Strategic arms -- and compromises

IN the charged atmosphere preceding the next summit, two arms control alternatives now vie for the soul of the presidency. Each plan demonstrates the contradictions that now affect United States arms control policy. Neither offers much more than the dark promise of further strategic anxiety. The first plan, popularly termed a ``grand compromise,'' trades deep reductions in offensive and sea-based ballistic missiles for a specified moratorium on the deployment of ballistic missile defenses highlighted by the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). An agreement structured along these lines would fulfill the President's desire to drastically reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the superpowers, particularly those on ``heavy'' Soviet ICBMs that threaten first strike on our land-based forces. Yet the price of this deal is one that alters Mr. Reagan's dream of forging ahead on strategic defenses. This grand ``horse trade'' of our defense for their offense has gained support among a variety of political constituencies who are eager to use the bargaining leverage SDI provides, but it infuriates SDI advocates.

Enter the second plan, the not-so-grand compromise. As designed by an interagency group of US government experts in late August, this plan would abandon deep reductions altogether, thereby sidestepping the rationale for any exchange between offensive and defensive armaments. The plan would seek only moderate reductions in nuclear armaments, reductions that would ultimately be made up by the deployment of new US cruise missiles. If this agreement were accepted by the Soviet Union, strategic forces would remain roughly the same size, thereby negating the President's bold call for sharp reductions. Strategic defense would, however, be preserved no matter what compromises were achieved.

It is difficult to see how either of these proposals does anything to advance US security. One might call the deep-cuts proposal thoughtless arms control. It begins with the premise that ``fewer is better'' when it comes to nuclear arms, but ignores the instabilities engendered by drastic cuts. Under such an agreement, most of the reductions would be borne by the strategic submarine force, the most survivable leg of the US ``triad.'' This outcome could hardly be hailed as a success when it produces cuts in the most stable forces we possess.

If the first proposal is thoughtless, the second is irrelevant to any arms control regime. Marginal cuts will not change the nature of the nuclear threat, but instead serve as a dodge designed to avoid any linkage between an arms agreement on offensive weapons and SDI.

Still, it is unlikely that the Soviets would buy these proposals. Since the designers of the plan intend to exclude strategic defense, the Soviets will continue to have few incentives to reduce their offensive forces. Much political capital would therefore be squandered for the simple purpose of shielding SDI from any agreement.

Despite the inadequacy of current arms proposals, it is not yet too late to inject some rational connection between arms control and national strategy. To do so, American leaders must go back to first principles: deciding what they want from their strategic forces, and how arms control, coupled with a sound strategy for weapons development, can accomplish these goals.

First, the administration must make a firm commitment to the accelerated development of mobile missiles. Much of the concern over the power of Soviet ICBMs is a symptom of the threat they pose to US silo-based ICBMs. Development of a mobile basing system would remove the urgency for precipitous and verifiable deep reductions on both sides which this threat provokes.

Second, the President must overcome the resistance of staunch proponents of SDI and come up with a more tractable bargaining position on ballistic missile defense. It is ridiculous to assume that a recalcitrant negotiating posture will secure the American commitment to full-scale development of SDI. Deficits are mounting and defense spending will become more stringent; if the administration cannot moderate its position, Congress will be encouraged to cripple the program. A more flexible stance on SDI may, however, ensure some evolution to a more modest version of the SDI program.

As an alternative, the US could propose trading cuts in Soviet heavy land-based missiles to two-step limitation on strategic defenses. The first step would limit the deployments to high-altitude terminal defenses and late mid-course defenses to cover (1) a limited number of major strategic targets, including bomber bases, or a smaller number of ICBM silos, or staging areas for mobile ICBMs; and (2) national capitals, primary cities, and central command and control sites.

A moratorium on subsequent deployment of early mid-course and boost-phase defenses would be essential. Any agreement must permit continued research on these exotic systems. This moratorium can be maintained on deploying these systems for the time being, however, without foreclosing future strategic defense options or compromising our current security position.

The US and the USSR have the opportunity to restructure the outlines of the current strategic balance. American policymakers must be careful not to turn the possibility of a grand compromise into grand chaos.

Robert H. Kupperman is senior adviser and Andrew C. Goldberg a fellow in national security studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University.

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