SALT-Free Defense

The SALT treaties commit the United States to "balance-of-terror" weaponry and help to perpetuate interventionism. It's time we re-oriented US policies toward true defense.


Libertarians are understandably suspicious of the American military and foreign policy establishment because of the tragic consequences of our policy of intervention around the world. In their commitment to noninterventionism, some have supported the SALT II treaty. It is the vehicle, they believe, for improving (even if marginally) the prospects for peace by controlling nuclear weapons and for decreasing spending on offensive weapons and our interventionist foreign policy.

I believe that these hopes are false. This particular treaty and the process of SALT as a whole should be rejected because of the effects we have seen in the past (and are likely to see over the course of the proposed treaty) and because of the positive alternative to SALT: a true policy of nonintervention and national self-defense.

Noninterventionism was the American foreign policy laid down by the Founding Fathers. As George Washington put it in his often-quoted but seldom-endorsed Farewell Address: "The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.…It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world." Unfortunately, we have spun 180 degrees from the policies consonant with the libertarian principles of the Founding Fathers, toward a systematic policy of intervention everywhere in the world.

SALT is the dead end of the "bipartisan" policy of interventionism: a series of treaties with a barbarous regime, stretching into the indefinite future, which limits our right as a nation to provide for our defense in any way we choose. The SALT process is decreasing rather than increasing our security, is leading away from rather than toward peace; is increasing instability and increasing the difficulty of changing the United States' interventionist policies.


Postwar arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union began with the multinational Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of the 1960s. Bilateral negotiations with the Soviet Union on strategic arms limitations began in 1969, continued in 1970, and were concluded with the signing in 1972 of

• the (perpetual) Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Systems, which restricted each side to two ABM sites—one to protect each capital and one Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) site;

• the five-year Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, which froze the number of land-based ICBM launchers;

• and the Interim Agreement Protocol on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons, which limited the number of Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) launchers and the number of submarine carriers—44 for the United States and 62 for the USSR.

The outcome of the SALT I treaty and its parallel executive agreements had both military and political aspects. The Nixon administration had said that its negotiations were based on the assumption that Congress would approve major new funding for the development of the $100 billion B-1 bomber—when less costly and more effective alternatives were available. The B-1 program was not finally defeated until President Carter's decision to cancel it.

Research on the ABM was ended; while the system was planned to be employed only for the defense of American ICBMs (and politicians in Washington), it was a truly defensive system aimed at protecting major population centers. Defensive use of the ABM was, and is still, prohibited by SALT I—at American insistence. It was (and is) our policy to depend on offensive strategic systems. Defending people, the Johnson-Nixon-Ford-Carter administration has believed, is "destabilizing."

At the insistence of the Soviets, the treaty allowed the alteration of missiles to carry Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs) and placed limits on the size of the missiles so vague as to be irrelevant. The result was, in keeping with an offensive policy pursued by both sides, a tremendous multiplication in the number of nuclear warheads—without any provision for a defensive capability.

SALT II continues this process. The Carter administration has called for massive spending increases that may raise the defense budget to $160 billion in 1981. Limitations are placed on weapons systems that could increase our security; instead, expensive "toys" are proposed. Under the terms of SALT II, limits are placed on the testing and deployment of the technologically advanced system in which the United States has an advantage: the cruise missile, which looks like a small airplane without a pilot, is dropped from a bomber, and then cruises up to several thousand miles. With its terrain-following and interception-avoidance systems, the cruise missile would compensate for the fact that our aging B-52 bombers probably could not penetrate the Soviet Union's extensive air defense system.


Both sides are forbidden until 1982 to flight test or deploy submarine or land-based cruise missiles with a range of over 375 miles—although we have the capability of deploying missiles with a range of 3,000-4,000 miles. Testing or deployment of air-to-surface (cruise) missiles in aircraft is forbidden during this period. These restraints increase the clamor for production of the land-based MX and a new version of the B-1 bomber as the administration labors to buy conservative votes for SALT.

During the whole of the treaty, each side is limited to the development of one "new" missile, although new is so vaguely defined that a missile with new warheads, a changed system of propulsion, and an advanced guidance system would not qualify as a "new" missile if it looked like the old one. US development of a land-based MX missile will take place under this provision of the treaty.

The MX will have highly sophisticated penetration capabilities as well as enhanced accuracy. By the time of its deployment we will have a counterforce or first-strike capability with regard to Soviet land-based ICBMs (70 percent of their strategic force).

Because of irrational devotion, however, to the triad of land-sea-air-based missiles—and the Carter administration's decision to build a 92-inch-diameter missile (in order to accommodate a slightly larger number of warheads), as opposed to a slightly smaller 83-inch missile that could be used in the Trident submarine—the new missile will of necessity be based in the United States. The basing mode apparently will be a $30-$70 billion "race-track" system.

The MX system in this proposed mobile mode will not be ready for deployment until at least 1986. Under the treaty, development in missile technology (and the 300 heavy SS-18 ICBMs they are allowed to keep) will give the Soviets a counterforce capability against American ICBMs (Minutemen II and III) by 1981 or 1982—an interesting advantage to them.

In order to protect our ICBMs during this period of vulnerability, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown has stated that the United States may be forced to go to a "launch on attack" or "launch on warning" command mode to prevent the ICBMs from being destroyed in their silos. As Robert L. Bartley noted in the Wall Street Journal (June 15, 1979), the prospect of first-strike vulnerability of our ICBMs is an outcome of SALT I:

We would not be talking about launch on warning if [the] Safeguard [ABM] or some evolutionary descendent of it were now being deployed. Without the guarantees of American vulnerability in SALT I, it is even conceivable that the Soviets would have concluded that a big fleet of first-strike missiles was not worth the money. Without SALT I the Minutemen vulnerability problem would not exist, and we would not be headed toward a hairtrigger nuclear environment by 1982.

(Of course, at minor cost, the Minutemen could be placed on mobile truck launchers and moved randomly between various military bases—though, under the treaty, test flights from such launchers could not be undertaken until 1982. Or our land-based missiles could be installed on surface navy ships—thus reducing substantially the strategic targets within the United States—this is forbidden, however, during the life of the treaty.)


But the most important—and most neglected—aspect of the SALT II treaty (as well as SALT I) is that it perpetuates the irrational American policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), unilaterally adopted in the 1960s as an alternative to nuclear superiority. Under this doctrine, the United States has given up all defensive capabilities: a continental air-and-radar defense, ABMs, and a commitment to develop laser or particle-beam weapons. The MAD policy is based on the morally monstrous idea that Russian and American citizens are to be hostages and on the assumption that, so long as a sufficient force of American missiles could withstand a first Soviet attack, such a preemptive strike would be prevented by the knowledge that we would then proceed to kill hundreds of millions of Russian citizens at our leisure.

The Soviets, however, have never taken the advice of Robert Strange McNamara and adopted the assured destruction doctrine (or, for that matter, Kissinger's "minimum deterrence"): they have an extensive continental air defense system of fighter interceptors as well as Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs). Colin S. Gray, of the Hudson Institute, notes that "the Soviet Union has tested, and is deploying, a new surface-to-air missile system (the SA-10) which is almost custom-designed to bring down US air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM). Properly co-ordinated with ballistic missile defense radars, there is no reason why the SA-10 should not attain a good anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability." (Note: the computer technology necessary for the coordination of such a system is beyond the capability of Soviet domestic technology but has already been supplied by IBM and Control Data.) Because of its fidelity to the MAD doctrine, the United States now has no air defense system capable of stopping either a Soviet bomber or a missile attack.

SALT II perpetuates and intensifies our commitment to MAD. Because the treaty limits our reliance on submarine-launched cruise missiles and Trident II missiles (instead of penetrating bombers and land-based ICBMs), the increasing vulnerability of our land-based forces to a Soviet counterforce strike—as well as the continuing buildup of the Warsaw Pact's conventional forces in Europe—will create tremendous political pressure for

• development of the "race-track"-based MX missile system, at a cost of $30 to $70 billion;

• development of a new generation of manned/long-range bombers—the B-1 or a successor—at a cost of up to $200 billion; and

• reinstitution of the draft.

The irony of American military policy is that liberals, with a more benign view of the Soviet Union, have claimed these systems are directed against nonexistent threats, while conservatives, who have been more vocal in expressing their opposition to Communist tyranny or domination of the world, are willing to support practically every weapons program, regardless of the genuine needs of our own security and including the needs of the 120 countries in which the United States has intervened in the postwar world. They are both wrong: we should oppose systems such as the B-1 and MX—for military and economic reasons, and not because someone dreams the world is immune from the possibility of nuclear war.


Is nuclear arms control by treaty a good thing? More broadly, is general disarmament by treaty a good thing? Is it possible? I believe this question points out the fundamental fallacy behind the whole SALT process and every past attempt to limit the advance of arms technology or its deployment. That fallacy is thinking that disarmament brings peace; in fact, the disarmament of offensive weapons can only be the consequence of peace.

Peace between individuals may be defined as a condition in which each deals with the other as a free trader, without violating or threatening the violation of each other's rights. This is a condition of existence, not a contract or treaty (which can neither create nor enforce peace).

Look at it this way: if instead of vastly increasing the number of nuclear warheads, as SALT I allowed and SALT II would also, some future SALT III (or IV or V) treaty actually prevented new development and cut the number of warheads in half—would we be any more secure? When the superpowers have the capability to kill everyone in the world 20 or 30 or 50 times over, are we any more secure if they can kill everyone only a dozen times over?

A major problem of mutual reductions in strategic weapons is that at no point between the present level of strategic arms and zero is our security, or the possibility of peace, strengthened. Indeed, the strategic situation would become increasingly unstable. The necessary maintenance of an equality of forces becomes marginally more important as their numbers are reduced (becoming more difficult than an agreement between two competitors to set prices), and since the advantage held by either side may be the decisive one, the risks to both that their remaining forces may be destroyed grows larger.

The real issue with weapons is to employ them so as to be able to defend ourselves against aggression and to retaliate against the aggressor—without initiating aggression ourselves. But arms control makes the weapons themselves the issue. Like gun control, it is based on the assumption that weapons are evil in themselves and that, while individuals are untrustworthy, the collectivity is to be trusted. This is the rationale of disarmament, whether the collectivity consists of two nations, as in bilateral treaties, or many nations, for example, proposals to place all nuclear weapons under the control of the United Nations.

I have discussed the cruise missile precisely because it is a potentially offensive weapon (and indeed, under our present MAD policy would so be used) that is also an effective retaliatory weapon: one that can be aimed at naval convoys, attack submarines, and airfields from which an attack has been launched, rather than against civilian population centers.


One of the consequences of the noninterventionist foreign and military policy favored by libertarians would be self-reliance by other nations in foreign, military, and economic policies. But this would very likely mean increased nuclear proliferation. It has only been a combination of blackmail and bribery by the United States and other signatories of the interventionist Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that has prevented the achievement of nuclear capability by the dozen or so prospective nuclear powers: bribery through military and economic aid and the extension of our nuclear umbrella; blackmail through the threat of economic boycott and political intimidation. The pressures that are being brought to bear on Pakistan not to "go nuclear" is only the latest instance of this process (the bribe in this carrot-and-stick approach is advanced fighter aircraft paid for by American taxpayers). The Soviets, of course, would not let any nation under their domination obtain any independent nuclear capability.

This consequence of noninterventionism would, however, create more stable conditions, for development of a number of independent strategic or tactical nuclear forces would enhance the number of powers capable of retaliating against an aggressor. The French, who have doubts about the suicidal fidelity of America to its commitment to launch a nuclear attack if Europe is overrun, are planning to quadruple their submarine-based strategic nuclear force. To make an analogy, Which is the more stable defensive situation: one in which the town sheriff faces the gunslinger at high noon on Main Street? or one in which an armed citizenry presents a number of potential threats to the would-be marauder?

Whatever the ultimate strategic goals of the Soviet Union, the fact remains that mutual disarmament, between individuals or nations, implies a high degree of trust, which the Soviet Union has not earned, and honesty, which Marxism explicitly states is an attribute of one's opponent, to be exploited for self-interest. Are we not sanctioning the Soviet regime when an American president compares Lenin to Washington or hugs a "peace-loving" Brezhnev, or provides financial assistance to a State factory system? Do we not participate in the fraud of Soviet tyranny when we pretend that it is the moral equivalent of the freest of countries? Should we associate with, can we trust, thugs?

"As for the Soviet Union," Leonid Brezhnev recently protested in East Berlin, "I repeat again and again that we do not seek military superiority. We have never intended and do not intend to threaten any state or a group of states. Our strategic doctrine is purely defensive in nature. The assertions that the Soviet Union is building up its military might in the European continent above its defense needs have nothing in common with reality." This was said immediately after his thinly veiled threat to nuke any country "'lucky' enough to have American medium-range missile nuclear arms deployed in their territories."

But it is not necessary to take a sanguine view of Soviet motivations and aims in order to oppose increasing defense expenditures and to support a noninterventionism policy. Nor is it necessary to endorse detente and SALT in order to enhance the chances of peace and increase security. America can continue to pursue the defeatist "bipartisan" foreign policy of the last 37 years, or we can alter our military and foreign policy in the libertarian direction of noninterventionism, the most successful posture that has been taken in history.


American foreign policy should not be based on multilateral agreements or permanent, entangling alliances—either with friends or with enemies. American policy should have one goal: the protection of the lives, property, and liberties of Americans—not our global "national interests"; not the survival of "freedom anywhere, at any price"; not the ability to "project" our will everywhere simultaneously.

The military aspects of such a proper defensive policy are a matter for expert discussion. One option in place of a racetrack MX system is the construction of a new type of Anti-Ballistic Mission (ABM) system to protect American cities—and American lives. As Bartley pointed out in the WSJ article:

US research on active defense has slowed drastically; SALT I bans not-yet invented ABMs based on exotic physical principles. Ironically, information-processing technology now makes it possible to envision ABMs without nuclear warheads. A proposed Porcupine system, for example, would attack incoming missiles with a shotgun burst of one-pound metal darts. But no one pushes this system vigorously, because if it does not clearly violate the disarmament treaty someone will charge that it does.

The same is true of another advanced defensive weapons system that is well within our technical capability: space-based laser beams that can intercept ICBMs. Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R.-Wyo.) has explained the revolutionary potential of such a system—and the chief obstacle to its construction:

There is outright reticence in much of the United States scientific and technical community toward putting together the several elements of space-based laser BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) for the purpose of defense against ballistic missiles. The reason is clear—a widely shared presumption that the Carter administration and its congressional allies, committed as they are to the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, would quickly stifle the work now in progress on the several elements. Indeed the administration is unfriendly to the system precisely because it could be used against Soviet missiles!

Assuming the United States chooses to provide itself with an active defense, the first space-based laser battle stations incorporating the above-mentioned elements could be in orbit by the mid 80's. They would work as follows. Each battle station would orbit the earth at an altitude of about 800 miles. With an effective range of some 3,000 miles, each station could cover about 10 percent of the earth's surface—about 20 million square miles. These battle stations would have to be moving in their orbits over the face of the planet, one would have to have some three dozen such stations in orbit in order to cover every spot on the globe at any given time. Each station would have enough fuel for about a thousand "shots"—meaning that each could theoretically handle the possibility that a thousand missiles would be launched near-simultaneously under it. But, of course, Soviet missile sites are widespread, and several battle stations would not be able to cover even a simultaneous launch.…As few as ten would be sufficient to protect against a small-scale attack, such as one by 300 SS-18's against American land-based missiles, or against a reduced retaliatory strike, such as one by missiles which had survived a counterforce attack.

The nature of this weapon system is such that it could operate safely in an automatic, guns-free mode. It could be programmed, say, to disregard launches of less than three missiles, but to shoot down all others. If the system made a mistake in peacetime, the worst it could do would be to shoot down one of the Soviet Union's attempts to launch a weather satellite. We could apologize and pay for it. On the other hand, we could be confident that the system could keep clouds of missiles from descending on us. The point here is that space-based laser ABM is a wholly benign weapon. It can only destroy missiles—weapons of mass destruction.

The Soviets, faced with a defensive American policy, would have two alternatives: to increase their offensive missile capability to overcome our defenses, or to build their own ABM. If the Soviets follow the theory popularized by arms-controllers that their actions merely "ape" ours, they will build an ABM system. If not, their offensive military moves will be evident, and defensive countermeasures can be taken. If they build an ABM system, so much the better, for that would represent resources used for defensive rather than offensive purposes, which would allow us to maintain a retaliatory capability at a lower level. But the important point here is that our actions are not being controlled by the actions of the Soviet Union; they are unilateral assertions of our own will, our own power, and our own need to exist in peace.


Modernization and development of new weapons can be undertaken within the context of lowered defense expenditures by using funds saved by the phased withdrawal of our troops in and our subsidies to our European allies and Japan. France, which benefits from our presence in Europe, spends 3.7 percent of its gross national product (GNP) on defense (compared to our 5-6 percent), Japan 0.9 percent, Britain 4.7 percent, West Germany 4 percent. US taxpayers pay the difference (indirectly subsidizing these countries' expensive welfare-statist schemes).

Defense analyst Earl C. Ravenal of Georgetown University has estimated that half of our defense budget goes to the defense of NATO (both for the troops and materiel we maintain abroad and for the domestic defense resources to support them). The NATO nations in Europe collectively have an aggregate GNP twice that of the Soviet Union and a population equal to that of the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies. They are quite capable of mustering the resources to build their own nuclear forces, ABM systems, or conventional forces.

Not only would American withdrawal from the European scene free very substantial air, sea, and ground forces to protect America—while reducing our troop requirements and allowing for the modernization of our forces—but it would reduce the danger to Americans of any crisis in Europe, which might be precipitated, against our desires, by our present allies and which would automatically make the United States the target of a Soviet first strike. Naturally, several NATO nations are reluctant to have on their soil intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of striking the Soviet Union. They would prefer that American cities and ICBMs, rather than their own, be the targets of Soviet missiles.

European political leaders plead that it is impossible for them to make any greater commitments to defense. The German government recently announced that it will not be able to fulfill the pledge made to President Carter to increase its real defense expenditures three percent per year. If the Germans care more about nationalized health care than they do about defending themselves, that is their problem—it should not be allowed to dictate American policy. But it does indicate the condition of dependency and blindness that intervention promotes.

Orderly withdrawal of our troops and nuclear umbrella would also reduce tensions—while allowing Europeans to take whatever actions they choose regarding the nuclear or conventional defense of Europe. It would decrease the chances of general nuclear warfare by ending the American commitment to sacrifice our citizens in order to quell a European crisis.


In our general foreign policy, non-interventionism could have important positive effects on our security by ending the pillage of taxpayers to support economic and military aid programs around the world. This general policy would have direct, important effects on the Soviet Union's capability to engage in global adventurism while attempting to maintain its defense establishment and keep its ailing economy going.

As Antony Sutton has detailed in his extensively researched works, the Soviet Union is a society that, because of its collectivist economic structure, cannot produce any technological innovation. It has been kept going only by financial capital, plant and equipment, and advanced technology from Western Europe and America. This transfer has been facilitated by American participation in and support for international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and by loan guarantees against expropriation that have been made to American firms selling to the Soviet Union. The reason Western businesses support Soviet enterprises and armaments industries is less ideological than venal: captive, monopoly markets are profitable for businessmen if they are some of the privileged few able to enter the market and particularly if they are insured by US taxpayers against expropriation.

Ideas are fought with ideas. It is toward the system of liberty that the people of the world can turn for peace and prosperity. It is through the diffusion of that system by voluntary means, by the example of American domestic and foreign policy, that a movement away from tyranny can be sustained.

The SALT process, and its latest embodiment in the SALT II treaty, undermines the chances for enhanced security and brings us closer to the brink of war by continuing the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction and by preventing the establishment of a secure military and political posture from which disengagement from America's far-flung military entanglements can take place. Rather than taking us away from war, it entrenches our overseas commitments, locks us into increased defense expenditures, and assures that we will continue to face the Soviets in an atmosphere of tension, armed only with offensive capabilities, and with the growing threat that one side or the other will take the fatal misstep toward World War III.

It is only with security—evident and independent of the intentions of the Soviets—that the American people will support general disengagement from interventionism abroad. Such security, and such disengagement, are antithetical to the SALT II treaty.

Ron Paul, M.D., is a member of the House of Representatives. When he won a special election in April 1976, he was the first Republican ever sent to Congress from his Houston district. He narrowly lost the regular election but regained the seat in 1978. He has recently been an outspoken opponent of efforts to reinstitute the draft.