Arms Control in the ’70s
March 1971

“Arms Control in the ’70s,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 54

Arms Control in the ’70s

“… and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isa. 2:4.)

The vision of a time of peace—a time in which man’s genius and his physical resources would be devoted entirely to his own betterment rather than to the development of increasingly lethal means of his own destruction—has been a goal of mankind from the beginning. But statesmen and diplomats have found that the problems blocking peace are seemingly intractable; churchmen have similarly found that the more basic problem of influencing man’s nature toward a Christlike love for his fellowman, and a consequent abhorrence for and rejection of violence, is no more easily accomplished. And yet the quest for peace continues on the part of statesmen and churchmen, whose actions should not be incompatible but complementary.

Though the scriptures speak of the last days in terms of wars, pestilence, and devastation, it does not follow that our duty to oppose conflict is lessened. The injunction from the Master is to maintain personal righteousness and to work for its propagation. To argue that since war is inevitable, we have no duty to seek honorable and peaceful alternatives is the epitome of illogic, just as would be the proposition that since evil will triumph in the short run, we should join the winning team. Both propositions contain the same non sequitur.

Brigham Young once observed: “Of one thing I am sure: God never institutes war; God is not the author of confusion or of war; they are the results of the acts of children of men. Confusion and war necessarily come as the results of the foolish acts and policy of men; but they do not come because God desires they should come.”1

Arms control is an important part of the foreign policy of many nations today. It is largely bipartisan in nature in the United States, with few if any policy decisions supported or opposed along party lines. The reasons for this are clear. The nature of present weaponry is such that certain types of weapons systems become a cause as well as an effect of international tension and potential conflict.

There now exists sufficient nuclear explosive power in the arsenals of the two superpowers (Russia and the U.S.) to provide the equivalent of over one hundred tons of TNT for every man, woman, and child in the world. There exist substantially over a million megatons in nuclear power. (This may take a quantum leap to 100 million megatons in a very short time, due to the interaction of MIRV [Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicle] and ABM [Antiballistic Missile] systems.) If there were to be an all-out nuclear exchange between the two superpowers, there would be fatalities within the first few minutes of such a war estimated at from 50 percent to 90 percent of the populations of both nations. Europe would be similarly devastated.

The first atomic bombs were one thousand times as powerful as the most powerful chemical bombs (“blockbusters”) of World War II. A relatively small hydrogen bomb is five hundred times as powerful as some of today’s atomic weapons, which are in turn many times as destructive as the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Other weapons systems include chemical weapons, from blister and blood gases to anticrop and antivegetation chemicals and psychic poisons capable of producing temporary or permanent schizophrenia. Biological weapons include those resulting in bubonic and pneumonic plagues, anthrax, smallpox, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, with genetic mutations to organisms to insure that vaccines given as civil defense will be of no use. Delivery systems are sufficient to affect large portions of the populations of nations.

Weapons systems of the near future may include geophysical techniques to alter weather, cause earthquakes or drought, and perhaps alter the nature of the atmosphere.

At this point it becomes obvious that any increase in weapons systems does not necessarily increase a nation’s security. The result of the deployment of certain types of weapons systems would be to seriously decrease the security of the nation.

As John F. Kennedy said before the United Nations, “Men no longer debate whether armaments are a symptom or a cause of tension. The mere existence of modern weapons—ten million times more destructive than anything the world has ever known, and only minutes away from any target on earth—is a source of horror … and distrust.”2

In this respect arms control in the nuclear era should be clearly distinguished from disarmament attempts between the two world wars. Arms limitation agreements bear no resemblance to so-called “disarmament” schemes between the world wars, where fleets were junked, soon to be sorely needed, or where we attempted, in a fit of excessive legalism, to “outlaw” war with no more assurance that such would be effective than the signatures on the various treaties. Arms control today, quite simply, is the process of attempting to insure that armaments remain a means and not an end. Armaments should be a means to increased national security. All too often they can become an end in themselves. Without proper planning and integration of weapons systems into the overall foreign policy of a nation, weapons systems may decrease the national security rather than the opposite. We must, if at all possible, meet the challenge implicit in the accurate though depressing conclusion of Herbert York, writing recently in Scientific American: “There is no technological solution to the dilemma of the steady decrease in our national security that has for more than twenty years accompanied the steady increase in our military power.”3

Some of the immediate goals of arms control agreements now in force may make this point more concrete. Arms control treaties now denuclearize certain regions of the world (e.g., Latin America4 and Antarctica5) and outer space,6 in order that the areas of potential conflict may be limited as much as possible. Other arms limitation agreements, such as the recently concluded Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons7 attempts to insure, by adequate inspection and verification, that other nations will refrain from developing or otherwise obtaining nuclear weapons.

Each president of the U.S. since the beginning of the nuclear age has identified the problem of the spread of nuclear weapons as the chief secular problem of our time. President Eisenhower spoke of this general issue as the major (unresolved) problem causing him sorrow during his tenure in office. John F. Kennedy, a few months before his assassination, described it as the specter that “haunted” him constantly.

He graphically described the dangers of proliferation: “I ask you to stop and think for a moment what it would mean to have nuclear weapons in so many hands, in the hands of countries large and small, stable and unstable, responsible and irresponsible, scattered throughout the world. There would be no rest for anyone then, no stability, no real security, and no chance of effective disarmament. There would only be the increased chance of accidental war and increased necessity for the great powers to involve themselves in what otherwise would be local conflicts.”8

President Lyndon Johnson, in his message submitting the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to the Senate for its consent, stated that it was the “most important international agreement limiting nuclear arms since the nuclear age began.”9

President Nixon, in informal remarks at the time of his ratification of the treaty, stated: “I feel that on an occasion like this, an historic occasion, it is well to pay tribute to some of those, both in our Government and in other governments, who have been responsible for the success in negotiating this treaty. … I should point out that the treaty spans three administrations—the Kennedy administration, the Johnson administration, and its completion in this administration. … This treaty indicates both the continuity of American foreign policy in its search for a just peace, and it also indicates its bipartisan character; because without bipartisan support in the Senate, where the treaty received the consent of the Senate, and bipartisan support in the House as well, this treaty could not go into effect today.

“The fact that so many governments have brought this treaty into effect is an indication of the immense desire that exists among all people in the world to reduce the danger of war and to find a way peacefully to settle our differences. … I only hope that those of us who were fortunate enough to be present will look back one day and see that this was the first milestone on a road which led to reducing the danger of nuclear war and on a road which led to lasting peace among nations.”10

Other arms control measures, such as the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,11 attempt to avoid the genetic and other injuries that follow a nuclear explosion and its consequent fallout in the atmosphere and underwater.

Negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union at the Strategic Arms Limitation talks in Helsinki considered the limitation of strategic arms. The talks were adjourned in late December and will begin again in Vienna in March. This weaponry includes MIRV systems (several nuclear weapons installed upon one delivery vehicle, thus permitting a quantum jump in megatonnage without a corresponding increase in cost). It also includes the ABM. These systems threaten to unstabilize the current “balance of terror” that prohibits either side from launching a surprise attack upon the other because of the realization that each side possesses sufficient “hardened” weapons (i.e., weapons relatively immune from destruction) to deliver a devastating counterstrike even after absorbing a massive nuclear attack. The potential instability occurs due to the possible capacity of a nation with a MIRV system to obliterate this deterrent by targeting a geometrically increased number of weapons at the weapons system of its opponent, rendering that opponent unable to respond with sufficient force to deter the initial attack.

ABM makes possible a different approach to the same result. That is, a nation might target its nuclear force against the weapons system of its opponent and hope to be able to intercept the remaining missiles with its ABM. Once again, the specter of a potential “first strike” posture would exist to tempt each nation into a supposed “preemptive” first strike, thus turning each heretofore nonnuclear incident between states into a potential nuclear war. This would be due to the tremendous advantage that would accrue to the nation striking first, if by striking first the nation could destroy its opponent’s capacity to retaliate. In such a situation, the pressures upon the potential victim of such a first strike would be overwhelming. Such a weaker nation would realize that its vulnerable deterrent had to be fired first or not at all. Such a weapons system becomes, then, solely a first-strike weapon, possessing no “hardened” characteristics sufficient to survive a first strike and retaliate.

Thus, whatever the nature of the dispute, from Cuba to Berlin to the Middle East, a nation with a “soft” nuclear system (rendered soft by its opponent’s ABM or MIRV system) would have to seriously consider a preemptive nuclear attack or risk the obliteration of its nuclear deterrent. This, in turn, increases the pressure upon the stronger state to preempt the potential preemptive attack of its opponent.

The hardened nuclear deterrents possessed by the Soviet Union and the United States today are sufficient to permit each state to act with the knowledge that anyone launching a nuclear strike upon their nation must be prepared to suffer nuclear destruction itself. In other words, the strategic nuclear weaponry of both nations will survive a nuclear attack and be capable of responding in kind. This greatly lessens the likelihood that any state would initiate a nuclear war. Consequently, disputes between states remain below that nuclear threshold. ABM and MIRV threaten this balance.

Of course, as President Nixon has observed, a permanent unilateral renunciation of such weapons systems would be no answer. The instability created by both superpowers having MIRV would be exceeded if such a system were had by one nation and not the other. Hence, President Nixon is attempting to accomplish treaty assurances with the Soviet Union, with secure provisions for adequate verification to insure compliance, to limit the deployment of such weapons systems.

In another crucial area of arms limitation, negotiations between twenty-five nations, including the United States, are underway at Geneva. Here the agenda includes limitation upon chemical and biological weapons and prohibition upon the emplacement of mass destruction weapons on the ocean floor.

President Nixon has one major asset not enjoyed by President Eisenhower in the negotiation of arms limitation agreements. That is the U.S. system of satellites. The newspaper of a Moscovite can virtually be read over his shoulder from satellites. We can identify the existence and types of weapons systems from satellites; we can determine the nature of the rice and wheat crops in China and Russia by satellite. And we can discern, from the heat given off by a river system, what is manufactured in factories dumping refuse into the rivers. It should be added, however, that deficiencies in our ability in this area still exist, and the problem of on-site inspection is not completely overcome. No one should ever assume that arms control agreements automatically assure a lessening of tension between states. The reverse could well be the result of an unwise or scientifically inadequate agreement, especially as regards verification provisions.

Another major purpose of arms control agreements, though secondary to the furtherance of world peace, is to limit the gigantic expenditure of economic resources necessary to maintain sophisticated weapons systems. Global expenditures for military purposes rose from $132 billion in 1964 to $182 billion in 1967.12 This is 40 percent more than worldwide expenditures by governments on education and three times more than expenditures on public health.13 It is estimated that since the turn of the century more than $400 billion have been spent on wars and military expenditures. If the current level of military spending continues, this will double in twenty years. If the rate of increase continues, it will double in ten years.14

Military expenditures are increasing in relative as well as in absolute terms. Such expenditures are increasing faster than the gross national products of the world, and are growing significantly faster than the population.

The danger of this massive expenditure on weaponry, apart from the tragic waste of resources, is that the arms race itself, admittedly originating from forces other than armaments, soon becomes a cause as well as a result of international tension and mistrust. And weapons made eventually become weapons used.

Brigham Young saw this and lamented it as the United States was on the brink of civil war: “When the nations have for years turned much of their attention to manufacturing instruments of death, they have sooner or later used those instruments. Our nation, England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and other nations have exercised their inventive skill, and expended much means in inventing and fabricating instruments of death. … From the authority of all history, the deadly weapons now stored up and being manufactured will be used. …”15

Arms control has the potential of being a substantial help in lessening tensions between nations. It may lessen the likelihood of nuclear war or dramatically decrease the casualties if war should come. (It has already been noted that unwise arms limitation agreements, without proper safeguards against violation, may accomplish the reverse of these propositions.) But this still leaves massive, unresolved differences between people and nations. Final solutions and ultimate answers lie elsewhere.

Our knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, made possible because of the restoration of truth and of priesthood power through the Prophet Joseph Smith, should increase our desire for peace. But it also gives us a personal knowledge, an individual sense of security and serenity, apart from the doings of nations. We know that though at times events around us seem chaotic and beyond the control of governments, their bounds are set and the purposes of the Lord will not be frustrated. He promised that he would cut short the time in the last days to assure his purposes. In foreseeing a time of war among nations, President Joseph F. Smith gave us instruction sufficient to govern our personal lives so as to preserve our agency and our control over our own destinies in all matters of eternal concern, regardless of what nations may do.

“We hear about living in perilous times. We are in perilous times, but I do not feel the pangs of the terror. It is not upon me. I propose to live so that it will not rest upon me. I propose to live so that I shall be immune from the perils of the world, if it be possible for me to so live, by obedience to the commandments of God. … I borrow no trouble nor feel the pangs of fear.

“The Lord’s hand is over all, and therein I acknowledge his hand. Not that men are at war, not that nations are trying to destroy nations, not that men are plotting against the liberties of their fellow creatures, not in those respects at all; but God’s hand is not shortened. He will control the results that will follow. He will overrule them in a way that you and I, today, do not comprehend, or do not foresee, for ultimate good.”16

This profound statement of faith and of knowledge leads not to a spirit of complacency or lethargy on our part, but rather permits us to work for peace and love among nations without that enervating feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness and determinism in the face of technological change that has become characteristic of the age.


  1. Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 149.

  2. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States—John F. Kennedy 1961–62, Sept. 25, 1961, p. 620.

  3. Military Technology and National Security, Scientific American, Aug. 1969.

  4. U.N. Doc. A/C. 1/946 (1967).

  5. 12 U.S. Treaties (1961) 794; T.I.A.S. no. 4780; 402 U.N. Treaty Series 71 (1959).

  6. Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, T.I.A.S. No. 6347 (1967).

  7. See Firmage, “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 63 (Oct. 1969), p. 711, for text and analysis.

  8. As quoted in Firmage, note 7 supra.

  9. Ibid.

  10. The President’s Remarks at a Ceremony at the State Department Marking the Entry into Force of the Treaty, March 5, 1970, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 6, no. 10, pp. 318–19.

  11. Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Underwater, Aug. 5, 1963, 14 U.S. Treaties (1963) 1313; T.I.A.S. no. 5933; 480 U.N. Treaty Series 43 (1963).

  12. United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures, Research Report 68–52 (1968), p. 1.

  13. Idem. at 1.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 157.

  16. Gospel Doctrine, p. 89.

  • Dr. Firmage, professor of law at the University of Utah, has published articles in leading law reviews on international law, arms control, and the United Nations. A former White House Fellow, he is now visiting scholar to the United Nations and will attend the twenty-five-nation arms control negotiations in Geneva in March. He is presently serving on the University Second Stake high council in Salt Lake City.

The horror of the 1945 atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima is carved into the roots of a camphor tree on display at the Hiroshima Peace Museum. (Photo by Lorin F. Wheelwright.)

The logistics of an ABM launch call for radar tracking from several locations before firing the ABM to intercept an incoming enemy missile.