It is now clear that a substantial portion of the American electorate favors a freeze to halt the nuclear arms race. But the major contribution which the freeze can make is not in halting the growth in the number of nuclear arms but in stopping qualitative changes in superpower strategic arsenals. Here is why.
The logic of deterrence requires that a country be capable of carrying out a successful retaliation after absorbing a nuclear attack. So long as retaliation is assured, according to the theory, no state will be tempted to launch a nuclear attack. The threat of retaliation preserves peace.
In maintaining a credible deterrent, it is important to achieve two conditions - strategic stability and crisis stability. The former exists when no adversary could perceive an advantage by resorting to nuclear war. The second exists when no state could perceive gains by carrying out a pre-emptive nuclear attack.
So long as targets are vulnerable and strategic weapons are invulnerable, strategic stability will exist. With the advent of modern counterforce weapons, however, land-based missiles are increasingly vulnerable to a surprise attack. Since one modern hydra-headed ICBM with MIRVs can threaten from 3 to 10 land-based missiles, the continuing development and deployment of counterforce weapons decreases crisis stability.
Thus the major contribution of the freeze: to halt the development and deployment of counterforce weapons such as MX and Trident C-5 missiles and to redirect strategic thinking away from counterforce planning. Since crisis stability is being threatened by the continued modernization of strategic forces , it is imperative that these developments be halted. The freeze can help defense planners redirect their thinking and defense planning.
Fundamentally, nuclear strategists are divided into two schools of thought - stable balancers and war fighters. Stable balancers believe that, since nuclear victory is impossible, no preparations should be made to carry out a protracted nuclear war. Civil defense programs are wrong because they convey the impression that it is possible to defend against a nuclear attack. According to stable balancers, the only requirement for a credible deterrent is the assurance of retaliation resulting in unacceptable damage to the adversary.
Nuclear war fighters, by contrast, assume that the maintenance of a credible deterrent requires the capacity of fighting any type of war, including limited or major nuclear conflict. To make deterrence credible, so goes the theory, preparations need to be made in the event deterrence fails.
Over the past decade there has been a shift in strategy and weapons acquisition policy toward the war-fighting school. This evolution in strategic planning, begun in the early 1970s and forcefully articulated by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, was codified in Jimmy Carter's now famous Presidential Directive 59.
But it is precisely this shift in strategy and weapons policy which has disturbed both Western Europeans and Americans alike. A growing portion of citizens on both continents view this shift not only as destabilizing but also as counterproductive to nuclear peacekeeping.
The basic idea of the freeze is to bring a bilateral, verifiable halt in the testing, development, and deployment of nuclear arms. It shifts attention away from the nuclear war-fighting doctrines which have gained ascendancy in Washington.
The major task of arms control is not to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. The superpowers currently have more than 15,000 strategic nuclear warheads, and a decrease or increase of several thousand warheads is not likely to affect world peace. What is significant is the type of strategic weapons which are deployed.
To the extent that the freeze contributes to strategic and crisis stability by checking counterforce weaponry, it will strengthen the peacekeeping process.