91. Address by Secretary of State Haig1

Peace and Deterrence

It is a melancholy fact of the modern age that man has conceived a means capable of his own destruction. For 37 years mankind has had to live with the terrible burden of nuclear weapons. From the dawn of the nuclear age, these weapons have been the source of grave concern to our peoples and the focus of continuous public debate. Every successive president of the United States has shared these concerns. Every Administration has had to engage itself in this debate.

It is right that each succeeding generation should question anew the manner in which its leaders exercise such awesome responsibilities. It is right that each new Administration should have to confront the awful dilemmas posed by the possession of nuclear weapons. It is right that our nuclear strategy should be exposed to continuous examination.

Strategy of Nuclear Deterrence

In debating these issues, we should not allow the complexity of the problems and the gravity of the stakes to blind us to the common ground upon which we all stand. No one has ever advocated nuclear war. No responsible voice has ever sought to minimize its horrors.

On the contrary, from the earliest days of the postwar era, America’s leaders have recognized that the only nuclear strategy consistent with our values and our survival—our physical existence and what makes life worth living—is the strategy of deterrence. The massive destructive power of these weapons precludes their serving any lesser purpose. The catastrophic consequences of another world war—with or without nuclear weapons—make deterrence of conflict our highest objective and our only rational military strategy for the modern age.

Thus, since the close of World War II, American and Western strategy has assigned a single function to nuclear weapons: the prevention of war and the preservation of peace. At the heart of this deterrence strategy is the requirement that the risk of engaging in war must be made to outweigh any possible benefits of aggression. The cost of aggression must not be confined to the victims of aggression.

This strategy of deterrence has won the consistent approval of Western peoples. It has enjoyed the bipartisan support of the American [Page 329] Congress. It has secured the unanimous endorsement of every successive allied government.

Deterrence has been supported because deterrence works. Nuclear deterrence and collective defense have preserved peace in Europe, the crucible of two global wars in this century. Clearly, neither improvement in the nature of man nor strengthening of the international order has made war less frequent or less brutal. Millions have died since 1945 in over 130 international and civil wars. Yet nuclear deterrence has prevented a conflict between the two superpowers, a conflict which even without nuclear weapons would be the most destructive in mankind’s history.

Requirements for Western Strategy

The simple possession of nuclear weapons does not guarantee deterrence. Throughout history societies have risked their total destruction if the prize of victory was sufficiently great or the consequences of submission sufficiently grave. War and, in particular nuclear war, can be deterred, but only if we are able to deny an aggressor military advantage from his action and thus insure his awareness that he cannot prevail in any conflict with us. Deterrence, in short, requires the maintenance of a secure military balance, one which cannot be overturned through surprise attack or sudden technological breakthrough. The quality and credibility of deterrence must be measured against these criteria. Successive administrations have understood this fact and stressed the importance of the overall balance. This Administration can do no less.

The strategy of deterrence, in its essentials, has endured. But the requirements for maintaining a secure capability to deter in all circumstances have evolved. In the early days of unquestioned American nuclear superiority the task of posing an unacceptable risk to an aggressor was not difficult. The threat of massive retaliation was fully credible as long as the Soviet Union could not respond in kind. As the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal grew, however, this threat began to lose credibility.

To sustain the credibility of Western deterrence, the concept of flexible response was elaborated and formally adopted by the United States and its NATO partners in 1967.2 Henceforth, it was agreed that NATO would meet aggression initially at whatever level it was launched, while preserving the flexibility to escalate the conflict, if necessary, to secure the cessation of aggression and the withdrawal of the aggressor. [Page 330] The purpose of this strategy is not just to conduct conflict successfully if it is forced upon us but, more importantly, to prevent the outbreak of conflict in the first place.

Flexible response is not premised upon the view that nuclear war can be controlled. Every successive allied and American government has been convinced that nuclear war, once initiated, could escape such control. They have, therefore, agreed upon a strategy which retains the deterrent effect of a possible nuclear response, without making such a step in any sense automatic.

The alliance based its implementation of flexible response upon a spectrum of forces, each of which plays an indispensable role in assuring the credibility of a Western strategy of deterrence. At one end of the spectrum are America’s strategic forces, our heavy bombers, intercontinental missiles, and ballistic missile submarines. Since NATO’s inception, these forces have been the ultimate guarantee of Western security, a role which they will retain in the future.

At the other end of the spectrum are the alliance’s conventional forces, including U.S. forces in Europe. These forces must be strong enough to defeat all but the most massive and persistent conventional aggression. They must be resistant and durable enough to give political leaders time to measure the gravity of the threat, to confront the inherently daunting prospects of nuclear escalation, and to seek through diplomacy the cessation of conflict and restoration of any lost Western territory. The vital role which conventional forces play in deterrence is too often neglected, particularly by those most vocal in their concern over reliance upon nuclear weapons. A strengthened conventional posture both strengthens the deterrent effect of nuclear forces and reduces the prospect of their ever being used.

Linking together strategic and conventional forces are theater nuclear forces, that is, NATO’s nuclear systems based in Europe. These systems are concrete evidence of the nature of the American commitment. They are a concrete manifestation of NATO’s willingness to resort to nuclear weapons if necessary to preserve the freedom and independence of its members. Further, the presence of nuclear weapons in Europe insures that the Soviet Union will never believe that it can divide the United States from its allies or wage a limited war with limited risks against any NATO member.

The strategy of flexible response and the forces that sustain its credibility reflect more than simply the prevailing military balance. Western strategy also reflects the political and geographical reality of an alliance of 15 independent nations, the most powerful of which is separated from all but one by 4,000 miles of ocean.

Deterrence is consequently more than a military strategy. It is the essential political bargain which binds together the Western coalition. [Page 331] Twice in this century, America has been unable to remain aloof from European conflict but unable to intervene in time to prevent the devastation of Western Europe. In a nuclear age neither we nor our allies can afford to see this pattern repeated a third time. We have, therefore, chosen a strategy which engages American power in the defense of Europe at the outset and gives substance to the principle that the security of the alliance is indivisible.

The Task Ahead

During the past decade the Soviet Union has mounted a sustained buildup across the range of its nuclear forces designed to undermine the credibility of the Western strategy. Soviet modernization efforts have far outstripped those of the West. The development and deployment of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles now pose a serious and increasing threat to a large part of our land-based ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] force. A new generation of Soviet intermediate-range missiles is targeted upon our European allies.

In the last 10 years, the Soviets introduced an unprecedented array of new strategic and intermediate-range systems into their arsenals, including the SS–17, SS–18, and SS–19 ICBMs, the Backfire bomber, the Typhoon submarine and several new types of submarine-launched missiles, and the SS–20 intermediate-range missile. In contrast, during this same period, the United States exercised restraint, introducing only the Trident missile and submarine and the slower air-breathing cruise missile.

In order to deal with the resulting imbalances, President Reagan has adopted a defense posture and recommended programs to the U.S. Congress designed to maintain deterrence, rectify the imbalances, and thereby support the Western strategy I have just outlined. His bold strategic modernization program, announced last October, is designed to insure the maintenance of a secure and reliable capability to deny any adversary advantage from any form of aggression, even a surprise attack.3

The President’s decision, in his first weeks in office, to go ahead with the production and deployment of the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles, in accordance with NATO’s decision of December 1979, represents an effort to reinforce the linkage between our strategic forces in the United States and NATO’s conventional and nuclear forces in Europe. A response to the massive buildup of Soviet SS–20s targeted on Western Europe, this NATO decision was taken to insure that the Soviet Union will never launch aggression in the belief that its own territory can [Page 332] remain immune from attack or that European security can ever be decoupled from that of the United States.

The improvements we are making in our conventional forces—in their readiness, mobility, training, and equipment—are designed to insure the kind of tough and resilient conventional capability required by the strategy of flexible response. It is important to recognize the interrelationship of these three types of forces. The requirements in each category are dependent upon the scale of the others. Their functions are similarly linked. The Soviet Union understands this. That is why they have consistently proposed a pledge against the first use of nuclear weapons, an idea which has achieved some resonance here in the West.

NATO has consistently rejected such Soviet proposals, which are tantamount to making Europe safe for conventional aggression. If the West were to allow Moscow the freedom to choose the level of conflict which most suited it and to leave entirely to Soviet discretion the nature and timing of any escalation, we would be forced to maintain conventional forces at least at the level of those of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.

Those in the West who advocate the adoption of a “no first use” policy4 seldom go on to propose that the United States reintroduce the draft, triple the size of its armed forces, and put its economy on a wartime footing. Yet in the absence of such steps, a pledge of “no first use” effectively leaves the West nothing with which to counterbalance the Soviet conventional advantages and geopolitical position in Europe.

Neither do Western proponents of a “no first use” policy acknowledge the consequences for the alliance of an American decision not to pose and accept the risk of nuclear war in the defense of Europe. A “no first use” policy would be the end of flexible response and thus of the very credibility of the Western strategic deterrence. In adopting such a stance, the United States would be limiting its commitment to Europe. But the alliance cannot function as a limited liability corporation. It can only survive as a partnership to which all are equally and fully committed—shared benefits, shared burdens, shared risks.

Another concept which has recently attracted interest is that of a freeze on nuclear weapons.5 While being sensitive to the concerns underlying this proposal, we have had to underscore the flaws in such an approach. A freeze at current levels would perpetuate an unstable and [Page 333] unequal military balance. It would reward a decade of unilateral Soviet buildup and penalize the United States for a decade of unilateral restraint. As President Reagan stressed last week, such a freeze would remove all Soviet incentive to engage in meaningful arms control designed to cut armaments and reduce the risk of war.6

Much of the argumentation for a nuclear freeze revolves around the question of how much is enough. Each side possesses thousands of deliverable nuclear weapons. Does it really make any difference who is ahead? The question itself is misleading, as it assumes that deterrence is simply a matter of numbers of weapons or numbers of casualties which could be inflicted. It is not.

  • Let us remember, first and foremost, that we are trying to deter the Soviet Union, not ourselves. The dynamic nature of the Soviet nuclear buildup demonstrates that the Soviet leaders do not believe in the concept of “sufficiency.” They are not likely to be deterred by a strategy or a force based upon it.
  • Let us also recall that nuclear deterrence must work not just in times of peace and moments of calm. Deterrence faces its true test at the time of maximum tension, even in the midst of actual conflict. In such extreme circumstances, when the stakes on the table may already be immense, when Soviet leaders may feel the very existence of their regime is threatened, who can say whether or not they would run massive risks if they believed that in the end the Soviet state would prevail?
  • Deterrence thus does not rest on a static comparison of the number or size of nuclear weapons. Rather, deterrence depends upon our capability, even after suffering a massive nuclear blow, to prevent an aggressor from securing a military advantage and prevailing in a conflict. Only if we maintain such a capability can we deter such a blow. Deterrence, in consequence, rests upon a military balance measured not in warhead numbers but in a complex interaction of capabilities and vulnerabilities.
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The Military Balance, Crisis Management, and the Conduct of American Diplomacy

The state of the military balance and its impact upon the deterrent value of American forces cast a shadow over every significant geopolitical decision. It affects on a day-to-day basis the conduct of American diplomacy. It influences the management of international crises and the terms upon which they are resolved.

The search for national interest and national security is a principal preoccupation of the leaders of every nation on the globe. Their decisions and their foreign policies are profoundly affected by their perception of the military balance between the United States and the Soviet Union and the consequent capacity of either to help provide for their security or to threaten that security.

More important still, perceptions of the military balance also affect the psychological attitude of both American and Soviet leaders, as they respond to events around the globe. For the foreseeable future the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union will be one in which our differences outnumber our points of convergence. Our objective must be to restrain this competition, to keep it below the level of force, while protecting our interests and those of our allies. Our ability to secure these objectives will be crucially influenced by the state of the strategic balance. Every judgment we make and every judgment the Soviet leadership makes will be shaded by it.

Thus the Soviet leadership, in calculating the risks of subversion or aggression, of acquiring new clients or propping up faltering proxies, must carefully evaluate the possibilities and prospects for an effective American response. Soviet calculations must encompass not only American capabilities to influence regional developments but American willingness to face the prospect of U.S.-Soviet confrontation and consequent escalation. American leaders, for their part, must go through comparable calculations in reacting to regional conflicts, responding to Soviet adventurism, and seeking to resolve international crises in a manner consistent with U.S. interests.

Put simply, our own vulnerability to nuclear blackmail, as well as the susceptibility of our friends to political intimidation, depends upon our ability and willingness to cope credibly with any Soviet threat. A strong and credible strategic posture enhances stability by reducing for the Soviets the temptations toward adventurism at the same time that it strengthens our hand in responding to Soviet political-military threats.

Arms Control and Nuclear Deterrence

In no area of diplomacy does the military balance have greater effect than in arms control. Arms control can reinforce deterrence and stabilize a military balance at lower levels of risk and effort. Arms [Page 335] control cannot, however, either provide or restore a balance we are unwilling to maintain through our defense efforts.

Just as the only justifiable nuclear strategy is one of deterrence, so the overriding objective for arms control is reducing the risk of war. The essential purpose to arms control is not to save money, although it may do so. Its purpose is not to generate good feelings or improve international relationships, although it may have that effect as well. Arms control’s central purpose must be to reinforce the military balance, upon which deterrence depends, at reduced levels of weapons and risk.

On November 18, President Reagan laid out the framework for a comprehensive program of arms control designed to serve these objectives. He committed the United States to seek major reductions in nuclear and conventional forces, leading to equal agreed limits on both sides. Last week he reviewed the steps we have taken.

  • In Geneva we have put forth detailed proposals designed to limit intermediate-range nuclear forces and to eliminate entirely the missiles of greatest concern to each side. This proposal has won the strong and unified support of our allies.7
  • In Vienna we are negotiating, alongside our allies, on reductions in conventional force levels in Europe.8 These negotiations have gone on without real progress for over 8 years. Because we are now facing diplomatic atrophy, we must urgently consider how to revitalize East-West discussions of conventional force reductions and stimulate progress in these talks.
  • Our highest priority, in the past several months, has been completing preparations for negotiations with the Soviet Union on strategic arms. Here too we will be proposing major reductions to verifiable, equal agreed levels. Here too we will be presenting detailed proposals when negotiations open.

The prospects for progress in each of these areas of arms control depend upon support of the President’s defense programs. This imperative has been caricatured as a policy of building up arms in order to reduce them. This is simply not true. As President Reagan’s proposals for intermediate-range missiles make clear, we hope that we never [Page 336] have to deploy those systems. But we must demonstrate a willingness to maintain the balance through force deployments if we are to have any prospect of reducing and stabilizing it through arms control.

Negotiations in the early 1970s on a treaty limiting antiballistic missile (ABM) systems provide an historic example.9 At the time, the Soviets had already built a system of ballistic missile defenses around Moscow. The United States had deployed no such system. Arms control offered the only means of closing off an otherwise attractive and expensive new avenue for arms competition. Yet it was not until the American Administration sought and secured congressional support for an American ABM program that the Soviets began to negotiate seriously. The result was the 1972 treaty limiting antiballistic missile systems, which remains in force today.

This same pattern was repeated more recently with intermediate-range missiles. For years the Soviets had sought limits on U.S. nuclear forces in Europe but refused to consider any limits upon their nuclear forces targeted upon Western Europe. Only after NATO took its decision of December 1979 to deploy U.S. Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles did the Soviet Union agree to put its SS–20 missiles on the negotiating table.

In the area of strategic arms, as well, there is little prospect the Soviet Union will ever agree to equal limits at lower levels unless first persuaded that the United States is otherwise determined to maintain equality at higher levels. It is, for instance, unrealistic to believe that the Soviet Union will agree to reduce the most threatening element of its force structure, its heavy, multiwar-headed intercontinental missiles unless it is persuaded that otherwise the United States will respond by deploying comparable systems itself.

For many opposed to reliance on nuclear weapons—even for defense or deterrence—the issue is a moral one. For those who first elaborated the strategy of deterrence, and for those who seek to maintain its effect, this issue is also preeminently moral. A familiar argument is that, in a nuclear age, we must choose between our values and our existence. If nuclear weapons offer the only deterrent to nuclear blackmail, some would argue we should submit rather than pose the risk of nuclear conflict. This choice, however, is a false one. By maintaining the military balance and sustaining deterrence, we protect the essential values of Western civilization—democratic government, personal liberty, [Page 337] and religious freedom—and preserve the peace. In failing to maintain deterrence, we would risk our freedoms, while actually increasing the likelihood of also suffering nuclear devastation.

As human beings and free men and women, we must reject this false alternative and avoid the extremes of nuclear catastrophe and nuclear blackmail. In the nuclear age, the only choice consistent with survival and civilization is deterrence.

An eminent theologian once described our age as one in which “the highest possibilities are inextricably intermingled with the most dire perils”. The scientific and technological advances so vital to our civilization also make possible its destruction. This reality cannot be wished away.

Americans have always been conscious of the dilemmas posed by the nuclear weapon. From the moment that science unleashed the atom, our instinct and policy have been to control it. Those who direct America’s defense policies today share completely the desire of people everywhere to end the nuclear arms race and to begin to achieve substantial reductions in nuclear armament.

Confronted by the dire perils of such weapons, America has responded in a manner that best preserves both security and peace, that protects our society and our values, and that offers hope without illusion. The strategy of deterrence has kept the peace for over 30 years. It has provided the basis for arms control efforts. And it offers the best chance to control and to reduce the dangers that we face.

Deterrence is not automatic. It cannot be had on the cheap. Our ability to sustain it depends upon our ability to maintain the military balance now being threatened by the Soviet buildup. If we are to reinforce deterrence through arms control and arms reduction, we must convince the Soviets that their efforts to undermine the deterrent effect of our forces cannot and will not succeed.

The control and reduction of nuclear weapons, based on deterrence, is the only effective intellectual, political, and moral response to nuclear weapons. The stakes are too great and the consequences of error too catastrophic to exchange deterrence for a leap into the unknown. The incentives for real arms control exist, and we have both the means and the duty to apply them.

Let us be clear about our objectives in the nuclear era. We seek to reduce the risk of war and to establish a stable military balance at lower levels of risk and effort. By doing so today, we may be able to build a sense of mutual confidence and cooperation, offering the basis for even more ambitious steps tomorrow. But above all, we shall be pursuing the “highest possibility” for peace.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, May 1982, pp. 31–34. All brackets are in the original. Haig spoke before an audience at Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  2. Reference is to the communiqué issued on December 14, 1967, following the NAC Ministerial session in Brussels, December 12–14. The “flexible response” concept, as stated in the communiqué, included a range of “conventional and nuclear” responses “to all levels of aggression and threats of aggression.” For the text of the final communiqué and annex, see Department of State Bulletin, January 8, 1968, pp. 49–52.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 69.
  4. As articulated, for example, by McNamara, Bundy, Kennan, and Smith in their Foreign Affairs article; see Document 90.
  5. See Document 86.
  6. At his March 31 news conference Reagan responded to a question posed by UPI reporter Helen Thomas inquiring why the United States did not “seek negotiations for a freeze now,” stating, in part: “Helen, I know that there are people that have tried to figure this out. The truth of the matter is that on balance, the Soviet Union does have a definite margin of superiority, enough so that there is risk and there is what I have called, as you all know, several times, ‘a window of vulnerability.’ And I think that a freeze would not only be disadvantageous—in fact, even dangerous to us with them in that position—but I believe that it would also militate against any negotiations for reduction. There would be no incentive for them, then, to meet with us and reduce.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book I, p. 399)
  7. The INF negotiations opened in Geneva on November 30, 1981, and reconvened on January 12, 1982. On February 2, U.S. negotiators submitted to the Soviet Union a draft treaty. In a February 4 statement, the President said: “Such a treaty would be a major contribution to security, stability, and peace.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book I, p. 112) The Department transmitted the draft treaty text to all North Atlantic Treaty Organization capitals in telegram 41427, February 17. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D820084–0511)
  8. Reference is to the MBFR talks, which reconvened in Vienna January 28.
  9. During the Moscow Summit, on May 26, 1972, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems. The treaty entered into force on October 3, 1972. The text of the treaty is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 316. It is also printed in Department of State Bulletin, June 26, 1972, pp. 918–920.