In search of peace in Sweden

Marci McDonald January 30 1984

In search of peace in Sweden

Marci McDonald January 30 1984

In search of peace in Sweden


Marci McDonald

The dispute at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport set the tone for the stormy week of East-West recrimination that followed. When Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko disembarked from his Ilyushin 62 jet for the opening of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Disarmament in Europe, Swedish customs officials accidentally seized a cache of Soviet sausage from his delegation’s luggage. Then, the Soviets told the Swedish foreign ministry that they would return to Moscow unless their sausage was liberated. The misunderstanding was quickly straightened out. But two days later, in a far more truculent mood, Gromyko launched a blistering attack on Washington’s “pathological obsession” with a military buildup and on its “maniacal plans around the globe.”

Gromyko made it clear that the Kremlin had dismissed President Ronald Reagan’s new tone of conciliation, delivered on national television on the eve of the conference, as nothing more than a suspicious re-election ploy. Later, Gromyko’s five-hour private meet-

ing with U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz—the first since their acrimonious exchanges over last year’s Korean airliner incident—ended in a standoff. That the Soviets entered the meeting with that result in mind was underlined by TASS’s release of that news three hours before the meeting ended.

Gromyko's blistering anti-U.S. rhetoric dashed any prospect of a swift return to the nuclear bargaining table

The Kremlin seemed determined not to do anything to improve the re-election chances of a president who branded the Soviet Union an “evil empire” 10 months ago. Not only that, as External Affairs Minister Allan MacEachen acknowledged after his own hour-long meeting with Gromyko, but the Soviet administration seems genuinely convinced that Reagan and Shultz are warmongers. Indeed, virtually the only op-

timistic development during the conference was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s announcement in Ottawa that he will set off on the third stage of his peace mission with a visit to three Eastern European capitals starting this week. But even that bulletin failed to dispel the gloom that gripped Stockholm, where falling temperatures coincided with the 400 delegates’ own gloom over a deepening East-West freeze. As one Eastern Bloc delegate declared, “Far from issuing a clarion call to peace, Stockholm seems to be degening into a call to confrontation.”

The expectations for progress at the Stockholm conference were guarded from the outset. The meeting was originally intended to salvage some semblance of accomplishment from the rhetorical wreckage left after the threeyear Madrid security conference which ended last fall. The main thrust of the conference was intended to be directed at reducing the risk of surprise attack by conventional forces in Europe. Only after the Soviet delegation abruptly walked out of the intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) talks in Geneva, following the arrival of Washington’s

cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe, did Stockholm suddenly become a last glimmer of hope for a thaw in the East-West frost.

That glimmer turned into a burst of false optimism when Reagan prefaced the conference with an about-face from his three years of anti-Soviet tirades. The president’s major televised address, the contents of which were leaked in advance to the Soviet and Western media, was clearly designed to improve relations at the Stockholm meeting. Reagan conceded that Washington’s relations with Moscow were not as close as they should be. Then he contended that the deployment of missiles in Europe enabled Washington to negotiate more effectively by giving it greater strength to bargain with.

Still, Moscow dismissed his conciliatory tone with insults and skepticism. Democratic opponents in the United States and in some European capitals also doubted Reagan’s sincerity. At Washington’s liberal-oriented Brookings Institution, director of foreign policy studies John Steinbruner accused Reagan of inconsistency. “A speech means nothing when your actions move in the opposite direction,” said Steinbruner. “It is the actions the Soviets will be looking at, a continuing military buildup.” In London the Financial Times newspaper characterized the speech as “mood music designed to deflect critics at home and abroad.” But in Stockholm, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson welcomed the change

in tone. Still, he added, “Who can believe that confidence can be restored by simple declarations?”

Western diplomats attributed the Soviets’ intransigent mood to the Politburo’s paralysis during President Yuri Andropov’s mysterious illness. Delegates were also surprised when Shultz followed Reagan’s scene-setting speech with what they considered to be a provocative address. Shultz questioned the legitimacy of the “artificial barriers” that have divided Eastern and Western Europe since 1945. With that the White House signalled the Kremlin that, while its rhetoric may have moderated, it does

not intend to give up its almost evangelical ideological campaign against Soviet human rights violations. Moscow regards such statements as interference in its domestic affairs. As MacEachen said: “It may cause irritation. I do not think the Soviet Union will like it very much.”

Gromyko ignored the specific U.S. allegations in his unrelenting 20page speech the following day, but in an inflammatory series of epithets he listed what he considered to be the Reagan administration’s provocations. He criticized Washington’s

“hackneyed ploys,” “criminal and dishonest methods” and addiction to military aggression. He also aimed his criticism at areas beyond the limits of the conference’s region of concern—Europe. In Lebanon, Gromyko alleged, the “U.S. war machine” had sowed “death and destruction.” In Grenada, Washington had carried out “a piratical act of terrorism.” In El Salvador, all that was missing were “the bonfires of the Inquisition.”

Gromyko appeared to close the door on any quick resumption of nuclear weapons negotiations by reiterating the Soviet insistence that missile deploy-

ment in Europe had rendered the talks “pointless.” Even delegates who had expected a tough Kremlin line were rocked by the bitterness of his attack. Belgian Foreign Minister Leo Tindemans called it “cheap stuff.” For his part, MacEachen acknowledged that it was “tougher than expected.” Coming from one of the Politburo’s most venerable members, at a tense and crucial diplomatic session, most analysts interpreted the address as a signal that the Kremlin had given up hope of wringing concessions from the Reagan

administration, at least until after the presidential election in November.

Gromyko’s private meeting with Shultz was also unproductive. It lasted two hours and 10 minutes beyond its scheduled three-hour allotment, but senior administration officials emerged grim and uncharacteristically noncommittal from the stark five-storey Soviet Embassy complex, located on a wooded, fenced-in hill in Stockholm’s western suburbs. As Shultz later acknowledged, Gromyko abandoned some of his verbal exaggeration but none of his intransigence. The Soviet foreign minister did hint later to Swedish and West German officials that Moscow may resume the Vienna talks on conventional Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) as early as mid-March. But he gave no indication of movement in any other area.

Indeed, MacEachen later concluded from his own hour-long meeting under the Soviet Embassy’s icicle chandeliers that he would try to persuade Trudeau to hold off his anticipated resignation until the Prime Minister can carry his peace mission to Moscow.

Tension within the pine-panelled conference hall was also heightened by the bulletins from the East and West that ticked in on banks of teleprinters in the ninth-floor media centre. As Gromyko was denouncing the deployment of U.S.

missiles in Europe, TASS released a carefully timed report that Red Army soldiers are receiving “training night and day” on Soviet SS-20 and SS-23 missiles which are being installed in East Germany and Czechoslovakia as a countermeasure to the cruise and Pershings. And as Shultz was promising to introduce a draft for a worldwide ban on chemical weapons, a report from Washington claimed that the Pentagon was asking Congress for an allotment in its 1985 budget to begin the production of deadly nerve gas. Other dispatches from Washington undercut the administration’s new dovish tone. Among them: informed speculation that the Pentagon is preparing to test-fire a new three-stage rocket designed to destroy satellites. That revived fears of an arms race in outer space. Then Moscow released a suggestion that the Soviet team might not attend next summer’s Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

As the delegates exchanged denunciations, 40 representatives of peace movements from Europe, the United States and Canada conducted their own parallel three-day congress. On the eve of the conference, Western alliance foreign ministers worked out their strategy at the ornate French Embassy over a dinner of lobster and saddles of venison, washed down by Chateau Haut Brion 1975. While they dined, the peace-

niks sat down to a simple vegetarian meal of soup and salad in a bookshopcafé to work out new tactics to counter missile deployment in Western Europe. Said Chairman Wim Bartels of Holland’s Interchurch Peace Council: “We do not feel defeated. Our memberships are constantly growing.”

That sense of optimism was shared by some of the permanent conference delegates. They argued that when the 35 ministers and 1,400 journalists leave Stockholm this week, they can begin to negotiate seriously. Scheduled to last three years, the Stockholm talks may produce some compromises on conventional force monitoring in Europe. But so far East and West have failed to agree on what to talk about, even within the Stockholm mandate. The Soviet Union and its satellites want to turn the conference into a forum embracing nuclear arms control. The NATO partners propose a more modest six-point package of confidence-building measures— CBMs in diplomatic jargon. Under that plan both sides would give as much as three months’ advance notice of troop movements from the Atlantic to the Urals, provide for verification of any agreements reached and speed up communications in times of crisis. The biggest stumbling block is verification, which Gromyko described as looking “for a crack in the fence to

peep at one’s neighbors.” But as an indication that they may eventually be prepared to agree to some of the proposals, the Soviets sent an unusually high-powered delegation to Stockholm. Its second-in-command was Igor Andropov, the Soviet leader’s son.

Some analysts contend that currently the Soviets’ prime objective is to forge a European nonaggression pact, which could eventually lead to a collective security agreement. That would effectively eliminate the U.S. military presence—a longtime Kremlin goal—and accomplish what some Pentagon forecasters describe as the “Finlandization,” or neutralization, of Washington’s allies.

But a security agreement of any kind seemed to be a distant prospect at best. Indeed, opening the Stockholm conference, its host, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, warned that “dialogue has all but ceased and the network of cooperation has been weakened.” As the foreign ministers stepped out of their limousines for a royal gala performance of The Nutcracker at Stockholm’s ornate opera house, peace marchers stood silently in the snow, with lit torches under a banner that read, “The world is waiting.” They may have a long wait before their fears are eased by better East-West understanding.

William Lowther