The Carter Years: Toward a New Global Order

By Richard C. Thornton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Reinforcing the European Flank, 1977-1979

A fter the March talks, President Carter and his advisers knew that in all likelihood the nation's security needs could not be met through arms control. They were forced to reach the conclusion, as had the previous administration, that Moscow was bent upon achieving a politically useful strategic weapons capability which would enable its leaders to attempt to reshape to advantage the geopolitical balance.

The problem was how to respond to Moscow's fait accompli. Even assuming popular support for a massive missile-building program, a dubious assumption at best, the United States could not embark easily upon such a course because it was too far behind in land-based systems. The scope and momentum of Moscow's program would enable it to deploy far more counterforce warheads against American silos than the United States could deploy against Soviet silos. It was simply cheaper to MIRV a heavy missile than it was to design, develop, build, and deploy a comparably large weapon from scratch.

The United States quite literally could not catch up if Moscow were determined to maintain its lead in land-based missiles. (Ironically, this was the position in reverse of the 1962-1968 period, when the United States decided not to maintain its margin of superiority in land-based systems.) Besides, it was a race no American leadership wanted to run. Aside from its political implications of a return to cold

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