The dangers of 'weapons strategy'

The United States is in danger of allowing its strategy to be determined by its weapons rather that its weapon being determined by its stratege. Obviously, the availability of weapons will influence strategy but there is a difference between influence and dominance.

The difference is fundamental. The implications are extensive. The consequences of confusing weapons and strategy can be disastrous.

Single weapons systems are so large and expensive that one may become a significant segment of America's industrial economy. It may have a regional economic political power which demands retention or perhaps expansion even though the operational need has diminished or ended. The greatest harm, however , comes from the subtle psychological influence large weapons systems have on the minds and attitudes of those exercising high command. This may in effect distort national policy to meet the needs of a weapons system. The danger is increased when the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve also as the heads of their own services.

The weapons strategy becomes most dangerous with nuclear weapons because they represent a huge investment of resources seeking a mission to justify their existence.

When the adversary has a similar posture, a fearful tension may develop. No one knows or can measure how the thinking of one adversary influences the thinking of the other, i.e. the degree of reciprocal stimulation. This is illustrated by the concept of a "window of opportunity" which is the "threat" that the MX missile is supposed to counter.

One major point is clear as the "think tank" scenarios of nuclear war games develop, no improvement in quality or number of nuclear weapons is sufficient to bring about anything other than a political, economic, and social disaster. If in the scenario deterrence works, the increasing number and the cost of the weapons necessary for "stability" lead ot either bankruptcy or the commitment to an overwhelming military establishment. This would be ultimate "weapons strategy," i.e., in effect, the control of the state by the arms industry.

If, on the other hand, in the scenario, deterrence does not work and nuclear weapons are used for "defense," no "game" carries through to the practical organization and control of the nation in the conduct of the ensuing "broken back war" and the economic, social, and political consequences of either "victory" or "defeat," except to demonstrate that there then will be no difference. That the effect achieved by the use of nuclear weapons inevitably is disaster. This is an absolute denial of allm strategy of policy -- the means have destroyed the ends.

This is a grim prospect, particularly since Soviet military literature frequently advances two theses: first that a "nuclear war can be won" and second , that Soviet military policy and planning are directed toward winning. Consequently, some people speculate on the matter of preventive "war" or its twin preemptive "war." The Israeli destruction of the Iraqi nuclear facility in May stimulated such speculation. This, of course, brings us back to the previously mentioned " window of opportunity" and the "disarming strike" theories.

While this is not the place to consider the fine semantic distinction in such theories, one major factor must be be emphasized: the preemptive strike must be sudden, unexpected and have a very high probability of complete success, i.e. certainty of destruction accomplished. In a nuclear action, the stakes are so high that the usual decision criteria and "risk calculation" are inapplicable.

Nuclear action is not the simple act of "pressing a button" -- the preparations other than those of missile readiness are extensive, complex, and not wholly secure. Nuclear action leaves no room for error of luck -- it is a matter of absolutes. This is the key to it all.

Finally, the absolute nature of nuclear weapons, the structure and laws of the US government, and the fundamental values of America's free society, bar the concept of a preemptive first strike as a US policy or strategy. Therefore, we must reexamine our approach to the basic problem. How does a free society develop and use military power and force to protect the freedom and security of the society as well as its political commitments and territorial integrity? That means a strategy that is primarily directed toward the attainment of clearly understood objectives and which uses a variety of weapons systems which are appropriate to the achievement of those objectives.

Because of the pressure of political commitments and the great lead time of modern weapons, this is an evolving process during which we must take risks -- risks that are consonant with our objectives rather than submission to our fears.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.