New Proposal Would Cut Through Arms Asymmetries

By Metta Spencer | 1985-05-01 12:00:00

The main problem negotiators encounter in reaching bilateral agreements for nuclear arms reductions is not the difficulty of verification (that's fairly easy) but rather this: The stockpiles of weaponry held by the two sides are composed of altogether different inventories. That makes it hard to measure the "value" of the existing weapons well enough to be sure that whatever one bloc offers to dismantle is equivalent in "military value" to the other bloc's offer.

A University of Edinburgh professor, Stephen H. Salter, has proposed a solution to this problem that has captured the interest of nuclear experts Salter's idea is not a new one, but he has worked it out better than anyone else before. It's based on a rule some wise parent must have discovered eons ago--how to get the kids to share in a fair way. The principle is simple: Tommy may cut the cake and Andrew will choose the first piece. Or vice versa, since the logic of the situation itself is a guarantee that fairness will result, how ever greedy and rivalrous the children may be

Salter's disarmament proposal contains the same guarantee of fairness. In fact, the more the superpowers disagree about the comparative value of the weapons they are bargaining to dismantle, the better both sides will feel about the bargain they strike. Here's how the process would work:

  1. Each superpower lists all the nuclear weapons in its inventory, and assigns a "military value percentage" to each weapon, which represents its owner's view of its usefulness. The total percentages equal 100. Suppose, for example, each side had 25,000 warheads of equal usefulness. The military value percentage assigned to each would be 0.0004.
    More likely, of course, the owners will prize certain types of weapons more than others, and so they can assign greater percentage values accordingly. A submarine-launched missile (which is regarded as a second-strike, deterrent weapon) might be given a much larger percentage value than, say, an MX, which in the unhardened silos is bound to be regarded as a provocative, yet vulnerable, first-strike weapon.
  2. Both sides agree to disarm a certain amount of their weaponry--say 1 per cent-- on the first round. Then each side picks the weapons to be disarmed from its opponent's list, and offers to dismantle an equivalent total "military percentagc value" of its own weapons, as chosen by the other side. Each side will tend to choose the opponent's weapons that it regards as most threatening--for two reasons: (a) they naturally want to be free of the most dangerous, first-strike weapons, and (b) those are exactly the ones that, as we have seen, will probably be given the lower military percentage values. In our hypothetical case, it would be possible to dismantle twice as many MX's as submarine launched missiles with the terms of the l per cent "disarmer's shopping budget." Since both sides would he motivated along the same lines, the net effect, then, will be to rid the world of the most threatening weapons first, and leave until later those that are regarded more as sources of security.
  3. After the first round of disarming, the military people can recalculate the military value percentages of the remaining stockpiles and prepare for the next round.

Salter advises, "A successful disarmament process should be totally symmetrical and the need for dialogue minimized.... The disarmament steps are so small as not to affect the overall balance. If cheating is suspected, further reductions can be stopped until the matter is cleared up.... A series of small reductions is more likely to be accepted than a 'zero option' plan The relaxation of tension after the first reduction will be out of all proportion to its military significance." The slow pace of the disarmament will give time for verification. Money can be diverted from weapons to the production of surveillance satellites, which along with inspections by verification teams from neutral countries, will assure that the promised reductions are carried out.

To date, no arms control negotiations have been organized on these principles, nor are any likely to be done this way until public opinion begins to effectively demand some real breakthroughs.

Readers may contribute to the energizing of political pressure by spreading this idea in general conversations and promoting it in visits with politicians.

For further details of this proposal, written in non-technical English, you can mail away for a copy of Leading Edge newsletter, April 1, 1985. $1.50, Box 42050, Los Angeles, Ca. 90042, USA. Or for a mathematical analysis, contact Professor Stephen Salter himself: Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Edinburgh, Mayfield Road, Edinburgh 9, Scotland, UK.

Peace Magazine May 1985

Peace Magazine May 1985, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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