Bidding for peace, and Europe's mind

Marci McDonald December 7 1981

Bidding for peace, and Europe's mind

Marci McDonald December 7 1981

Bidding for peace, and Europe's mind


Marci McDonald

It was billed as a dramatic bid to snare a deadly prize that has eluded nations for generations. The stage was set with challenges flying across the Atlantic faster than the speed of intercontinental warheads. And the plot held no surprises. For weeks before the curtain went up, the drama’s dynamics had filled newspaper prologues with contradictory strategic nomenclature and the juggled arithmetic of destruction. Before the key players even had a chance at the script, the codirectors had already staged a sneak preview of the dialogue. But this week the shouting stopped and the talking began as negotiators from East and West opened a new arms reduction conference in Geneva. The buildup to the show was—by any definition-dramatic.

President Ronald Reagan, finally warned against being typecast as a trigger-happy hawk, made the Soviets a grandstanding peace offer he knew they could refuse. For his part, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, having presided over an unprecedented arms buildup in the past decade, donned dovish feathers and flew off to Bonn to deliver a pacifist “goodwill” speech. That, in fact, turned out to be an old chestnut that he had made two years earlier.

The denouement of the Geneva talks is clouded in doubt. As Soviet and American negotiating teams converged for the first so-called Theatre Nuclear Force (TNF) negotiations on reducing intermediate-range atomic missiles in Europe, the euphemism of the title could not conceal what lay at stake.

The scenario at Geneva will help determine the future of NATO’s 108 Pershing II and 464 cruise missiles planned for the continent by December, 1983. At the same time, the fate of Moscow’s 250 SS-20s, which are already pointed toward London, Bonn and Paris, will come under intense scrutiny.

For the 350 million Europeans looking on from the TNF sidelines, the success or failure of that dialogue is a cliff-hanger on which their very survival may depend. In the careless war of words being waged by the superpowers, they see an increasingly real risk of a nuclear holocaust in the jittery “theatre” of their own native soil.

With a stunned disbelief that has

translated itself into the largest postwar peace movement on the continent, Europeans have suddenly discerned from all the blithe strategic shoptalk, the possibility of waking up to find themselves trapped in the machinations of some theatre of the absurd.

Although there is so much at stake, the TNF curtain went up on a note of almost universal pessimism. Even West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, the man with the most to gain or lose from the outcome, went into a briefing with the American negotiators last Saturday in Hamburg, already openly glum. Schmidt had already hosted Brezhnev in Bonn for three days acting as Washington’s stand-in. Then, after 20 minutes of telephone talks with Reagan in California, he publicly lamented each side’s stubborn “maximalist” bargaining positions and misleading missile count claims. “That’s disinformation,” he snapped. “All these numbers spread around the world. That’s both Western and Eastern propaganda.”

Still, it is not just verbiage itself that separates Uli Kvitsinksy, 45, the deft, tough-talking diplomat who leads the Soviet delegation, and Paul H.Nitze, a 74-year-old silver fox from the armscontrol wars, who leads the American team. In the end, a more insurmountable obstacle lies between them: the fact that, despite their chiefs’ protests of goodwill and peace, neither side is ultimately willing to budge much on the territory it has already staked out in the nuclear arms race. While Kvitsinksy follows the tune already hummed by Brezhnev last week in Bonn — offering a freeze on medium-range missile deployment and even a small reduction in its own force of shiny new triplewarhead SS-20s—the Soviets have loudly indicated that they regard Reagan’s zero-option proposal as sheer meaningless posturing.

Despite the fact that Nitze is taking Reagan’s zero option to the bargaining table, the Americans clearly do not expect the Soviets to agree to dismantle their 250 new SS-20 missiles and 360 older single-warhead SS-4s and SS-5s. Indeed, Washington itself is unprepared to back away from its profound commitment to install Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. As one Western diplomat confided, summing up the bluff being called: “What would they do if Brezhnev accepted?”

To some members of Europe’s antinuclear movement, the very appointment of the delegation leaders themselves is a sign of just how little faith each side has in the TNF talks. Kvitsinsky spent two years sitting on the East-West negotiations over limiting conventional troops in Europe. Those discussions are still hopelessly deadlocked in Vienna after nearly eight years (see box), unable to agree even on the numbers of the Warsaw Pact forces. Nitze, onetime coleader of the Allied team studying the bombing of Hiroshima, is known as an unrelieved hawk, steeped in studies of Moscow’s military might. He may have helped create SALT I under Richard Nixon, but he also led the battle against SALT II. Says Dutch Labor MP Klass de Vries, one of the leaders of Holland’s anti-missile campaign: “To appoint Nitze to conduct arms-control talks is outrageous. It’s asking a lot of European public opinion to believe the United States is sincere.”

Nevertheless, in its own way, each side now does seem sincerely concerned about the arms race. The conflict comes from widely different readings of each other’s positions and the fact that those positions are now so out of whack, an imbalance for which geography can take part of the rap. To both sides, Europe is considered part of the American battlefield, with the unfair advantage

of being on the Soviets’ doorstep. It is an assumption that only the Europeans themselves are beginning to dispute.

But history is partly to blame, too. After the United States pulled its landbased missiles out of Europe in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis, a conscious policy decision was made to concentrate Western nuclear deterrent muscle on airborne fighter jets and offshore submarines. It was only when the Soviets went ahead developing their medium-range missiles, which culminated in the installation of the SS-20s, that the Americans woke up to find themselves outmatched in technological sophistication.

The Soviets are in no way discontent about their edge. But they are definitely alarmed at what could descend should the talks fail. The Pershing II and cruise missiles would not only allow Washington to catch up, they would also provide a terrifying leap forward. The United States would then have the capacity to smash the Soviet long-range strategic defences without putting into play its own intercontinental ballistic stockpile buried in silos in North Dakota and Kansas. Says Maj.-Gen. Gert

Bastian, a retired West German division commander, who has become a leading voice in the European peace movement: “ This new generation of American missiles has capabilities that the SS-20s are in no way ready to match.”

To the Soviets that means a red flag to pump up their own defences with the production of new SS-22s and 23s—a new generation already in the pipeline. It is one-upmanship without an end. And it is a game that neither side can any longer afford. The Reagan administration is heavily stretched at home. The Kremlin is wrestling with a crumbling economy exacerbated by the worst grain harvest in recent memory. Moscow also has to maintain control over its increasingly restive population.

But the gap between the two sides’ fundamental viewpoints is so great that

the TNF talks face an extremely difficult future. The main problem is the contentious missile totals, which one defence expert refers to as “the bean count.” Not only has each side been exaggerating the other’s might, conveniently leaving out a few details of its own, but neither can agree on a frame of reference for the mathematics of devastation. Should they, for example, count the numbers of missiles alone, or the numbers of multiple warheads, which can strike several targets simultaneously? And should they include the Soviet short-range missile systems, which can also destroy Western Europe, or the independent French and British nuclear forces which—while not part of the equation—are just as ominously aimed at the Soviets?

Also to be decided is the issue of whether airborne and submarine capacities should be counted as part of the total arsenals, as the Soviets are insisting. For their part, the Americans prefer using “global ceilings”—a concept that covers any missiles that might be temporarily pointed at China and others that the Soviet Union might be developing in order to circumvent a TNF

agreement. The numbers game has grown so complex and exaggerated that Schmidt dismissed it in despair as “all sound and fury, you have to throw the figures in the wastebasket.” Equally thorny is the American demand that an agreement must be verifiable by on-thespot inspection. The Soviet Union regards that as tantamount to licensed spying.

With so many hurdles to be overcome, and with the dismal record of previous arms-control attempts casting a sinister shadow over hopes of success, the concern is not so much in succeeding but avoiding the blame for failure. In the end, the real value of the talks for the West may lie not in any arms-control accord that might be signed, but in how they influence opinion on the continent. Gregory Flynn, assistant director of Paris’ Atlantic Institute, for one, con-

Europe's evolving nuclear balance

NETHERLANDS 6 Lance missiles 36 F-104 aircraft 13 Ml 10 guns 136 Ml09 guns Planned: 48 cruise missiles

WEST GERMANY 180 Pershing I missiles 74 Lance missiles 32 Pluton missiles 72 Jaguar aircraft 204 F-4 aircraft 184 F-104 aircraft

480 SU-24 (SU-19) Fencer aircraft 165 SU-7 Fitter A aircraft 500 MiG-27 Flogger aircraft 700 SU-17 Fitter C/D aircraft 750 MiG-21 Fishbed aircraft

75 SS-20 missiles

BRITAIN 48 Poseidon submarine missiles 64 Polaris submarine missiles 48 Vulcan bombers 156 F-l 11 bombers Planned: 160 cruise missiles

EAST GERMANY 20 SS-12/SS-22 80 Scud/SS-23 10 Frog/SS-21

BELGIUM 5 Lance missiles 36 F-104 aircraft Up to 50 M109 and Ml 10 guns Planned:48 cruise missiles

POLAND 4 SS-12/SS-22 9 Scud/SS.23 10 Frog/SS-21

MISSILES IN WESTERN USSR 175 SS-20 missiles 40 SS-5 missiles 340 SS-4 missiles About 40 SS-12 and SS-22 missiles About 270 Scud A/B and SS-23 About 320 Frog and SS-21 missiles Possibly 150 203mm guns


80 M20 submarine missiles 33 Mirage bombers 18 Land-based missiles

CZECHOSLOVAKIA 6 SS-12/SS-22 27 Scucl/SS-23 30 Frog/SS-21

F~RY 4 SS-12/SS.22 ia Scud/SS..23 20 Frog/SS-21

SPAIN 24 F-4 aircraft

MEDITERRANEAN 48 A-7 aircraft 26 A-6 aircraft

ITALY 6 Lance missiles 72 F-104 aircraft 205 M109 guns Planned: 112 cruise missiles

GREECE 8 Honest John rockets 54 F-4 aircraft 60 M109 guns 20 Ml 10 guns

TURKEY 18 Honest John rockets About 70 F-4 aircraft Unspecified no. of M109 and MilO guns

tends that the future of NATO nuclear missiles in Europe will not be decided by the Geneva negotiations but by European public opinion itself. “It’s an enormous stage management job,” he says of the TNF talks. “People are going to have to be convinced of the threat of the Soviet Union and of the fact that force is not irrelevant. Rhetoric is going to have to be controlled and the United States is going to have to avoid letting itself be cast as the villian in the piece. It’s not what you say—but how you say it.”

Indeed, the Reagan administration seems to have realized that the best way to get the missiles deployed is to convince the allies that Washington, in fact, does not want to deploy them. Said one French editorial: “The struggle for the mind of Europe is on.”

What has made that struggle necessary—and perhaps doomed it from the start—is the European peace movement. Representing every political stripe, the marchers are demanding at the very least a halt to the frenzied buildup of what Britain’s peace-guru, Professor Edward P. Thompson, calls “insanely dangerous weapons.” At the most they are calling for an entire nuclear-free zone in Europe. Their protracted outrage has finally convinced stunned Western analysts and governments that they are the single most influential element in the future of defence strategy. Says Robert Nurick, as-

sistant director of London’s Institute for Strategic Studies: “There’s a much more generalized fear now, not seen since the 1960s. People who have lived with atomic weapons for 20 years are suddenly thinking, ‘My God, there really could be a nuclear war, it could happen.’ ”

If part of the unease comes from a larger sense of being tossed upon economically troubled water, most of it can be blamed squarely on the fast-andloose strategic jargon that the Reagan administration has been throwing around. Says Thompson, a feisty social historian and Second World War veteran: “This doesn’t amuse us. This ‘theatre’ is where we live.”

Even NATO’s top command has become convinced that the peace movement can succeed in blocking the new missiles’ deployment. Initially misreading the foreign barometer, Washington tried to shrug off the entire pacifist movement as Communist-inspired—a suggestion with which thousands of pacifists took umbrage. Now the Pentagon seems to be taking a new tack—one which is likely to ruffle sensibilities again. Last week, as Brezhnev tried to charm Bonn, U.S. assistant secretary of defense, Richard N. Perle, publicly waved off the peace marches as a product of “Protestant angst,” designed by clergymen to whip up church attendance. Said Bastian, one of six retired NATO generals who last week called for

a revival of détente: “I’m not a Communist and I’m not in any church and I don’t think you could call me naïve.”

A growing number of people on the continent look on the breezy warhead counts of the TNF talks as just another symptom of what one analyst of the dissent terms “a highly structured craziness.” The protesters cling to other numbers which are far more convincing—the brute statistics of horror. They know that a one-megaton nuclear warhead today has 25 times the fire-power of the bombs that killed 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have listened to American doctors from the Physicians for Social Responsibility, who say that the only civil defence expedient that makes sense against nuclear war is to stock up on morphine.

With nothing in recent history to give them faith in yet another round of arms-control talks, the European peace movement finds even less to console itself in the introductory paragraph of the agreement on Measures to Reduce the Risk of Outbreak of Nuclear War. Signed by the United States and the Soviet Union, it begins: “Despite the most elaborate precaution, it is conceivable that technical malfunctions or human failures, a misinterpreted incident or unauthorized action, could trigger a nuclear disaster.” That is a prospect that gives the Geneva talks an urgency rarely experienced in the bloody history of nations,