Nuclear arms: thoughts of a European expert

Recently I read about President Reagan's first flight in the ''doomsday plane'' he would use aloft if there were a nuclear confrontation. The airplane was carpeted, with leather swivel chairs, interesting gadgets, multicolored telephones, maps, clocks; in short, an atmosphere conducive to brisk management and decision.

All too often military doctrines and strategies give the impression of theories built on computers and war games. Leading statesmen seem to lack imaginative perceptions of the concrete realities of a nuclear war. This is particularly fatal in a world of deep and antagonizing tensions, in a world where the arms race just continues year after year.

The years 1979-1981 were years lost for disarmament, in spite of the historic first special session of the United Nations General Assembly devoted to disarmament in summer 1978. The world community now faces the second special session (SSOD II) in June-July this year. Is there any reason to presume that we shall experience a more rewarding period, considering the fact that the underlying causes of tension and conflict are intensifying the arms race out of all proportion, thus making solutions increasingly intractable?

One, and perhaps the most important, manifestation of these effects is the present trend in military research and technology. It is currently moving in directions which, unless checked within a decade, may render arms control, not to mention disarmament, virtually impossible.

Particularly ominous in this respect is the new cruise missile technology. Not only may cruise missiles, through their small size and their capacity for carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional weapons, ultimately become utterly destabilizing weapons. Their flight characteristics and possible deployment areas may also negatively affect the security and sovereignty of neutral and nonaligned states. Finally, from the arms control point of view they may completely defy adequate verification.

For all these reasons cruise missile technology represents a quantum jump which, because of its potentially dire consequences, had better not been taken. It would indeed be ironic if the nation which is, mostly for good reasons, a staunch supporter of stringent verification measures would, by betting on nonverifiable cruise missiles, render international disarmament and arms control measures near unattainable.

Individual nations and the international community will have to make a decisive effort to find verifiable ways to come to grips with military R&D. It devours enormous resources--in 1981 at least $40 billion in government spending alone, out of which the two superpowers are responsible for 85 percent. The quest for technological superiority in the military field, as well as military superiority generally, is a dead end in the literal sense of the word.

Because of the rapid and tremendous advances in military R&D, time is a crucial factor. Due to increased difficulties in reaching agreement on sufficiently acceptable verification measures because of these advances, the longer negotiations and agreements are delayed, the more difficult success tends to become.

There is just one gleam of hope, and not even a particularly bright one: that talks on intermediate nuclear forces started at Geneva in November 1981 are continuing. The obvious and banal reason is that something has to be done about the insane arms race in Europe.

The situation on my own continent, already packed to the brim with tactical nuclear weapons, is evidence of something I said earlier - that military doctrines and strategies built on computers and war games are dangerous indications of theories distant from the concrete realities of a nuclear war. Since it has become obvious that even the most limited nuclear strikes will have widespread consequences and are unlikely to stay limited, the whole doctrine of flexible response is encountering increased public resistance.

Ironically, recent attempts on both sides to further develop this doctrine by the deployment of new types of intermediate-range weapons are having the unexpected result of exposing the contradictory and impossible consequenses of the whole doctrine - hopefully also of nuclear weapons themselves. The terrible dilemma of the present situation is, however, that it cannot be excluded that in certain situations nuclear weapons would actually be put to their cataclysmic use, but the reply would be instant and equally cataclysmic. Let me use plain language. Those who continue to plan for actual use of nuclear weapons in war are thereby displaying the most dangerous lack of imagination and insight into the true character of any nuclear weapon. They have forgotten, or never learned to understand, the realities of Hiroshima, now possible to repeat a millionfold.

The Geneva negotiations will, by necessity, start with a limited number of issues. However, in the nuclear field all weapons are interlinked and increasingly so, by virtue of developing technology which tends to blur distinctions between tactical, intermediate-range, and central strategic nuclear weapons. If these talks are to have any real significance, they must therefore be broadened to cover further categories of theater nuclear weapons and their carriers. Likewise, they might be fairly meaningless unless seen in the wider context of strategic nuclear weapons.

It seems necessary, at this stage, to recall the decisive role entrusted by the UN General Assembly to the 40-nation Committee on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. Nuclear disarmament in all its aspects concerns every human being irrespective of citizenry. It is therefore of the utmost importance to establish a link between the work of the CD and the ongoing or pending negotiations between the superpowers or the military blocs on all aspects of nuclear disarmament.

As of last month, multilateral disarmament negotiations have been going on for 20 years. The results do not seem to lend themselves to jubilee celebrations. I have some doubts about the sincerity of the superpowers in their attitudes toward multilateral disarmament negotiations. And there is, unfortunately, very little that the other member states represented at the negotiating table can do, considering present power structures in the world and considering that by necessity the CD has to carry out its work on the basis of consensus. As a matter of fact we all work under the conditions of the superpowers.

However, these powers might have to reconsider their attitudes in the light of what a distinguished British observer has called the New Wave of disarmament. In Europe, as in the US, people are on the move. For a growing number of them, in any country where a free debate on matters of life and death is possible, the issue has changed from being one of deterrence, military balance, inferiority or superiority, into one of survival.

The time has come, I think, when even the superpowers will have to cope with the ordinary person in the street.

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