Why Do Arms Races
Diplomacy without armaments is like music without instruments.
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia
Why do countries arm themselves, and how might an arms race possibly be controlled? The idea of a spiraling arms race represents an advance over the ideas prevalent in the early cold war years, when it seemed to many Americans that the phenomenon of action and reaction was all one way—that is, that America was reacting to Soviet aggressive actions and militarism. But when the period of isolation under Stalin drew to a close and Soviet and American scientists began to make contact with each other, it became apparent that Soviet citizens typically held a mirror image of that view; that is, they saw the Soviet Union simply as reacting to American threats. From this exchange, people developed a more general understanding that, in some real sense, each side was reacting to the other. It is very hard to sort out particular causes, especially once the action‐ reaction process is well under way.
After the first shocks of the cold war in the early post- World War II years, the Soviet and American military spending levels