Arms Race Redux

Any hopes that Mr Bush would lame duck his way quietly through the remainder of his term can be retired. There’s just no end to the nasties. Now, even worse than the Iraq, he wants a new arms race with Russia. Showing his usual lack of historical thought he proposes new missiles in Eastern Europe, ostensibly to deal with rogue terrorists, but easily deployed against Russia if necessary, or, being Bush, just for the apocalypse of it.

This is wrong for so many reasons. James Carroll provides some history:

One man picked up a club, and the other answered with a stone. A knife was parried with a sword. The shield followed, then the spear, the mace, the longbow, the fortified wall, the catapult, the castle, the cannon. Across eons, every warrior’s improvement in defense was followed by a breakthrough in offense, leading to yet new countermeasures, ever more lethal. This ancient offense-defense cycle was made modern by the machine gun and the tank, then by warplanes and anti aircraft guns, and, ultimately, by ballistic missiles and anti ballistic missiles.

In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara analyzed the structure of this dynamic to argue for a halt to it. “Were we to deploy a heavy ABM system . . . the Soviets would clearly be strongly motivated so to increase their offensive capability as to cancel out our defense advantage.” Not only would the mutual escalation, launched in the name of defense, be futile and wasteful, but it would make war more likely rather than less. At the end of his Pentagon tenure, McNamara had arrived at the central paradox of the nuclear age — how defense and offense had taken on opposite meanings, with the former having become the inevitable precursor of the latter. In opposing the deployment of the ABM, the American defense chief was breaking with the oldest pattern of human belligerence.

A gradual disarmament was underway, and though it would take more than thirty years, and the collapse of the Soviets, the ultimate trends were toward a world with ever fewer nuclear missiles armed for Armageddon.

Then came Bush, who immediately started repudiating the key disarmament treaties. In reaction to his provocations, the Russians are now developing and testing new weapons. “It wasn’t us who initiated a new round of the arms race,” says Vladimir Putin.

Michael Sky