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President Carter’s nomination of Paul Warnke to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) galvanizes opposition from conservatives throughout Washington.
Long Record of Opposing Arms Buildup - Warnke, a trial lawyer who began his political career as general counsel to the secretary of defense under President Johnson and established himself as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, has a long record of favoring negotiations with the Soviet Union over confrontation. His 1975 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, “Apes on a Treadmill,” ridiculed the conservative idea that the only way to counter the Soviet nuclear threat is to build ever more nuclear weapons, and earned the lasting enmity of those same conservatives. “We can be first off the treadmill,” he wrote. “That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.” Carter also wants Warnke to head the administration’s negotiating team in the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) with the Soviets. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 101)
Conservative, Neoconservative Counterattack Creates Grassroots Element - The Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) leads the opposition to Warnke’s nomination. Even before Warnke is officially nominated, neoconservatives Penn Kemble and Joshua Muravchik write and circulate an anonymous memo around Washington accusing Warnke of favoring “unilateral abandonment by the US of every weapons system which is subject to negotiation at SALT.” The memo also cites the conclusions of the Team B analysts (see November 1976) to deride Warnke’s arguments against nuclear superiority. Shortly after the memo, one of the CPD’s associate groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) creates a “grassroots” organization, the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament (ECAUD), that actually functions out of the CDM offices in Washington. ECAUD, though an offshoot of the CDM, has a leadership made up of conservatives, including the American Conservative Union’s James Roberts, the Republican National Committee’s Charles Black, and the Conservative Caucus’s Howard Phillips. The directors of Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Republican National Federation, and the American Security Council (see 1978) are on the steering committee. And the executive director is Morton Blackwell, a hard-right conservative who works with direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Thus were the views of neoconservatives, hawks, and traditional conservatives given a populist base.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 101-102)
Contentious Confirmation Hearings - Scoblic describes the opposition to Warnke at his Senate confirmation hearings as “vicious.” Eminent Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze (see January 1976) lambasts Warnke, calling his ideas “demonstrably unsound… absolutely asinine… screwball, arbitrary, and fictitious.” Neoconservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) gives over his first Senate speech to blasting Warnke; Moynihan’s Senate colleague, neoconservative leader Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) joins Moynihan in criticizing Warnke’s nomination, as does Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). Another conservative congressman accuses Warnke, falsely, of working with both Communists and terrorists: according to the congressman, Warnke is in collusion with “the World Peace Council, a Moscow-directed movement which advocates the disarmament of the West as well as support for terrorist groups.” Heritage Foundation chief Paul Weyrich uses Viguerie’s mass-mailing machine to send 600,000 letters to voters urging them to tell their senators to vote “no” on Warnke. (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 103-104)
Warnke Confirmed, but Resistance Established - Warnke is confirmed by a 70-29 vote for the ACDA, and by a much slimmer 58-40 vote to head the US SALT II negotiating team. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis later writes of “a peculiar, almost venomous intensity in some of the opposition to Paul Warnke; it is as if the opponents have made him a symbol of something they dislike so much that they want to destroy him.… [I]t signals a policy disagreement so fundamental that any imaginable arms limitation agreement with the Soviet Union will face powerful resistance. And it signals the rise of a new militant coalition on national security issues.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 104)
Effective Negotiator - Warnke will resign his position in October 1978. Though he will constantly be under fire from Congressional conservatives, and will frequently battle with administration hawks such as National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, he will earn the respect of both American and Soviet negotiators. In 1979, disarmament scholar Duncan Clarke will write that the Soviets come to regard Warnke as one of the toughest of American negotiators, with one Soviet official saying: “We always wondered why Americans would pay so much for good trial attorneys. Now we know.” Warnke will have a strong influence on the eventual shape of the final SALT II agreement (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979). (Kaufman 11/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 104) Upon his death in 2001, fellow negotiator Ralph Earle will say, “Arms control will be forever on the agenda due in large part to Paul and his articulation of the importance of the issues.” (Arms Control Today 1/1/2002)
President Reagan, giving a speech at his alma mater, Eureka College, renames the US-USSR SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). The renamed negotiations reflect profound dissension within the administration for and against arms limitation talks (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After). State Department official Richard Burt, formerly opposed to arms negotiations, wants to ramp up the SALT talks and seek reductions in warheads and launchers. Defense Department official Richard Perle, the neoconservative who is working to block another arms limitation with the Soviet Union (see September 1981 through November 1983), wants to focus on payloads and “throw weight.” The administration’s compromise between the two positions—START—“ma[kes] no sense whatsoever,” according to author J. Peter Scoblic.
Initial Proposal Unacceptable to Soviets - START’s initial position—reducing each side’s deployment to 850 nuclear missiles and 5,000 warheads, of which no more than 2,500 can be on ICBMs—sounds like a significant reduction on paper, but many experts on all sides of the nuclear arms issue worry that such an agreement, putting so many warheads on so few missiles, would actually encourage each side to consider a first strike in a crisis. Arms control proponent Paul Warnke says, “If the Russians accept Mr. Reagan’s proposal, he’ll be forced to reject it himself.” But because of the disparity in missile configurations between the US and the Soviets, such an agreement would require the Soviets to drastically reduce their nuclear arsenal by 60 percent, while the US would lose almost nothing; therefore, the Soviets would never agree to such a proposal. Scoblic will note that as an opening gambit this proposal might be successful, if the Americans were prepared to back down somewhat and give the Soviets something. But the US negotiators have no intention of backing down. The Soviets are keenly interested in the US agreeing to reduce the number of cruise missiles it has deployed, but Reagan signs a National Security Directive forbidding US negotiators from even discussing the idea until the Soviets made significant concessions on “throw weight,” essentially tying his negotiators’ hands.
Chief US Negotiator Insults Soviets - The negotiations are made more difficult by the US team’s chief negotiator, Edward Rowny. Rowny, a former national security adviser to hardline Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), does not believe in diplomacy with anyone, particularly the Soviets. According to Scoblic, Rowny believes in “telling it like it is” to his Soviet counterparts, which Scoblic calls “insulting one’s negotiating opponents.” As he has no real negotiating latitude, Rowny’s diplomacy consists of little more than insults towards his Soviet counterparts. He tells them they do not understand the issues, boasts of his own Polish (i.e. anti-Russian) heritage, even stages walkouts over the seating arrangements. Rowny feels that he is opening a new era in negotiations, but in reality, the START talks are making no progress. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 123-124)
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