From the late 1970s into the early 1990s, U.S. federal law mandated the executive branch to prepare annual analytical documents known as Arms Control Impact Statements (ACIS). These instruments – obviously patterned after the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), which had been inaugurated only a few years previously – were intended to prod the national security community to undertake more rigorous, multi-dimensional study of major weapons programs, and to provide Congress and the American public with enhanced, timely information about key arms procurement decisions.

However, unlike the EIS process – which rapidly became institutionalized, and which has proliferated to multiple tiers of government and around the world over the past fifty years – the ACIS process was a conspicuous failure. It was widely regarded as a meaningless exercise, consuming immense bureaucratic resources and hardly ever changing any outcomes – a colossal waste of time. The statute that created the ACIS operation was amended to abolish the entire program after only a decade and half of fitful operation.

This Article undertakes to compare the starkly different case histories of the ACIS and EIS programs, with an eye to revival of the former in an appropriately modified form. It analyzes the goals of the legislation and the key features accounting for success and failure, and makes recommendations for a modern revival of ACIS that are based upon lessons learned in other contexts. The proposal seeks to underscore the concept that arms control is a key element in sound national security policy, to promote more systematic, wide-ranging analysis in support of key national decision-making, and to empower the legislative branch, as well as the public, to participate in policy debates in a more informed, timely manner.