It is an article of faith among the Washington Establishment, including Democrats and liberal Republicans (such as Kissinger, Baker, Shultz, Powell, and Rice) that arms control has made or will make America more secure. Not-well-meaning pacifist “arms control ” groups also propagate this claim, although their real agenda (if you read their writings) is the unilateral disarmament of the US, which they consider a “threat” to world peace and security. They are not nearly as zealous about disarming Russia, China, North Korea, or Pakistan. But they do propagate the “arms control makes us safer” lie to mislead the public.
But has arms control actually made America more secure or less? The correct answer can be determined only by looking at the evidence, i.e. at the actual results “arms control policies” have brought about, and juding whether these results are positive or not.
Arms control began in 1972, when the US and the Soviet Union signed the SALT-I treaty, which limited their nuclear arsenals to existing sizes. It was unverifiable, however, and was violated by Moscow, even though the treaty exempted the SS-11 Sego ICBM, treating it as a non-ICBM. The US and the USSR also signed the ABM treaty, which codified America’s vulnerability to ballistic missiles. This policy might’ve made sense in the Cold War, but it made no sense afterwards.
In 1979, President Carter and General Secretary Brezhnev signed SALT-II. It codified the USSR’s nuclear buildup, exempted the Soviet Tu-22M Backfire strategic bomber from the definition of delivery systems, and like SALT-I, was unverifiable and was violated by Moscow, leading President Reagan to withdraw the US from it in 1986.
In 1987, Reagan and Mikhaeil Gorbachev signed the INF treaty, requiring the elimination of all US and Soviet intermediate range ballistc missiles, while not including anyone else’s IRBMs, including China’s, even though Beijing has had IRBMs since 1971. Thus, America lost valuable assets while China was and is allowed to build up its IRBM arsenal, which includes 80 DF-21s and dozens of DF-3s and DF-4s, the latter with a 7,000 km range.
In 1991, the US and the USSR signed the START-1 treaty, which cut their nuclear and strategic delivery system arsenals deeply, to 6000 deployed warheads and 1600 deployed delivery systems. Again, the Tu-22M Backfire was exempted.
In 1993, the US and Russia signed START-2, which Russia did not ratify until 2000 and withdrew from in June 2002, thus making the US unilaterally hog-tied to that treaty which cut America’s nuclear arsenal further.
In 2002, the US and Russia signed the Strategic Offensive weapons Reduction Treaty, which placed limits on deployed warheads, but was foolishly taken by the Bush Admin to included delivery systems as well (which it did not) and caused Bush to foolishly eliminate America’s MX Peacekeeper ICBMs and half of the air-launched cruise missile inventory, thus severely weakening the US military unilaterally.
In 2010, the US and Russia signed the New START treaty, which obligates the US (but not Russia, contrary to often-made claims) to cut its deployed arsenal and fleet of delivery systems to 1,550 deployed warheads and 800 systems (with only 700 deployed). This weakened the US military even further while allowing Russia to build up its nuclear arsenal, which it has been and is still doing. (Russia’s stated goal is to build up to New START’s ceiling.) The treaty also places limits on missile defense systems.
Meanwhile, all other nuclear powers are, of course, allowed to increase their arsenals further, without any limits or transparency, or even insight by the US. China has built up its nuclear arsenal to 3,000 nuclear warheads under the cloak of secrecy.
So let’s consider: has arms control delivered any benefits to America whatsoever? The answer is no. It has delivered zero benefits and has only made the US nuclear deterrent much smaller and weaker, and thus has made America less secure.
It has not put any significant tabs on Russia’s nuclear arsenal – New START allows Russia to grow its strategic nuclear arsenal and places no limits on tactical nuclear warheads. It also doesn’t count Russia’s Tu-22M bombers as intercontinental, even though they are (with aerial refueling), and places limits on America’s missile defense.
Over 20 years of arms control has utterly failed to stop the growth of China’s nuclear arsenal; unilateral gestures by the US have utterly failed to impress Beijing, which refuses to even talk about its arsenal, let alone disclose and reduce its size.
Over 20 years of arms control has utterly failed to prevent India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea from acquiring hundreds of nuclear weapons. Now India has over 100 warheads, Pakistan at least 100, Israel up to 300, and North Korea a number it refuses to disclose (13 according to Global Security). America’s unilateral gestures, including the withdrawal of American tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea, have utterly failed to impress these countries.
Over 20 years of arms control has utterly failed to stop or discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Despite unilateral American gestures, many years of patient negotiations, and crippling sanctions, Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons and is close to obtaining them.
Over 20 years of arms control has utterly failed to limit Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal, preent the growth of China’s stockpile, prevent Pakistan and North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, or stop/discourage Iran from developing them. It has utterly failed to deliver any positive benefit to the US. All it has resulted in is a huge (over 75%) cut in America’s nuclear arsenal since 1991. The cuts in Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal that took place in the 1990s would’ve occurred regardless of these treaties, as the huge Soviet arsenal was economically unsupportable for Yeltsin’s Russia. Now that Russia’s economy is growing – mainly due to sky-high oil and natural gas prices – Russia can afford to build up its arsenal significantly and is doing so.
While Russia, China, and everyone else except Britain and France are growing their nuclear arsenals, the West is cutting its (already barely adequate) nuclear deterrent, foolishly deluding itself that such unilateral gestures will impress Moscow, China, Pyongyang, and Tehran, and “induce” them to reduce their arsenals (or forgo building one, in Iran’s case). This the delusion that today’s Western arms control policies are based on.
In sum, “arms control” is an utterly failed, suicidal, reckless, irresponsible, dangerous policy. It results in unilateral cuts in Western nuclear arsenals while everyone else – Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, India, Israel – are growing their nuclear arsenals and Iran is speeding towards nuclear weapons, ready to join the nuclear club in the near future.
In other words, it results in unilateral Western disarmament (and this is what most “pro-arms-control” organizations in the West actually advocate). This is utterly unacceptable.
Despite arms control advocates’ call for “fresh thinking” and false claims that a policy of maintaining a large nuclear arsenal is obsolete, their claims are utterly false. A large nuclear arsenal will always be needed, because only a large one is survivable. Moreover, the policies they advocate are not “fresh thinking” – they are more of the same. More of the same utterly failed policies that the US has been trying for over 2 decades, with abysmal results.
The reality is that unless the US rejects arms control COMPLETELY and starts rebuilding and modernizing its nuclear arsenal, it will become weaker than its potential adversaries and unable to provide a credible nuclear umbrella for its allies, forcing these allies to develop their own nuclear weapons. This will greatly increase, not stop, nuclear proliferation around the world.
It is time to call arms control what it really is: an utterly failed, suicidal, foolish policy. And it’s time for the US to utterly reject it.