The Arms Race and its Opponents

Paper presented to Erindale College (now University of Toronto at Mississauga) sociologists, October 4, 1983.

Two related topics—(a) the recent history of the arms race and (b) the nature of the peace movements now.

For the first years of the arms race, the basic policy was one of deterrence—through MAD. It was assumed that the threat of massive retaliation would be sufficient to keep each side from using such weapons.

One of the actual agreements they reached was not to develop anti-ballistic missile systems, so there is no defense against the missiles. It would he virtually impossible to do anyhow with old technology—like shooting down a bullet with another bullet. However, to anticipate a bit, Reagan has announced intention of developing laser weapons that might be able to do this. Kosta Tsipis of MIT says these won’t work, but the prospect of trying them may he tempting enough for US to abrogate the agreement against developing ABMS.

The U.S. has led the way during each phase of the arms race. Every new technological invention has begun with them and was followed 3 to 5 years later by the Soviets matching it. The superpowers have kept a lengthy negotiation process going, but the outcome has been farcical. There has never been any halt of the arms race, but only a legitimation for its proceeding to the next phase. Each agreement they reached actually permitted an increase while claiming to limit them. The SALT I and SALT II treaties never halted the arms race at all. The only time when there was promise of a successful limitation or reduction was during the Kennedy years, when the McLoy-Zorin agreement—really an extraordinary document—was seriously considered. Kennedy got cold feet because there wasn’t sufficient political backing for it, and we‘ve been on the slippery slope ever since.

There‘s one disadvantage to the MAD policy—you can‘t use the weapons. They’re useless. So to get their money’s worth, the demand arose for “flexible response”—not automatic massive retaliation, but a graduated scale of retaliation, ranging from small bombs for the battlefield up to 29 megaton ones. The arsenal continued growing. There are now the equivalent of at least one million Hiroshima-type bombs ready to go. In numbers, there are 50,689 + bombs, 30,000 of them owned by the U.S. and 20.000 by the Soviets.

The common belief is that these bombs have never been intended for use until recently. Actually, the U.S. considered using or threatened use of nuclear weapons at least 11 times, as documented by Daniel Ellsberg in the U.S. edition of E.P. Thompson’s book, Protest and Survive. These are: in 1946, when the Russians were slow to leave parts of Iran which they had occupied. In June 1948, during the Berlin blockade. In Nov. 1959, when U.S. Marines were surrounded by Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. In 1953, in order to force and maintain a settlement in Korea. In 1954 the U.S. offered to help the French in Vietnam. in 1958, during a Lebanon crisis. In 1958 again in response to the possibility that the mainland Chinese might invade Quemoy. In the Berlin crisis of 1961. During the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In 1968 when the U.S. marines were surrounded at Khe Sanh, and in 1969 when Nixon secretly threatened massive escalation in order to end the war in Vietnam. In his Memoirs, he reports that he would have used nuclear weapons at that time, except that the people were already in the streets protesting against the war and he was afraid of their reaction.

Nevertheless, the Soviets continued to match the American arms developments, especially during the l970s. The main mechanisms for such an exchange would be ICBMS, lobbed back and forth between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., although both sides also had nuclear subs, and Britain had her own subs. While remaining technically a member of NATO, France had opted to control her own nuclear arsenal, which was more than ample for the purpose. Apart from that, the NATO countries have left the control of the weapons in U.S. hands, without even having a “double-key” system enabling them to veto the use. The military are asking for control over the weapons, so that they can be used without clearance from American politicians. This permission may already have been granted in some cases. The danger of mutual annihilation began to look so certain that about 4 years ago some Europeans began to wonder aloud whether the U.S. would actually commit suicide by launching its ICBMS to stop the Russians if they invaded Europe. They wanted some more certain way of making sure the Americans would have to get involved. This was to be assured by installing more missiles in Europe itself, to block the Soviet conventional forces, should they attack. Chancellor Schmidt asked for the installation of numerous intermediate-range missiles on West German soil. President Carter agreed. Now plans had already been made for the development of a new generation of missiles. It is not true, as usually claimed, that the cruise and Pershings were invented as a foil to the SS-29s. Both sides had been designing more and more sophisticated missiles all along, and Michael Pentz when he spoke in Toronto displayed a document showing that the plans for the Cruise antedated the SS-26s. However, the Soviet modernization of its weapons provided the public rationale for the NATO response. In fact, the NATO weapons were already close enough to the USSR to threaten it credibly; there are U.S. nuclear subs off the coast at all times.

However, the “dual track” approach was born. The idea was to press ahead simultaneously on two fronts, both by negotiating for arms control in Geneva and by building up the more modern missiles in Europe, as well as the MX system in the U.S. People who have studied the negotiations closely say that the U.S. (who is solely representing all the NATO countries in Geneva) has not negotiated in good faith but has put forward only proposals that would continue to give them the edge. The Soviets, on the other hand, have unilaterally promised not to be the first to use nuclear weapons and have offered numerous and substantial arms reduction and freeze proposals, which have been studiously ignored by the Americans.

Both sides, however, have shown themselves to believe in the notion of balance—a concept that is manifestly meaningless once the threshold of “overkill” has been reached. Common sense would indicate that, since no one can be killed more than once, it is logically impossible to be imbalanced once enough weapons exist to kill everyone. The hope is, of course, for “first strike” capability—i.e. the capacity to knock out enough of the other side‘s weapons with a single, sudden attack to render it incapable of responding. Both sides deny that they are preparing for a first- strike, since that would be so patently immoral, but that is exactly what is being attempted. It cannot, however, be attained with present technology. For one thing, there are too many weapons scattered around the world for that. One needs only about 495 to destroy either side. For another thing, a single nuclear submarine has enough bombs to destroy the other side and subs cannot be located. They could stay submerged for a year, then rise and obliterate the other side. When we get anti-submarine technology, we will have a really serious destabilization of the race—at least until the other side catches up.

E.P. Thompson has called the arms race an ‘addiction‘; each new technological advantage seems to fix one side‘s discomfort and create a sense of security. However, over the long run, the addict is locked into a system which will destroy him. Each fix requires a subsequent, larger, fix just to keep on the same level of comfort as before. The only real solution is not to get hooked in the first place. Just as an addict with a heavy drug habit is obviously in a precarious physical condition, so too any country that depends on weaponry to protect itself from aggression is in precarious security.

The one thing that military people do believe in, however, is the value of weapons. They claim two things—that weapons deter aggression and that weapons enable one to win whatever battles are not prevented by the deterrence. The former assumption is absolutely false; the second is only sometimes true. That is, far from deterring other countries from attacking, being heavily armeé simply invites aggression. The countries that spend an above- average amount on weapons for their income level are 36 times more likely to get into a war within five years than the countries that spend a below-average amount. what happens is that heavily armed countries fight each other; they hardly ever fight the other side. (One can find historical exceptions of course, but we should recognize them as exceptions.) The reason is obvious; countries arm and fight when they feel threatened. To avoid war, the thing to do is reassure the other siae that you are get threatening. That requires reducing, not increasing, weaponry.

The other reason for militarization is not to deter aggression, but to win. And presumably the countries that are heavily armed do generally win— at least when it comes to conventional warfare. But there can be no such thing as winning a nuclear war, so there can be no justification for preparing for one. As C. Wright Mills pointed out, the immediate cause for world War III is the preparation for it. Let me turn now to the responses of those people who oppose the arms race.

A few years ago, the British government put together a little brochure called Protect and Survive, detailing the ludicrously ineffective actions that people should take in case of a nuclear attack. They distributed it widely and it had a bracing effect. As Samuel Johnson put it, “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” E. P. Thompson responded with his book, Protest and Survive, and millions of Britons began to organize. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) had been the protest organ before and had withered, partly because people felt unreasonably reassured after their success in getting nuclear tests put below-ground. However, the organization still survived in a marginal scale; a few little old ladies were still sitting by the phone for the CND. It was there, ready to resume the struggle.

At the same time, groups began to coalesce on the Continent. The most influential organization was an inter-church council, especially in The Netherlands and West Germany. Even East Germans were able to respond to the threat by meeting under the auspices of daring church leaders. Marches and peace camps began to form. One is in Comiso, Sicily, where cruise missiles are going to be deployed this winter, if the construction projects meet their deadlines. Last year, hundreds of thousands of marchers were in the streets in all the NATO countries.

One notable exception is France. The peace movement is very weak there. Even Mitterand supports the decision that de Gaulle first took to maintain their Force de Frappe. what this shows is that much of the concern of the other NATO countries is not so much against nuclear weapons as against having no control over their own defence. Even Chancellor Kohl of W. Germany is now reported to be requesting a “double-key” system, which would give him a veto over the use of those weapons. Though his party is more censervative than Schmidt’s, his own actual response has not been more aggressive, but if anything less, according to Rudolf Bahro, a Greens Party spokesman who was in Toronto last week.

In no place has the anti-nuclear movement been decisively successful, however, even when it has won elections that seemed promising. For example, Papandreou’s election in Greece was hailed as a victory for the peace movement, but in point of fact that government has not shown the necessary resolve to reject NATO’s policies decisively. Some countries have been explicit about refusing nuclear weapons under ordinary conditions, however. Norway is an example. It remains a member of NATO, but will not participate in nuclear defense. (This fact, by the way, ought to be sufficient by itself to disprove Mr. Trudeau‘s assertion that Canada must support the nuclear arms race if it wants to stay in NATO.)

However, the last chance has come and gone for voters to stop the deployment of the new Euromissiles. Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Kohl have won their elections—she by a large margin, he by a smaller one. what went wrong?

The main error seems to have been the assumption on the part of the peace movement that all they had to do was foment public resistance to the nuclear arms race and that the political parties would then respond and develop new policies. This has not proved to be so. The resistance was developed, all right, but none of the parties has formulated an alternative defense policy. This left the Labour Party in Britain looking particularly ineffectual. They were forced, more or less, to support the doctrine of “unilateral disarmament”, as it is misleadingly called there, but without much conviction and without thinking through its implications. As a result, Thatcher and her Defense Minister, Mr. Heseltine, made the Labour candidates look silly by asking certain awkward questions for which they had prepared no answer. For example, Labour had come out against the development of the new Trident submarine, which is immensely expensive and dangerous. They were put on the spot and waffled uncomfortably when the Tories then asked whether they would be prepared to destroy the old, existing nuclear subs. Actually, these old subs probably ought to be the last nuclear weapons to be dismantled in any disarmament process, since they are a stabilizing force. As long as one knows that there are subs around that cannot be knocked out with a first strike, that fact will probably give any potential aggressor pause before rashly starting a nuclear war. They would probably not be used in a first strike, but only for retaliation, since their missiles cannot be targeted as accurately and precisely as land-based missiles. In any case, the Labour candidates floundered when asked about these missiles and looked inexcusably weak.

A second factor in the British elections is one that applies equally to North America. For historical reasons, the anti-nuclear weapons movement has been stuck with the label of “unilateral disarmament.” This term is completely misleading, since it implies that its proponents want their side to disarm completely, whatever the other side does or doesn’t do. It was Bertrand Russell‘s group that began using the term and the movement never was willing to change the slogan.

Actually what they are calling for is quite sensible and practical. Arms control treaties have not worked because they work on the principle of getting the agreement of both sides to do something, and then both carrying out the deal simultaneously, under some kind of verification procedures. There can never be sufficient verification to reassure some people that the process is working exactly equally, and that both sides are giving up an equivalent number of weapons. Hence the failure of the arms control process. But all that is unnecessary, as Charles Osgood pointed out about twenty years ago. Since both sides have such an incredible redundancy of weapons, they can afford to rid themselves of a substantial portion of them without any weakening of their military strength whatever. The opportunity exists, therefore, for NATO to unilaterally dismantle, say, ld percent of its weapons without negotiating any agreement at all. If the other side responds in kind, a new round of reductions could take place and so on, gradually. what would happen is simply the arms race in reverse—each side matching the other in reductions instead of increases. This policy was attempted once or twice during the Kennedy period, and the Soviets actually did reciprocate.

Obviously, this amounts to unilateral initiatives toward disarmament, which is quite a different thing than unilateral disarmament. Still, the public has never understood the policy that almost all peace activists hold on this matter. what they voted against was largely the slogan.

In the past two days, the Labour Party has elected new leadership and Mr. Neil Kinnock is almost certain to abandon all commitment to unilateral disarmament. what he will say about the missiles is not known. By early l983, polls showed that most British people were not against nuclear weapons for Britain in general, but the majority of them did oppose cruise and Trident in particular. what we have now is an imminent threat that the Euromissiles will be deployed within a few months.

There is little hope of a solution in Geneva before then. After that, we must expect an unlimited expansion of the arms race. There will be a new generation of cruise missiles, for example, that will he faster and will be painted with a radar- proof surface that makes them first-strike weapons.

Canada will have to outfit itself with a whole new and highly costly system of look-down, shoot-down defense weapons, since the most obvious path of the next generation of weapons will he over the North Pole and down through Canada toward the States. Then, too, the Soviets have promised that they will not he outdone by the cruise and Pershings; since a Pershing can reach the Kremlin in 5 to 8 minutes from Eastern Europe, they will have to he prepared to launch their weapons during that 5 minute period before they are struck. They will, therefore, install a launch-on-warning system, which will fire automatically as soon as incoming missiles are detected. Unfortunately, the detection system of computers and radar make frequent mistakes, and have generated hundreds of false alarms already. The Soviet computers are worse than our own, and our lives will depend on their accuracy. Moreover, the cruise missiles fly under radar, and are known to be hard to detect, so it will be understandable if the Soviets, when seeing something that looks like one cruise, assume that a whole fleet of them must he on their way too. Naturally, they may he even more trigger-happy than their pilots were over Sakhalin.

The public, however, continues blithely to trust that their military experts know what they are doing. It is very difficult to mobilize most people for action against the impending danger. Once these undetectable weapons are deployed in Europe, heightening the Soviet fears, all hopes for an arms control treaty must he abandoned, since verification will be so difficult.

What is to be done? I for one am extremely pessimistic. I think we are in the last decade of civilization, if not indeed the last decade of all life on the planet. Certain scientists are now mobilizing to show that a total nuclear war would surround the earth with clouds for 5 or 19 years, so dark as to blot out the sun and destroy life completely. No one can say whether or not they are right. what one can say, however, is that the present peril is the most serious danger that has ever existed in the history of the world. I propose that you all, as social scientists, need to look at what your life is all about, and change your priorities. If we don‘t win this struggle, every other project that you care about is lost too. I invite you to join with me in the heroic task of saving this planet from destruction.

what is to be done?

Let me suggest a few possibilities. First, you can work on developing new national defense policies. We need to decide what to demand, since the political parties have not tackled the job.

Second, you can work within a party to promote awareness of the issue and a commitment to reevaluate current policies. That part cannot be brushed aside just because current politicians have shirked their responsibilities.

Third, you can work on political mobilization. The movement is beginning a canvassing campaign, door to door, and will expand to cover every riding in Canada next year. All kinds of inputs are needed tor that effort.

Fourth, you can lobby. I am working with Richard Johnston, M.P.P. from Scarborough West, on a Resolution that he will present in Queens Park in November to declare Ontario a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. We need lots of support in that project, both organizationally and in lobbying M.P.P.s.

Fifth, you can do educational work. The media need to be used, and they are willing to be. Arrange to go give speeches, show films, and the like. Speak with other academics. Stop letting people sleepwalk into this.

Sixth, you can demonstrate. We will be marching in the thousands on October 22. Come out and bring as many people as possible. Stick your neck out and bring up the subject.

Seventh, if you haven’t any faith in the political process anymore, you can engage in civil disobedience. That is going to take place on a large scale this fall. As Gandhi said, “Noncooperation with evil is as much of a duty as cooperation with good.”

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books