Richard Falk; New paths to global disarmament

Dick Falk had just returned to Princeton from India and meetings with Asian security analysts. After a quick game of squash, he was already gearing up for another plane flight - this time to Paris to discuss the situation of Iranian exiles with former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr.

Miraculously, he stopped long enough to talk.

Sitting in his office, the bearded professor looks sufficiently ''ivy'' in the Princetonian mode - green tweed sport coat, yellow shirt, blue tie, and rust-brown corduroys.

At first he appears to be living rather dangerously even in his own office. Stack upon stack of precariously piled research papers and unopened letters engulf him like a white forest.

But when it comes to talking armaments, Professor Falk is anything but cluttered. He speaks with the cautious, cool-reasoned optimism of one who does not expect Utopian shifts in the arms arena, yet who refuses to stop looking for ways to establish a more stable, secure global future. Some excerpts:

What convinced you that we have to find a less militarized approach to global security?

As I looked over trends in world armaments in relation to our growing economic interdependence, I saw that the trends were leading to catastrophic confrontations, including nuclear ones. I realized that no political goal any country could pursue could justify risking another Hiroshima, or worse. The human race is not suited to handle - let alone survive - today's awesome nuclear weapons. There may be some species on some planet somewhere in the galaxy that has sufficiently infallible institutions and sensibilities, but human beings are not that species. So I think we are being compelled to find ways to evolve a less militarized, more sustainable world order.

How have you and your colleagues at the Institute for World Order in New York approached the search for alternative world order strategies?

First, we're not dreaming about any magical kind of shift in the structure of international society, a disappearance of conflict or of violence being used in the pursuit of political goals, or an end to Soviet opportunism. These are all too much a part of our political world. Instead we're asking, ''Given the way the world works, what can we do to make it less prone to catastrophic breakdowns?'' We think much can be done to reduce the global arms race while not making ourselves vulnerable.

What are the broad outlines?

First, every effort must be made to reduce tensions between the superpowers and slow their nuclear weapons race. But to bring this about in the current arms climate will require a far more energetic and politically involved citizenry.

Second, there's a need for a more adequate and coordinated global approach, with world leaders becoming far more sensitive to the implications of the most significant political development of our time: the rise of nationalism in the poverty-stricken third-world nations. Without an effective response to those aspirations, a prosperous society like ours is in danger of turning into an isolated fortress, fighting all the time to keep the less fortunate at a distance, while the possibilities for nuclear confrontations are multiplying a hundredfold.

Why do you place so much priority on the third-world factor?

I think the most serious development - even more so than the possibility of a US-Soviet nuclear exchange - is the coming together of American nuclear strategies with its renewed commitment to crush liberation movements in the third world. We seem to be moving toward a terrible dependence on nuclear weapons to uphold our influence in critical parts of the developing world - especially the Middle East and Persian Gulf. It's no secret that the potential for catalyzing a nuclear confrontation exists there.

What's the evidence for this increased dependence on nuclear weapons?

Studies coming out of the Pentagon these days, as I read them, assume that the most vital security commitments of the United States, if seriously challenged, could not be met successfully with non-nuclear military force alone. For instance, if control of the Mideast oil fields were challenged either by Soviet invasion or by internal revolutions. Although such a view is not officially acknowledged by the Pentagon, it has been attributed to high administration officials. It undergirds the work of foreign policy specialists close to the military, and since the Iranian revolution it frames foreign policy debate throughout all branches of government. . . .

In my view the decision to develop the neutron bomb was significant not so much for the European theater - the stated purpose - but for dealing with future political turbulence in the third world.

Would Congress support the use of a nuclear trump card?

It's hard to say for sure. But I think it's clear that we're witnessing the emergence of a bipartisan militarist consensus among our political leadership. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, along with the Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutions, have convinced our leaders that the continuing phenomenon of national revolution is deeply threatening to our national interests. They no longer believe that the control of these forces can ultimately be entrusted to friendly regional regimes like the Shah of Iran. But they continue to believe that our military might should be used to try to contain third-world nationalistic movements.

So our best efforts to protect our third-world interests through arms have not worked, but we still believe that military containment or arms trade is the best tool for the task?

Right. To be sure, I do not opt for naive forms of disarmament or an abrupt shift in the role of the military. But the current militaristic frame of mind is dangerous. We seem to have grown so accustomed to the presence of the nuclear bomb in our political world that we no longer realize how irrational it is to base our security interests on such weaponry, especially in trying to secure the world's most volatile regions. And the current militaristic frame of mind appears to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that military power is capable of exerting decisive influence on third-world struggles. This is no longer true in the world we live in. If we are even to begin reversing the arms race in the two areas I mentioned - the third world and US-Soviet relations - a more balanced view of the role of military power must be restored.

Given the tide of third-world nationalism, how could the policies of the world powers achieve more balance toward security in the developing regions?

Here I think the Europeans have found a wiser approach. Many European leaders and citizens, particularly in France and Germany, feel that it is better at this stage of history to accommodate national revolutionary change rather than control or stifle it. To try to control the history of the developing world through floods of arms or by military intervention tends to produce exactly the opposite of what is intended.

We have run into this again and again: The application of American force ends up radicalizing liberation movements, confirming their claims that we are the enemy of change, getting us stuck in support of leaderships that are isolated from their people, and even putting us into a position where we are acting against our own democratic values, since an incentive arises in our government to keep things secret and mislead our own people.

You're thinking of Vietnam?4tThat's the most agonizing example. When I journeyed to Hanoi at the height of the war I recall how strange it was, as an American, to be so close to the American bombing. Apart from whether the war was right or wrong, I could see that high-technology weaponry was being used in areas that lacked military targets, resulting in the random devastation of the countryside. And its political effects were self-defeating. The bombing tended to mobilize and radicalize nationalist forces, driving them toward a dependency on Moscow in a way that turned our own worst forecasts into a reality. We saw this kind of compulsive military approach again in Iran. After the fall of the Shah's overmilitarized regime, our first response was to send Harold Brown, then secretary of defense, all over the Persian Gulf promising friendly governments more military equipment - as if the reason the Shah's regime collapsed was that it didn't have enough arms.

I think we've demonstrated an acute learning disability about the degree to which arms can secure our interests or promote stability. The nationalist movements are like volcanoes. If we are going to reduce global tensions in the long run, we need to realize these kinds of political eruptions cannot be contained militarily, and the effort to do so only intensifies the explosions when they occur. If we followed this line of thinking, our opportunities for relating successfully to developing countries would be much greater.

Afghanistan made it clear that the Soviets are not going to abandon aggressive exploits in the third world. Their arms sales to the developing countries add up to over $32 billion since 1961 - $5 billion more than the US. Doesn't Soviet adventurism demand a counterbalancing, competitive arms posture from the US?

Well, to a limited degree, yes. But understanding the limits is crucial in our outlook toward the future of global armament. On the one hand, one has to assume that the Soviets want to take advantage of opportunities to expand in the world, to the extent that those opportunities are offered to them. But I also think that in the broad historical perspective they have been relatively cautious about pursuing those opportunities. An outstanding exception, of course , is their efforts to protect their borders - there they are almost obsessed and prepared to use force, as events in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe show. But beyond their borders they have not really been very successful in penetrating the third world.

To be sure, in recent years they're playing a game similar to our own: They've discovered that supplying arms to friendly governments like Cuba or Angola is a way of maintaining a presence and influence. But their relationships with countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Somalia, and Ghana have also shown that when their influence collides with nationalist aspirations, the Russians don't last long. Notice how careful they've been, despite their role as principal arms supplier, not to push India too far toward adopting a pro-Soviet policy.

Afghanistan, I think, has also exposed the weakness of Soviet militarism, as much as its frightening potency. It will probably prove an inhibiting experience for them just as Vietnam was for us. If all that military prowess can't succeed in a country of goats and mountains, then where can it succeed? So I think the Soviets' experience illustrates further the need for a new appreciation of the limits of military force as a basis for exerting influence in the third world. While Soviet adventurism obviously cannot be ignored, neither should it serve as an automatic pretext for the United States to intervene militarily in the third world beneath the banner of geopolitical competition.

Developing countries clamor for new weapons - and increasingly for nuclear weapons. Some 54 third-world nations are now dominated by their armed forces. Your own associate institute, the Institute for World Order, recently reported that from 1970 and 1979, non-OPEC developing countries with an average per capita income of $670 bought $64 billion in foreign arms. Is there any reason to expect the third world's desire for weapons can be cooled?

The trend has been the natural consequence of the movements in the developing world in the '60s to end colonialism and secure independence. Of course, that independence brought with it the feeling that a government needs military power to be counted a state among states. It is a drive that has indeed reached frightening proportions within those countries themselves.

But in order to help cool that drive for arms, I think the world powers have a role to play, especially when you consider their impact on regional tensions in the third world. If we were more perceptive about the situation of Pakistan and India, for instance, we would realize that our arming Pakistan is forcing an unwanted regional arms race upon India, and at a time they can least afford it.

The prospect is that serious?

Security specialists in India whom I met with recently believe that a failure to arm would invite Pakistani aggression. The US could help ease a situation like this by showing greater sensitivity to these regional problems.

I think the superpowers can also ease the third-world arms rush by their own example. For the third world, the United States and the Soviet Union exemplify what it means to be a sovereign state. Their failure to reverse the nuclear arms race or even to renounce such weapons has persuaded many third-world politicians and intellectuals that if they want real sovereignty they have to be not only militarily formidable, but also acquire nuclear weapons.

Are meaningful weapons reductions possible between Americans and the Soviets? Opinions differ as to whether or not the Russians have a dangerous strategic edge over the US, but it does seem clear that Soviet arsenals have rapidly caught up, and in some cases surpassed, America's nuclear and conventional forces. The Pentagon worries that various Soviet advantages -- in medium-range missiles in Europe, for instance -- could translate into direct political leverage on the Europeans. From the point of view of seeking alternatives, don't these trends inhibit us from slowing down our own arms production and trade?

The threat is indeed there. But I believe that the military position of the United States in relation to the Soviet Union has been portrayed in very misleading terms. This effort Washington is making to portray us as militarily inferior and vulnerable - possessing that so-called ''window of vulnerability'' - I find totally unconvincing. The United States is not in any significant sense vulnerable.

Of course, the Reagan administration would take exception. But do you intend that quite literally?

When it comes to sheer numbers of conventional weapons, tanks, and so on, I agree that the Soviets probably have overall superior capabilities - if they could get them deployed. And that's a big if. It is also true that they are now able to create a challenge to some aspects of our naval supremacy. But by and large we still have naval supremacy in most regions of the world as well as greater mobility. We have far greater capacity to project our forces anywhere in the world, although, of course, the Soviet Union can use its military power quite easily in Eastern Europe.

But also you have to realize that the Soviet Union has a lot of problems of order and internal security, for which most of these conventional weapons are assigned. And if you think of Warsaw Pact troops, these must be regarded as pretty unreliable for the Soviets in any kind of war except possibly defense against external attack. Remember, the Warsaw Pact troops live uneasily under an imperial situation; they are not genuine allies. So I don't think the Soviet capabilities can be translated into any kind of serious threat any place, except conceivably Europe. And there it seems ridiculous to suppose that they would risk provoking general war.

What about nuclear weapons - particularly the fear that the Soviets are now capable, in a first strike, of destroying the bulk of American land-based ICBMs as well as the majority of our nuclear subs?

Even if the Soviets have more throw-weight (total missile payload) than we, that doesn't go to the deeper question: what is a sufficient force to discourage them from using nuclear weapons in pursuit of their political goals? People today - even our leaders - haven't really absorbed fully the changed nature of warfare. The whole logic of warfare in the nuclear age means that even if you are not exactly equal, that is irrelevant once each side reaches a certain level of strength. What is needed is a level of sufficiency - a position taken by many prior US defense officials.

Even if you grant the worst possible case of the Soviets making a devastating first strike and knocking out the majority - even 90 percent - of our land-based missiles, it still leaves them exposed to unbelievable retaliation. One American nuclear submarine alone can knock out 160 major cities. One sub can produce more damage than all the damage done in all the wars in human history. And even if we had three times as many warheads as we now have, we couldn't do more damage than we can already do, for there is a limit to how much you can destroy.

So I think the administration's belief that jingoism and militarism are needed to show resolve to the Russians is both dangerous and politically ineffective. It amounts to an embrace of mysticism - a geopolitical mysticism. And it's very dangerous in a nuclear age because it implies that bolstering arms and projecting military weight somehow can be translated into favorable political results regardless of the extent to which opposed nuclear forces are permanently neutralized by a balance of terror.

Putting aside for a moment the political difficulties, let's suppose that there were to emerge a new receptivity toward easing the arms race and enhancing world order by non-military means - and that you were asked to point the way to that future. Would you advocate some kind of world superstate or a federation as envisioned by early founders of the United Nations?

No, I think that would be the next worst thing to nuclear war. The tremendous inequalities of life in today's world are too great. A world superstate would almost necessarily have to be highly repressive. It would need, among other things, to regulate the flow of people, and the best one could hope for, I think , would be a government like South Africa's that regulates the flow of black Africans into the white areas. That is, something extremely repressive. I don't think the way to solve our security problems is necessarily to build bigger bureaucracies. Rather, the future of world order really depends, I feel, mainly on deconcentrating and demilitarizing the principal states that now exist in the world.

If you could institute five steps to ease the arms race and increase world political stability, what would they be?

First, I think we would need a far more energetic citizenry focusing on this menace of nuclear war and changing the political climate in relation to what our leaders feel is politically viable. That's happening in Europe. I think and hope it will happen here in the United States within the next five years. Without it, there is little hope of changing the militarist consensus that now dominates our leadership.

Second, I think we would need to move quickly and clearly toward a defensive conception of military power. That's not to suggest eliminating military power or disarming unilaterally. It means restructuring the pattern of our armaments policies so that it's clear that we intend military capabilities to be used only for defensive purposes. And that means both in relation to our rivalry with the Soviet Union and in relation to our commitments in the third world.

Third, establish a tradition of illegitimacy and non-use with respect to nuclear weaponry, including an exchange of international pledges or an agreement that nuclear weapons shall never be used first. This should be backed up by public understanding and support. And more importantly, it should be backed up by a structuring of our forces that demonstrates our ability to meet security needs without depending on nuclear arms. That step would reduce the risk of nuclear war. It could also rekindle some slight hope of controlling further nuclear proliferation.

Fourth, develop a new understanding of what security means - one that relies not just on militarist convictions based on weapons and devastation, but relies more on the psychological and political resolve that any aggression from without will be met with such popular resistance that any potential aggressor would be discouraged from trying to attack or occupy. Here I think much can be learned from the Swiss, or even from the Iranian revolution before it descended into religious fascism. I'm talking about recognizing the great potency of citizen action, a capacity to discourage aggression without necessarily relying on guns and missiles.

Finally, we should as a nation give serious, consistent support for human rights here and elsewhere. Political militarism, as I see it, is closely linked to repression by governments. So if one wants a peaceful world, I think that support for human rights is indispensable.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Richard Falk; New paths to global disarmament
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today