Many have declared the practice of nuclear arms control to be dead or dying. This was especially true after the Carter administration pulled the plug on SALT II in 1979. Here’s a sampler:
Arms control has essentially failed. Three decades of U.S.-Soviet negotiations to limit arms competition have done little more than to codify the arms race.
— Les Gelb, 1979
A very strong case can be made that we’ve come to the end of the road with traditional arms control agreements.
— Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1984
I think New York City is essentially ungovernable because of its size, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying and fill up the potholes that we find. I don’t think broad, verifiable arms control agreements are “do-able,” but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do useful things at the margins.
— Helmut Sonnenfeldt, 1984
Ongoing technological change makes the likelihood of meaningful arms control agreements involving only offensive strategic arms even less likely than in the past.”
— The Heritage Foundation, 1985
In 1987, Albert Carnesale and Richard Haass published an edited volume, Superpower Arms Control: Setting the Record Straight. These wise men found slim pickings:
What is most striking about the arms control experience surveyed here is what it did not do. Those who hoped arms control would bring about major reductions in existing or planned inventories or slow the introduction of new and more capable technologies have little grounds for satisfaction. Nor do those who looked to arms control as a means of constraining the emergence of a large, modern Soviet arsenal capable of destroying a significant proportion of U.S. strategic retaliatory forces… What emerges above all is the modesty of what arms control has wrought. Expectations, for better or worse, for the most part have not been realized… If the history reveals anything, it is that arms control has proved neither as promising as some had hoped nor as dangerous as others had feared.
Later that year, the INF Treaty abolishing three rungs of the escalation ladder was finalized. As Paul Warnke used to say, rumors of the death of arms control are always premature; the more some succeed in killing the enterprise, the more others will be obliged to reinvent it.
To those ACW readers who celebrate holidays this season, and to those who do not: May peace be upon you.