Richard Perle, a prominent "cold warrior", wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he said, among other things, that there was no arms race during the Cold War years:
Despite a near universal belief to the contrary, the "action-reaction-upward-spiraling strategic weapons race" of the Cold War never really happened.
This is a curious claim, especially coming from Perle, who was instrumental in inciting exactly the "action-reaction arms race" that he is dismissing.
Sure, U.S. and Soviet strategic weapons programs had their own logic and inertia, but they were not “largely independent from each other” as Perle suggests. For example, the main reason the Soviet Union deployed more than thousand intercontinental ballistic missiles in the late 1960s and then equipped them with multiple warheads was that the United States had done it first. Similarly, the buildup of the U.S. nuclear forces in the late 1970s-early 1980s, which included, among other things, development of the MX ballistic missile, was a direct response to the perceived threat of the expanding Soviet missile forces. Perle, in fact, he was one of those people who worked hard at thae time to paint the picture of a Soviet threat and shape the confrontational U.S. response to it.
We know now from Soviet documents of that time that the nature of the threat was seriously misunderstood and the threat highly exaggerated. The cold war programs may have been “largely independent” from each other, but only in the sense that both sides were not really interested in the specifics of what the other was doing. Rather, both sides found it easy and convenient to use the rhetoric of threat to promote their agendas, policies, or get support for specific programs. Richard Perle should know this better than anyone else - he was a skillful practitioner of this art.
Perle, however, has a good point when he talks about the recent threats of arms race that are coming from the Kremlin:
We should greet Russian threats to race with amusement and a big yawn: They would be competing against themselves. If Putin wishes to pour petro-rubles into building more missiles, our response should be limited to sympathy for the ordinary Russians whose taxes will be squandered [...]
Of course, when Putin tries to scare us by a new arms race he simply takes a page straight from the old Cold War book by using the language of “arms race” for his narrow political purposes. But this is exactly how this spiral works. Putin is one of those people in Russia who would rather not limit their response to, say, the U.S. missile defense to sympathy for the ordinary U.S. taxpayer. They see an opportunity and they won't let it pass up.
So, it won’t be long before someone in the United States will start pointing at Russia’s wasteful spending of its petro-rubles on missiles as a sign of a genuine threat to the United States. This, of course, doesn't make sense. But that hasn't stopped anyone in the past.