Moving from MAD to Cooperative Threat Reduction: Life after the ABM Treaty

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This report issued by The Henry L. Stimson Center calls on the Bush administration to replace Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, with Cooperative Threat Reduction. The void created by the US notice to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty needs to be filled with a positive, effective, and practical concept to deal with the dangers posed by the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of asymmetric warfare. This void is best filled by the integration and expansion of cooperative threat-reduction programs.

The central organizing principle of strategic arms control during the Cold War was to prevent a nuclear exchange by being vulnerable to its consequences. This core principle of assured destruction was more than a fact of Cold War life; it was codified by treaties permitting huge offensive nuclear arsenals while expressly prohibiting national missile defenses.

President George W. Bush now seeks to set Cold War thinking aside and to replace MAD with a more affirmative construct. The Bush administration argues that traditional arms control treaties—especially the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty barring national defenses—are relics of the Cold War, needing to be replaced by more flexible and informal arrangements.

Arms controllers have vigorously defended the ABM Treaty, but they have not offered a convincing strategic concept to guide future US choices. The primary argument used by the arms control community against national missile defenses in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s—that missile defenses would prompt arms racing—now rings hollow. Russia and China do not have the means or the inclination to engage in a strategic arms race with the United States; both countries are wise enough to meet their national security requirements through less expensive means.

The Bush administration is surely right in saying that treaties are not the only way to reduce nuclear dangers, but it has failed to make a convincing case for tearing up the ABM Treaty and making the deployment of national missile defenses an urgent priority. The least likely threats to America come from Ocean spanning missiles, and the United States needs Russian and Chinese help in combating the most likely threat of terrorism.

Our new strategic concept must address in a politically compelling and substantive way the dangers inherent in the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism and other forms of asymmetric warfare. This new strategic concept must complement and strengthen deterrence, defense programs, and preventive diplomacy. It must safeguard dangerous weapons and materials at the source, while facilitating deep cuts in strategic arms. It must help us in the war against terrorism and strengthen ties with key partners in this effort. In other words, our new strategic concept must be visionary and practical at one and the same time.

The good news is that we don’t have to create a new strategic concept to replace MAD—our scientists and soldiers are already practicing it on a daily basis. This strategic concept is called cooperative threat reduction. It entails protecting dangerous materials and weapons in the former Soviet Union, dismantling Cold War inventories, and providing constructive new partnerships with former adversaries.

The time has come to recognize the obvious, according to the Report’s author, Michael Krepon. Cooperative threat reduction is more than an aggregation of government initiatives; it is the positive strategic concept we need to keep dangerous weapons and materials out of the hands of terrorists or their state sponsors.

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