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It is often stated, but is not true, that a poor or unequal armaments agreement, one that in practice would promote insecurity rather than stability in superpower relations, is preferable to no agreement at all. Equally fallacious is the proposition that the continuance of the arms race will inevitably lead to war. Every nuclear weapon developed in the Western world in the past 30 years has been successfully deployed for exclusively deterrent purposes. The more ingenious the system, the more reliable is the deterrence, and the arms race, costly and nerve-racking though it is, is preferable to war or submission. Even the Soviet Union--which has never hesitated to brutalize unoffending and helpless neighboring countries, and which has an extensive official literature on the prosecution of and survival in nuclear war--has shown no disposition to attack the direct national strategic interests of its rival. The worst that can be said is that the Soviet Union has sought, in a massive militarization that goes far beyond anything required for its defence or convenient to its shambling economy, the fruits of victory without the unbearable costs of war. Particularly distasteful is the tendency of some "social democratic" posturers in the West to represent the superpowers as morally equivalent. (Trudeau's complaisant abstractions at the time of the imposition of martial law in Poland are a case in point.) If the Russians were to accept the geopolitical status quo, they could amicably resolve their problems with the United States in a fortnight. If the United States were to cease to deter Russian aggrandizement, the whole world would shortly be paying tribute to Muscovy, in fulfilment of antediluvian Rusian aspirations.
The fact that there are ancient and ineluctable reasons for Russian behavior should not induce us to ignore its minatory nature. The United States is, as Mackenzie King said to General Charles de Gaulle, "an overwhelming contiguity" but it is not really a very overbearing neighbor. The official U.S. policy of promoting a phased transition to the preponderance of the defence in the nuclear armament rivalry, so that aggression is deterred by the forces of contemporary history as well as by the lights of perverted science, is admirable, whether or not it is attainable. Brian Mulroney (like Reagan's other principal allies) should be commended, rather than baited, for his cautious support of that initiative.
The ideal outcome of the talks now underway in Geneva would be a gradual and reciprocal ascendancy of defensive nuclear weapons; an accompanying build-down of offensive nuclear weapons; a revitalization of mutual balanced (conventional) force reduction in Europe; a naval construction restraint agreement; and a range of security building measures, starting with an upgrading of the hot line and perhaps a joint crisis control centre. A less than ideal but valuable outcome would be to trade SDI and home offensive weapons for a sharp reduction in strategic and intermediate strengths. U.S. perseverance no doubt will lead to a satisfactory variant of one of those results.
Reagan enunciated his arms control policy in 1981 as "a verifiable, equal- aggregates armaments reduction agreement or an arms race they (the Russians) can't win." The prize for recent diplomatic ineptitude could go to the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, for comparing SDI to the Maginot Line. Caspar Weinberger is not Andre Maginot, Ronald Reagan is not Marshal Petain; Washington is not Vichy; and that is as it should be.