Interview: General Brent Scowcroft
In the following interview, he comments on the adjoining article by Soviet Academician Velikhov as well as on issues of the arms control impasse and "Star Wars" raised by George Keyworth, the President's Science Advisor, and Dr. Sidney Drell.
NPQ: The logic of arms control seems to have broken down and lost its intellectual credibility. As Dr. Keyworth has pointed out, we now have vastly higher levels of nuclear arms on both sides than we did when negotiations began 22 years ago
You have said that the left takes refuge in a political idea the freeze; the right takes refuge in defensive technology such as "Star Wars".
How do we get beyond this fundamental impasse where there is no consensus behind a concept of U.S.-Soviet relations?
Scowcroft: First, it is understandable that there is a great deal of frustration with deterrence and with the concept that either of the superpowers can bring on an unimaginable devastation within thirty minutes.
The problem is, there is no easy way out. Notwithstanding the hopes of the extremes of the political spectrum, there is, at the present time, no substitute for deterrence.
In my judgement, we have to concentrate on reducing the likelihood of nuclear war not eliminating its possibility. I don't think that is feasible. This can be done by adding to the stability of the strategic balance. This is where we should concentrate our efforts.
NPQ: How do we do that?
Scowcroft: By analyzing the character of the weapons systems that we have. Through our procurement programs and through arms control with the Soviet Union we should try to reduce and eliminate those weapons which tend to be destabilizing and encourage the development of weapons that are stabilizing.
Strategic Stability and First Strike Capacity
He argued this in response to Keyworth's point that Soviet ICBMs are "particularly destabilizing".
What do you think'?
Scowcroft: There are a number of things that are potentially destabilizing. I would say that the current strategic balance is not as stable as it should be.
At the present time only the Soviets have a first strike capability. Their ICBMs give them a large number of highly accurate warheads, a substantially greater number than we have and a number great enough to put all of our forces under attack.
Velikhov mentions a number of systems. The Pershing IL for example, first of all can't reach Moscow. Secondly, the Soviets have an ABM system around Moscow which could take care of the Pershing if it could reach there. For well over a decade now, the Soviets have had their own SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) offshore, near Washington, within ten minutes attack time.
The cruise missile, which he also mentions. is too slow to be considered destabilizing from a first-strike viewpoint.
Although I disagree with his analysis of the character of forces today, I would agree that the balance is not as stable as it should be and further efforts are needed.
NPQ: Velikhov and Kokoshin also argue that pursuing the development of "Star Wars" in conjunction with the MX and forward based missiles in Europe clearly indicates we are preparing for first strike capability. Do you give any credibility to their fear'?
Scowcroft: I don't know whether to give credibility to their fear. I think what they say is inaccurate.
First of all, the United States is a defensive power. The offensive weapons we are proposing, such as the MX, are not numerically adequate to give Lis a first strike force. It is, however, theoretically true that any kind of a strategic defense system is more effective if it is preceded by a first strike which would reduce the number of attacking warheads that defense would have to intercept. In that sense, it is destabilizing, yes.
NPQ: Velikhov also argues that the Soviets have taken various command and control measures which they say indicate that they have no intention to pursue a first strike. Do you give any credibility to this assertion'!
Scowcroft: No. I don't know whether they intend a first strike. Their force posture and their deployment indicate that whether or not they are postured for a first strike, they certainly do not expect one from the United States. Their levels of alert are much lower than ours. Their percentage of submarine fleet at sea, for example. is very, very low.
One could conclude either that they think a war will start with their own first strike, or at the very minimum, they do not believe that the United States is going to launch an attack.
NPQ: In early December one of our board members, Dr. Armand Hammer, met with Soviet leader Chernenko. Chernenko told him that a U.S. pledge of "no-first use", such as they have made. would be welcome as a signal that the U.S. was serious about arms control. Why shouldn't the U.S. make such a pledge?
Scowcroft: A no first-use pledge, in terms of balance of forces in Europe, would make it safe for the Soviets to launch a conventional attack against NATO. Since 1952, we have, for better or worse, defended NATO by the threat of nuclear weapons if necessary. We have never had an adequate conventional force to defend NATO.
The way to prevent the use of nuclear weapons in Europe, if the Soviets are interested, is to prevent any conflict there because of the possibility that it could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. The Soviets have refused to agree to the MBFR (Mutual Balanced Force Reductions) proposals which would be designed to reduce the chances of a conventional conflict.
Sid Drell argues just the opposite: only after we reduce the level of nuclear weapons could there be a stabilizing role for ballistic missile defense.
Where do you stand?
Scowcroft: I don't think either argument is necessarily correct Effective arms control does not require defense. I do not agree with Keyworth there. Effective arms control, the aim of which is to enhance the stability of balance, does not require a defensive force at all.
The relationship between the role of any strategic defense and arms control depends on what kind of defensive systems we are talking about. Strategic defense can mean things all the way from an "umbrella" that would protect population down to a "hard point" defense of ICBM fields. They are very different kinds of defense. I would say that it can be harmful or helpful, depending on what kind of defense it is.
NPQ: What about the comprehensive defense plan, which has come to be known as "Star Wars", proposed by the President?
Scowcroft: As a practical matter it would be very difficult to induce the Soviets to reduce their offensive forces if they faced the prospect of a strategic defense for which they might need those offensive forces to penetrate.
NPQ: Is there, then, a contradiction between the President's promotion of the Strategic Defense Initiative and progress in arms control as we start up these new talks?
Scowcroft: There may be, yes. It may be possible to agree on an arms control treaty that in fact would not go, at this point, to deep cuts, but would enhance the stability somewhat. The Soviets may be willing to agree with something limited; notwithstanding the fact that there was no agreement on strategic defense.
But, potentially, they are in contradiction.
NPQ: Dr. Drell has proposed that the route to agreement with the Soviets is through reduction of warheads. He argues for a mutual reduction to a specified number of warheads, grandfathering past differences in terms of throw weight. From this reduced level, new negotiations can concern the characteristics of particular missiles.
Lt. General Starodubov - a member of the Soviet START delegation - told an Institute group visiting Moscow last September that this approach was a good one and "in principle" a basis of negotiations.
Is this a fruitful direction to go in?
Scowcroft: I'm a little bit leery of it, although the core of the idea is sound.
The problem I have with Sid Drell's proposal is that it presumes that all warheads are equal. A gravity bomb on a bomber is not the same as an ICBM warhead, for example. Here, they are different in terms of accuracy. But the greatest difference is the time a bomber takes to reach the target. Also, the Soviets have sophisticated air defenses, so there is some question of the bomber weapon ever reaching the target. Whereas, at the present time, there are no ICBM defenses in the Soviet Union. So, they are not really equivalent.
Moreover, just reducing to equal numbers - if, for example, those numbers end up all on highly MIRVd launchers - would result in a much more unstable, rather than stable situation.
I think the idea needs to be modified to leave some flexibility on reduction, to provide incentives to reduce destabilizing systems and incentives to retain or modernize stabilizing systems.
NPQ: In this new set of talks with the Soviets - where they will apparently focus on "Star Wars" - where should we begin on the U.S. side?
Scowcroft: We should begin with the proposal put on the table last October. This provides the basis for a decent agreement on offensive weapons, but also agrees to discuss defensive measures including the so-called "Star Wars".
This proposal offers to make trade-offs between
ICBMs or missile warheads, and bomber weapons and warheads