Chapter 6 – Carter’s “Détente” Confusion, Soviet Violations, and Catalysts for Change - 1977 to 1981

missile nuclear warhead and the 8-inch weapon system, leaving open the option of installing the enhanced radiation elements. The United States is consulting with its partners in the North Atlantic Alliance on this decision and will continue to discuss with them appropriate arms control measures to be pursued with the Soviet Union.5

The “Neutron” Weapon as a Moral Alternative for Effective Deterrence. Carter’s public decision to defer ER production until NATO governments publicly agreed on the program (thus requiring public assent from heads of state and parliaments) appeared to critics as intended to delay any U.S. production for many months, if not years. Yet, this would leave NATO locked into a mad reliance—in the face of Soviet attack doctrines and substantial conventional force superiority—on “tactical” nuclear weapons that would kill thousands of civilians and produce deadly radiation lasting for generations. Carter appeared not to understand that with the ER weapon the United States and its Allies were in fact seeking the moral high ground for an alternative deterrent and defense system against far superior Soviet conventional forces. ER could save many thousands of innocent civilian lives when compared to the tens of thousands of civilians (and troops) likely to die if any U.S. tactical nuclear weapons currently deployed were used to defend against invading Soviet forces. The ER weapon would stop Soviet tank armies, but spare people living in nearby towns and cities of densely populated Central Europe from nuclear death and years of radiation.

Senator Nunn on Why “Carter Was Wrong.” As the storm about Carter’s ER policy increased, Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, a leading Democratic Party expert on defense issues, published an article in the Christian Science Monitor on May 1, 1978 entitled “Carter Was Wrong.” Nunn set the record straight on NATO’s important defense and moral reasons for supporting the ER weapon. Nunn’s words included the following:

[Invisible Bargaining Chips] The administration’s decision to defer a final decision on production of enhanced radiation artillery warheads (the so-called “neutron bomb”) is a mistake. To believe that continued indecision on the matter will somehow encourage the Soviets to show similar “restraint” in armaments is to believe in the power of invisible bargaining chips. . . .

[Deterrence vs. Self-Deterrence] For years, NATO has sought to restore the eroding credibility of its theater nuclear deterrent by reducing the collateral damage which would inevitably accompany the use of its existing tactical nuclear weapons. Development of enhanced radiation weapons was undertaken exactly for this purpose. The weapon has received the vigorous support of the alliance’s own Nuclear Planning Group, NATO Supreme Commander Alexander Haig, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The destructiveness of NATO’s current tactical nuclear weapons is so great that NATO is likely to be deterred from ever employing them in defense of its own territory.

[More on Deterrence and Credibility] The purpose of the NATO forces in Europe is to deter Soviet aggression, not to deter ourselves from responding to that aggression. A unilateral cancellation of the neutron warhead would be the ultimate in self-deterrence. The Soviets are not deterred by NATO weapons which the alliance probably can’t use for fear of destroying the very territory it is sworn to defend. The Soviets are deterred by weapons whose use is credible. If we do not have usable weapons, then we do not have deterrence, and if we don’t have deterrence, we may end up being forced to use unusable weapons or to capitulate. . . .

[NATO Disarray, Soviet Propaganda] President Carter’s action . . . throws the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—our principal alliance—into disarray. . . . It creates the image of a timid and hesitant NATO leadership incapable of making the difficult defense choices ahead necessary to counter the relentless expansion of Soviet military power. It may impede NATO’s theater nuclear force modernization program. It constitutes at least a partial victory for one of the most vigorous Soviet propaganda campaigns since World War II. (headings added)6

A Note on Reagan’s SDI vs. MAD. Nunn’s ER statement foreshadowed the intense later national debate referenced throughout this book (and reviewed especially in Chapter 13) between supporters of Reagan’s non-nuclear Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) as a moral, strategic (and in Reagan’s program, non-nuclear) imperative and alternative to the destabilizing predominant U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). MAD’s Cold War mutual-suicide assumptions underlay the “détente” SALT and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) “arms control” treaties of 1972 to which Reagan and his SDI supporters strongly objected. Of special interest was Nunn’s revelation that “in the early 1970s, ER warheads were actually . . . deployed . . . to reduce civilian casualties . . . with the [U.S. ABM] Sprint missile . . . designed to destroy attacking Soviet missiles which had already entered the atmosphere over American territory.”

[Book pg. 129]