WORLD

Agreement to disagree

Gorbachev offers more unilateral arms cuts

Anthony Wilson-Smith May 22 1989
WORLD

Agreement to disagree

Gorbachev offers more unilateral arms cuts

Anthony Wilson-Smith May 22 1989

Agreement to disagree

Gorbachev offers more unilateral arms cuts

WORLD

THE SOVIET UNION

As talks ended between Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker last week, the two men smiled warmly, spoke optimistically of future plans—and decided, in the words of Baker, to “disagree agreeably.” That ambivalence was understandable. In the first visit to Moscow by a high-ranking member of U.S. President George Bush’s administration, the two countries agreed to co-operate on topics ranging from pollution control to the Middle East. But it was a new arms-reduction proposal by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that stole the limelight. And after the United States appeared to reject the key element in that proposal, it was clear that one of the most crucial issues facing them—and the world—remains deadlocked. Shevardnadze bluntly described the American position on nuclear disarmament as “very negative,” adding, “This seriously concerns us.” Gorbachev’s proposals appeared to catch the Americans by surprise. By the end of this year, he said, the Soviet Union will unilaterally withdraw 500 short-range nuclear warheads—including 284 missiles, 166 bombs and 50 artillery shells—from Warsaw Pact countries. Gorbachev also offered to remove all nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe by 1991 if the United States would take similar measures in Western Europe. And he proposed that the Warsaw Pact and the rival North Atlantic

Treaty Organization make reductions in conventional arms and forces that would give the two sides parity by 1997.

After Gorbachev scored what many observers called another public relations victory, Bush delivered a foreign policy address that received mixed reviews. It was his first considered public pronouncement on East-West relations since taking office last January, and it followed a drawn-out policy reappraisal that had put U.S.-Soviet dealings on hold. Speaking in College Station, Tex., Bush revived former president Dwight Eisenhower’s 1955 “open skies” proposal under which each side would be able to make unarmed surveillance flights over the other’s territory. But critics pointed out that satellite technology made “open skies” far less meaningful than when Eisenhower first proposed it 34 years ago. And although Bush’s national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, insisted that it still had great symbolic importance, former state department Soviet expert Raymond Garthoff said that it was of “only marginal” military significance.

Meanwhile, the short-range nuclear arms reduction proposals, which Gorbachev outlined to Baker during a 3 Vis-hour meeting on May 11, seemed likely to deepen the rift between the United States and some NATO allies over how to respond to Gorbachev’s initiatives. With a 40th-anniversary NATO summit meeting scheduled for May 29 and 30, the U.S. and British

officials are trying to shore up crumbling support for their hard-line response to West German proposals that East and West open immediate talks on all short-range nuclear weapons. Said a Moscow-based Western diplomat: “Now the real fighting [among the NATO allies] begins.”

After last week’s meeting, Baker and Shevardnadze moved quickly to pitch their respective positions to key allies. Shevardnadze briefed representatives from Warsaw Pact countries. He then went to a previously scheduled meeting with officials in West Germany, which has led the demand within NATO for short-range arms reduction talks. Baker, meanwhile, flew to Belgium for a meeting with NATO ministers, where—supported by the British—he reiterated U.S. concerns over Soviet attempts to link Eastern Bloc arms reductions to equal cuts by NATO. Washington estimates that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies have an advantage of roughly 12:1 over NATO in nuclear-tipped short-range weapons with a range of up to 500 km. Because of that, U.S. officials insist, the Soviet Union must make further unilateral reductions before talks can begin. The cuts announced by Gorbachev, said Baker, were good but “modest.”

Despite differences over short-range nuclear arms, last week’s talks produced agreement on a series of smaller but related steps. The two sides decided that, in mid-June, they will resume talks in Geneva on deep cuts in longrange strategic nuclear weapons. And on June 26, they will also begin discussions on a possible ban of nuclear testing. As well, they established working groups that will hold informal talks on arms control, human rights, regional problems and direct U.S.-Soviet relations. And when Baker and Shevardnadze meet again next September, they will discuss a possible summit between Bush and Gorbachev.

Despite the limited progress in Moscow,

both U.S. and Soviet officials said that Baker’s first-ever visit to the Soviet Union did much to dispel a coolness that had been developing since Bush’s election last November. Soviet officials have complained about what they see as the slow pace of Bush’s response to Soviet initiatives.

They have also expressed concern that Bush, in attempting to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor,

Ronald Reagan, is developing a more hard-line approach. In particular, Soviet officials criticized recent remarks by Defence Secretary Richard Cheney, who predicted that Gorbachev’s reforms are likely to fail and that he could be overthrown and replaced by someone more hostile to the West. Said Gennady Gerasimov, spokesman for the Soviet foreign ministry: “We understand that the secretary of defence needs more money for military programs, and how can he possibly obtain that if the Soviet threat is going away?”

Apparently embarrassed by Cheney’s statement, Bush—through a personal letter that Baker handed to Gorbachev—emphasized U.S. support for Soviet reforms. And he reiter-

ated the point in his Texas speech. Saying that he was impressed by Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Bush declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, don’t stop now.” And with the clear intention of encouraging further reforms, he offered to help solve the Soviet leader’s economic problems by asking Congress to suspend the so-called JacksonVanik Amendment, which has denied Soviet

imports favorable tariff treatment for the past 16 years.

Baker and Shevardnadze discussed a host of other mutual problems. Citing American help after last December’s earthquake in Armenia and Soviet aid during the recent massive oil spill off the coast of Alaska, they signed an agreement to co-operate in the event of future pollution emergencies. Each side pressed the other—but without agreement—to reduce tensions in Nicaragua by cutting down on supplies and support by Moscow to the governing Sandinistas and by Washington to the rebel contras.

Although last week’s progress was modest, many observers registered a sense of

relief. “There is a feeling,”

said one Western diplomat, “that things are moving again.” And when a Soviet journalist criticized Baker’s resolve to “disagree agreeably” over arms control, a genial Shevardnadze demurred. “As long as we talk,” he declared, “we might then agree to agree.”

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Moscow and WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

WILLIAM LOWTHER