There were few visible clues on the streets of Prague last week that a “momentous meeting” was about to take place. There were only a few flags, extra “no parking” signs, more policemen, and a statement on television news that “the voice of peace is about to ring out from the capital.” The event was the first summit of Warsaw Pact leaders since May, 1980, and the first chance for new Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to make his mark on the international stage. Czechoslovakia’s Gustv Husak warmly greeted his Eastern Bloc counterparts on the wet tarmac of the Prague-Ruzyné Airport. His guests were the most important leaders in the Communist world: Andropov, Poland’s Wojciech Jaruzelski, East Germany’s Erich Honecker, Hungary’s Janos Kadar, Romania’s Nicolae Ceaucescu and Bulgaria’s ailing Todor Zhivkov.
The meeting, a drably staged affair with little of the fanfare associated with Western summits, nonetheless provided a minor diplomatic burst for the West. The offer to sign a nonaggression pact with the NATO alliance may not have been the “grand new peace proposal” Soviet bloc leaders claimed it was (in fact, it was scarcely new, having been advocated by the Soviets since
1955 and repeatedly rejected by NATO as meaningless).But, following Andropov’s offer to meet with U.S. President Ronald Reagan and to reduce Moscow’s medium-range missile force in Europe, the dovish tone of the Warsaw Pact’s declaration helped boost Andropov’s selfstyled image as a man of peace.
Faced with this public relations threat at a time of mounting concern over nuclear arms proliferation,
Western leaders were cautious in their responses, with Reagan promising only to consider it. NATO sources dismissed the proposal as “propaganda posturing,” yet conceded that it could win the Kremlin important points with Western public opinion. It appears that the sheer momentum of the peace drive has caught NATO off guard and could force the alliance to resort to some quick posturing of its own. “Andropov is running faster than anyone here
anticipated,” admitted a senior U.S. official.
Breaking rank with other Western nations, West Germany quickly hailed Soviet proposals for a peace pact
The key battleground on which the propaganda war will be waged during the next year is West Germany. The economically troubled Soviet Union and its allies are eager to head off the planned deployment by NATO, of U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles in West Germany next December. According to U.S. defence experts, the Eastern Bloc hopes that peaceable rhetoric will encourage the powerful antinuclear movement in Western Europe to keep the pressure on NATO nations. Says Robert Hunter, a Soviet specialist with the Georgetown Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: “It’s part of a sustained campaign that Andropov has been launching to outflank the United States in Western Europe. The target of influence this time is of course the West German elections.”
With the vote scheduled for March 6, nuclear disarmament is an increasingly hot issue. The influential left-wing daily Frankfurter Rundschau claimed recently that a secret poll by the West German government showed 53 per cent of respondents firmly against deployment of the U.S. missiles on German soil. Thus it was not surprising that even West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose Christian Democratic
Union supports deployment, promised to give “careful consideration” to the nonaggression proposal. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher had thrown NATO officials into a flap by stating that Bonn saw “positive elements” in Andropov’s December offer to reduce medium-range missiles in Europe from about 600 to 162 in return for a halt to U.S. missile deployment in West Germany.
London, Paris and Washington had rejected the offer out of hand. The three nations claimed that it would give the Soviets military superiority and opted to continue to push for the so-called “zero option” of eliminating all medium-range missiles in Europe. Meanwhile, West German Opposition Leader Hans-Jochen Vogel, on an official visit to the United States last week, responded enthusiastically to the nonaggression proposal, saying it went “in the direction I agree with.” Vogel said he would support U.S. missile deployment only in the absence of any progress at the ongoing Geneva talks on limiting medium-range missiles. By contrast, NATO’s position is that only a firm arms control agreement with the Soviet Union could prevent them from going ahead.
But Andropov’s bold peace offensive has put new pressure on the Western alliance at least to appear more accom-
modating. One of Europe’s leading pacifists, Petra Kelly, leader of West Germany’s Green party, said the West was “pathetically wrong” to reject Andropov’s missile reduction offer. “We must explore the offer for all it is worth—it could be a last chance,” she declared. While acknowledging a “strong dose of propaganda” in Andropov’s overtures, Kelly believes Moscow sincerely wanted a cut in the nuclear arsenal: “They don’t want first-strike nuclear weapons on their doorstep, and I don’t blame them.” Richard Betts, a Soviet scholar with Washington’s Brookings Institution, agrees: “You have to accept that the Russians have made a significant compromise by offering to reduce their force. The United States will have to be more flexible.”
Once again, an article in the Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, early this month attempted to put the Reagan administration on the defensive about the arms issue. Pravda alleged that the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) in Geneva were deadlocked because Reagan was trying to achieve military superiority. The president rejected the charges at his press conference last week and surprised some observers with an optimistic assessment of the progress at the talks. He said that Gen. Edward Rowny, chief U.S. negotiator at the START discussions, “believes
that we have a possibility of an agreement within a year.” Indeed, Reagan would like to have an arms agreement and a summit meeting with Andropov to his credit before the election in 1984.
According to White House sources, however, the Reagan administration will insist on some significant steps in the many areas of disagreement—the arms talks, treatment of Soviet dissidents, the occupation of Afghanistan and military repression in Poland—before engaging in a summit. Hence Reagan was entirely predictable at the press conference: “I do not think you just say, ‘Let’s get together,’ sit around the table and then say, ‘Well, what do we talk about?’ I think you have to plan and you have to know what you want to talk about.”
At the Prague summit, however, the agenda on contentious issues was clearly set out. Warsaw Pact countries are deeply divided over economic issues. In fact, the summit, originally scheduled for last June, was postponed because of bitterness over, among other issues, the aid that Moscow forced East Germany and Czechoslovakia to give Poland, Romania’s failure to provide promised electrical energy to its pact partners, and the Soviets’ plan to sell energy and raw materials, originally earmarked for their allies, to the West in order to help finance its large military spending. At the Prague summit, sources say, Andropov criticized the whole Eastern Bloc for failing to respond to changes in society, thereby opening the path to turmoil in Poland and Romania.
The Soviet leader also scolded each country. He castigated Poland, Hungary and Romania for falling so deeply in debt to Western banks, Romania for breaking ranks with the Warsaw Pact by publicly calling for disarmament by both East and West (and also for persisting in its refusal to allow the Warsaw Pact to stage military manoeuvres in that country), and East Germany and Bulgaria for selling produce on Western markets for hard currency rather than distributing more of it within the Eastern Bloc.
After the session, however, Andropov told a Czech journalist, “The international position of the Socialist community remains firm and stable, regardless of the negative phenomena that occurred at the beginning of the 1980s.” Yet, faced with the monumental challenges of this decade—controlling the arms race and returning economic stability—the patina of unity is the most Andropov could expect.
With Peter Lewis in Brussels, William Lowther in Washington, Sue Masterman in Vienna and Keith Charles in Moscow.
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