Urgent Evoke

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The main challenges to reaching and implementing arms control agreements.

I've learnt a lot from EVOKE, about things I would not necessarily have looked into before, and as my specialization is Politics, Social History and Sustainibility, I'm passing on the knowledge I can provide, here goes! ;

In this blog, I will attempt to a****s the hypothesis that reaching and implementing Arms Control agreements are challenged most of all by both the realist necessity to maximise power and security, and the individual level actor’s influence on agreements, with particular focus on SALT1(1969-1972) and the Baruch Plan (1946)

This hypothesis will be analysed through a comparison of the contending approaches to collective security and discussing the nature of superpower relations at several arms control summits such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)(1969-1972) and the Baruch Plan(1946) , using the United States of America to illustrate how both individual level actors and the desire for states’ self interest led to adverse effects in implementing and reaching arms control agreements, and why both superpowers entered arms negotiations, as well as the expectations gap on both sides around the purpose of SALT1, using Gaddis’ interpretation of bipolarity to do so;

“The reason for this is simple; behaviour alone will not ensure stability if the structural prerequisites for it are absent, but structure can, under certain circ**stances impose stability even when it’s behavioral prerequisites are unpromising” (Gaddis, 1980 , pp.102)

Inter-State Relations: An Analysis

It is clear from Gaddis’ statement that there is an inherent need to a****s inter-state relations. The clear point at which there is a dramatic change in global state relations is the end of the Cold War, and the Bi-Polarity that it produced on the Global political landscape. Jervis claims that through newly-found self-interested agendas, both Conflict and Co-operation are intrinsically linked to one another.

“It is now almost trivial to note that arms control is made possible by the fact that the superpowers have common as well as conflicting interests even-or especially - in the military arena and that cooperation and conflict are so closely linked that we can hardly analyze one without paying attention to the other” (Jervis, 1993, pp.241)

It is interesting that Jervis uses the word ‘superpowers’ as a plural, and therefore claiming that the United States are not, as some academics claim, the lonely hegemonic superpower. This is possibly because of the nature of modern weaponary, where a country with even a few nuclear weapons can be seen as a superpower in terms of it’s potential destructive ability. Jervis goes on to illuminate how deterrence theory stresses the importance of identifying and actively opposing aggressive states;

“Far from ignoring domestic characteristics and treating all states as identical "billiard balls," these theories assert that certain states cause wars by being aggressive. This is implicitly true for much deterrence theory. The language there often posits one side that is defending the status quo and another that is challenging it. The implication is that aggressive states cause wars and the problem is how to halt aggression rather than how to cope with offense-dominant technology and the security dilemma.” (Jervis, 1993, pp. 245)

Actors within Arms Negotiations, and How Arms Control is a facilitator of State Aggression,

Both the United States and the Soviet Union had put Arms control on their political agenda, and yet there was still a substantial information failure between the two superpowers. Garthoff claims that;

“Despite a number of unsuccessful arms control agreements reached during the early and mid 1960s, there had been no success in coming to grips with the existing and growing strategic forces of the United States and the Soviet Union” (Garthoff, 1978, pp.15)

The explanation for this is that arms control is a facilitator of inter state competition, allowing a state to utilise arms control as a political instrument in a strategy of Detente, ensuring that that particular state stays at the top of the World stage and to make sure there is a stability in the balance of power with it’s nearest rival. This demonstrates how both the superpowers were being rational and trying to maximise their security and therefore maintain the balance of power. Arms control was a perfect way in which the superpowers could appear to be keen on negotiation, but have a covert aim of weakening their opponent. this can be seen during the Interim Treaty where a five year freeze was agreed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) . While the USSR had far more ICBM’s than the United States, and appearing a victory for the Russians, the United States’ high quality of weaponary meant that the gain for them was qualitative, and not quantitive. This was supported by the American advantage in heavy bombers and fast-deployable Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) - The United States’ Policy makers knew that both of these advantages were present before agreeing to the treaty’s terms, and thus demonstrating the intrinsically realist nature to Cold War Arms Control Negotiations.

However, This is not the only way in which arms control summits aid with inter-state competition, as they can also lessen inter-state tensions at a critical moment, as shown with SALT 1, where the Soviets were discouraged from arming their ICBM’s with MIRVs. Despite it’s effect on inter-state tensions, the way in which agreements were made at SALT1 must be taken into account. While formal talks were taking place in Helsinki and Vienna, Kissinger and Dobyrnin were agreeing the real terms of the treaty through back channels, showing that individual actors have a massive impact on arms control agreements, and the individual factors that affect that particular actor can dramatically change the outcome of Arms Control talks. This reliance on actors’ individual views is mirrored in the way that US domestic policy-makers failed to ‘sell’ arms control to domestic constituents. Congress approved the SALT talks on the condition that one point two billion dollars were spent on conventional forces.

After the First and Second World War, the divide between the two remaining superpowers started to emerge, and with both superpowers weary of the other, the sense of permanence of the Cold War began to take effect. This manifested itself in the way that actors were not willing to enter arms negotiations when they appeared to be in a position that benefited them, or when they felt threatened by another state’s military arsenal. This is in Stark contrast to the Realist ‘Grand Design’ of the Nixon/Kissinger administration. This was particularly the case in their elitist design of foreign policy that was demonstrated in this period. The back channel of Kissinger and Dobyrnin at the SALT talks, again serves as an example of how individual level actors undermined the inter-state level negotiation process.

The Choice for US Policy Makers and Detente

Policy makers in the United States are faced with two clear choices. Firstly, they have the choice to leave behind arms control agreements completely and set their foreign policy agendas to using military solutions in the form of conventional force, and using the ‘shock and awe’ tactic to ensure a quick submission by aggressors or potential threats to the United States’ sovereignty, thus deterring any international tensions. The second option for Policy makers is to shift towards a more diplomatic option, where the United States could put it’s Hegemonic weight behind Arms Control treaties, ensuring terms are met. Bracken explains that doing this would be to;

“Return to a reinvigorated version of the treaty-based arms-control regime of the 1990s. Here, we simply go back to what we know how to do: negotiate international treaties in an endless series of diplomatic forums.” (Bracken, 2003, p.152)

However, through looking at the Arms control that the United States has been involved in, such as SALT, the Baruch Plan and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (1996) , it would appear that the only thing that brought the United States to the negotiation table during the Cold War was to ensure the balance of power between the two superpowers, and in more recent Arms control agreements such as the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (2003) , the Open Skies Treaty (2002) and the Ottawa Treaty (1997) it would appear that America’s agenda is to ensure that there is no rise of a revisionist superpower to upset the unipolar balance of power within the New World Order.

The detente theory is particularly important in showing how Arms Control is a political instrument, especially since the end of the Cold War where the theory has been used by the United States’ policy makers to ensure that there is no rise of a revisionist superpower to upset the balance of power on the global political landscape and maintaining the United States’ status as the hegemonic and lonely superpower. This use of Arms control as a political instrument is clear in Kissinger’s misleading congress over the Soviet capability to produce something more powerful than the SS 11 missile. When the Soviets developed the SS19, domestic faith in arms control was lost, and both the Senate and the US Public were led to believe that the USSR had broken the Arms control agreement of the SALT talks.

As a result of the development of the SS19, Congress believed that the strategy of Detente wasn’t working and felt that the United States’ positivity towards negotiation was misguided. This led to the rise of the ‘campaign for the clear present danger’ and a right wing backlash in US policy making, encouraging the congress to feel that Arms Control was lulling the United States into a false sense of security and increase spending on conventional force. This again shows how an individual actor severely altered the outcomes of arms control agreements. This time it is not only Kissinger that had an effect on the outcome, but the Congressmen, as actors had affected arms control agreements, DeLaet and Scott question wether;

“In their foreign policy behavior, are members motivated by their policy preferences, mirroring similar ‘‘rational actor’’ calculations often attributed to the president? Or, are they moved by parochial, constituency based concerns, as so many observers allege?’ (DeLaet and Scott , 2006, pp.180)

At the time, there was a national fear of Communism, and as aforementioned, a right wing backlash was spreading across the United States’ policy making bodies and think-tanks. as Jervis rightly claims,

“Memories of McCarthyism were still vivid; the claim that the United States had common interests with the Soviet Union could be seen as dangerously close to being "soft on communism"; partly because the Soviet Union seemed to be gaining on the West in almost all respects, most members of the American elite were preoccupied with the task of competing with the communist adversaries.” (Jervis, 1993, pp.240)


In Conclusion, it is extremely important to take into account the importance of political will in Arms control, and the necessity for individual actors to set aside their preconceptions of the other side in order to achieve the best possible result for their state, as is seen in the SALT talks between Kissinger and Dobyrnin. But this example also serves as a reminder that individual-level actors can have adverse effects on inter-state level negotiations. While it is expected that actors are present at talks, the back channels used by Washington and Moscow undermined the talks in Helsinki and Vienna. This essay has also argued that arms control negotiations only ever came about in the Cold War to ensure the balance of power between the two superpowers, and more recently to assert the United States’ dominance as the hegemonic superpower. This unipolar political climate means that arms control is no longer on the lonely superpower’s agenda due to it’s superiority on the Global Political stage, this had both led and encouraged United States policy makers to lean towards the use of conventional force to intimidate any potential threat to the hegemon’s dominance.

Views: 32

Comment by Nick Heyming on March 19, 2010 at 6:09pm
Reminds me of a international gathering on the winter solstice at the sacred oracle of Ollantaytambo. The consensus was that everything is going good, people are waking up, but there are still WAAAY too many damned nukes. We need to start disarming, maybe down to enough to just blow up the world once. Any more than that is just excessive...
Comment by Adam Sunman on March 19, 2010 at 6:13pm
thanks for the comments guys, currently in the process of writing another on McWorld... - Nick- I'd agree, did you know that all the money raised from Band Aid in total is the amount that the world spends on nuclear arms in one hour.... it's disgusting...
Comment by Adam Sunman on March 19, 2010 at 7:00pm
I live in Portsmouth, so there is a lot of navy influence, and our MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock sits on the defence committee, and is extremely keen to scrap trident, which he argues isn't an independent nuclear deterrent as we wouldn't be able to use it without consulting the US. very valid point!
Comment by Felix Albus on March 20, 2010 at 1:24pm
Thanks for sharing. I don't like weapons...


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