About 20 km beyond Dire Straits, just after you cross the American border, is Missile Gap, U.S.A. A funny place, this Missile Gap. All winter long, while the U.S. defence budget is being prepared, its inhabitants can be heard baying in the streets, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” like so many Chicken Littles in khaki. Then, once the budget has been settled, Missile Gap becomes a ghost town, indeed virtually ceases to exist until the following winter.
Are the Russians really coming? Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger thinks they are. He believes that a “window of opportunity” now exists for the Soviet Union because NATO has decisively lost its military superiority. There are two parts to this proposition. Part 1: the Soviets have better military hardware than we do. Part 2: they have the will and intention to use this hardware to go on the offensive in the 1980s.
Are the Soviets—or the Warsaw Pact countries—better armed than the members of NATO? Any defence official in Ottawa, Western Europe or Washington will tell you so. Is such evidence reliable? What defence official in his right mind would ever admit that his budget and equipment were sufficient? (When was the last time you ever heard a police chief declare publicly that organized crime was on the decline?)
Defence officials notwithstanding, there is a considerable body of opinion that holds that if anybody is ahead in the arms race in terms of pure technology, it is the United States. The doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (known to some as MAD) rests on the capability of both sides to mount a second attack on an opponent after suffering an allout attack against their entire strategic nuclear arsenal.
At present, such second-strike capacity on both sides depends ultimately on submarines armed with missiles cruising undetected under the surface of the world’s oceans. Should either side be able to detect and track the other’s submarines, the whole second-strike principle would be seriously undermined. And yet it is the United States that is more rapidly developing the technology for detecting submarines by linking a worldwide network of underwater listening devices, satellites and computers. To this may be added the superiority of the United States in missile
guidance systems and multiple warhead technology.
Thus, in nuclear terms, if a “window of opportunity” exists for any country in the 1980s, it is the United States. Furthermore, it is arguable that greater economic power ensures that the United States can outspend the Soviet Union to increase its military superiority in the future. The MAD doctrine states that if either side (not just theirs) achieves clear nuclear superiority over the other, peace is endangered, because a preemptive nuclear strike becomes again “thinkable” for the superior power.
Ah, say the defence officials, but look at the clear superiority of Soviet conventional forces in Europe. Will this not tempt the Soviets either to invade Europe, or at least render it politically and militarily helpless, a la Finland? This brings us to the question of the intentions and will of the Soviets. Are they really bent on territorial conquest in the 1980s as Henry Kissinger suggests
Clearly, the Soviets are undoubted kleptomaniacs — they cannot resist picking up other people’s countries
and President Ronald Reagan so fervently believes?
The Soviets clearly think that their political and social system is superior and that time is on their side. They are also undoubted kleptomaniacs: they cannot resist picking up other people’s countries when they find them lying carelessly around (witness Ethiopia and Afghanistan). But to extrapolate from these beliefs and tendencies the strategy that they are consciously preparing to invade Western Europe under the cover of their superior conventional forces simply does not follow.
Why, for example, does the Soviet Union need so many ground troops in Europe? One reason is that their good buddies the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians and the East Germans have shown a perverse unwillingness to appreciate the joys of Soviet-style communism without a little help from the troops. NATO forces could leave Europe tomorrow and the elected governments of Britain, France, Italy and West Germany would still stand. Could the Soviets trust any of their Eastern
European “allies” under similar circumstances?
Viewed from Moscow, the world must seem a bleak place indeed: for allies, those Eastern European ingrates, for friends, economic basket cases such as Cuba and Ethiopia (a few more new credit-hungry friends like that and the Soviet Union would be too broke to do anything), and for ex-friends, a veritable United Nations of malcontents— China, Albania, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Indonesia and Ghana. Faced with such a world, and badly mired in Poland and Afghanistan, why on earth would the geriatric set that rules the Kremlin wish more troubles on themselves?
And yet the United States, the world’s mightiest economic and military power, continues to speak of and deal with the Soviet Union in a manner that would bring discredit to the government of Paraguay. The noted U.S. diplomat George Kennan, writing recently on the possibility of nuclear war, speaks tellingly of “this endless series of distortions and oversimplifications; this systematic dehumanization of the leadership of another great country.” He concludes that “these are not the marks of the maturity and discrimination one expects of the diplomacy of a great power; they are the marks of an intellectual primitivism and naïveté unpardonable in a great government.”
Such naïveté may cost us the planet. According to U.S. strategic weapons specialists George Rathjens and George Kistiakowsky, the United States has the military power to destroy the U.S.S.R.’s 50 largest cities 40 times over. The Soviet Union can do the same to the United States only 24 times over. Canada has the great geographical inconvenience of being smack dab in the middle of any potential nuclear playground for the superpowers. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to question closely those among us who support the armament policies of the United States.
The Soviets are paranoid, and rightly so: they have much to be paranoid about. Under certain conditions of stress and desperation, they might conceivably be tempted to push the button. If we really wish to avoid a Third World War, perhaps we should be talking less about Poland and increased armament and more about Strategic Arms Limitation and détente.
John F. Godfrey is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of King ’s College in Halifax.
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