Michael KreponExpansion and Contraction

Hawks and Doves, like practicing Buddhists, experience expansion and contraction. Both phenomena are most evident after treaty debates. Usually, but not always, the winners feel expansion and the losers feel contraction. Failure for one camp is the pathway to a safer future for the other. Progress in this field – whether you are for treaties, nuclear weapons, and missile defenses or against them — is incremental and halting because success prompts resistance and hedging strategies. Anxiety, a constant companion for both camps, seeks relief in familiar remedies.

After successful treaty ratification efforts during the Cold War, the doomsayers were mostly Hawks. At present, the prophets of doom are predominantly arms controllers. Strange, but true. After the Prague speech, the Senate’s consent to ratify New START, a successful Nuclear Security Summit, and a successful Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, the voices of doom are heard mostly from the Left. It is as if, with every modest step forward, the trap door into the abyss opens wider. Why is it that the fear of catastrophic failure becomes more pronounced with every success?

I know the feeling. One day, as a kid growing up in cold and snowy winters, I was walking to the bus stop at the end of our icy street when a neighbor lost control of her car, caught me on her bumper, and heaved me into a hedgerow. I can still hear her screaming behind the wheel, as frozen in fear as her brakes. When all is well in my world – especially when all is exceptionally well – a small voice in the back of my head warns, “Watch out for that car bearing down behind you.”

In the arms-control business there are many good reasons to stifle self-satisfaction. While gains are incremental, setbacks can be catastrophic, and they can, indeed, happen tomorrow. The ‘to do’ list is endless, and there is no equilibrium point in this business: you are either moving forward or you’re falling behind.

There are other reasons for feeling uncomfortable with success. So many hopes are invested in President Obama and there is so little time. Because expectations are sky high, his accomplishments are diminished. Success can also be oddly deflating and diminishing. The troops must be rallied and preparations advanced for the next battle. And, in truth, nuclear dangers are growing alongside success stories. The duality of events, the subject of an earlier post, has never been more evident.

Next, the players will take their familiar places over the Obama administration’s plans for phased, adaptive missile defense deployments. Worst-case assessments by U.S. arms controllers and Russian officials will again be joined, as if the Cold War never ended. Yes, U.S. plans can be problematic. And yes, they need a careful scrubbing. Get ready for the Next Big Tamasha!


  1. Fred Miller (History)

    The history of nuclear arms control has always depended on citizen activism. When there is a large, organized movement diplomacy becomes possible. Even when hawks are in office, if the doves are in the street in sufficient numbers, the diplomacy moves forward.

    Political leaders and other elites have a poor record of building, sustaining or inspiring the movement. Instead, it generates itself from mostly mysterious trends in the zeitgeist.

    The organization with the strongest claim to leadership of the grass roots movement to end nuclear weapons is Peace Action, with about 100,000 members. It’s new Strategic Plan keeps nuclear weapons at the top of it’s to-do list, but does not propose any big surge in activity.
    Peace Action’s ancestral organizations, Citizens for a SANE nuclear policy and the Nuclear Weapons Freeze, both saw their major successes when dynamic campaigns gave people a manifestation of popular fears and concerns, and invited their participation.

    A new surge of popular support for disarmament may come from Peace Action, but it isn’t likely to come from that organization’s board or national staff. Successful local campaigns may serve as models for a national campaign, but history suggests that this is a slow and uncertain process.

  2. yousaf (History)

    Michael, you mention that “[n]ext, the players will take their familiar places over the Obama administration’s plans for phased, adaptive missile defense deployments. Worst case assessments by U.S. arms controllers and Russian officials will again be joined, as if the Cold War never ended. Yes, U.S. plans can be problematic.”

    Problematic is an understatement as we have discussed off-line. The system does not work, costs a lot and contributes to further proliferation while not deterring anything:


    The burden of proof that it is sensible needs to be placed upon the folks proposing it, instead of casting its critics as misguided arms controllers.

    Indeed the current situation over BMD is reminiscent of the Cold War.

    And it was resolved in the Cold War by the ABM Treaty.

    If the US plans are problematic, the USG should examine ways to resolve its problems.

    There are also a couple of non-technical issues to consider such as when US deployments of radars and Aegis-ashore sites are proposed to possibly happen in countries that Russia considers within its “sphere of influence” such as Ukraine and Georgia.

    These two nations (and Macedonia) were promised future invitations to join NATO in the 2008 Bucharest conference, something that Russia opposes.

    MD is also therefore seen as threatening by Russia since it is perceived as increasing NATO influence over nations Russia wishes remains outside of NATO. Here the “red-line” will likely be if NATO goes ahead and stations a MD radar (or other MD hardware or soldiers) in these nations.

    The recent talk of a third Aegis ashore site will also not be well-received in Russia.

    Russia probably (and correctly, I think) believes that nations are being roped into the NATO sphere based on politics rather than any real threat from Iran. Even NATO members have admitted this: the Polish foreign minister said that , “If the mullahs have a target list we believe we are quite low on it,” see:


    I would also venture to guess that some Russian analysts is a bit confused re. the emphasis on the European missile defense when our DNI has just said (again) that he does not believe Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, whereas N. Korea has nuclear weapons already.

    If I was a Russian analyst I would wonder why the US is not emphasizing the Pacific MD rather than the Euro MD.

    The same solution that worked in the Cold War (the ABM treaty) could work again to resolve these issues, and save American taxpayers a lot of money.

  3. FSB (History)

    Those annoying arms controllers always looking out for the US taxpayers and global security instead of obsequiously genuflecting in front of ad hoc anti-technical destabilizing policies of the USG, derived by the marginally technically competent staffers of horse-trading US congressmen, who themselves genuflect in front of lobbyists and run scared at accusations of “weak on defense”.

    Yes, arms controllers are truly the problem cause they yield oh so much power.


    Why don’t we just sign off on everything the USG big brother proposes?

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