Racing without SALT

Setting aside the SALT II treaty may have been expedient in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But it already is causing problems of US defense planners. Take the MX, the proposed new mobile missile which is supposed to protect US land-based missiles from attack. Without an arms treaty, it seems, the MX system would soon become vulnerable. Why? Without any treaty restraints on numbers of warheads, the Russians could fit their own missiles with enough warheads in the next decade to hit every MX being carried around on those miles of circular tracks.

What to do? Defense Department experts, according to the New York Times, have considered putting the missile aboard aircraft or on a new class of submarine but rejected this option as "too costly or technically unfeasible." So how about using antiballistic missiles to protect the MX? Some in the Pentagon apparently favor the idea, even though it would go against the SALT I treaty which places limits on such missiles and is still observed by both sides.

Other proposals, too, are under study with a view of bolstering the US nuclear arsenal in the event SALT II is truly over and done with. The assumption is that the Soviet Union will accelerate its own buildup without the treaty.

All of which points sadly to what treaty advocates have forecast all along: a costly escalations on the arms race by superpowers if the Senate fails to act. Americans ought to be asking themselves: can this really be in the US national interest?

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