Arms Control for an Era of Flux

By Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington. | The Christian Science Monitor, July 5, 1991 | Go to article overview

Arms Control for an Era of Flux


Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington., The Christian Science Monitor


THE United States is facing an unusual problem: We need to reassess a policy that has been a resounding success. Providing for the security of Western Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has worked so well that now we have to ask ourselves, what do we do next?

It will help to review how the present situation evolved. In 1949, when NATO came into being, the US had a monopoly on nuclear weapons, but the Soviet Union was superior to the West in almost every category of ground forces. Public opinion, especially in the US, was anti-communist, but that did not extend to supporting large, standing military establishments. At no time did the members of NATO meet the conventional-force goals that their defense and foreign ministers accepted in the North Atlantic counci l. But no matter: The American nuclear umbrella protected Europe long after the American nuclear monopoly ended.

But there have been two changes. The first is the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact, a counterweight to NATO, no longer exists. Soviet troops are going back to the Soviet Union. Nowhere in Eastern Europe, and especially not in the Soviet Union, can the economy support a major military effort.

The second change was brought about by the startling performance of American non-nuclear forces in the Persian Gulf war. For whatever reasons, the Iraqis chose not to put up much of a fight in that war, but such fighting as they did was with weapons that were top-of-the-line in the Soviet inventory. The contrast between our weapons and their weapons was stark.

The conclusion is that nuclear weapons are no longer as important as they once were to offset Soviet numbers. But for the Soviet Union, they may be more important; they may now be seen as an offset to superior US non-nuclear technology.

Once the US lost its nuclear monopoly, the American protective nuclear umbrella over Western Europe became part of a standoff between the two superpowers. The standoff worked because there was stability, and there was stability because there was a standoff. Now, there is only one superpower; there is no more standoff; and more unnerving, there is no more stability.

For 40 years or more, the US spent nobody knows how much money on various schemes, some of them rather harebrained, to destabilize the Soviet Union. …

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