56. Address by Secretary of State Haig1

Arms Control for the 1980s: An American Policy

I do want to say I’m very, very pleased to have an opportunity to talk again before the Foreign Policy Association. I’ve always believed that an effective policy abroad must be the product of support for that policy here at home. And this association and its activities have clearly made a major contribution to that requirement here in America. It has always sharpened the issues for the American people and enabled them to decide for themselves on these fundamental issues. And it is just such an issue that I would like to discuss today, and that is the vitally important issue of the future of arms control in this decade of the 1980s facing Americans. There is hardly a subject which enjoys or is a focus of greater international attention, especially recently, among our allies in Western Europe, and with good cause.

This is true because we are living in an age when man has conceived the means of his own destruction. The supreme interest of the United States has been to avoid the extremes of either nuclear catastrophe or [Page 193] nuclear blackmail. Beginning with the Baruch plan,2 every President has sought international agreement to control nuclear weapons and to prevent their proliferation. But each Chief Executive has also recognized that our national security and the security of our allies depend on American nuclear forces as well.

President Reagan stands in this tradition. He understands the dangers of unchecked nuclear arms. He shares the universal aspiration for a more secure and peaceful world. But he also shares the universal disappointment that the arms control process has delivered less than it has promised.

One of the President’s first acts was to order an intense review of arms control policy, the better to learn the lessons of the past in the hope of achieving more lasting progress for the future. Two fundamental conclusions have emerged from this review.

First, the search for sound arms control agreements should be an essential element of our program for achieving and maintaining peace.

Second, such agreements can be reached if negotiations among adversaries about their national security interests are not dominated by pious hopes and simplistic solutions.

The task of arms control is enormously complex. It must be related to the nation’s security needs and perspectives. Above all, arms control policy must be seen in the light of international realities. As Churchill put it: “You must look at the facts because they look at you.” An American arms control policy for this decade must take into account the facts about our security and the lessons that we have learned about what works—and what does not work—in arms control.

Despite the extraordinary efforts at arms control during the 1970s, the world is a less secure place than it was 10 years ago. We began the process with the expectation that it would help to secure the deterrent forces of both the United States and the Soviet Union. But Moscow’s strategic buildup has put at risk both our crucial land-based missiles and our bombers. Simultaneously, the Soviets have continued a massive buildup of conventional forces and have used them with increasing boldness. Their armies and those of their surrogates have seized positions that threaten resources and routes critical to Western security.

We cannot blame our approach to arms control alone for our failure to restrain the growth and use of Soviet power. The Soviet Union did not feel compelled to agree to major limitations and adequate [Page 194] verification in part because the United States did not take steps needed to maintain its own strategic and conventional capabilities. Nor did we respond vigorously to the use of Soviet force. The turmoil of the 1960s, Vietnam, and Watergate all contributed to this passivity. As a result, the basis for arms control was undermined. We overestimated the extent to which the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks would help to ease other tensions. We also underestimated the impact that such tensions would have on the arms control process itself.

This experience teaches us that arms control can only be one element in a comprehensive structure of defense and foreign policy designed to reduce the risks of war. It cannot be the political centerpiece or the crucial barometer of U.S.-Soviet relationships, burdening arms control with a crushing political weight. It can hardly address such issues as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea3—which is the subject of our U.N. conference here this week—the Libyan invasion of Chad, or Cuban intervention in Africa and Latin America. Instead, arms control should be an element—a single element—in a full range of political, economic, and military efforts to promote peace and security.


The lessons of history and the facts of international life provide the basis for a realistic set of principles to guide a more effective approach to arms control. All of our principles are derived from a recognition that the paramount aim of arms control must be to reduce the risks of war. We owe it to ourselves and to our posterity to follow principles wedded exclusively to that aim.

Our first principle is that our arms control efforts will be an instrument of, not a replacement for, a coherent allied security policy. Arms control proposals should be designed in the context of the security situation we face, our military needs, and our defense strategy. Arms control should complement military programs in meeting these needs. Close consultation with our allies is an essential part of this process, both to protect their interests and to strengthen the Western position in negotiations with the Soviet Union.

If, conversely, we make our defense programs dependent on progress in arms control, then we will give the Soviets a veto over our defenses and remove their incentive to negotiate fair arrangements. Should we expect Moscow to respect parity if we demonstrate that we are not prepared to sacrifice to sustain it? Can we expect the Soviets to agree to limitations if they realize that, in the absence of agreement, we shall not match their efforts? In the crucial relationship between arms [Page 195] and arms control, we must not put the cart before the horse. There is little prospect of agreements with the Soviet Union that will help solve such a basic security problem as the vulnerability of our land-based missiles until we demonstrate that we have the will and the capacity to solve them without arms control, should that be necessary.

Our second principle is that we will seek arms control agreements that truly enhance security. We will work for agreements that make world peace more secure by reinforcing deterrence. On occasion it has been urged that we accept defective agreements in order “to keep the arms control process alive.” But we are seeking much more than agreements for their own sake. We will design our proposals not simply in the interest of a speedy negotiation but so that they will result in agreements which genuinely enhance the security of both sides.

That is the greatest measure of the worth of arms control, not the money saved nor the arms eliminated. Indeed, valuable agreements can be envisioned that do not save money and that do not eliminate arms. The vital task is to limit and to reduce arms in a way that renders the use of the remaining arms less likely.

Just as arms control could not aim simply at reducing numbers, so it should not try simply to restrict the advance of technology. Some technological advances make everyone safer. Reconnaissance satellites, for instance, discourage surprise attacks by increasing warning and make verification of agreements possible. Submarines and other means of giving mobility to strategic systems enhance their survivability, reduce the advantage of preemptive strikes, and thus help to preserve the peace. Our proposals will take account of both the positive and the negative effects of advancing technology.

Whether a particular weapons system, and therefore a particular agreement, undermines or supports deterrence may change with the development of other weapons systems. At one time, fixed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were a highly stable form of strategic weapons deployments, but technological change has altered that. We need to design arms control treaties so that they can adapt flexibly to long-term changes. A treaty that, for example, had the effect of locking us into fixed ICBM deployments would actually detract from the objectives of arms control.

Our third principle is that we will seek arms control bearing in mind the whole context of Soviet conduct worldwide. Escalation of a crisis produced by Soviet aggression could lead to a nuclear war, particularly if we allowed an imbalance of forces to provide an incentive for a Soviet first strike. American foreign policy and defense policy, of which arms control is one element, must deter aggression, contain crisis, reduce sources of conflict, and achieve a more stable military balance—all for [Page 196] the purpose of securing the peace. These tasks cannot be undertaken successfully in isolation one from the other.

Soviet international conduct directly affects the prospects for success in arms control. Recognition of this reality is essential for a healthy arms control process in the long run. Such “linkage” is not the creation of U.S. policy: It is a fact of life. A policy of pretending that there is no linkage promotes reverse linkage. It ends up by saying that in order to preserve arms control, we have to tolerate Soviet aggression. This Administration will never accept such an appalling conclusion.

Our fourth principle is that we will seek balanced arms control agreements. Balanced agreements are necessary for a relationship based on reciprocity and essential to maintaining the security of both sides. The Soviet Union must be more willing in the future to accept genuine parity for arms control to move ahead. Each agreement must be balanced in itself and contribute to an overall balance.

Quantitative parity is important, but balance is more than a matter of numbers. One cannot always count different weapons systems as if they were equivalent. What matters is the capacity of either side to make decisive gains through military operations or threat of military operations. Agreements that do not effectively reduce the incentives to use force, especially in crisis situations, do nothing at all to enhance security.

Our fifth principle is that we will seek arms controls that include effective means of verification and mechanisms for securing compliance. Unverifiable agreements only increase uncertainties, tensions, and risks. The critical obstacle in virtually every area of arms control in the 1970s was Soviet unwillingness to accept the verification measures needed for more ambitious limitations. As much as any other single factor, whether the Soviets are forthcoming on this question will determine the degree of progress in arms control in the 1980s.

Failure of the entire arms control process in the long run can be avoided only if compliance issues are clearly resolved. For example, there have been extremely disturbing reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Soviets or their proxies in Afghanistan and in Southeast Asia. With full Western support the United Nations is now investigating the issue of chemical weapons.4 Similarly, in the spring of 1979, there was an extraordinary outbreak of anthrax in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk.5 Despite continued probing, we still await a serious Soviet [Page 197] explanation as to whether it was linked to activities prohibited under the biological weapons convention.6

Our sixth principle is that our strategy must consider the totality of the various arms control processes and various weapons systems, not only those that are being specifically negotiated. Each U.S. weapons system must be understood not merely in connection with a corresponding Soviet system, but in relation to our whole strategy for deterring the Soviets from exploiting military force in general. In developing our theater nuclear arms control proposals, for example, we should consider the relationship of theater nuclear forces to NATO’s overall strategy for deterring war in Europe. We cannot overlook the fact that our European strategy has always compensated for shortfalls in conventional capability through a greater reliance on theater and strategic nuclear forces. If we are to rely less on the nuclear elements in the future, the conventional elements will have to be strengthened.


What then are the prospects for arms control in the 1980s? We could achieve quick agreements and an appearance of progress if we pursued negotiation for its own sake or for the political symbolism of continuing the process. But we are committed to serious arms control that truly strengthens international security. That is why our approach must be prudent, paced, and measured.

With a clear sense of direction and a dedication to the serious objectives of arms control, this Administration will strive to make arms control succeed. We will put our principles into action. We will conduct negotiations based on close consultation with our allies, guided by the understanding that our objective is enhanced security for all of our allies, not just for the United States. We will work with the Congress to insure that our arms control proposals reflect the desires of our people, and that, once agreements are negotiated, they will be ratified and their implementation fully supported. We will comply with agreements we make, and we will demand that others do likewise.

By the end of the year, the United States will be embarked upon a new arms control endeavor of fundamental importance, one designed to reduce the Soviet nuclear threat to our European allies. The impetus for these negotiations dates back to the mid-1970s when the Soviets began producing and deploying a whole new generation of nuclear [Page 198] systems designed not to threaten the United States—for their range was too short—but to threaten our European allies. These new weapons, and in particular the nearly 3,000-mile-range SS–20 missile, were not just modernized replacements for older systems. Because of their much greater range, their mobility, and above all their multiplication of warheads on each missile, these new systems presented the alliance with a threat of a new order of magnitude.

The pace of the Soviet buildup is increasing. Since the beginning of last year, the Soviets have more than doubled their SS–20 force. Already 750 warheads have been deployed on SS–20 launchers. The Soviet Union has continued to deploy the long-range Backfire bomber and a whole array of new medium- and short-range nuclear missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft. This comprehensive Soviet arms buildup is in no sense a reaction to NATO’s defense program. Indeed, NATO did very little as this alarming buildup progressed.

In December 1979 the alliance finally responded in two ways. First, it agreed to deploy 464 new U.S. ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe and to replace 108 medium-range Pershing ballistic missiles already located there with modernized versions of greater range. Second, the alliance agreed that the United States should pursue negotiated limits on U.S. and Soviet systems in this category.

This two-track decision represents explicit recognition that arms control cannot succeed unless it is matched by a clear determination to take the defense measures necessary to restore a secure balance. On taking office, as one of its first foreign policy initiatives, this Administration announced its commitment to both tracks of the alliance decision—deployments and arms control. Last May, in Rome, we secured unanimous alliance endorsement of our decision to move ahead on both tracks and of our plan for doing so.7

Since then I have begun discussions in Washington with the Soviet Ambassador on this issue.8 When I meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko at the United Nations this September, I will seek agreement [Page 199] to start the U.S.-Soviet negotiations on these weapons systems by the end of this year.9 We would like to see the U.S. and Soviet negotiators meet to begin formal talks between mid-November and mid-December of this year. We intend to appoint a senior U.S. official with the rank of Ambassador as our representative at these talks.

Extensive preliminary preparations for this entirely new area of arms control are already underway in Washington and in consultation with our NATO allies in Brussels. Senior U.S. and European officials will continue to consult after the beginning of U.S.-Soviet exchanges. We and our allies recognize that progress can only come through complex, extensive, and intensive negotiations.

We approach these negotiations with a clear sense of purpose. We want equal, verifiable limits on the lowest possible level on U.S. and Soviet theater nuclear forces. Such limits would reduce the threat to our allies and bring to Europe the security undermined today by the Soviet buildup. We regard the threat to our allies as a threat to ourselves, and we will, therefore, spare no effort to succeed.

We are proceeding with these negotiations to limit the theater threat within the framework of SALT—the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks designed to limit the nuclear threat to the United States and the Soviet Union. In this area, too, we have initiated intense preparations. These preparations must take into account the decisions we will take shortly on modernizing our intercontinental ballistic missiles and our strategic bombers.

In the course of 10 years of SALT negotiations, conceptual questions have arisen which must be addressed. For instance, how have improvements in monitoring capabilities, on the one hand, and new possibilities for deception and concealment, on the other, affected our ability to verify agreements and to improve verification? Which systems are to be included in a SALT negotiation, and which should be discussed in other forums? How can we compare and limit the diverse U.S. and Soviet military arsenals in the light of new systems and new technologies emerging on both sides?

In each of these areas there are serious and pressing questions which must be answered to insure the progress of SALT in the 1980s and beyond. Only in this way can SALT become again a dynamic process [Page 200] that will promote greater security in the U.S.-Soviet relationship. We are determined to solve these problems and to do everything necessary to arrive at balanced reductions in strategic arsenals on both sides.

We should be prepared to pursue innovative arms control ideas. For example, negotiated confidence-building measures in Europe could provide a valuable means to reduce uncertainty about the character and purpose of the other side’s military activities. While measures of this sort will not lessen the imperative of maintaining a military balance in Europe, they can reduce the dangers of miscalculation and surprise.

We are eager to pursue such steps in the framework of a European disarmament conference based on an important French proposal now being considered at the Madrid meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.10 We call upon the Soviets to accept this proposal, which could cover Soviet territory to the Urals. As we proceed in Madrid, we will do so on the basis of a firm alliance solidarity, which is the key to bringing the Soviets to accept serious and effective arms control measures.

Our efforts to control existing nuclear arsenals will be accompanied by new attempts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The Reagan Administration is developing more vigorous policies for inhibiting nuclear proliferation.11 We expect the help of others in this undertaking, and we intend to be a more forthcoming partner to those who share responsibility for nonproliferation practices. Proliferation complicates the task of arms control: It increases the risk of preemptive and accidental war, it detracts from the maintenance of a stable balance of conventional forces, and it brings weapons of unparalleled destructiveness to volatile and developing regions. No short-term gain in export revenue or regional prestige can be worth such risks.

It may be argued that the “genie is out of the bottle,” that technology is already out of control. But technology can also be tapped for the [Page 201] answers. Our policies can diminish the insecurities that motivate proliferation. Responsible export practices can reduce dangers. And international norms can increase the cost of nuclear violations. With effort we can help to assure that nuclear plowshares are not transformed into nuclear swords.

In sum, the United States has a broad agenda of specific arms control efforts and negotiations already underway or soon to be launched. The charge that we are not interested in arms control or that we have cut off communications with the Soviets on these issues is simply not true.

The approach I have discussed today stands in a long and distinguished American tradition. We are confident that it is a serious and realistic approach to the enduring problems of arms control. The United States wants a more secure and a more peaceful world. And we know that balanced, verifiable arms control can contribute to that objective.

We are also confident that the Soviet leaders will realize the seriousness of our intent. They should soon tire of the proposals that seek to freeze NATO’s modernization of theater nuclear weapons before it has even begun, while reserving for themselves the advantages of hundreds of SS–20s already deployed. They should see that the propaganda campaign intended to intimidate our allies and frustrate NATO’s modernization program cannot and must not succeed. Arms control requires confidence, but it also requires patience.

Americans dream of a peaceful world, and we are willing to work long and hard to create it. This Administration is confident that its stance of patient optimism on arms control expresses the deepest hopes and the clearest thoughts of the American people.

It is one of the paradoxes of our time that the prospects for arms control depend upon the achievement of a balance of arms. We seek to negotiate a balance at less dangerous levels but meanwhile we must maintain our strength. Let us take to heart John F. Kennedy’s reminder that negotiations “are not a substitute for strength—they are an instrument for the translation of strength into survival and peace.”12

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, August 1981, pp. 31–34. Haig spoke before the Foreign Press Association. The question and answer session following the address is ibid., September 1981, pp. 31–33. The Department transmitted the text of the address to all diplomatic and consular posts in telegram 183639, July 14. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810327–0450)
  2. In 1946 Bernard Baruch, then the U.S. Representative to the UN Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), proposed a plan for the international control of atomic energy. Documentation on the development of the Baruch plan is in Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. I, General; the United Nations.
  3. See footnotes 12 and 13, Document 53.
  4. Reference is to A/RES/35/144 C, “Chemical and Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons,” adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 12, 1980, which requested the Secretary-General to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons.
  5. Reference is to the accidental release of anthrax from a military research facility in Sverdlovsk in April 1979. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Documents 267, 269, 270, 290, 294, 297, 304, and 306.
  6. Reference is to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (26 UST 583), commonly known as the Biological Weapons Convention, signed in London, Washington, and Moscow on April 10, 1972, and entered into force on March 26, 1975. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969–1972, Document 256.
  7. See footnotes 3 and 6, Document 48.
  8. In an undated memorandum to the President, Haig indicated that Dobrynin had delivered to him that day a letter from Brezhnev to Reagan, dated May 27. Haig noted that during their conversation, Dobrynin had expressed the Soviet desire to get the TNF talks underway. Haig continued, “I told him that the talks we will conduct between now and when Gromyko and I meet in September will be restricted to the modalities. I explained that the US had to engage in extensive consultations with its allies and prepare threat and requirement assessments so that when we begin negotiations we will know which systems will be involved. The TNF talks are not like the SALT talks where the US could act largely unilaterally. I argued that both we and the Soviets will be well served by these intensive preparations so that my discussions with Gromyko in September can be productive and businesslike.” For the text of the memorandum and the text of Brezhnev’s letter, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 59.
  9. Haig met with Gromyko during the UN General Assembly (Haig’s speech is printed as Document 63) on September 23 and September 28. On September 23, they agreed that formal negotiations would begin in Geneva on November 30, with Nitze representing the United States and U.A. Kvitsinsky representing the Soviet Union. The memoranda of conversation are printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Documents 8891.
  10. Reference is to a French proposal, introduced at the CSCE Madrid review conference (see footnote 4, Document 48), which called for a conference on disarmament in Europe to discuss confidence building measures that would “apply to all of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.” (Telegram 90145 to Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, CINCPAC Honolulu, and CINCUNC Seoul, April 10; Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810170–0334)
  11. On July 16, the White House released the President’s statement on U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy. In it, the President outlined the administration’s “policy framework,” containing basic guidelines for the pursuit of its policy, asserting: “We must reestablish this Nation as a predictable and reliable partner for peaceful nuclear cooperation under adequate safeguards. This is essential to our nonproliferation goals. If we are not such a partner, other countries will tend to go their own ways, and our influence will diminish. This would reduce our effectiveness in gaining the support we need to deal with proliferation problems.” He directed that Haig, in concert with other agencies, work to “reestablish a leadership role for the United States in international nuclear affairs.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1981, pp. 630–631)
  12. Then-Senator Kennedy made these remarks during a speech delivered in the Senate on June 14, 1960.