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January 1976: Former Arms Negotiator Now Calls for Escalation against Soviet Union

Respected Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze, formerly a proponent of arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, writes an article for Foreign Affairs magazine that breaks with his previous positions (see 1976). According to author J. Peter Scoblic, Nitze’s anti-Communist stance finally overwhelms his inclination towards negotiations. Nitze writes a powerful screed opposing the SALT II arms negotiation discussions with the USSR, writing, “[T]here is every prospect that under the terms of the SALT agreements the Soviet Union will continue to pursue a nuclear superiority that is not merely quantitative but designed to produce a theoretical war-winning capability.” Soviet policy is to consider the possibility of winning a nuclear war, Nitze writes, and for years the USSR has pursued a nuclear advantage over the US. The Vladivostok agreement (see November 23, 1974), he says, gives the USSR the capability of taking out the US’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a single first strike, leaving the US left to defend itself with only submarine-launched nuclear missiles. The US would hesitate to launch such a counterstrike, Nitze argues, because the USSR would then decimate American cities with a second strike. Therefore, Nitze writes, arms negotiations with the USSR are pointless. “Unfortunately, I believe the record shows that neither negotiations nor unilateral restraint have operated to dissuade Soviet leaders from seeking a nuclear war-winning capability—or from the view that with such a capability they could effectively use pressure tactics to get their way in crisis situations.” Similarly, he writes, the entire process of detente—the gradual easing of tensions between the two superpowers—is wrongheaded and must be abandoned. The only option the US has, Nitze argues, is to ratchet up its own warmaking capabilities, and renew its focus on a viable missile defense system. Nitze’s article galvanizes conservatives, some moderate Republicans, and the emerging bloc of neoconservatives, and stiffens their combined resolve to oppose arms negotiations with the Soviets. [Foreign Affairs, 1/1976; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 81-82] Nitze will soon join the “Team B” group of conservative and neoconservative analysts (see Early 1976 and November 1976).

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Nitze

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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