Arms Control Wonk ArmsControlWonk

 

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Ernest Lawrence were worthy of a dual biography. Oppenheimer and Edward Teller will be forever intertwined. So why haven’t Oppenheimer and Alan Turing been joined at the hip? Both were brilliant pathfinders — Turing in mathematics, Oppenheimer in physics. Their actions shortened World War II, saving countless lives — Turing because of his code-breaking skills, Oppenheimer by leading the Manhattan Project’s work at Los Alamos. Both were tragic figures. Turing’s homosexuality was criminalized, leading to his suicide. The British government never came to his rescue for services rendered. Oppenheimer was done in by his friendships before the war, and by his reservations about the Bomb afterward. Seeking to remain an influential insider, he left himself vulnerable to losing his clearances, thereby being cut off at the knees. Both belatedly received tributes from their nations after their unbearable public rebukes – Oppenheimer while dying from cancer, Turing posthumously.

I was spellbound watching Derek Jacoby play Turing in “Breaking the Code” at a theater in London’s West End in 1986. How could anyone do better than his stuttering portrayal? I stand corrected. Give yourself a treat and watch Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch play Turing in “The Imitation Game.”

 
 

What can the Obama Administration hope to accomplish to reduce nuclear dangers during the last quarter-pole of this presidency, especially after being drubbed in the mid-term elections? Quite a lot, actually.

The big “get” remains a nuclear deal with Iran that leaves Tehran far more poorly positioned to sprint to a nuclear arsenal than the cartoon depiction of the problem that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used to school the UN General Assembly in September 2012. The more likely scenario of concern, as James Action has written, isn’t breakout, but “sneak-out.” Outlier states seeking the Bomb usually don’t try to break out in heavily monitored locales; they are more likely to do this in hidden spaces. Nonetheless, the terms of public debate have been framed in terms of breakout from agreed constraints at facilities with known coordinates under heavy scrutiny. By this yardstick, ongoing negotiations have already reaped significant gains, and could yield far more if negotiations succeed.

We shall, of course, see, whether a deal can be struck, and, if so, what the final numbers, plumbing configurations, and fissile material off-loading arrangements will be. Then it will be possible to determine how much better off the United States, Iran’s neighbors, and the State of Israel will be than is currently the case under the interim agreement or, if negotiations break down, with an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program. We shall also consider how much access any deal reached allows for foreign inspectors and sensors to look into dark corners.

Even if a negotiated web of constraints and monitoring measures makes everyone concerned about Iran’s nuclear capabilities far better off than with the interim agreement or with no deal at all, the Obama Administration is still likely to have a donnybrook on its hands. The outcome  will be more consequential than the next strategic arms reduction agreement – whenever it comes to pass. If Prime Minister Netanyahu decides to do everything in his power to torpedo a deal that the Obama Administration determines to be sound, verifiable, and in the national security interests of America’s friends and allies, the tear in U.S.-Israeli relations might become irreparable. Even if Netanyahu decides to avoid a momentous clash, his surrogates on Capitol Hill will still be up in arms, equating friendship with Israel with support for the Netanyahu government’s actions and rhetoric, no matter how ill-conceived.

A second accomplishment in the last two years of the Obama presidency would be a basket of new pledges and deliverables for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, a signature Obama initiative. Russia’s absence from the next summit is disappointing, but need not preclude useful steps taken by others.

A third major accomplishment would be a signing ceremony at the United Nations for an International Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations. Securing this achievement would require a shift in the administration’s timid position of “leading from behind” the European Union on this initiative, which has yielded little by way of tangible results. The Code of Conduct has always been a Big Idea, since reducing dangerous actions and confrontations in space are directly related to reducing nuclear dangers here on Earth. But the Obama Administration has treated it as small potatoes. I will continue to test the patience of ACW readers on this subject in subsequent posts.

A fourth major accomplishment would be a successful NPT Review Conference in 2015. Here, as in the negotiations with Iran, definitions of “success” require parsing. In past NPT RevCons, success has been measured by a Consensus Final Document — a yardstick that empowers the most recalcitrant states. My definition of success is a review process that (1) reinforces existing norms that have progressively diminished the value of nuclear weapons for major powers; (2) makes it harder for new states to acquire nuclear weapons; and (3) makes it easier for states in full compliance with the NPT’s obligations to garner the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology.

The biggest threats to the NPT’s well-being are proliferation concerns in the Middle East, South Asia, and Northeast Asia. The P-5 are obligated to fulfill their end of the NPT’s grand bargain — to pursue nuclear disarmament – and four of the five have done just this. It is nonetheless painfully true that negotiations between Washington and Moscow on a follow-on to New START are moribund, both clearly retain excessive stockpiles, and strategic modernization cycles are now gearing up in Russia, to be followed in due course by those in the United States.

Washington and Moscow could take initiatives prior to the RevCon to strengthen the NPT, separately or in tandem, even while remaining at loggerheads over other issues. Hans Kristensen and Stan Norris estimate that 2,700 warheads in the U.S. stockpile are awaiting dismantlement, with another 3,500 in Russia. One way to strengthen the NPT would be for Washington and Moscow to pledge that, for every warhead they refurbish through life-extension programs, they would commit to dismantling one or more old warheads. Pledges to do so could be effectively monitored through voluntary, reciprocal transparency and confidence-building measures, without giving up warhead design information.

If this is too hard, or if this would entail lengthy negotiations, both countries could immediately pledge to step up the pace of warhead dismantlement while negotiating suitable trust-and-confidence-building measures. And if this is still too hard, I would not give the Kremlin a veto over steps that make sense for the United States. As Hans has painstakingly chronicled, warhead dismantlement has slowed to a crawl in the United States while plans and programs to increase the number of life-extended warheads are moving forward. Linking warhead dismantlement to refurbishment might be a useful placeholder while awaiting the next round of strategic force reductions. Otherwise, the Obama administration is without checks and balances against domestic opponents who champion U.S. strategic modernization programs while being dead set against nuclear negotiations and treaty ratification.

 
 

Reagan and Gorbachev arrive at Hofdi House, Reykjavik.

(Note to readers: This is the second half of a review of Ken Adelman’s Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War. This review will also appear in The Nonproliferation Review. The first half appears here.)

Ronald Reagan, the unreconstructed Cold Warrior and opponent of détente, succeeded in doing more damage to nuclear orthodoxy than all of his predecessors combined. Another irony was that Reagan’s treasured SDI, the deal-breaker at Hofdi House, became the victim of Reykjavik’s successes. Before Reykjavik, SDI was already politically and financially hamstrung by Democrats on Capitol Hill; even its more prosaic parts were severely challenged on technical grounds. After agreeing in principle to deep cuts in strategic forces and the elimination of intermediate-range capabilities, the rationale for pursuing advanced, space-based defenses was shredded. No formalities were needed for SDI’s demise. Instead, the George H.W. Bush Administration “grounded” strategic defenses, focusing on land- and sea-based interceptors, as it signed on to deep cuts in strategic offensive forces.

Neither Reagan nor Gorbachev could foresee this outcome at Reykjavik, but the Soviet leader was persuaded of it by his academicians within the year. Gorbachev, who knew first-hand that no incentives could persuade his negotiating partner to let go of what Ken Adelman terms “the pie in the colorful sky of Ronald Reagan’s imagination,” then went about killing SDI with deep cuts. According to Strobe Talbott’s near-contemporaneous and often verbatim account based on administration sources, Gorbachev told Reagan at the Washington festivities associated with the INF Treaty signing,

“Mr. President, you do what you have to do…. And if in the end you think you have a system you want to deploy, go ahead and deploy it. Who am I to tell you what to do? I think you’re wasting money…. We are moving in another direction, and we preserve our option to do what we think is necessary in our own national interest at the time. And we think we can do it less expensively and with greater effectiveness.”

This crucial pivot is completely missing from Adelman’s account, which now credits Reagan with masterful negotiating skills and with having “surprising depth and dexterity on the crucial issues of his day.” Reagan’s “coherent strategic approach” and his constancy, in Adelman’s retelling, helped end the Cold War by holding fast to SDI and driving hard bargains to demolish excessive nuclear weapon stockpiles. These conclusions are far more charitable than his earlier account, The Great Universal Embrace. Published within two years of the INF Treaty signing, Adelman depicted Reagan as “a man singularly endowed with an ability to hold contradictory views without discomfit.” The discussions at Reykjavik, he wrote, “should never have happened. They showed gross ignorance of essentials of Western security.” Adelman described his associates back then as “an accountability-free administration.” Senior officials played to Reagan’s contrarian views, shying away from trying to force reality checks. Instead they signed up to negotiating postures assuming that they would be rejected out of hand by the Kremlin.

In The Great Universal Embrace, as in Strobe Talbott’s accounts, Secretary of State George Shultz and his arms control éminence grise, Paul Nitze, sought leverage to make deals that the President was unwilling to make. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and his Assistant Secretary, Richard Perle, sought leverage to foreclose deals. “What disturbed me most,” Adelman wrote, “was their reluctance to be frank with the President.” Instead, he and his colleagues crafted “neat” arms control initiatives that had the ring of symmetry and the illusionary promise of deep reductions. Effective public relations were more important than improbable outcomes.

Adelman was himself quite gifted in these arts, a practitioner of the fable in his book’s title, where adversaries offer one-sided proposals in the confident expectation of their rejection. Much to his credit, when Gorbachev turned the tables by accepting the Reagan Administration’s proposals, Adelman remained steadfast to his boss’s treaty, backing it fully when others who weaved these tangled webs while practicing to deceive kept silent or turned against the INF Treaty. (Weinberger and Perle left the Pentagon after they lost internal battles and before the Treaty was signed.) Adelman gives Shultz high marks for his “indispensable” role and dogged determination to nail down a deal: “Reagan could not do the nitty-gritty work on specifics that Shultz handled so deftly. They were an ideal fit.”

In The Great Universal Embrace, Adelman concluded that when Gorbachev called Reagan’s bluff, he succeeded in “taming” Reagan and unwisely “legitimizing” arms control. In Reagan at Reykjavik, he writes that Reagan delegitimized the Soviet Union, facilitating its demise, helping Europe to become united and free, liberating 415 million people from Communism and slashing nuclear stockpiles. These conclusions give one man or the other too much credit. What’s a truer calibration?

Reagan’s critics thought his inflammatory remarks about the Soviet Union were unwise and dangerous. Adelman argues, to the contrary, that Reagan deserves credit for systematically delegitimizing the Soviet Union, adding flammable material to decades of Soviet misrule and economic mismanagement. The biggest arsonist, by far, was Gorbachev who, as Adelman writes, “wanted to reform the Soviet Union in the worst way possible. And that’s pretty much how he did it.” Where Adelman goes off the tracks is crediting SDI with “pushing his reforms to the brink of disaster, and over.” This ignores Gorbachev’s change of tactics, as evident in his exchange with Reagan at the INF Treaty signing summit, as well as the domestic U.S. constraints on SDI that became more ironclad after the Treaty was signed.

Reagan remains very hard to pin down, and Adelman has every right to change his views about him with the passage of time. This reviewer certainly has. When Reagan became president, I expected bad choices and wasn’t disappointed during his first term. During his second term, I became an admirer of his unflinching commitment to reduce nuclear weapons. Reagan built up in order to build down. We were all familiar with going uphill; going downhill was a completely unique and unexpected experience. For this, we have Reagan as much as Gorbachev to thank. Republicans have drifted away from Reagan’s legacy in this regard. They now insist on keeping excess Minuteman silos ready for reloads.

This book contains errors of fact as well as conclusion. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty permitted two sites for interceptor missiles, not one. India is strangely missing among the list of states possessing nuclear weapons. Reagan’s strategic approach of deep cuts and SDI was anything but coherent. He never, in his own mind, made a choice between the two. This choice was made by others, primarily Gorbachev, the deal-makers who served under Reagan, and the Congress. Costs and physics also played their part. Adelman claims that “Reagan knew enough about arms control to make his arguments adeptly,” and yet he cites the President’s repeated efforts to persuade Gorbachev to accept SDI by arguing, “We need a gas mask here.”

The tale that Adelman tells is enriched by passages that are at odds with his heroic characterization of Reagan; the man in full who emerges in these pages does not lend himself to hagiography. The President who foiled an accomplished biographer, Edmund Morris, who was granted unprecedented access in the White House, mystifies us still. (Morris was so flummoxed by Reagan that he partly resorted to fiction to depict his subject in Dutch.) Reagan’s mystique is enlarged by his accomplishments and his detachments. As Henry Kissinger told Adelman, Reagan was different from other Presidents. “He’s sui generis… I cannot explain him.”

Adelman can therefore be forgiven for not helping readers to figure out Reagan. We can only marvel in these pages how he and Gorbachev bandied about proposals to eliminate nuclear weapons while their military aides carrying the “footballs” with nuclear access codes stood staring blankly past each other in the hallway of Hofdi House. If deals had somehow been struck in Reykjavik, Adelman believes that would have unraveled. Skeptics would have pounced on details and imprecision. I agree with him. Both Presidents were way ahead of their governments and the rest of us. Their reach exceeded their grasp, but they changed the paradigm of strategic arms control to strategic arms reductions as they slashed force structure and rungs on the escalation ladder.

Reagan and Gorbachev reached for the stars. One came crashing down along with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which was not amenable to his radical reforms. The other now resides in the firmament of America’s most successful presidents. Go figure.

 
 

Reagan and Gorbachev at Hofdi House during the Reykjavik Summit in 1986.

Ken Adelman has written an appealing, breezy account of the most extraordinary chapter of US-Soviet nuclear negotiations – the impromptu summit at Reykjavik on October 11-12, 1986 between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. His new book, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours that Ended the Cold War, covers familiar ground, but this story never gets old. Adelman adds value with personal detail and notes taken of Soviet preparations for the summit by Anatoly Chernaev. Several of his broad conclusions, however, including that Reagan accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union by sticking to his guns on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), are overdrawn and unsupported by evidence.

In these pages, Reagan remains very much a mystery. How can one properly decipher a leader with such instinctual powers and showmanship, but with such a weak grasp of substance and loose grip on his subordinates? Adelman’s narrative intertwines summitry with the Iran-Contra affair. How could the President described in these pages as so far-sighted on nuclear negotiations be so myopic about dealing with Iran? Adelman offers no plausible answers. If Reagan remains so mysterious to those who served him, historians will also be hard-pressed to lend coherence to his presidency.

Reagan comes across differently here than in Adelman’s earlier account, The Great Universal Embrace: Arms Summitry – A Skeptic’s Account (1989). The passage of time has made the author less of skeptic and more of a fan of Reagan’s unique style of leadership. He concludes that he is “better able, this second time around, to see his quirkiness and creativity, his personal flaws and stunning foresight, his casual and sometimes careless management but his dogged determination to change America, and then the world.” Adelman ranks Reagan along with Harry S Truman as the bravest and wisest post-World War II Presidents.

The Reykjavik summit keeps its hold on those who are old enough to remember it. Younger readers are also likely to be hooked – if not dumbstruck — when learning about this crucial juncture in Cold War history. The dramatic personae, the subject matter and the plot twists are worthy of Shakespeare. The author, who loves to teach the Bard, dedicates this book to Will, as well as his wife. He took the reins at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in April 1983 after it became evident that the Reagan administration’s first choice for the job, Eugene Rostow, was a poor fit. [Disclaimer: This reviewer used to live in the same neighborhood as the Adelmans, with whom we shared carpooling duties on Sunday mornings.]

Reagan was, in Adelman’s apt characterization, America’s “outlier president” — staunchly anti-nuclear as well as anti-communist – a combination previously considered by his admirers and detractors to be absurdly improbable. His opposite number after three ailing Communist Party General Secretaries, Mikhail Gorbachev, was a radical reformer who relished trashing orthodoxy as much as Reagan. Neither superpower had previously been led by anyone willing and able to turn hammer, sickle and eagle’s talons against received nuclear wisdom and force structure. At Reykjavik, both leaders were absolutely eager to do so.

During their ten and one-half hours of negotiations, they entertained the complete abolition of ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, offensive nuclear arms or nuclear weapons – their terminology shifted and lacked precision. They succeeded in dispensing with all but one big roadblock to the complete elimination of missiles with ranges between 500 and 5.500 kilometers, and paved the way toward fifty per cent cuts in strategic nuclear forces. Neither man invited experts at the table to gum up the works; they were accompanied for most of this time only by Secretary of State George Shultz and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze — who were usually silent — as well as note-takers and translators. Their retinue of experts – a Soviet team led by 63 year old Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Akhromeyev and 79 year old Paul Nitze – two compelling figures in their own right – met for one memorable all-nighter to help pull their leaders’ visions closer together.

No deals were struck at Reykjavik because Reagan refused to confine his cherished SDI to laboratory testing. Most commentators and media outlets deemed Reykjavik a failure, taking their cues from the drawn faces of the two leaders hastily leaving the summit’s venue, Hofdi House. Others who weren’t party to the negotiations were quite relieved that Reagan and Gorbachev were unable bridge their differences, including those on both sides responsible for maintaining nuclear orthodoxy and force structure, as well as America’s NATO allies, who found comfort in the shade under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

The initial summit post-mortems were, as Adelman enjoys recounting, as wrong as the intelligence assessments going into summit. The U.S. intelligence community, continuing a string of almost unbroken misjudgments with the advent of Gorbachev, assumed that nothing much of substance would be discussed at the summit and that Soviet defense spending would ramp up in response to the Reagan’s defense build-up and SDI. Instead, Gorbachev came “loaded for bear,” intent on breakthrough achievements in part because Soviet defense spending was maxed out at three times the U.S. intelligence community’s estimate, and because Soviet intelligence agencies believed that SDI would nullify their deterrent. In truth, as Adelman forthrightly acknowledges, SDI was a “splendidly naïve notion only Reagan could have believed, much less conceived.” The U.S. was short-staffed and unprepared for what transpired at Reykjavik; the much larger Soviet team had a game plan, but neither leader was amenable to handlers. Cautionary advice was neither welcome nor given. As Adelman writes, “Reagan at Reykjavik was flying solo.”

It didn’t take too long for pundits and media outlets to figure out that Reykjavik was an extraordinary success story rather than a failure. A treaty eliminating intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear forces was signed in Washington, amidst much pomp and ceremony, fourteen months later. Before leaving office, Gorbachev welcomed Reagan to Moscow, ground central of the “evil empire” he railed against at the outset of his presidency. (When asked by a reporter during a stroll in Red Square whether the opprobrium still applied, he responded, “No. That was another time, another place.”) The strategic arms reductions that Reagan and Gorbachev envisioned at Reykjavik were finalized in 1991 and 1993, during George H.W. Bush’s term in office.

Reagan and Gorbachev broke the back of the superpower nuclear arms race. Reykjavik was the pivot point for this world-historic achievement. The ambition of these two men was breathtaking and contrasts painfully to President Barack Obama’s hesitancy and President Vladimir Putin’s revanchist tendencies. Both Reagan and Gorbachev deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts and their concrete achievements. One could not have accomplished deep cuts in nuclear forces without the other. But only Gorbachev got the Nobel Peace Prize. Later, in 2009, the Norwegian selectors awarded a Nobel to Barack Obama, attaching “special importance “to his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” This irony pales before those at Reykjavik, which were on a Shakespearean scale.

Note to readers: This review will appear in The Nonproliferation Review. The second half now appears here.

 
 

Aspiring wonks: The Stimson Center’s South Asia program is now accepting internship applications for Spring/Winter 2015. This internship is most suitable for a Junior or Senior in College looking for a semester in DC to get to know the city and to hone skills in nonproliferation and South Asian regional studies.

We will put you to work on issues related to India-Pakistan, strategic stability, crisis management, confidence-building and nuclear risk reduction measures. You will also be assigned to cover events in Washington related to project activities.

Here’s the bad part: Stimson, like most other workplaces in DC, doesn’t provide a salary for interns. But we promise to improve your skills so that you can earn a salary doing meaningful work once you graduate.

To apply, go to http://stimson.iapplicants.com/ViewJob-311271.html on the Stimson Center’s website. Application period ends November 1.

 
 

A standard hawkish critique of the practice of arms control and the pursuit of nuclear disarmament is that treaties pave the way to perdition. It’s senseless, in this view, to seek to override divergent national interests and political cultures. Arms control and reduction initiatives are not only doomed to fail, but also weaken America’s ability to respond once failure is evident, lulling the nation into weakness, a false sense of security and unpreparedness.

Take, for example, the critique of President Ronald Reagan when he was contemplating strategic arms reduction treaties with the Kremlin, Norman Podhoretz argued that such accords, like the naval treaties of the 1920s and 1930s, would result in “cutbacks by the democratic side and increases on the totalitarian side.”

The problem with treaties wasn’t limited to their effects on the United States, since they would also lull U.S. friends and allies into passivity and defeatism. Here’s Edward Teller’s testimony during the Limited Test Ban Treaty hearings:

I can easily imagine a situation where our allies find it by far the best measure to sign the treaty while fully realizing now or later that the treaty makes it more difficult for us to render assistance to them.

Lewis Strauss, J. Robert Oppenheimer’s nemesis at the Atomic Energy Commission, also argued against the Senate’s consent to ratify the LTBT along these lines:

Because civilized man abhors war, he is attracted by any apparently reasonable proposal that is labeled ‘peace.’ Too often, however, and too late, a pact hailed by a hopeful majority as signalizing ‘peace in our time’ actually turns out to be a first step on the path to disaster.

Robert Strausz-Hupé, who advocated policies to free Eastern Europe from Soviet domination in A Forward Strategy for America (1961), testified against the LTBT this way:

One of the greatest dangers arising from the treaty, therefore, is the psychological atmosphere which it has generated: the notion that we are now somehow moving, step by step, into a new period of détente.

Responding to Senate critics of the atmospheric test ban treaty, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor responded that,

The most serious reservations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff … are more directly linked with the fear of a euphoria in the West which will eventually reduce our vigilance and the willingness of our country and our allies to expand continued effort on our collective security.

To guard against this sense of euphoria, the Chiefs recommended, and the Senate demanded, a series of “safeguards” that resulted in more than 700 underground tests. Not even the Non-Proliferation Treaty was exempt from this critique. Strausz-Hupé argued that the NPT, “if ratified, will nail down the lid on the coffin of NATO.”

Here’s how Henry Kissinger rebutted these arguments at a White House briefing to build Congressional support for the SALT I accords:

The deepest question we ask is not whether we can trust the Soviets, but whether we can trust ourselves. Some have expressed concern about the [SALT] agreements not because they object to their terms, but because they are afraid of the euphoria these agreements might produce.

But surely we cannot be asked to maintain unavoidable tension just to carry out programs which our national survival should dictate in any event. We must not develop a national psychology by which we can act only on the basis of what we are against and not on what we are for.

Despite these numerous false alarms, sentiment against nuclear arms control and reduction treaties hasn’t changed all that much since the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty – but tactics have. With no treaty ratification votes in the offing, critics have turned instead to stifle prospects for arms control in the future. Tactics now include blocking the modernization of monitoring regimes, opposing full funding for treaty implementation, and delaying the confirmation of individuals charged with pursuing negotiating initiatives and revitalizing the State Department’s personnel recruitment efforts. At this rate, the Obama administration will leave office in poorer shape to reduce identified excess in nuclear force structure than when it arrived.

 
 
President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India during their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India during their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The recent trips to the United States by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi provide ample evidence of India’s and Pakistan’s divergent trajectories. Nawaz arrived with no fanfare, a known commodity in familiar trouble back home. He delivered a lackluster speech at the U.N. General Assembly notable only for dwelling on Kashmir, which has always been a harmful issue for Pakistan. Nawaz met with Vice President Biden in New York along with a few foreign leaders (at their request), and then left for home, where he faces unrelenting political opposition.

Modi arrived in New York as an ambitious, contentious, and intriguing figure with an electoral mandate to revive India’s fortunes. He spoke proudly in Hindi, promised much with few specifics, and met with a rapturous crowd of Indian-Americans at Madison Square Garden. Then on to the White House, long meetings with President Obama, and a fancy dinner during which the guest of honor fasted.

Love him or hate him, Modi is a charismatic leader who has everyone’s attention. Pakistan has previously been led by a charismatic leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who disappointed badly. Nawaz does not need charisma – he needs to rouse himself to lead, or step aside to let his most capable Party members do their best to reverse the country’s decline. If he is incapable of both, Pakistan could find itself with another charismatic figure unable to govern effectively. One of Nawaz’s primary tormentors has withdrawn his parliamentarians rather than offering new legislative initiatives. The other calls for a revolution.

Modi offers hope to his electorate and to the Indian diaspora. Nawaz’s record does not engender hope. Modi and Obama signed off on a vision statement. Nawaz has always lacked vision. He builds motorways, but to his credit, he is doing more to improve power generation than the previous, lackluster civilian government. The U.S.-India joint statement was suffused with promises. U.S.-Pakistan relations can do without lofty promises, since the past is littered with them. It will suffice if both Pakistan and the United States can work in tandem through the difficult security dilemmas they have co-created.

Dynastic politics aren’t limited to South Asia, as is evident by the Clintons and the Bushes. But dynastic politics have had extremely punishing effects on the subcontinent, hollowing out major political parties and saddling Pakistan and India with ill-functioning governments. Democratic elections do not offer opportunities for new starts when the two primary choices are both family-run political enterprises. While Pakistan struggles with this dilemma, India enjoys the promise of renewal because one of its two national parties is not beholden to a dynastic franchise.

Modi’s government, by all appearances, is a one-man show. Other performances of this kind on the subcontinent have not ended well. Some leaders with electoral mandates fail for lack of ambition, as Nawaz is now doing. Others fail by overreaching badly enough for political rivals to recover. In Modi’s case, there will be dynamism whether he succeeds or fails.

Divergent trajectories on the subcontinent have significant ramifications for the nuclear competition and for the Kashmir dispute. As Pakistan falls increasingly behind India, it increases reliance on nuclear weapons to shore up shortcomings. This is an understandable but questionable strategy, since nuclear weapons cost money without providing usable military capability.

The dangers inherent in any nuclear competition can be mitigated, however, if stockpiles are well secured, if crises are avoided, and if disputes are being amicably resolved. The stewards of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal are serious, competent, and numerous — as was the case in the former Soviet Union. Despite its military might and large nuclear stockpile, the Soviet Union collapsed because of poor governance, internal strains and economic failure. At the end of the day, nuclear security is only as strong as the society and the economy that nuclear weapons are meant to defend.

Nor are their signs of the amicable resolution of grievances on the subcontinent. Just the opposite is true, as is evident by heavy firing along the Kashmir divide. Divergent national trajectories may make reconciliation between India and Pakistan harder. Modi’s government has sent out mixed signals about wanting to engage Pakistan, but showed little sense of urgency in resuming bilateral talks, and pulled the plug prior on a meeting of the two Foreign Secretaries because of haggling over Kashmir. There was no private meeting and not even a handshake on the periphery of the UN General Assembly, where Nawaz dusted off proposals for a plebiscite to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Not surprisingly, firing across the Kashmir divide accompanied diplomatic jockeying over the Foreign Secretaries meeting and greatly intensified after the UN speeches. Pakistan has prided itself as a bulwark against Indian hegemony. Its national security policies have rested on the assumptions that India cannot become a major power without addressing Pakistan’s grievances, and that New Delhi is dependent on Pakistan’s help to gain access to Central Asian markets. Both assumptions are increasingly suspect. Well before Modi’s election, Indian strategic thinking was gravitating toward a strategy of indifference toward Pakistan and betting on markets in East Asia rather than Central Asia.

Pakistan’s strategic analysts still seem to be operating under their old assumptions. Munir Akram, an accomplished diplomat whose last posting was as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Nations, offered this familiar refrain in a recent op-ed:

The most proximate impediment to India’s quest for Great Power status remains Pakistan. So long as Pakistan does not accept India’s regional pre-eminence, other South Asian states will also resist Indian diktat. India cannot feel free to play a great global power role so long as it is strategically tied down in South Asia by Pakistan.

The instruments employed to “tie down” India in  South Asia have done more harm to Pakistan than to India. Pakistan’s standing and economic prospects have been greatly diminished by keeping Kashmir on the boil and by not clamping down on groups that carry out dramatic acts of violence in Indian cities.

India and Pakistan have a common interest in de-escalating the violence across the Kashmir divide. But more troubles lie ahead unless New Delhi places a higher priority in engaging Pakistan. Being left increasing behind India is bad enough for Pakistan’s national security decision makers; an Indian posture of indifference adds insult to injury. It might take a Nobel Prize ceremony and the intercession of a teenager to put relations back on an even keel, at least temporarily.

 
 

The Selfie Generation doesn’t do arms control. Its cause célèbre is the environment. This grandparent can relate. I am excited and grateful to see how much youthful energy is now directed toward healing our planet’s wounds. I am also very jealous. My cause célèbre has faded. Fewer and fewer people focus on reducing nuclear dangers. Street marches are now about climate change.

Graphic stories of environmental disasters rooted in long-term disregard for carbon emissions, air pollution, and the degradation of water quality are with us every week. A study by the National Climactic Data Center and National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that the frequency of “billion dollar storms” increases at a rate of roughly five per cent a year, which seems understated. A 2013 report by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that a rise in temperature of two degrees Celsius will cost up to two per cent of the world’s income by 2050. This UN panel also estimated that the combined cost of crop losses, rising sea levels, higher temperatures and fresh water shortages could amount to between $70 and $100 billion a year. These estimates also appear understated: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the insurance industry estimated that climate-related disasters in the United States in 2012 alone resulted in more than $139 billion in damages. The cumulative costs of clean-up after a decade of super storms, droughts, and battered shorelines remind me of the estimated cost consequences for limited nuclear wars back in the 1980s.

The United Nations devotes a special summit to raise environmental consciousness and accelerate corrective measures. Back in my day, there were special UN sessions on disarmament. President Obama has made protection of the environment a key priority during the remainder of his second term, while prospects for another strategic arms reduction treaty and the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty recede further into the future. Young talent entering the work force is now focused on environmental causes, while 48 per cent of the civil servants working on arms control in the State Department near retirement age.

On Capitol Hill, champions of arms control issues are dwindling. Non-governmental organizations could also benefit from a new wave of energy. During tough times, it’s always a good strategy to invest in rising talent — otherwise, the future could be more daunting than the present. Unfortunately, major foundations continue to leave the field, and a new generation of techno-philanthropists is drawn to causes where investments can yield quantifiable progress. When political conditions permit, quantifiable progress in reducing nuclear stockpiles and deployed forces is certainly possible, but the most important successes in reducing nuclear dangers are often measured by non-events.

The comparison between the number of environmental studies departments and courses now offered at the college level and in graduate schools with arms control-related courses would be striking. But there’s no need to do the math: the conclusions are obvious. Can those still interested in reducing nuclear dangers poach off the energy of the environmental movement? I doubt it. Those with a sense of mission are not easily diverted, and besides, opportunities to work on arms control and non-proliferation are increasingly scarce. Will it take another big scare or a nuclear catastrophe to rejuvenate the field?

 
 

For those seeking relief from the news coming out of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, I highly recommend watching The Wind and the Lion, a 1975 flick by John Milius. Sean Connery, at the peak of his powers, plays Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, an untamed tribal of the Rif, who spirits away a miscast Candice Bergen and her two children. Connery is such a powerful screen presence that he plays the part of a Berber brigand with a Scottish brogue, and all is forgiven. He goes up against another force of nature, President Teddy Roosevelt, played brilliantly by Brian Keith. TR is beginning to feel his age while America is growing into its powers. Acting out of a mix of chivalry and geopolitical opportunity, he sends U.S. expeditionary forces to release the American captives. The fabulous John Huston plays Secretary of State John Hay as a wise and weary man who knows the limits of his persuasive powers when dealing with TR.

Raisuli roams as free as the wind; TR roars like a lion. Each admires what the other enjoys. TR feels confined in the White House; Raisuli has too few muskets and tribesmen to go up against the U.S. Marines. Candice Bergen’s disgust with her captor slowly turns to fascination and attraction, as we fully expect. The movie ends with everyone feeling wistful along with the triumph of the martial American spirit in a strange and distant land.

Hollywood can’t make a movie like this now because audiences are sadder and wiser. Movies about post-9/11 U.S. military campaigns are shaded in darkness and brutality. Even America’s apex heroic moment – settling scores with Osama bin Laden – is depicted in Zero Dark Thirty as an unfair fight enabled by torture. Desert windstorms have become lethal and unpredictable. The lion is a wounded, foreign presence. Those looking for diversion at the movies have moved on to computer-generated images and Marvel superheroes.

 
 

The best definition of the “action-reaction” syndrome was provided by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during a deeply conflicted speech before United Press International editors and publishers on September 18, 1967. McNamara used this occasion to rail against the nuclear arms race while endorsing a limited ballistic missile defense, ostensibly against China. [Aspiring wonks: to understand why McNamara would deliver a speech undermining his recommended course of action, check out Mort Halperin’s essay, “The Decision to Deploy the ABM: Bureaucratic and Domestic Politics in the Johnson Administration” in the October 1972 issue of World Politics.]

Here are the key passages:

There is a kind of mad momentum intrinsic to the development of all new nuclear weaponry. If a weapon system works – and works well – there is strong pressure from many directions to procure and deploy the weapon out of all proportion to the prudent level required…

What is essential to understand here is that the Soviet Union and the United States mutually influence one another’s strategic plans.

Whatever be their intentions, whatever be our intentions, actions – or even realistically potential actions – on either side relating to the build-up of nuclear forces, be they either offensive or defensive weapons, necessarily trigger reactions on the other side.

It is precisely this action-reaction phenomenon that fuels an arms race.

McNamara didn’t hold these views when he began his long stint at the Pentagon. Here’s a partial transcript of a private conversation with President John F. Kennedy on December 5, 1962:

McNamara: I think that there are many uncertainties in all of these estimates [of nuclear requirements]. And I would say that my recommendation to you on our strategic forces is to take that requirement and double it and buy it. Because I don’t believe we can, under any circumstances, run the risk of having too few here. So I, in my own mind, I just say, ‘Well, we ought to buy twice what any reasonable person would say is required for strategic forces.’ I think that’s money well spent.

Kennedy: Will it deter?

McNamara: It’s both – it’s principally to deter. And it’s also to give ourselves the confidence that we have that deterrent power…

McNamara became worn down by many cares, including his inability to dampen the Air Force’s, Navy’s and Army’s postulated requirements for nuclear weapons. Arms controllers shared his concerns about the action-reaction syndrome, which lent impetus to campaigns against MIRVs and ballistic missile defense deployments. As MIT’s George Rathjens, who served on defense science panels, wrote in Scientific American in 1969, “Reduction in uncertainty about adversarial intentions and capabilities is a sine qua non to curtailing the arms race.” Rathjens wanted to “somehow break… the action-reaction chains that seem to drive the arms race.” After retiring from active service, some prominent military officers joined this chorus. In 1974, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell D. Taylor wrote in Foreign Affairs, “Any increase in any kind of strategic weapon stimulates the Soviets to emulation and fuels the arms race.”

No-one stumped harder against the action-reaction syndrome than Paul Warnke, who would become President Jimmy Carter’s Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and SALT II negotiator. Warnke wrote that,

“The risk is … that we spend too much and build too much and end up with not greater but less true national security. The acquisition of unnecessary strategic systems to gain bargaining strength in negotiations with the Soviet Union will mean only a comparable response from the other side and a conversion of the arms limitation talks into a spur to the arms race rather than a medium for reciprocal restraint.”

Deterrence strategists were greatly alarmed by Warnke’s dual appointments and chafed at McNamara’s formulation. Albert Wohlstetter thundered that the action-reaction syndrome was a “portentous tautology” in a 1974 Foreign Policy essay. Warnke’s rebuttal didn’t help his confirmation when Foreign Policy’s editors, borrowing his phraseology, titled the essay “Apes on a Treadmill.” Harold Brown, President Carter’s Secretary of Defense and a supporter of strategic arms control, held a sadder and wiser view: “When we build up, the Soviets build up; when we slow down, the Soviets build up.”

The action-reaction syndrome was a staple of the superpower nuclear competition. It was especially pronounced when MIRV and BMD technologies were maturing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and later when new types of intermediate-range missiles made their appearance in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Asymmetries in force structure and different time lines for the roll out of new capabilities ensured compensatory steps.

Washington and Moscow weren’t always in lockstep, but they always competed. Even caustic critics like Wohlstetter acknowledged this. His complaint, widely shared by arms control skeptics, was that the United States wasn’t competing strenuously enough.