The United States and the Soviet Union are expected to resume their talks on limiting strategic arms soon. In anticipation, a bitter debate continues on Capitol Hill and elsewhere over what the U.S. position should be. In his strongest foreign policy speech since leaving office, Gerald Ford, for one, warned last month against the Russians’ “massive military buildup that threatens the chance for a meaningful arms accord.”
Harvard history professor Richard Pipes, 53, concurs with Ford’s cautious assessment. Pipes served as chairman of “Team B,” a seven-member panel of experts appointed by then-President Ford to evaluate Soviet strategic objectives. During World War II, Polish-born Pipes became a U.S. citizen, joined the Army and went to Cornell, where he learned Russian. Since 1946 he has been at Harvard, serving as director of its Russian Research Center from 1968 to 1973. Pipes is also senior research consultant to the Stanford Research Institute’s Strategic Studies Center in Arlington, Va. Recently, with Gail Jennes of PEOPLE, he discussed the arms race and some of the reasons why Jimmy Carter may not be able to carry out his campaign pledge to cut the defense budget further.
Is Jimmy Carter’s view of arms limitations—”the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth”—practical?
Not on the basis of what he’s said so far. His public pronouncements seem designed essentially to please the voter. Furthermore, I don’t think he’ll be able to cut defense without some loss in U.S. security. To tamper with national security to get votes would be reprehensible.
What do you think of new SALT negotiator Paul Warnke?
I’m dismayed by much of what he has said, especially by his notion that all we need is a minimum deterrent. This seems unrealistic.
In an age of nuclear overkill, isn’t the arms race a dangerous fantasy?
No. If, for example, the Russians were to knock out a good part of our missile force in a massive preemptive strike, they would hold our cities hostage. They then would be able to tell us that the price of firing the weapons we had left for a second strike would be the destruction of our major cities. Who would dare it? “Overkill” assumes that the aim of strategic nuclear weapons is mass destruction of people, whereas their real purpose is to destroy the enemy’s capacity to resist.
Are we overconfident?
The notion that all we do is press the button and the USSR will blow up is unrealistic. The issue is whether you have the ability and the will under wartime conditions to launch missiles, if the cost is possible destruction of one-half your people. You can lay waste to Moscow and Leningrad, but at what price? In 1962, because of our vast superiority, we forced the Russians to back down in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Someday they might be able to do the same thing to us.
What is the current strategy of “mutual assured destruction”?
It is like the Maginot Line, which was supposed to be so impenetrable that Germany would never dream of attacking France. Similarly, our 1,710 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles are said to be enough. This strategy says it makes no difference whether you have 1,710 or 10,000 missiles—enough is enough.
What is wrong with this strategy?
It is inconsistent. If indeed it does not matter how many nuclear weapons each side has, why strive for SALT? Why should we care if the Russians keep piling up weapons?
What is the Soviet strategy today?
They make no secret that their ultimate objective is a Communist world. I see no reason to dismiss this as empty rhetoric. Totalitarian regimes generally announce their aims clearly. I’m not saying their aim is world military conquest. But in their arsenal of political, psychological and subversive weapons, the military is essential.
Is Soviet policy characterized by “Russian” thinking?
All nations are influenced by their past. Anglo-Saxon countries, for example, have a deep aversion to large standing armies and the draft. Continental powers find the draft natural. The present Soviet elite, which rose to power during Stalin’s bloody purges and matured during equally bloody World War II, sees violence as natural.
Is the Soviet position changing?
There is a great deal of evidence now that the Russians do not accept the doctrine of mutual assured destruction and that they are moving toward strategic nuclear superiority—or a first-strike capability.
What evidence is there?
They have a most impressive and expensive defense capability in the form of an air defense system, which we lack, and a civil defense program. Not to mention a huge offensive buildup.
Has SALT been to the Russians’ advantage?
Certainly. They entered the talks to achieve certain military aims, principally to knock out American weapons dangerous to them: ABM in the first SALT and the strategic cruise missile now. The U.S. military budget is subject to something like voter referenda, since a small budget is always more popular with the Congress. A SALT accord is more important to the Russians than to us, because they have generally profited from it more by improving their military posture.
Should we be concerned that the Soviets spend about 12 percent of their GNP on defense, while the U.S. spends only about 6 percent?
What is significant is that with the single exception of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, no major power has spent so much of its total national product in peacetime for military purposes.
How will the new leadership in the U.S. and China affect Russian strategy?
After Mao’s death, the Russians made soothing noises in China’s direction but got slapped down. I think they’ve concluded that there will be no change in China for now. As for Carter, they liked his early SALT and foreign policy statements, but seem totally disoriented by his tough and to them incompatible stand on human rights.
Can we believe Soviet chief Brezhnev when he says he wants arms control?
Yes and no. For example, when Brezhnev discusses peaceful coexistence or detente, he means something else than what the words imply to us. Detente is a tactical device which makes perfect sense to the Soviets. You cannot think Brezhnev believes peaceful coexistence means we never go to war.
Does the Kremlin want war?
No. But it’s prepared to fight one, if necessary, to achieve its aims.
Would a sane chief of state ever push the button?
When somebody holds you up, he doesn’t want to shoot. He counts on your surrendering your wallet. He intimidates you. Nuclear superiority means convincing your opponent you are willing to use this force.
Would the Soviet Union ever resort to conventional warfare?
Yes, in a side show, say, in Africa. But according to the Soviet scenario, any major war in Europe would from the beginning be nuclear. Warsaw Pact maneuvers generally involve barrages of tactical nuclear weapons.
How would you advise President Carter on SALT?
I would encourage him to sit down with the Russians, but not limit the negotiations to things on which we will readily agree. Rather than eliminating the two most controversial weapons—their Backfire bomber and our strategic cruise missile—as Carter suggested, we should review the whole panoply of problems raised by the Russian buildup: strategic, naval, conventional, civil defense. We should tell the Soviets that if we don’t make progress (and we should try, say, for up to a year), then we will move ahead full speed on programs like the strategic cruise missile, the B-1 bomber and maybe the mobile ICBM. Unless you demonstrate with more than words to the Russians, they won’t believe you.
What is your blueprint for national security?
Realism instead of wishful thinking, understanding that Russians aren’t just slightly backward Americans. Partly because of our insularity and national arrogance, we tend to think ours is the only viable way.
Are you a hard-liner?
I’m a realist. But if you don’t accept current policies, you are automatically labeled a hard-liner. It’s a McCarthyite technique meant to intimidate, and it does damage.
Is a “Red scare” justified?
We tend to alternate between equally perilous extremes: complete relaxation on the one hand, which reached its acme with the detente policy of Kissinger, and total hysteria on the other. We should not be frightened or disenchanted—nor should we concede too much. The Soviet military buildup is a real problem. People should know about it.