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"Arms Control: 1960, 1990, 2020"

Journal Article, Daedalus, volume 121, issue 1

Winter 1991

Author: Paul Doty, Director Emeritus, Center for Science and International Affairs; Mallinckrodt Professor of Biochemistry, Emeritus

 

Looking back over the three decades since arms control was codified in the nuclear age, it is clear that, both in concept and in practice, it has become a central feature of the military and political landscape. Nevertheless, it remains a conception in the service of policy, not an end in itself. As a concept it developed in two ways. One path has been theoretical, in that it refined and further developed the view that arms control embraces "all the forms of military cooperation between potential enemies in the interest of reducing the likelihood of war, its scope and violence if it occurs, and the political and economic costs of being prepared for it." The archetype of this approach has been the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which has met all three of the above criteria. At the strategic nuclear level, "reducing the likelihood of war" evolved into the concept of increasing "stability" by making a first strike not worth the risk in times of crisis or to a potential aggressor.

The other path taken has been one focused on restraining the arms race in various ways, especially through negotiation of numerical limits on weaponry. SALT I and the unratified SALT II, as well as the draft START Treaty, illustrate this approach which is quantitative, often incremental, and essentially pragmatic in nature: it aims at addressing the above criteria by assuming that fewer weapons will reduce the incentive to resort to their use in times of crisis or war, in the limit of extreme reductions it would diminish the "scope and violence if war occurs," and it would reduce costs in some degree. This approach has been criticized by some arms controllers who believe that mindless reductions could be destabilizing and the negotiations can become so prolonged as to become irrelevant. When valid, such criticisms hit home, but agreements that avoid these pitfalls are reachable and, in a succession of steps, could bring the "action-reaction" competition, which has led to such excesses in armaments, under control and thereby meet the original criteria. In actual practice negotiations have been dominated by this latter course and this seems destined to continue as conventional arms control, requiring much greater quantification, gets underway. Hence, despite occasional fissures in the arms control world, both approaches are by usage and public support part and parcel of arms control.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

For Academic Citation:

Doty, Paul. "Arms Control: 1960, 1990, 2020." Daedalus 121, no. 1 (Winter 1991).

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