When the animals had gathered, the lion looked at the eagle and said gravely, ‘We must abolish talons.’ The tiger looked at the elephant and said, ‘we must abolish tusks.’ The elephant looked back at the tiger and said, ‘We must abolish claws and jaws.’ Thus each animal in turn proposed the abolition of the weapons he did not have, until at last the bear rose up and said in tones of sweet reasonableness: ‘Comrades, let us abolish everything—everything but the great universal embrace!’”’1
Sometimes no arms control agreement is better than a bad one. At present, there are too many uncertainties for the United States to agree to negotiate on Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposals. However pleasing each one may sound to peace-loving ears, the Soviet Union does not seek any advantage but its own. Therefore, doubt must underlie each proposal by the other superpower to cut or limit naval arms.
► Doubts About Nuclear- weapons-free Zones: The Soviet plan for a Nordic nuclear-free zone prohibits the presence, overflight, port call, and transit of ships and aircraft carrying nuclear weapons in a zone comprising Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroes, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Furthermore, this region would be declared unilaterally exempt from nuclear strikes by nuclear-weapon states.
The purpose of this Soviet proposal is to exploit sensitivities within the NATO alliance and, ultimately, eliminate significant Soviet worries in the Northwestern and Arctic theaters. In some respects, the Nordic states are already de facto nuclear-free zones. Denmark, Iceland, and Norway are members of NATO, but still refuse to allow the permanent stationing of foreign troops on their soil. This forces U.S., British, and Dutch Marines to hold annual exercises practicing the reinforcement of Norway in the event of a war. The continuation of these exercises year after year demonstrates the strategic importance of the region to NATO.
As Admiral Carlisle Trost, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, said, what the Soviets call a “zone of peace” simply translates as a “zone of exclusion” for Western sea power.2 The Soviets propose restrictions on U.S. and NATO forces where their own forces are inadequate. This is true not only in the Nordic zone, but also in the Mediterranean Sea, where in March 1988 Gorbachev proposed limiting the number of warships to 15 major combatants and 10 auxiliaries.3 Such restrictions would equal or exceed the number of Soviet warships normally deployed in the Mediterranean, yet would drastically reduce the strength of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the region. As a result, if a crisis were to occur in the Mediterranean, U.S. naval reinforcements would face a long trans-Atlantic crossing, whereas the Soviets, whose Black Sea Fleet is next door, could respond much more rapidly.
The creation of naval nuclear-free zones has absolutely no utility for U.S. and NATO maritime forces. Only the Soviets would benefit from such arms control initiatives.
► Doubts About ASW-free Zones: Should deterrence fail, the U.S. Navy’s maritime strategy calls for the detection, tracking, and sinking of Soviet ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). In response to their fear of such actions, the Soviets have incorporated the discussion of ASW-free zones and SSBN sanctuaries or bastions into their naval arms control offensive. An ASW-free zone would restrict SSBN deployments, the ASW Patrols of the adversary, and the number or type of sensors that |nay be stationed in the ocean or in space.4
The U.S. Navy believes that strategic ASW operations against Soviet SSBNs would make it easier for NATO to wage a conventional war in Europe. Such operations would force the Soviets to dedicate naval assets to Protect SSBN bastions and thus mean that they could not interdict the Atlantic sea lines of Communication (SLOCs) effectively. Moreover, every Soviet SSBN sunk would change the balance of forces in favor of the West.
Critics of this aggressive strategy argue that strategic ASW is destabilizing because it would encourage the Soviets to launch a preemptive strike with their SSBNs for fear of losing them. This in turn would lead to global nuclear war.
In response to these concerns, one must first remember that the Soviets themselves will be waging strategic ASW against U.S., British, and French SSBNs. Second, the Soviets view their SSBN force not as a second- strike capability, but as a strategic reserve force or third-strike capability. To the Soviets, loss of all or part of these assets would not be as severe as loss of their second-strike mobile intercontinental ballistic-missile force, for example. Third, the Soviet submarine force is stealthy enough today that the U.S. Navy is by no means guaranteed success in a preemptive strike against Soviet SSBNs. And finally, the Soviets are rational; they realize that a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States or Europe in response to loss of part of their strategic submarine force would certainly lead to mutually assured destruction.5
Strategic ASW is a fundamentally sound aspect of the U.S. and NATO maritime strategy. It only makes sense that the West engage in the same tactics that the Soviets would pursue in time of war. The West should respond negatively to Soviet proposals for ASW-free zones and SSBN sanctuaries.
► Doubts about Limitations on Sea-launched Cruise Missiles: Part of NATO’s deterrent is the sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), a dual-capable force multiplier in the inventory of the U.S. Navy, which the Soviets fear could be effectively employed against its troops and tanks during a conflict in Western Europe.
As far as the Soviets are concerned, after execution of the provisions of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the threat of intermediate-range nuclear missiles ashore will cease to exist. Their focus on arms control therefore has shifted to the U.S. Navy’s maritime nuclear assets, especially SLCMs. As Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf has said,
“The [U.S.] Navy went from 15 power projection platforms [aircraft carriers] to a force capable of putting ordnance on target from on and beneath the seas and from hundreds of launch points. This distributed offensive capability means that the map on the wall in the Kremlin that tracks U.S. Navy ships capable of striking the Soviet Union went from a few pins to a forest.”6
Arms control cooperation on the nuclear version of SLCMs has two problems—verification and modernization.
Simply put, it is impossible to tell the difference between the nuclear and the conventional versions of SLCM. To do so would involve a verification scheme so intrusive that neither the Soviet Union nor the United States would wish to accept it.
The other problem, modernization within NATO, dates back to the Montebello Decision of 1983, in which NATO resolved unilaterally to withdraw 1,400 nuclear warheads from inventory and maintain the credibility of its remaining nuclear deterrent with an ongoing program of modernization. After the signing of the INF Treaty, the NATO modernization program evolved into one that met the restrictions of the treaty, but at the same time attempted to fill the tactical missile gap. This called for modernizing the multiple rocket launcher system and the follow-on to Lance, a single-warhead nuclear missile, not yet in production, that has a range of just less than 500 kilometers. Since intermediate-range nuclear missiles began to be withdrawn from Europe, the modernization debate within NATO has become heated. Belgium and the Federal Republic of Germany recently expressed severe concerns about the follow-on to the Lance missile and declared themselves favorable to a third zero in the cadre of INF—that is, elimination of all short-range nuclear weapon systems (ranges less than 500 kilometers) from the continent of Europe.
During the NATO summit of 29-30 May 1989, President George Bush proposed linking any negotiation on the future of short-range nuclear weapons to progress in the Conventional Armed Forces Europe talks currently under way in Vienna. This proposal was well received by the allies. The Soviets have since accepted Bush’s proposal in principle, although during his recent speech before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, Gorbachev once again called for an immediate denuclearization of Europe.
The recent events in Eastern Europe and the general perception of a declining Soviet threat increase the possibility that the debate concerning the modernization or denuclearization of NATO arsenals will be revived soon. There is a real danger that the NATO alliance could split over this issue. The decision whether to modernize will certainly affect the decision whether to negotiate on the future of nuclear SLCMs. If the credibility of the Flexible Response Strategy cannot be maintained with an inventory of limited nuclear options ashore, then that mission will be relegated to the Navy and the Tomahawk nuclear land-attack missile will be an important part of it.
► Doubts about Naval Confidence-building Measures: A recent Armament and Disarmament Information Unit report points to two previous international accords involving information exchange and naval confidence-building measures as models for future agreements between naval powers. These accords are the multilateral Montreux Convention of 1936, still in force, and the Incidents at Sea Agreement, signed by the United States and Soviet Union in 1972.
These treaties are not exactly models. The Soviets have been able to find holes in the Montreux Convention. Soviet Admiral Mikhail N. Khronopulo, Commander of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, was asked if the construction of the new aircraft carrier Tbilisi would pose any problem to Soviet compliance with the Montreux Convention, which restricts aircraft carriers from entering the Straits of the Dardanelles in the Black Sea. He replied that there would be no problem whatsoever, since the Tbilisi was not an aircraft carrier, but a large cruiser instead.7 And while it is true that the Incidents at Sea Agreement—intended to prevent the collision or the inadvertent outbreak of hostilities between U.S. and Soviet warships—has reduced the number of “reported” incidents at sea between the United States and the Soviet Union, the record of Soviet compliance is not ideal. Soviet intelligence vessels continued to harass U.S. Navy warships entering or exiting port, prompting President Ronald Reagan to pass a law extending U.S. territorial teas from 3 to 12 miles.
Furthermore, the Incidents at Sea Agreement did not prevent the Soviets from creating an international incident in the Black Sea on 13 February 1988. While exercising the right to innocent Passage through waters near Sevastopol, guaranteed by the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, the USS Yorktown (CG-48) was rammed by a Soviet frigate.8 No international agreement could have prevented this incident. Regardless of the fact that the U.S. vessels were perfectly within their rights to sail in these waters, the Soviets attempted to exploit this incident as an act of U.S. aggression and a threat to Soviet sovereignty.
If the bumping incident in the Black Sea is any indication of Soviet unwillingness to avoid dangerous confrontation at sea, why then should the United States extend confidence-building measures that would
“include the extension of the provisions for notifications of dangerous actions to mandatory notification of all naval exercises, and reconsideration of a distance formula, which would regulate how closely US and Soviet ships could approach each other which could not be agreed upon in 1972.”9
The U.S. Navy’s and NATO’s principal objection to naval confidence-building measures is that they limit the autonomy of Western naval operations. Furthermore, the fundamental basis of the maritime strategy is the flexible and offensive use of naval forces. Any restrictions on this basic tenet of operations would increase the threat to NATO because the Soviets would no longer have to dedicate a certain portion of their forces to engage U.S. and NATO navies in time of war.
1Quote attributed to W. Churchill.
2Adm. C.A.H. Trost, USN, “The Morning of the Empty Trenches,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, August 1988, p. 15.
3Gorbachev’s first call for a Mediterranean zone of peace was reported in the article: “Soviet Urges Naval Cuts in Mediterranean,” The Washington Post, 16 March 1988, p. A33;
The Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Adm. V. Chernavin further elaborated on this proposal during a press conference on 25 April 1988. Adm. Chemavin’s remarks are cited in “Chronology/Summary of Soviet Proposals on Naval Arms Control and Matters Related to Limiting Naval Forces,” a continuously updated chronology compiled by the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel [OP-OOK], Washington, DC, p. 6.
4K. Voigt, “The U.S. Maritime Strategy and Crisis Stability at Sea,” a draft report for NATO delivered before the Military Affairs Committee during the NATO General Assembly in Hamburg, 15 November 1988, p. 44.
5R. O’Rourke, “Nuclear Escalation, Strategic Anti-Submarine Warfare, and the Navy’s Forward Maritime Strategy,” Congressional Research Service Report, No. 87-138F, 27 February 1987; Author’s Interview with O’Rourke, 3 February 1989.
6VAdm. J. Metcalf, USN (Ret.), “The Maritime Strategy in Transition,” a paper delivered to the Conference on Maritime Strategy, Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich, England, 15 February 1989, pp. 7-8.
7Trost, p. 15.
8B.H. Brittin, International Law of the Sea for Seagoing Officers (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986), p. 96; NATO Political Affairs Committee, “Special Report on Confidence Building Measures: Next Steps for Stability and Security,” NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Hamburg, West Germany, November 1988, p. 44.
9G. Gunarsson, Armament and Disarmament Unit Report, July-August 1986, pp. 2-3.