Catalytic Diplomacy
Epilogue: Lessons Learned
The existing United States war plans against Russia evolved from an Eisenhower-era doctrine of massive retaliation to deter Russian conventional attack against Western Europe. In over half a century, the basic notion has not changed. Now, in an age of nuclear-armed missiles, and with Russia a capitalist state, we still plan to deter Russian aggression by the threat of general nuclear war against the Russian homeland.

Nothing is more unworkable, more unrealistic, or more inappropriate, and the situation is dangerous. But changing these plans is extremely difficult. And so this Rube Goldberg doomsday machine stays in existence, with U.S. nuclear-firing missile submarines ready to fire at 15 minutes’ notice, backed up by Minuteman missiles that can be fired immediately thereafter. They target Russian missiles, bombers, and submarine bases with a view to disarming Russia in some future cataclysmic crisis.

Ever-new commissions study the issues and are caught in the same verbal and mind-set deadlocks. And Presidents, with much on their plate, see no reason to take on the political costs of fiddling with the nuclear machinery.

My hope was to finesse the political problems by eliminating the disarming option as a quiet collateral result of a fair-minded disarmament agreement to equal levels, e.g., 1,000, that would require U.S. strategic planning to be reorganized while eliminating Russian objections to a small U.S. ABM.

When Prime Minister Stepashin accepted my idea and proposed it to President Clinton, the timing was not right because Vice President Gore was running for President. And soon Stepashin was replaced. Meanwhile, the Russian military were not sufficiently concerned about this threat to back the plan, even though it required, really, that the United States come down to the projected Russian level. So perhaps none of this ever had a chance. Someone called it “Pickett’s Charge”, in reference to a famous Civil War Confederate attack, by which he meant perhaps that it was futile or, perhaps, a high-water mark–the latter is what I thought.

President Putin understood the basic idea quite well, as his message to me shows, but whether he can ever prevail on the Russian generals to bestir themselves is unclear. And, for both sides, tinkering with the force levels without really doing much provides the political cosmetics that each wants without spending the political capital that everyone wants to maintain.

The latest treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) of June 1, 2003, requires both parties to limit their nuclear arsenals to 1700–2200 operationally deployed warheads each by 2012 but without requiring excess warheads to be destroyed and without any verification provisions. The Bush Administration did, in fact, cut deployed weapons levels by 50% but avoided going below levels, such as 1,500, that might require rewriting the war plans.

On July 9, 2009, President Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to a target of cutting deployed nuclear warheads to levels of 1,500 to 1,675 each. They were motivated by trying to find a follow-on to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), which expires on Dec. 5 and has verification provisions.

But these cuts would be only 25 operationally deployed warheads below the lower range of 1,700 to 2,200 range of the SORT treaty.

All this shows that the disarmament game is played on the margins of existing strategic planning. And it shows that–so long as there is no willingness to force the Department of Defense’s strategic planners to abandon U.S. disarming attacks on Russia—there will be no real progress in nuclear reductions despite adoption of goals such as zero nuclear weapons.

With regard to extending the ABM treaty, I had a much better chance of success and got much closer to it. And the effort seemed to show the value of pushing an idea through a foreign capital. Countries like Russia have fewer players and fewer political restrictions. Getting their leadership to endorse an idea seems easier. And once it is proposed by the foreign capital, Washington has to consider it.

In any case, by the time the Treaty died, interest in it was mainly ideological and the abandonment of the Treaty seems to have just removed a hot topic from the political debate.

In both major ideas in this section–Truncate the Sword on the one hand and Mothball the ABM Treaty on the other–I was energized by felt pride of authorship of the idea and personal management of the campaign. By contrast, ideas published in op-eds become everyone’s idea and, in that regard, no one’s idea.

And I had much standing, in both cases, because the Russians thought I was the inventor of the ABM Treaty and a great expert and innovator. My standing was much lower in America, where I was considered just one among tens of competing experts.

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