Is a Window Open for Arms Control?

Article excerpt

THE spotlight on arms control, dimmed during the Gulf war, is once more shining in both the US-Soviet and Middle East arenas. The Soviet Union has apparently agreed to interpretations of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty signed last year that will make US Senate ratification more likely. US and Soviet negotiators wrestle with issues of weapons systems and verification that prevent completion of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The press reports that the White House is preparing a new initiative to limit proliferation of weapons in the Middle East.

Success in any arms control initiative requires interrupting the intricate cycle of legitimate security concerns, economic interests, and political pressures that lie behind the escalation of military power.

The military establishments in any country have the professional responsibility to anticipate and prepare for conceivable threats against the nation's security. Although the perceived threat of Soviet military power has decreased with political chaos in that country, the US military cannot, in its planning, ignore the thousands of nuclear warheads and highly developed delivery systems in Moscow's arsenal. The Soviet military, without doubt, still thinks and operates in terms of a US threat. Their unhappi ness with the withdrawal of their forces from Eastern Europe and concern over the display of US technical prowess in the Gulf war cannot make them any more amenable to arms control. In the Middle East, the military establishments of Israel and the Arab states see direct threats to national security; their professional assessments probably leave little room for arms reductions.

In the US, the Soviet Union, and Israel, major industrial enterprises depend upon defense orders. Without challenging directly the need for arms control, such economic interests will, through both open and private lobbying, seek greater security-building programs.

For those countries without major arms industries - as in the Gulf - similar pressures are exerted by middle men who benefit financially from the imports. Their interests are matched by both the defense establishments and economic interests in arms-producing countries. Large orders for arms exports reduce per unit costs of weapons needed in a nation's own arsenal and keep industrial production going when internal arms orders lag.

Given this symbiotic network, the political leadership in each country must make the tough decisions. …