Survival
Summer 2001
pp. 81-95
 


Moving Away from MAD

  Michael Krepon

 

Treaties governing nuclear-arms reduction and missile defences have  slipped from their Cold War moorings. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty  (START) process and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty were premised  on equality, but the United States and the Russian Federation are now very  unequal partners. It is always difficult for arms-control treaties to formalise  fictional equality or to codify inequality in changing geopolitical  circumstances. Durable treaties also require bipartisan political support in  the United States, which has been sorely lacking for the ABM Treaty.

These treaties are languishing for a more fundamental reason as well.  START and the ABM Treaty reflect the logic of Mutual Assured Destruction,  or MAD, the central organising principle of strategic-arms control during the  Cold War. MAD's two basic tenets, as practised by the United States and the  Soviet Union, were nuclear overkill and vulnerability to missile attack. Now  that the Cold War is over, these tenets no longer command widespread  public or congressional support in the United States. A sustainable and  bipartisan basis for future US policies geared toward the reduction of  nuclear dangers must be built on different ground. While nuclear deterrence  will remain important in the twenty-first century, Cold War conceptions of  MAD can no longer guide future US decisions regarding nuclear weapons  and missile defences. The time has come to replace MAD with a new  principle, one that embodies a cooperative approach to reducing nuclear  threats.

Overcoming MADness

Nuclear overkill and aversion to missile defences made perverse sense  during the Cold War. The strategic competition between the United States  and the Soviet Union produced many thousands of nuclear weapons and  prospective targets. Large numbers of these warheads were placed on  ballistic missiles that could traverse long distances in a matter of minutes.  Improvements in guidance and warhead design meant that heavily fortified  targets, such as missile silos and command and control centres, could  quickly be placed 'at risk'. To avoid being disadvantaged in the event of a  surprise attack, both countries maintained a significant portion of their  strategic nuclear forces on 'hair-trigger' alert. (81//82)

Under these circumstances, the United States and the Soviet Union chose  not to define MAD in minimal terms of, say, the demolition of a capital city, or  ten important cities, or 50% of either nation's conventional military or  militaryindustrial capacity. Had this been the case, Cold War arsenals would  have remained small. Instead, the requirements of MAD became inextricably  linked to the superpower competition, in both its political and military  dimensions. The requirements of MAD became relative, not absolute. If one  side seemed to be gaining a quantitative or qualitative advantage in nuclear  forces, the other had to respond. What one side needed depended on what  the other had, or was perhaps seeking. Nuclear forces, no less than  superpower diplomacy, served the twin pursuits of seeking advantage and  avoiding being placed at a disadvantage.

MAD therefore became synonymous with huge numbers of nuclear  weapons, expansive target lists and forces ready to fire. Under these  circumstances, neither superpower could allow missile defence  deployments to go unanswered. To do so would be to accentuate  perceptions of advantage or disadvantage. In the 1972 ABM Treaty,  Washington and Moscow reluctantly agreed to forego national missile  defences that would be ineffective and that would fuel even bigger nuclear  arsenals.

Now that the Cold War is over, MAD's precepts governing strategic nuclear  forces need rethinking. Russia's national budget is now roughly the size of  Belgium's. Moscow's nuclear forces face block obsolescence, and its  commandand-control networks, as well as military personnel, will be  stressed and underfunded over the next ten years or more. It no longer  makes sense for the United States to retain policies that keep dangerous,  over-age Russian nuclear forces in the field and on alert.

Nor does it make sense to maintain expansive targeting lists and high alert  rates against states with very small nuclear capabilities. If a small fraction of  the US nuclear arsenal fails to dissuade a national leader from acting in  'roguish' ways, a much larger arsenal would be irrelevant for deterrence.  And if a 'state of concern' is so unhinged as to carry out an attack with a  weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against the United States that can  quickly be traced back to its point of origin, does it really matter if the  devastating response comes 15 minutes or two hours later?

Lingering Cold War thinking about nuclear weapons also compounds  proliferation problems. The international norms against the spread of  nuclear weapons are enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a  contract between nuclear 'haves' and 'have nots'. The 'haves' promise to  kick their nuclear weapon habit while the 'have nots' promise continued  abstinence. Nuclear testing fundamentally divides these two camps. The  'haves' cannot credibly claim to be kicking their habit unless they agree to  end permanently nuclear testing, which is why abstainers have long  demanded the negotiation and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test  Ban Treaty (CTBT). Senate Republicans blocked ratification of this treaty on  the grounds that nuclear weapons were central to US national security, and  that enduring nuclear [82//83] deterrence required the option of renewed  testing. If the most powerful, richest and most technologically advanced  country in the world cannot forego future testing, what messages are  conveyed to smaller states looking for ways to neutralise more powerful  adversaries? And if nuclear weapons are so central to post-Cold War  conceptions of US power, what does this imply for the future of the  Non-Proliferation Treaty?

To those who place more trust in nuclear weapons than in treaties, these rhetorical questions are not very compelling. They argue that states have  their own reasons for testing and deploying nuclear weapons, and that  treaties - or the actions of the 'haves' - won't stop them. Sometimes the loudest  complaints against the nuclear club come from states wishing to join, as  was the case with India. Other states, such as Iran, hypocritically join this  negative chorus because they are covertly looking for ways to neutralise  US military advantages, counter powerful neighbours, or project their own  power and influence within their region.

There are, indeed, many reasons not to place too much faith in non- proliferation treaties or the self-serving arguments made against them by  those seeking the presumed rewards of WMD. But even treaty sceptics do  not wish to dismantle existing non-proliferation accords and the international norms  they establish against WMD. If existing non-proliferation treaties are worth keeping, why then are they not worth strengthening? But strengthening  measures are hampered by the 'haves,' whose actions diminish constraints  on the nuclear aspirants. New entrants to the nuclear club are, after all,  following well-worn paths to power and status. Proliferation is about emulation.  Nuclear powers cannot devalue for other states that which they continue to  hold dear. Hypocrisy flourishes on both sides of the nuclear divide.

New nuclear-weapon states will certainly not emulate the size of Cold War  arsenals, but their early moves have taken a familiar form. The emulation of  MAD creates special difficulties in Asia. China, India and Pakistan have all  declared that they will avoid the excesses of Western nuclear theology, but  they appear trapped in calculations where requirements are determined in  relative, not absolute, terms, just as MAD was practised during the Cold  War. The principle would have been far simpler, less expensive, and less  dangerous had the two nuclear superpowers established its requirements  in absolute and minimal terms. But domestic political, institutional and  geopolitical factors drove the competition upward. Failing behind was not  an option. MAD's calculations will be of an entirely different (and wiser)  scale in Asia, but it will also be harder to calibrate because the calculus of  competition in southern Asia is triangular rather than bipolar. If nuclear  capabilities grow on one leg of this triangle, pressures will also grow on the  other two.

Thus, while all three states have declared their adherence to minimal, credible nuclear deterrence, no neighbour can take these official statements  at face value. Pakistan can least afford MAD's competitive dynamic, yet it  has two well-funded laboratories competing to produce nuclear weapons  and ballistic missiles. The Indian government has officially adopted a 'no  first-use' [83//83] doctrine, while issuing an unofficial, draft nuclear posture that undercuts  this core principle by embracing the Western requirement of prompt nuclear  retaliation. This is not at all helpful, since nuclear forces truly configured to  retaliate quickly look indistinguishable from those postured to strike first.  China has adopted the most pacific declaratory posture of any  nuclear-weapon state, but Beijing is also carrying out more strategic  modernisation programmes than any other country. Declarations of good  intentions are clearly insufficient in Asia. MAD acquires its own momentum,  regardless of geographical coordinates.

The United States has great difficulty persuading India, Pakistan and China  to embrace a future free of nuclear dangers by retaining Cold War practices.  At present, Pakistan is deciding whether to place nuclear weapons on  modified alert, India is considering whether to test thermonuclear weapons,  while China is contemplating how many ballistic missiles to deploy, and  whether to arm them with multiple warheads in light of prospective US  missile defences. It is difficult for Washington to argue for restraint, when  emerging Asian nuclear powers are, in their own modest way, emulating US  practices. MAD and Missile Defences

Cold War precepts against missile defences are no less antiquated than  continued dedication to MAD's embrace of nuclear weapons. There are  many reasons to reconsider MAD's aversion to defences. To begin with,  accidents happen. Given Russia's protracted difficult circumstances, the  possibility of an unauthorised ballistic-missile launch cannot be entirely  discounted. In addition, Middle Eastern and Asian countries are acquiring  ballistic missiles for leverage against neighbours, to keep US expeditionary  forces out, or as instruments of war-fighting. Covert supply networks,  involving China, North Korea and Russia, that help new states to extend the  range of their ballistic missiles and to secure weapons of mass destruction,  cannot be completely quashed.

US foreign and national security policies in troubled regions will henceforth  be hampered without missile defences. As with nuclear weapons, the  political utility of missile defences is likely to far exceed the military utility,  although the latter must be proven in order to secure the benefits of the  former. In future years, the United States must be prepared to aid friends  and allies in regions beset by ballistic missiles and WMD. During Cold War  crises, the United States would signal resolve by increasing the readiness  of nuclear forces or by repositioning ships or planes that could be carrying  nuclear weapons. Now that the Cold War is over, signalling of this sort by  the world's sole nuclear superpower is likely to be provocative, dangerous  and counterproductive in a new era of asymmetrical warfare. The  management of future crises and the demonstration of alliance resolve are  far better served by moving missile defences instead of nuclear weapons  into harm's way.

Because the threats posed to US forces overseas, friends and allies are far  greater than comparable threats to the US homeland, theatre missile  defences [84//85] have become far more important than national missile  defences (NMD). The ABM Treaty constrains or precludes advanced theatre  missile defences since they could also have some applicability for the  defence of national territory. Treaty protectors fought tenaciously but in  vain against amendments to permit advanced theatre missile defences.  After strenuously opposing changes permitting high-velocity, high-altitude,  long-range intercepts, the Kremlin subsequently consented. (The resulting  accords also remain stuck in the limbo of ratification politics.) The implications of amending the ABM Treaty in this way are quite  profound. If it is now permissible to defend forward-deployed US troops,  allies, friends and US nationals living in troubled regions, why should  defences of national territory remain absolutely prohibited? A modest  insurance policy against low probability, but highly damaging eventualities  makes sense for the US homeland. Many who reject this notion out of hand  do not think twice about paying insurance premiums for catastrophic  damage to their homes. But MAD, as enshrined in the ABM Treaty, expressly  prohibits premium payments of any size on NMD.

Nuclear Treaties After the Cold War

With the basic structure, rationale and political support for treaties in  question, it is not surprising that both the ABM and START accords face  uncertain futures. Political debate in Washington is now marked by the  absence of a compelling articulation of the case for treaties, and by a highly  motivated campaign against them. Those who believe that treaties remain  indispensable continue to use Cold War arguments on their behalf. These arguments,  such as a concern that missile-defence deployments will generate an arms  race with a cash-strapped Russia, are not convincing. Treaty opponents are  divided between those who believe they are irrelevant and those who assert  they are too restrictive. This line-up does not bode well for arms-control  orthodoxy. Deconstructionists in the US Congress have failed to abolish the  Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service and the National  Endowment for the Arts, but they might well succeed in killing the ABM  Treaty.

Political manoeuvre from opposing camps on Capitol Hill fills the void  created by a breakdown of consensus about the post-Cold War utility of  nuclear weapons, missile defences and treaties. During the Clinton  administration, ardent proponents of missile defences successfully topped  up Pentagon budget requests while threatening to kill amendments to the  ABM Treaty - including amendments expressly permitting effective theatre  missile defences - if ever put to a vote. If President George W. Bush annuls  or abrogates the ABM Treaty, opponents of missile defences are likely to  take blocking action. Both advocates and sceptics can always rely on  strong, polltested arguments: The American public feels uneasy about  being undefended, but doesn't want to tear up treaties. In these  circumstances, blocking action is far easier than building a durable,  post-Cold War consensus on nuclear offences and missile defences. [85//86]

The way out of this impasse has not been well mapped, but the incoming  Bush administration will surely accelerate the pace of developments. A  transition to new ways of thinking about nuclear forces and missile  defences is underway. George W. Bush and his closest advisers are  sceptical both of treaties and Cold War nuclear orthodoxy. The road ahead  will generally be marked by deeper cuts in nuclear force levels, a stronger  commitment to missile defences and unilateral measures to reassure  others. These components can be integrated in reassuring or destabilising  ways.

Any change from the familiar will be difficult for domestic constituencies  that have long supported Cold War nuclear postures or existing  arms-control treaties. A transition that is pursued without a domestic  consensus will be halting, and could well result in the unravelling of  domestic support both for treaties and nuclear programmes. Change will  also be hard on US allies in Europe and Asia, and the move to missile  defences will be resisted strongly by Russia and China. Divisions are sure  to grow at home and abroad if the Bush administration decides to nullify the  ABM Treaty. US diplomatic isolation, so evident in the aftermath of the  rejection of the CTBT by Senate Republicans, will grow. The unravelling of  treaties in such circumstances would surely undermine US leadership, as  well as US national, regional and international security.

The need for an integrated, coherent strategy on nuclear weapons and  missile defence is clear and compelling. A bipartisan approach at home is  essential to a successful presentation of new US thinking abroad.  Moreover, a domestic consensus is needed to maintain strong US alliances  and to foil wedge-splitting strategies by Moscow and Beijing. Ill-conceived  missile defence deployments could exacerbate security concerns. Only a  bipartisan approach at home can stand the test of time, alliance cohesion  and annual budget battles on Capitol Hill.

The Clinton administration never postulated, articulated, or defended a  post-Cold War strategic concept governing nuclear forces and missile  defences. The Pentagon, s review of nuclear policy during President  Clinton's first term produced a reaffirmation of institutional interests, albeit  with useful changes at the margin. There was no review during the second  term. Instead, the administration continued to seek amendments to existing  treaties, downsizing START while at the same time modifying the ABM  Treaty to permit limited defences. This piecemeal approach did not generate  bipartisan support or calm concerns in allied capitals, Moscow or Beijing.

The absence of a new conceptual framework made each of the Clinton  administration's decisions harder to implement and easier to oppose. For  example, Clinton's separate efforts to downsize nuclear arsenals and  deploy limited defences were not mutually reinforcing at home or abroad.  Moscow indicated that limited national missile defences might be palatable,  with deeper cuts, but this ran afoul of the Pentagon. By expressing  continued fealty to MAD's precepts while trying to engineer phased  reductions, the Clinton team was caught in a domestic bind: under MAD's  tenets, lower numbers and lower alert rates equalled less safety and  security.

The phased introduction of limited NMD further complicates matters, if  pursued under the logic of MAD. The Clinton administration argued that  Moscow need not be concerned about limited defences because Moscow  maintained high alert rates and the ability to overwhelm defences. This line  of argument was neither reassuring nor convincing. Post-Cold War  imperatives call for both defences and threat reduction, but MAD continues  to pit one against the other. For missile defence deployments to become an  integral part of cooperative threat reduction, nuclear forces must clearly be  re-postured in non-threatening ways. MAD's embellishments constrain the  transition to cooperative threat reduction.

The current strategic environment and its potential threats are very different  from those of the Cold War era and demand a new conceptual approach.  This will entail a top-down, bipartisan reassessment of Cold War orthodoxies,  rather than merely triming and tailoring them as the bloated US nuclear  arsenal deflates. The time has come to replace MAD with a new strategic  synthesis aimed at reducing the dangers from missiles and WMD.

Cooperative Threat Reduction

The concept of cooperative threat reduction is embodied already in a  number of of programmes and in a familiar acronym, CTR. Unlike MAD, the  concept of cooperative threat reduction is properly affirmative and  descriptive. The practice of CTR also strengthens non-proliferation regimes by clarifying that  security is enhanced by reducing the salience of nuclear weapons and  other weapons of mass destruction.

The mechanisms for increasing national, regional, and international security  through the practice of cooperative threat reduction are quite flexible.  Threat reduction can be bilateral - as is the case for ongoing US  programmes in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakstan - or multilateral, typified by  the collaborative efforts of the United States, South Korea and Japan to freeze and  disassemble North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes. CTR  provisions can be embedded in treaties or carried out as unilateral or  reciprocal initiatives. Programmes can involve military, political or economic  incentives, or some combination thereof. The creative application of cooperative threat  reduction is bounded only by political will and resources.

During the Cold War, enormous intellectual and diplomatic efforts were  devoted to creating treaty regimes governing the most powerful weapons  known to humanity. It took extraordinary political effort to convince powerful goverriment institutions, party leaders, politicians, and concerned citizens  that treaty constraints on nuclear forces and missile defences were both  wise and necessary. The creativity, time and effort involved in crafting these accords -  selecting measuring devices, devising treaty constraints to establish  mutually agreed stabilisation measures, and (hardest of all) agreeing upon intrusive  verification arrangements to give these accords political standing and durability - helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot.

In the first decade of the post-Cold War period, by contrast, very little  creativity has been applied to new treaty instruments. Instead, existing ones  [87//88] have been amended, downsized, or adjusted to the new  circumstances. Meanwhile, cooperative threat reduction has expanded  greatly. The new emphasis on CTR was evident in iggi, when presidents  George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev took steps to reduce nuclear danger  when the Soviet Union was coming apart. The 1992 Open Skies Treaty,  permitting cooperative aerial inspections from Vancouver to Vladivostok,  was a prime example.

During this period, the roles of treaties and less formal initiatives have been  reversed. Bilateral US-Russian treaty negotiations have foundered on  legislative shoals that have prevented accords from entering into force.  After producing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and Chemical  Weapons Convention, multilateral negotiations in the Conference on  Disarmament in Geneva have ground to a halt. During the Clinton  administration, far more effort was applied to CTR initiatives rather than to  treaty-making.

In effect, the transition from MAD to CTR has already begun, although  individual programming efforts have not been aggregated or  conceptualised in this way. CTR is practised every day in scores of  laboratories, military bases and research institutes in the former Soviet  Union. Washington and Moscow now engage in wide-ranging initiatives,  including Pentagon programmes to help the Russian Ministry of Defence to  dismantle dangerously ageing nuclear forces. Parallel programmes are  underway in which US nuclear laboratories work with Russian ones to  safeguard fissile material. Fledgling initiatives have also begun to find  gainful commercial employment for workers in Russia's ,nuclear cities' as  well as those who previously produced chemical and biological weapons.  These cooperative threat reduction programmes have enjoyed broad  bipartisan support in the United States, even as treaties have come under  intense fire.

The source of such broad support is no mystery. By the end of October  2000, CTR programmes in the former Soviet Union had secured the  deactivation of 5,014 nuclear warheads, destroyed 407 intercontinental  ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and 366 ICBM silos; eliminated 68 strategic  bombers and 256 launchers from ballistic missile-carrying submarines;  destroyed 148 submarinelaunched ballistic missiles, 17 ballistic miss  ile-carrying submarines, and 204 long-range cruise missiles; and sealed 194  nuclear-test tunnels. Assistance has been provided for nuclear weapons  storage and transportation security. Construction is well underway for a  large, secure fissile-material storage facility. The United States is helping to  improve the safety and security at Russian chemical weapons storage sites.  Security upgrSdes have been implemented for 750 tonnes of highly  enriched uranium and plutonium. Radiation detection equipment has been  installed at Russian border crossings to help detect and interdict nuclear  smuggling. Plutonium-laden fuel rods from nuclear power reactors have  been secured. This list is only a small sample of initiatives now underway.

CTR initiatives with China during the Clinton administration have been  relatively modest and are now in doubt. During the Clinton administration, a  small-scale 'lab to lab' programme was initiated between US and Chinese  [88//89] nuclear scientists, but was suspended amidst Congressional  concerns over Chinese espionage. Beijing's future role in CTR - as a partner  or a problem - depends on the dynamics of the Taiwan question.

Lingering Cold War attitudes on the part of Russia and China continue to  limit the scope and effectiveness of CTR efforts. Both continue to rely  heavily on their own nuclear and missile programmes. These programmes  are remnants of Moscow's superpower status, and currently Beijing's sole  means of power projection. Both leaderships have separate but reinforcing  reasons to oppose revisions to the ABM Treaty. For Moscow, Cold War  treaties provide nominal equality and protection of sunk costs in nuclear  forces. For China. START and the ABM Treaty offer assured constraints and  reductions on the two larger nuclear powers. Russian and Chinese leaders  fear that, in the absence of existing treaties, the United States would be free  to pursue dominance in both strategic offensive forces and missile  defences. More broadly, it will be difficult to reduce the salience of nuclear  weapons and missiles elsewhere if Russia and China (along with the United  States) continue to accord them great status. Moreover, Russia and China continue to provide critical support to states  that either seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction and missiles, or to  expand existing capabilities. Russia's continuing technical. material and  diplomatic support for Iran and Iraq and its unwillingness or inability to  suppress transactions by well-connected middlemen increase proliferation  dangers. US-China cooperation on non-proliferation has similarly been  hampered by Beijing's support for Pakistan as a counterweight to India.  This support has been manifested in Pakistan's nuclear and missile  programmes, and Pakistan may seek further help as Indian conventional  and nuclear capabilities grow. Elsewhere, Chinese support for Iranian and  North Korean missile programmes could again be of concern if relations  between Washington and Beijing deteriorate.

Proliferation is antithetical to cooperative threat reduction. If Moscow and  Beijing persist in abetting proliferation. then collaborative efforts with the  United States will obviously be limited. Domestic US support for the CTR  activities in Russia will be restricted to programmes that provide clear US  national security benefits. Ongoing programmes to dismantle and  safeguard Russia's Cold War arsenal clearly fall within this narrow  framework. Cooperation on early warning for missile launches also  continues to make sense, given Russia's blind spots as portions of its Cold  War constellation of radar stations and satellites have fallen into disrepair  and disuse.

US Policy Choices

The Russian and Chinese cooperation that is required for a successful  transition from MAD hinges, in turn, on their perceptions of US strategic  objectives. If Russian and Chinese leaders conclude that US efforts to move  away from MAD are a cover for negating their own nuclear deterrents, there  will be no transition. But if the Bush administration is perceived as  accepting a nuclear- [89//90] deterrent relationship with Russia and China,  the pace of transition can pick up and the scope of current cooperative  threat reduction efforts can expand. The central choice facing the Bush  administration is whether to extend conventional military dominance to  missile defence, nuclear weapons and space.

Consequently, one key indicator of US strategic objectives for both Moscow  and Beijing will be the architecture chosen for US missile defence  deployments. Some missile-defence architectures can strengthen alliances,  shore up nonproliferation regimes, and send useful signals to states  brandishing missiles and WMD. Other architectures can vastly complicate  these dangers. If missile defence deployments suggest an 'America First'  orientation, if prospective defences appear to far exceed realistic threats, or  to negate Russian or Chinese nuclear deterrents, the transition to CTR will  be stillborn. It is in the US national interest to make choices that facilitate  rather than foreclose a transition strategy.

The Bush administration's approach to the weaponisation of space is  therefore of critical importance. The more the United States takes the lead in

pursuing anti-satellite weapons or weapons in space, the less Russia and  China can be expected to cooperate in reducing post-Cold War dangers. Of  course, Russia or China could also take the lead in developing or testing  space-warfare capabilities. In this event, the United States would surely  follow. Either route to the deployment of weapons in space, or weapons that  could disable objects in space, would have profoundly dangerous  consequences.

During the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the United States tested  anti-satellite weapons and retained the inherent capability to destroy  objects in space. Space debris resulting from attacks would create havoc  for satellites of all kinds, commercial as well as military. Given the risks of  space warfare, US and Soviet leaders generally resisted these impulses  during the Cold War. President Ronald Reagan was moved by a different set of calculations. In  his considered view, the dangers posed by weapons in space were less of a  concern than the dangers posed by nuclear weapons on the ground. The  initial and most ambitious goal of Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI)  was to make nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. Many  ballistic-missile-defence enthusiasts believe that the most efficient and  effective way to disable ballistic missiles is to shoot them down from space.  To do so, however, means placing cocked weapons in space, hovering  above potential enemies. Needless to say, this is not a reassuring prospect  for nations relying on nuclear deterrence, including US allies. SDI was  eventually brought down to earth by technical and fiscal constraints, as well  as by diplomatic and domestic political opposition. Now that the Cold War is over, it would be ironic if the United States became  newly interested in space-warfare capabilities. Reassurance is an essential  complement to deterrence as well as to CTR. The development of US space  warfare capabilities will only reassure a narrow band of domestic  proponents. US pursuit of space weapons will engender much opposition  at home and abroad, estrange the United States from European and Asian  allies, and help forge closer strategic cooperation between Moscow and  Beijing. Such [90//91] initiatives would also hamper the commercial  utilisation of space. Spacewarfare initiatives by the United States will be  widely perceived not only as a rejection of MAD but as a way to replace  nuclear deterrence with strategic dominance. Space-warfare capabilities are  consonant with unilateral, rather than cooperative, threat reduction; US  pursuit of them would doom a transition strategy.

A new strategic concept also requires a synthesis of nuclear offence and  missile defence. Such a synthesis would marry deep reductions in nuclear  force levels and alert rates with limited national and more ambitious theatre  missiledefence deployments. The imperatives of alliance relations,  international reassurance and near-term threats all mandate that priority be  given to theatre, and not national, missile defences. Similar imperatives  necessitate a transition strategy based on treaty adaptation rather than  treaty demolition.

A treaty-based approach to secure deeper cuts in nuclear forces has  several advantages. Amendments drawing down START levels are easy to  conceptualise and negotiate. This course would be most reassuring to  Russia, China and US allies, in part because it would be harder to reverse  than less formal regimes. Moreover, this approach would draw upon  verifiable, agreed procedures for dismantling nuclear forces. The  reassurance of treaty regimes would certainly facilitate a wider range of  cooperative threat reduction activities in the former Soviet Union, perhaps  including the expansion of CTR programmes to include verified warhead  dismantling.

The treaty-based approach also has some drawbacks. The opposition of  legislators in both the United States and Russia could continue to prevent  the entry into force of negotiated amendments. Negotiations take a long  time anyway. And expanding the scope of treaties to cover the dismantling  of warheads and non-deployed missiles - as opposed to deployed forces  covered in treaties so far - could be complicated and difficult to negotiate.

The alternative would be to rely on unilateral, or so-called 'reciprocal'  nuclear force reductions. Such measures would be easier to implement  than treaties, but they would also be easier to reverse. Intrusive monitoring  arrangements for treaties are spelled out; they would be voluntary or  nonexistent for unilateral or reciprocal initiatives.'

If unilateral steps are pursued entirely as a substitute for treaties, many new  problems could result. Even dramatically ambitious reassurance initiatives  could be undermined or completely nullified by other initiatives, such as  moves to deploy space-based weapons or to expand NATO to the Russian  border. The abrupt replacement of treaties with unilateral initiatives will not  be reassuring and could generate a strong backlash at home and abroad.  The demise of bilateral treaties would spill over and undermine multilateral  accords, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The net effect of jettisoning  treaties could be profoundly unsettling, including the sharp curtailment of  cooperative threat reduction initiatives now underway in Russia.

Heavy reliance on unilateral measures could have another negative  consequence: making the intended recipients of reassurance measures the  [91//92] central arbiters of their utility. National leaders could stress an  absence of reassurance in order to prompt further initiatives to alleviate  their expressed concerns. The informal nature of reassurance  arrangements - and the ability of states to reverse course relatively quickly -  could retard the desired transition to CTR. Congressional prerogatives  would also need to be taken into account for a strategy that seeks to  replace treaties with reassurance measures. If initiatives are not  reciprocated fully, the US Congress could become disenchanted with this  process.

The risks and unintended consequences of unilateral measures can be  minimised by using them as a supplement to, rather than as a substitute for,

treaties. The combination of treaties plus unilateral measures is more  powerful than either standing alone. For example, the 1991  Bush-Gorbachev initiatives, whereby the least safe and secure nuclear  weapons were removed from operational status, were facilitated by  strategic arms reduction treaties that provided reinforcement and  reassurance. Likewise, the transition to CTR can proceed more smoothly  when initiatives are carried out alongside formal treaty constraints.  Verifiable treaties offer more reassurance. Unilateral measures offer more  flexibility and powerful symbolism. Some changes, such as revisions in  nuclear targeting, can only be realised by unilateral or parallel steps.  Amendments to START, combined with unilateral and reciprocal measures  provide a strong foundation to keep alliances healthy, strengthen  non-proliferation regimes and reassure Russia and China that a cooperative  transition is in their national security interests.

The defensive side of the ledger is clearly more problematic. Harmonising  defensive deployments with farther reductions in Cold War arsenals is  fraught with risks and possible unintended consequences. The net effect of  missile defence deployments should be to reinforce reductions in nuclear  forces, reassure allies, support non-proliferation partners and reduce the  salience of missiles and WMD. It is difficult to achieve this effect, however,  when many countries continue to view missile defences in Cold War terms.

One way to overcome this Cold War mentality would be for the US to place  the highest priority on the deployment of theatre missile defences. This  priority is warranted because shorter-range missiles pose far greater threats  to US allies and American forces abroad than missiles able to reach US soil.  Such an approach would counter perceptions of a 'Fortress America,' by  underscoring the US commitment to aid friends and allies threatened with  proliferation. Additional amendments to the ABM Treaty might well be  required to counter the evolution of missile threats to US friends, allies, and  forward-deployed forces.

Beijing, which relies heavily on ballistic missiles for power projection, will  argue most vociferously that theatre-missile defence deployments will spur  arms races. This places the cart before the horse, since interest in theatre  missile defences in Asia are a consequence of Chinese and North Korean  missile flight tests. A failure by the United States to respond properly to  China's reliance on missiles for coercive diplomacy could unsettle US  friends and allies, thereby aggravating proliferation problems. On the other  hand, one driver for theatre [92//93] missile defences in the Asia-Pacific  region - North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes - is waning.  Proliferation concerns - and the presumed need for theatre defences - could  be dampened further by decisions taken in Beijing to reduce the salience of  its missile programmes.

A second essential element of reassurance is for the US to set clear limits  on its NMD. Defences designed to negate the Russian and Chinese nuclear  deterrents are doomed to fail and guaranteed to backfire. Even a Russia in  continued decline will have the technical means and force structure to  penetrate US defences. China will have the financial means to develop its  strategic deterrent in parallel with the US efforts to negate it. If the United  States sizes or structures NMD deployments in ways that suggest a  strategy of neutralising China's deterrent forces, China will respond by  increasing the size and capabilities of its nuclear arsenal, with cascading  effects on India and Pakistan. In addition, Russia and China are likely to  seek to counter US efforts to secure offensive and defensive dominance.  Their most probable approach will be the testing and deployment of  space-warfare capabilities.

These developments are not in the US national security interest. They can  be avoided if NMD systems are designed to counter a narrow range of  lowprobability but high-consequence threats, such as a breakdown of  command and control resulting in a small-scale, unauthorised attack by a  major nuclear power, or a limited attack by a hostile state that operates by  an improbable set of rules. Because such occurrences are in fact unlikely,  the premiums paid for this modest insurance policy should be limited. Such  contingencies can be met with modest amendments to the ABM Treaty  permitting ground- and seabased interceptors, as well as upgrades to  space~based sensors.

Additional reassurance could be provided by amendments to the ABM  Treaty expressly permitting NMD by respecting the treaty's central  prohibition against weapons in space. The risks and unintended  consequences of introducing missile defences can also be reduced if  pursued within a broader strategic context of CTR. Missile defences can be  harmonised with nonproliferation norms by respecting multilateral treaty  obligations and by taking additional steps to reduce US reliance on nuclear  weapons. No step would be more helpful in this regard than US ratification  of the CTBT.

Keeping NMD limited and respecting the ABM Treaty's prohibition on  weapons in space would not only provide reassurance to Russia during a  decade of decline, but also give Moscow added reasons to expand the  scope of CTR efforts. One area of expansion could be joint efforts on  theatre missile defences. If Moscow's strategic concerns are thus alleviated,  Beijing will be hard-pressed to lead the charge against missile defences. At  the same time, the pursuit of robust theatre missile defence programmes  would signal to Beijing and Moscow that Washington will respond  unhesitatingly to the coercive use of ballistic missiles. This mixed message  is essential for regional and international security.

The initiative on these matters clearly lies with Washington. If the Bush  administration seeks amendments for limited national defences that exclude  space-based interceptors, Moscow would be wise to agree. Amendments  that [93//94] are limited in nature and consistent with a cooperative transition  would allow President Bush to manage alliance qualms and to secure  congressional support. Successful negotiations to amend the ABM Treaty  could be supplemented by unilateral reassurance measures. If, however,  the Bush administration seeks more expansive amendments and  negotiations subsequently break down, damage limitation will be difficult.  And if Bush abrogates the ABM Treaty summarily, the diplomatic fall-out will  be great, and substitute measures to provide reassurance are unlikely to be  credible. There are many sound reasons for President Bush to avoid a  treaty demolition strategy. Further amendments to the ABM Treaty are  necessary. They are also feasible, if the Bush administration maintains  limited and realistic objectives.

Conclusion

New rules of the road are needed to reduce post-Cold War nuclear dangers.  These rules must recognise changed realities amid the enduring  vulnerabilities of the nuclear age. The essential choice facing the Bush  administration is cooperative threat reduction or strategic superiority. The  pursuit of strategic superiority will damage alliances and increase  proliferation. Cooperative threat reduction initiatives will continue to coexist with nuclear  deterrence, since technological optimism and missile defences cannot  remove the danger posed by large nuclear arsenals. While nuclear  deterrence will continue to inform US relations with Russia and China, it  does not necessarily follow that vulnerability continues to have intrinsic  value. And although defences against a large-scale attack will remain futile,  it hardly follows that defences against much lesser contingencies are  unwise or unhelpful. In locations and circumstances where missile  defences can reduce dangers, they ought to be deployed.

The deconstruction of MAD and the substitution of CTR constitutes an  ambitious and difficult agenda. Why should the new US president expend  the time, effort and political capital to seek a cooperative transition of this  magnitude? First, the dangers of WMD and missile proliferation are growing  and are only exacerbated by Cold War-era remedies. Second, the  singleminded approaches of missile defence enthusiasts and staunch  treaty protectors are neither persuasive nor sustainable and fail to change  the fundamentals of nuclear deterrence. In contrast, CTR can strengthen  alliances and reduce the salience of WMD and missiles.

A forward-looking synthesis can be forged around the central principle of  cooperative threat reduction. The transition strategy will require the  deconstruction of the Cold War embellishments of mutual assured  destruction that drove force levels, targeting requirements, and alert rates to  absurd levels. These edifices need to be replaced with stronger  conventional forces, alliances and non-proliferation regimes, treaty  adaptation, reassurance measures and missile defence deployments. MAD  can no longer help with these important tasks. A new strategic concept and  expanded cooperative threat reduction initiatives can. [94//95]

Notes

Take, for example, the 1991 unilateral and reciprocal arrangements carried  out by presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, removing the least  safe and secure nuclear weapons from operational status. Ten years later,  press reports indicate that some of these tactical nuclear weapons have  been returned to the Baltic region, presumably to compensate for Russian  conventional military weaknesses. Bill Gertz, 'Russia transfers nuclear arms  to Baltics,' Washington Times, 3 January 2001. Nonetheless, the 1991  BushGorbachev initiatives were widely applauded at the time, and continue  to be viewed in a positive light.