TFR 26 – Trilateral Security: Defense and Arms Control Policies in the 1980s


This is the first Commission task force report concentrating on defense and arms control policies and programs from a trilateral perspective.

We recognize that defense and arms control are components of a broader concept of national and international security. In particular we believe that a revitalized world economy is an indispensable foundation for the security of all the trilateral countries. But because these political and economic issues have been fully treated in other reports to the Trilateral Commission, we only touch upon them here.

A major theme running through the report is that the security of the trilateral regions is indivisible that there is in fact a trilateral community of security interests and that a trilateral approach to meet the dangers of the 1980s offers the best chance of success.

The authors believe that in a time of inevitable nuclear parity, the principal, perhaps exclusive, usefulness of nuclear weapons will be to deter their use by an adversary. Some 30 years ago, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, in an allusion to what he believed was then the suicidal state of nuclear parity, called the superpowers "two scorpions in a bottle." But the United States and its allies have continued to rely on the threat of the first use of nuclear weapons, possibly early in a conflict, to deter Soviet non-nuclear as well as nuclear aggression.

The heart of trilateral security will continue to rest indefinitely on strong survivable nuclear deterrent forces. This fact must not be underestimated or deprecated. The report considers certain measures to maintain such forces. But with belated recognition of the diminished credibility of the threat of first use in a situation of nuclear parity should come acceptance of the need for some changes in the ways the trilateral nations must handle their deterrence and defense arrangements. This is what this report is all about.

Reducing allied dependence on the use of nuclear weapons to meet a large-scale Soviet non-nuclear aggression will not be without cost. But it does not require, and this report does not call for, a change in agreed NATO strategy and doctrine. We believe the needed human and material resources can be made available if trilateral governments make sustained efforts to gain public support.

Nuclear weapons control remains an urgent concern. A comprehensive approach is called for, involving controls over weapons numbers and characteristics, over their use, and over their spread to nations other than the present nuclear five. The report tries to illuminate some of the linkages between these three aspects of nuclear weapons control.

In spite of all the activity of recent months, the authors think the control of arms is still being given second place to their buildup. We believe that the only path to improved security requires a more balanced combination of the two types of policy. Although the Cold War is hopefully a thing of the past, there is little prospect of Soviet acceptance of a relationship with the trilateral nations which gives promise of a just and lasting peace. In the interim the best we can hope for are arrangements to regulate armaments with the USSR which permit trilateral deterrent and defense arrangements with the least possible risk of war, nuclear or non-nuclear. The report spells out some possibilities.

On the much agitated question of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe, on the assumption that the European region continues to favor them, we believe deployment should proceed in parallel with continuing efforts to limit this class of weapons perhaps by an interim agreement to be folded into any Soviet-American treaty to limit or reduce intercontinental nuclear weapons.

The authors believe that the dangers of proliferation beyond the present five nuclear nations are as great if not greater than those posed by Soviet military power. Officials making defense and arms control decisions should not overlook this key fact. Limitation of the numbers and characteristics of superpower nuclear weapons could help persuade non-nuclear nations not to pursue a nuclear option. The prestige motivations tempting such nations to go nuclear must be lessened if a nuclear-stable world is to be reached. Export controls and international safeguards are not sufficient. The major nations, friends and adversaries alike, should cooperate to head off the grave proliferation danger to the nuclear stability of the world.

As already indicated, we believe that in a time of nuclear parity a greater appreciation is required of the deterrent effect of conventional forces and of possibilities for strengthening that deterrent effect through the use of weapons technology now being developed and other force improvements. The goal should be, as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) has proposed, to place on the Soviet Union the wartime onus of having to decide whether to resort to nuclear weapons. It may well be that explicitly adopting this goal would have a galvanizing effect on support for conventional defense programs in Western Europe, North America, and possibly in Japan.

The report stresses the dangers of conflicts involving several regions of the world simultaneously. We believe that the trilateral nations are taking unnecessary risks in not mounting sufficient conventional forces to deter and if necessary defend against such aggressions. On this score, the possible role of long-range non-nuclear cruise missiles needs further examination.

For these purposes, the roles and missions of all the trilateral nations' forces will need to be examined, their military manpower policies are likely to require review, and both fair sharing of defense burdens and collaboration in weapons procurement among all the trilateral countries will assume new significance. The report makes some proposals on these subjects. However, we do not foresee any lessening of the need for keeping strong U.S. forces deployed overseas.

We discuss the issues involved in the limitation of conventional arms and how such limitation could lead to a non-nuclear military balance at a lower level of risk for the trilateral countries and we make a number of specific recommendations.

Separate sections of the report discuss the security situation in the Middle East and the position of China.

Lest the obvious be overlooked the report stresses the importance for the trilateral regions of the alliance arrangements which guarantee their safety, and the risks now being run when parochial interests are allowed to weaken these precious international ties. The security arrangements themselves need confidence-building measures. Better consultation has often been called for. It would do much to restore the confidence lost in recent years. Our governments must integrate and give greater depth to existing consultative arrangements in matters involving deterrence, defense, arms control and security relations in general. Specifics are given in the report.


Gerard Smith, Chief U.S. Negotiator, SALT I; former Ambassador-at-Large for non-Proliferation Matters
Paolo Vittorelli, Chairman, Italian Institute for Defense Studies & Research (ISTRID); former Member of the Chamber of Deputies
Kiichi Saeki, Chairman, Nomura Research Institute

Christopher J. Makins, National Security Studies and Systems Group, Science Applications, Inc. (Associate Author)

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Sources of Insecurity

A. Western European Perceptions
B. Japanese Perceptions
C. North American Perceptions
D. Conclusion
III. The Search for Greater Security
A. The Challenge to the Trilateral Countries
B. The Problem of Nuclear Weapons
C. The Problem of Conventional Forces
D. Two Special Cases: The Middle East and China
E. The Economic Dimension of Security
IV. Conclusions and Recommendations
A. General Perspective
B. The Paramount Role of Alliances
C. Defense & Arms Control Policies
D. Economic Security
E. Improved Consultations

  • Topics: Security
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1983
  • ISBN:  0-930503-19-8
  • Pages:  106
  • Complete Text: Click here to download