Letters TO THE EDITOR

Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Letters TO THE EDITOR


The Future of Arms Control

It was an honor to have our book, The Future of Arms Control, reviewed in the March issue of Arms Control Today by such a distinguished scholar as John Steinbruner. We are grateful that he concludes that the book is worth reading. We further appreciate that Arms Control Today readers were given the opportunity to read his diverging views on where J arms control should evolve-after all, he has developed as creative and important ideas in this subject area as anyone in the world in the last 30 years. But he misrepresents several of our arguments, compelling us to respond.

First, Steinbruner wrongly suggests that the pursuit of American political compromise drives most of our thinking. Our analytical approach is to evaluate scores of detailed proposals on their merits, honestly if imperfectly, not to identify a "left" and a "right" position and steer tentatively between the two.

Still, we do believe there is a need for the left and right in the United States to honestly re-examine their own views and to consider what the other has to offer, at the same time as both also evaluate entirely new approaches. Few can doubt that such cross-fertilization has been absent in the arms control arena in recent years. Further, few can doubt that, without strong and broad American support for arms control, the enterprise cannot have a promising future.

Steinbruner suggests we should anticipate deep shifts in the American political scene that might make a radically different arms control program possible, but we prefer not to wait for the catastrophe that would probably be required to make that achievable. Nor is it obvious that a transparency-based regime of the type he prefers would work; among other challenges, effective monitoring and enforcement would both be extremely difficult to ensure.

Second, Steinbruner suggests that our approach to arms control is indifferent to international law and that we accept a situation in which the United States "unilaterally determines who will be protected and who will be threatened." In fact, we sought to devise enforcement criteria that could attract broad international support and avoid the types of errors that plagued the U.S. march to war against Iraq in 2003. Yet, we recognize that a successful approach to compliance-an essential element of any international legal regime that is to have real meaning-will not be universally embraced in each specific situation and argue carefully for why such universality is not essential. That is different from endorsing American unilateralism.

In fact, we support a number of measures to strengthen traditional nuclear arms control and international law. We advocate further deep and transparent, if informal, cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, unconditional and prompt ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a broadening of cooperative threat reduction activities, and broad changes in American and Russian alert practices. Likewise, we argue for substantial restraint in any moves toward greater military uses of space and limits on the scale of American missile defense deployments.

Michael A. Levi is a nonresident science fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, and a doctoral candidate in war studies at King's College, London. Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

John Steinbruner Responds:

I appreciate and reciprocate Michael Levi's and Michael O'Hanlon's expressions of personal respect in conveying their objections to my review of their book. I also regret any misrepresentation of their arguments. I do believe the text of their book invites the comments I made, however, and hence that their clarification is generally helpful.

Perhaps the basic matter of contention has to do with a practical question: the extent to which the future of arms control will be determined by political sentiment or by force of circumstance. …

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