In case anyone needed a reminder, the Soviets' shooting down of Korean Air Lines flight 007, killing all 269 aboard, demonstrates once again two basic facts about the Soviet Union:
• The Soviets are ruthless killers.
• The Soviets lie and deceive as a matter of course.
But if these are, indeed, facts, what do they tell us about US defense policies? Taken seriously, they imply that this country's entire strategic nuclear posture is dangerously misconceived.
For some 20 years US nuclear policy has been based on the "mirror image" assumption—that the United States and the Soviet Union are comparable superpowers, governed by rational people who are more or less equally interested in a stable world in which nuclear war is avoided by negotiations. Hence, both the theory of mutual deterrence and a faith in the arms-control process have been central to US policy.
But if the Soviets lie and deceive in violation of international agreements and accords as a matter of policy; if they respond to possible threats with hair-trigger resort to deadly force; then the mirror-image assumption lies shattered—and with it, the policies based on that assumption.
One case, of course, does not suffice as proof. But recent intelligence findings reveal a compelling pattern. Take, for example, the USSR's Kamchatka Peninsula, over which flight 007 flew prior to being shot down. For more than a decade the Soviets have centered a strategic buildup there, developing a vast infrastructure for mobile ballistic missiles, installing operational antiballistic missile (ABM) radar, and testing a new mobile ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile), the PL-5. Much of this activity violates provisions of the SALT I or SALT II treaties—including the encoding of telemetry data (and broadcasting false data) during PL-5 flight tests and adding an operational ABM radar to the number allowed by SALT I.
The entire strategic and conventional defense buildup on Kamchatka has been carried out by something called the Chief Directorate of Strategic Concealment, created by first deputy defense minister Nikolai Orgakov a decade ago when he was chief military delegate to the original SALT talks. Accordingly, much of the construction work is carried out at night so that it cannot be observed by US satellites.
That the Soviets would have an entire organization devoted to maskirovka (concealment) is quite consistent with the emphasis not only on secrecy and cover but on deception that permeates Soviet military literature. Further documentation of these points and their implications for US strategic policy are set forth in a frightening article by defense analysts Samuel T. Cohen and Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., in the September issue of Armed Forces Journal.
Cohen and Douglass point out how little we actually know about Soviet weapons and military installations. Much of what we can verify consists of what can be observed and counted in daylight by spy satellites—such as numbers of ships and numbers of missile silos. But once you take seriously the Soviets' concerted efforts at deception, all sorts of horrifying possibilities arise.
The Soviets may have large numbers of ICBMs in reserve (uncounted in arms treaties), installed in their launch cannisters and concealed in buildings, caves, or other locations. Many silos may be empty or loaded only with empty cannisters. Most silos probably would not be reloaded with a second or third missile during nuclear war (even though the Soviets have that capability), since a US retaliatory strike could destroy the silos before reloadings were completed.
There is suggestive evidence supporting these possibilities. Besides the extensive Soviet writings on maskirovka, recent Soviet technical developments are very ominous. The Soviets have tried to present their two-stage, mobile SS-20 as an intermediate-range missile, for use only in Europe and Asia. Yet when fitted with its smallest (50 kiloton) warhead, it has intercontinental range (4,600 miles). And with a third stage added, the SS-20 becomes the SS-16, with a range of 6,000 miles. Between 100 and 200 SS-16s have apparently been deployed under camouflage at Plesetsk, unacknowledged by the Soviets.
The deployment of mobile ICBMs is explicitly prohibited by SALT II, whose provisions both sides are allegedly observing. So while nearly all US missile planning, targeting policies, and arms negotiations have focused blindly on how many fixed ICBM silos the Soviets maintain, the Soviets have created a large, mobile reserve ICBM force with their SS-16s and SS-20s. Similar Soviet duplicity in violation of present or future arms-control agreements—creating dummy air bases, command posts, etc.—is quite plausible.
If many of the installations targeted by US strategic forces are false targets, the threat of their destruction in a US retaliatory strike is meaningless. Thus, a policy that relies on such threats to deter a nuclear attack is increasingly incredible.
Likewise, basing strategic policy on arms-control agreements with such an untrustworthy adversary is ludicrous. Such treaties, while allowing for military secrets on both sides, presuppose good-faith efforts by both parties. Yet, given that one party is a closed society, and one that makes an official policy of lying and deception, any arms-control treaty will be incredibly one-sided.
The alternative, conclude Cohen and Douglass, is to shift to a strategy in which the defensive component is dominant. As urged many times in these pages, such a strategy should include both active and passive defense—a multi-layer ABM system and civil defense efforts. Extensive use of fallout shelters could save tens of millions of lives, especially if coupled with a reasonably effective ABM system. And it isn't only China and the USSR that take civil defense seriously. Neutral Sweden and Switzerland today have enough shelter space for more than two-thirds of their people. Instead of pouring tens of billions into silo-busting missiles like the MX, it's high time we shifted those funds to defensive systems.
The downing of KAL 007 was a terrible tragedy. We should remember it as a clear and painful demonstration of Soviet aggression and untrustworthiness—and begin to defend ourselves accordingly.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "A Defense Policy We Can Trust".