SALT important even after Afghanistan
President Carter's decision to request a delay in the Senate's consideration of the SALT II treaty was a realistic appraisal of the treaty's diminished chances for approval. Objective consideration of the treaty is presently, and I hope only temporarily, impossible as a result of a clear and unmistakable Soviet effort to take over Afghanistan.
I agree that the treaty should not be considered by the Senate in the present atmosphere, but I very much hope that the postponement is, indeed, temporary and that the treaty has not been killed despite the expression of that desire by a number of senators.
I express this hope because the death of the SALT II treaty may very well mean the death of the entire SALT process. Such a result would surely mean a new and intense round in the acceleration of the strategic nuclear arms race, the end of the last vestige of any cooperative and satisfactory relationship with the Soviet Union, and a significant increase in the threat to peace which now seems to be in a precarious state.
The SALT process, and the SALT II treaty, is not a favor the United States has granted to the Soviet Union. Like it or not, we live in an era of strategic parity with the Soviets. US strategic superiority is a thing of the past and would be a most elusive goal if we tried to recapture it. Such an effort would only fuel the nuclear arms race, and it would fail anyway, because the Soviet Union, now that it has gained strategic equivalence and has only military might as the indicator of its superpower status, cannot be expected to sit by while we attempt to outbuild it. We must, however, be prepared in effect to match the USSR in offensive power step by step.
In its specific terms, the SALT II treaty is in the US interest. It requires the dismantling of approximately 250 Soviet strategic nuclear delivery vehicles by December, 1981; it puts a cap on the number of warheads the Soviets can put on their most threatening ICBMs; it allows the Us to construct every new strategic system we need to maintain strategic nuclear equivalence; and it allows the US to continue our all important arms and technological cooperation with our NATO allies. Finally, it is adequately verifiable in my judgment and does not rely on trust.
The question, then, is how to keep the SALT process alive and avoid the pointless effort and waste inherent in an escalating arms race. I believe we can do this only by bringing the SALT II treaty before the Senate as soon as it can be debated objectively and on its merits.
When those conditions will be present will largely be up to the USSR; the postponement results from their ominous takeover effort in Afghanistan, a country bordering on the oilrch Persian Gulf -- the source of the economic lifeblood of Western Europe, Japan, and even of the United States. Only when this threat to our political and economic future has been contained can the SALT II debate proceed. Given the nature of recent Soviet statements and actions, it is doubtful that these conditions will be met within the next several months.
That the Soviets anticipated that SALT II would be postponed as a result of their adventurism in Afghanistan seems clear -- if not, their intelligence is incredibly poor. However, are they willing to see and end to the entire SALT process, and are they willing to pay that price for their attempted coup? That is the challenge before them, and before US policymakers: to preserve the most important aspect of our relationship with each other -- a relationship which goes to the heart of world peace and security.
I am optimistic that the process can be resumed. If it cannot, then all the flowery Soviet pronouncement about SALT and detente will have been proved false. While not subscribing to any pretense to Soviet sincerity, I believe that the leaders of the Soviet Union realize that the SALT process is not just an attractive facet of detente but is central to their own security and their own position in the world. This belief that there are intelligent and calculating men in the Kremlin is fundamental to our previous efforts in SALT and, I believe , accurate.
Some intelligent and calculated thought is called for on the part of the opponent of the SALT II teaty in this country. Some of my colleagues in the Senate have expressed the hope that the deferral of the SALT II treaty means its demise.
I hope they will reconsider their position. Whether one supports, opposes, or seeks to amend SALT II, all should welcome its debate. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the SALT II treaty, because that will allow the SALT process to wither and die. We must debate this treaty so that we can arrive at a national consensus -- embodied in the Senate's decision about SALT II and whether and how to pursue the overall SALT process.
This is now the challenge before the Senate, and I hope very much that it will be met in the interests of the US and of world peace and security.