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Remembering John McCain

News, 27 August 2018
United States, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy
As tributes pour in for John McCain, we remember the late US Senator who wrote for the RUSI Journal in 1989.

Just before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, US Senator John McCain took to the RUSI Journal to write an essay on arms control between the West and the Soviet Union. The Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee outlined his concerns a year after the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty came into force between the USA and the USSR.

As subsequent treaties were being negotiated, Senator McCain warned against rushing forward to 'the wrong kind of arms control.' He was worried that the 'USSR could also conceal enough weapons to sharply affect the military balance and war fighting capability. It could use arms reductions to increase its strategic first strike capability, and its ability to attack or intimidate Europe.'

'The West needs to clearly recognise that arms control is becoming an essential part of defence planning. The West also needs to recognise that it cannot approach the issue in terms of seeking reductions and constraints on the arms race. The West must seek arms reductions which will really reduce the threat and cost of war. Further, if the West is to achieve such treaties, it must create a new political climate for arms control that will build a consensus around a sound approach to arms reductions. The West needs a comprehensive arms control strategy that will be regularly updated, and educate public opinion in the US and allied countries. It needs a strategy that is sufficiently open and detailed to help force the key nations in the West to work together, and to help create a consensus between left and right.'

'The West must face the fact that its competition with the USSR in arms control will be a long and difficult process, and the most serious risk it faces is the USSR's ability to exploit political divisions within the US and other Western nations. Some of these differences are inevitable. There will always be differences between liberals and conservatives, and among the nations of the West, as to the best way of dealing with verification and enforcement and with arms control strategy. The challenge is to find ways to limit those differences and use them constructively, rather than allow the Soviet Union to exploit them. To do this, we have to look towards a consensus on key issues in an open and democratic way.'

'We need to stop dealing in secret information and educate our publics. We need to build a broad popular consensus, not simply one among decision makers and experts. If we do not, we are almost certain to see the left and the right polarise. We are likely to see domestic politics force unilateral cuts in modernisation, manpower, and forces in anticipation of arms reductions. We are also likely to see the USSR split the West by exploiting its lack of cohesion and national differences, and we may well destroy any serious Soviet interest in arms control by creating so many opportunities for political opportunism that the USSR cannot resist exploiting them.'

Senator McCain's essay can be accessed here

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