Blogs > Cliopatria > Why the Bush Administration Should Remember Ike's Open Skies Initiative

Aug 6, 2004 8:13 pm


Why the Bush Administration Should Remember Ike's Open Skies Initiative



The latest example of Bush administration myopia is its announcement that it will insist that a new treaty banning the production of weaponized plutonium and uranium be unverifiable.

As the NYT editorialized today:

With talks on the new treaty set to begin later this year, the administration suddenly announced last week that it would insist that no provisions for inspections or verification be included.

Officials claim that they want to prevent other nations from using inspections to nose around American nuclear installations. We want to be able to nose around theirs, of course (vide Iraq, North Korea, etc.), but not the other way around.

This is a betrayal of the spirit of Dwight Eisenhower's Open Skies initiative. In 1954 at a meeting with the Soviets in Geneva Ike stunned the world with a proposal to require the USSR and the US to allow flights overhead so each nation could keep an eye on the other's military build-ups. Historians still debate Ike's motives. Some think it was a PR ploy to show the world amidst the Cold War that the US was sincere about easing tensions; when the USSR turned down the proposal the US gained in the Cold War propaganda war. Other historians insist that Ike was sincere, even though they acknowledge that he had already approved the plan for U2 spy flights over the USSR. His main concern, they argue, was to prevent a nuclear Pearl Harbor. The only way to do that would be to know in advance that the other side was preparing for a nuclear attack. As advisors to the president noted, there were only so many defensive measures that a nation could undertake to protect itself.

Either way, Ike publicly identified the US with an arms control position that celebrated openness as its key characteristic. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan reiterated our commitment to openness by agreeing to inspections of our secret military facilities in Utah and other places. Every so often Soviet inspectors would show up in Salt Lake City to find out if we were abiding by our commitment to destroy certain weapons.

The Bush administration has now rejected this tradition of openness. This is disconcerting. Imagine if the Cold War were still on and the Soviets took the position the US is now taking. We'd be furious and we wouldn't be shy about letting the world know.

We would have been right then. We are wrong now.


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HNN - 8/11/2004

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

I have a question for you. If there were still a Cold War on would President Bush be acting as he is? My guess is that you would answer the way most people would. No, he wouldn't be acting this way. He'd be worried about international opinion and concerned at least with appearing to adhere to a standard that sounded reasonable on its face.

But because there isn't a Cold War and he doesn't have to worry about world opinion the way Ike, JFK or LBJ did, Bush doesn't even bother pretending to accomodate the rest of the world.

But just because he doesn't have to worry about world opinion like Ike et al. he still has to worry about it. Even a super power has to be concerned with the decent opinion of mankind, as the Declaration of Independence put it.

Nothing that happened on 9-11 changes that fact.

And yet h keeps poking other people in the eye. That's what his new position on nuclear weapons does. It says to the world that inspections aren't going to be required of others because we don't want to be inspected--even though such inspections would make the world safer.

I don't want to bring back the Cold War, but isn't it ironic that under the awful conditions of that conflict we were inclined to behave better than we are now?


William R. Clay - 8/10/2004

In 1954, despite Stalin’s passing, Eisenhower knew with certainty the USSR would not accept an “open sky policy”. His risked nothing to gain valuable credibility. The authorized U-2 flights were little more than an extension of the ongoing border incursions executed by modified B-50 spy planes performing routine patrols on, and over, the USSR’s borders. The U-2’s, when properly used, provided additional invaluable information, and would become the basis for Ike’s comfort level in America’s technical lead during the second half of the 50’s. Despite Sputnik’s overwhelming publicity influence on the American public, Eisenhower knew America possessed superior nuclear weapons and delivery systems by 1957.

If, for some unknown reason, the USSR did accept his strategy of open skies, what did Ike lose? Actually not much. The Russians would have known what we knew and what their active land based spy systems must have told them. That would be that the US could effectively remove Russia from the map after the mid-point of the 50’s. With the advent of the B-47, and the later B-52 delivery systems, combined with the perfection of hydrogen based atomic weapons, MAD (mutual assured destruction) was but a one-way street with the US driving the bus during this time period. This information in Russia’s hands would be good. It would give the new Russian leadership an understanding of just how much they would lose if they picked the wrong fight.

Fast forward to today. You are driving down the interstate while miles above a satellite snaps a picture showing your plate numbers and bumper stickers. We have in effect an open sky policy for those with money to enjoy the view. Now, let’s face it, the US has that money, does enjoy the view, and uses it to observe facilities around our globe. Another fact is that there will be countries that will not sign any protocol relating to nuclear development. On-site verification of their activities then becomes a moot issue, unless Bush plans on more pre-emptive excursions into sovereign states to find possible WMD’s.

I do not find the Bush administration’s policy shift to be a betrayal of Eisenhower’s throw away policy proposal as much as it is recognition of current world conditions. Those that have nuclear weapons now don’t need our technology, except for incremental improvements of efficiency (a concept pertaining more to delivery systems than the actual weapon itself). Those that do not, and wish to, have much to gain by on-site inspections. Please, let us be realistic here, the inspectors, despite assurances to the contrary, may well have national interests, or worse, at stake.

Lastly, our “openness policy”, as attached to Ronald Regan, was for but a small spectrum of weapons well understood by the Russians, as their systems were to us. The USSR was never allowed to merely roam at will; they did that with their satellite system. What Bush’s policy does attempt is recognition of the potential for release of site information, security arrangements, and technical operations to potentially hostile NGO’s (read this to mean any terrorist group you desire to insert). This country had open skies, at least relatively so, and it cost the lives of over 2,500 civilians and military personnel in 2001. It is time to move on from the 50’s thinking into the new paradigm of the 2000’s.

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