Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Solving the problem with Midgetman

Adoption by the United States of the small ICBM would be one of the rare instances in which either of the nuclear superpowers would have chosen to deploy a less awesome, in contrast to a more awesome, strategic weapon. Deployment of the small ICBM would therefore constitute a dramatic break with the past. How dramatic the break would be is realized when one looks backward and notes that each round of new strategic weapons deployments since Hiroshima has always featured weapons which are larger, more accurate, more expensive, and more destructive.

But there is a fundamental problem with the small single-warhead ICBM which must be eliminated if the proposed new weapon and associated concept of increased nuclear stability are to be utilized. The same problem also plagues the cruise missile and the Pershing II, both of which are planned for deployment in Western Europe later this year.

About these ads

The problem is that these weapons are all so small, and thus so easily moved and concealed, that their numbers cannot be verified by the Soviets using national technical means of verification, i.e., satellites. Therefore such weapons introduce substantial new instabilities in the US-USSR weapons relationships which could not be verified under existing arrangements.

Thus both of the superpowers might be plunged into a dangerous situation in which neither knew how many weapons the other possessed. To compensate, both nations could feel pressured into either cheating on agreed numerical limits, or developing new weapons. Traveling down this route is not attractive for Moscow or for Washington.

Thus the small ICBM solves the instabilities and provocative characteristics the Soviets may impute to the MX, but, in doing so, similar and more difficult problems are created.

What to do?

One possibility which ought to be examined is an idea borrowed from President Eisenhower's arms control suggestions of the 1950s. It is called on-site inspection. For reasons too complex to explain here, Eisenhower's proposal to the Soviets for on-site inspection of certain mobilization and transportation centers did not reach fruition.

The on-site inspection plan could operate in the following fashion. Soviet inspectors would be invited by the US to be constantly present in the manufacturing plants at the point where the completed small ICBMs, cruise missiles, and Pershing IIs roll off the assembly line. The objective of the inspectors would be to verify how many of each weapon is built in order to allay Soviet fears that the US is cheating on the difficult-to-verify weapons.

The on-site inspection offer could be made unilaterally to the Soviet Union with no immediate demand for reciprocity. Even if Moscow turned down the offer, the US initiative would constitute a propaganda coup with which to offset the recent spate of arms control proposals flowing from Mr. Andropov's government. In case of a prolonged refusal by the Soviets to participate in the unilateral offer, the US might work out on-site inspection using personnel furnished by the governments of India, Sweden, or Switzerland.

About these ads

To those who would oppose such a unilateral action by the US, the question may be asked - what risk does the US assume with this proposal? None is known to this writer.

The establishment of an on-site inspection of assembly line termination points would create considerable pressure upon the Soviets to grant in time similar arrangements of a reciprocal character. On-site inspection for weapons production could augment the efforts to negotiate similar arrangments for nuclear power plants, and the conduct of nuclear weapon tests.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.