hundred should be enough for the purpose of letting any rogue or reckless nation know we can put a big hurt on them if they do something bad to us. Beyond a few dozen, what use are they?

As for tradeoffs to get a reduction deal, my sense is that one problem with missile defense technology as a tradeoff is that a lot of it may be dual-use technology, so we might be giving away too much valuable technology. (I am only speculating here, and besides, I also guess the Chinese have already stolen most of it.) I'm not sure what else might be offered as a quid pro quo on START itself. Bioweapon defense? I don't know.

Actually, for reasons more clear one day, it is my belief, until convinced otherwise, that the major powers need to have thousands of warheads, all capable of being delivered at once. Promotes stability even in the face of un-stabilizing elements that could otherwise initiate an arms race.

If the US reduces its nuclear arsenal to several hundred, we will be on par with all the lesser nuclear powers (such as China). This creates an incentive to lesser-nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers to increase the number of nuclear weapons they have, not reduce them, as the prospects of achieving nuclear parity with the United States becomes a realistic goal. Could we have invaded Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, et al if they had nuclear weapons? Further more, just as in physics, it is impossible to establish equilibrium between 3+ "bodies in motion" (you cannot know the equilibrium between countries A and B when B must take account of C, not to mention D and E and rogue states X, Y, and Z). Thus, by reducing our total number of nuclear weapons, we will have increased the likelyhood of any number of regional arms races (or, nuclear proliferation).

So no, reducing our total number doesn't decrease the threat of nuclear proliferation; preventing Russia from selling its technology is the best way to do that.

I can't find a link to it, but Mark Helprin has an excellent article on this issue in the latest Claremont Review of Books.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/16726