BECAUSE PRESIDENT CARTER's most serious and most immediate foreign policy problem is almost certainly going to be how to develop an effective arms control policy and then convince the public and the Congress of its worth in the face of an already fierce campaign being waged by right-wing hawks to stop him in his tracks, the book's concentration on the problems of the U.S.-Soviet arms race and on the domestic "politics of detente" is particularly welcome.
Jimmy Carter is showing signs that he intends to break a long-standing tradition when he takes office on January 20. He appears to want to take prompt, strong and effective action in arms control. By appointing arms-control-minded men to key foreign and defense policy posts, by welcoming proposals from Brezhnev and Gromyko to try to reach early agreement on ways to limit strategic arms, end nuclear testing, and reduce troop levels in central Europe, and by viewing skeptically the hawkish assertions that the Soviet Union is striving for military superiority over the United States, Carter may be able to avoid repeating the patterns set by his predecessors in past transitions.
Unsure of themselves in foreign affairs, wary of dealing with the Russians, under pressure from the Pentagon and its congressional allies to approve new weapons programs, the newly elected Kennedy in 1961 and Nixon in 1969 both passed up opportunities for progress in arms control and instead approved major new weapons programs which accelerated and expanded the arms race with the Soviet Union. Kennedy gave us thousands of intercontinental missiles and missile launching submarines, and Nixon the Mirv (multiple, separately aimed missile warheads which give each missile the ability to attack several different targets with nuclear weapons). The Russians have been trying to catch up to each new U.S. development and chances for stopping the arms race have been missed time and again because of United States reluctance to take the first step.
This is the contention of Arthur Cox, who flatly declares that "the arms race will end when the United States decides to end it." In a carefully detailed and at times passionately argued analysis and discussion of the origins and effects of the U.S.-Soviet arms competition, Cox asserts his belief that the United States sets the pace for the arms race, and that pressures from zealous cold warriors and a powerful military-industrial complex have repeatedly persuaded American political leaders to look to more arms for security rather than seeing that the better path to it is mutual restraint. Indeed, since the book was published, thescaremonger, Russians-are-twenty-feet-tall lobby has moved into high gear.
One of this book's most important contributions is Cox's analysis of the politics of detente, and particularly what he calls the "perception theory." He credits former defense secretary (and future Energy Czar) James Schlesinger with its authorship. Proponents of the United States has three times as many nuclear warheads aimed at the Soviet Union as the Soviet Union does at the U.S., even if nearly all United States weapons are technologically far superior to the Soviets' (witness the revelations about the primitive construction of Lieutenant Belenko's stolen MIG-25), even if we have a five-year lead over them in MIRVs, the fact that the Soviet Union is reported to be building up its forces while we are represented (inaccurately) as nearly at a standstill supposedly results in wordwide perceptions of United States weakness and Soviet strength.
In 1975, Schlesinger argued that "because the Soviet Union continues to invest heavily in new nuclear tipped missiles, the United States must be prepared to match those developments so as not to lose the strategic edge or even be perceived by others [italics mine] as having lost it." In other words, if we do not continue to spend more, regardless of the military necessity for doing so, we will be perceived as failing behind; the Soviet Union will be able to call the tune, exercise more political leverage over us and our allies, and achieve what doomsayers never tire of foretelling: world-wide communist domination. So we buy more arms; the Soviet Union buys more arms - this is a guaranteed formula for an endless arms race. We and the Soviet Union become, in Paul Warnke's words, "Apes on a Treadmill."
Arthur Cox, a former C.I.A. and State Department official, has no illusions about Soviet objectives. He does not argue that the U.S.S.R. wants only peace and expanded east-west cultural and commercial contacts. He contends, rather, that we see detente through different eyes than they do. Thus, when we fail to understand that they see no inconsistency between seeking relaxation of military confrontation with us on the one hand and supporting national liberation movements (e.g., in Angola) on the other, we feel that they are not acting in good faith, an impression reinforced by the efforts of Dr. Kissinger to paint detente in rosier hues than it deserved. And so, for example, when Soviet-supported Cuban troops appeared in Angola, the critics of detente cried "foul," declared that Kissinger had been discredited, and worked to undermine efforts to bring about a SALT agreement.
Cox would have the United States take a much tougher stance with the Russians, in fact, and condition improvements in relations, including favorable trade provisions, on Soviet forebearance in Cold War Third World involvement. I find this proposition less convincing than his prescriptions for dealing with the arms race, and not wholly consistent with assertions he makes elsewhere about the essential bankruptcy of the worldwide appeal of Moscow-directed communism. The Soviet experience of interference in Third World political developments has been just about as dismal as ours: their misjudgements in the Middle East have been no less a setback to their image and appeal than ours in Southeast Asia.
Thus, while agreeing in principle that we should be more reluctant than we have been to enter into some arrangements, such as new trade agreements, with the Soviet Union, in the face of unwarranted Soviet behavior, I am skeptical about the practicality of this approach. Neither the American business community, hoping to expand its contacts in the Soviet Union nor others, such as the Japanese, which are now benefiting from the commercial aspects of detente, are likely to appreciate such linkage. And we have only to look at the failure of the Jackson-Vanik amendment which linked trade to Jewish emigration (it dropped off significantly after the amendment was passed) to realize that we will have no more success interfering in areas the Russians see as important than they will in ours.
But the strength of this book, and the reason that the incoming Carter Administration should study it with care, lies in its prescription for bringing the arms race under control. Neither Cox's description of the problem, nor his advice for dealing with it, will be welcomed by a segment of American society that is resisting vocally and energetically any efforts to reach arms control agreements and curb unnecessary military spending. Over the past few weeks a "Committee on the Present Danger," packed with cold-warriors, has been declaring that "the principal threat to our nation, to world peace, and to the cause of human freedom is the Soviet drive for dominance based on an unparalleled military buildup.Members of that committee managed, incredibly, to have themselves and other like-minded persons appointed to review this year's National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet strategic developments and, not surprisingly, concluded that the Soviet Union is "seeking superiority" over the United States. The American Security Council, another right-wing pressure group, is distributing through its educational arm a slick, made-for-television film telling the same scare story. It features interviews with the secretary of the navy and a number of senior military officers on active duty. Their message about waning U.S. military power and apparent American blindness to the growing Soviet threat is so blatently critical of the policies directed by their commander-in-chief that one can only wonder why they have not been brought on the carpet for insubordination.
With this outpouring of scaremonger propaganda from the cold warriors, it is all the more welcome, then, to find such an antidote in Arthur Cox's new book. President Carter and his administration will face an uphill fight selling the merits of his arms control policies to a skeptical public and Congress which have not been hearing much support for arms control from the outgoing administration. The Dynamics of Detente should be must reading for the incoming team.