Warring with words

BOB LEVIN October 27 1986

Warring with words

BOB LEVIN October 27 1986

Warring with words


Like missionaries they fanned out around the world to spread the word. U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who just the day before had called the Reykjavik summit “a great disappointment,” told North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in Brussels that in some ways it was “a tremendous success.” His assurances were part of a massive, stridently optimistic public relations blitz launched last week by the White House, a campaign designed to show that only Soviet intransigence had kept a dramatic summit from total success. The Soviets mounted a similar offensive, sending 15 envoys to 36 nations to carry their message: that Washington was to blame for the summit failure. “World opinion can play a considerable role in this, if not a decisive one,” said Soviet foreign ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov in Moscow. Questioned further by U.S. reporters, Gerasimov replied: “Don’t you like our policy? But it is the U.S. method. We have beaten you at your game.”

Who was winning the propaganda campaign was not certain, but it was clear that the Cold War, far from thawing out in Iceland, had simply entered a new phase: a stepped-up war of words aimed at winning hearts and minds in the arms control standoff. There was no dispute, however, over the broad outlines of what happened at Reykjavik’s Hofdi House. Billed as preparation for a later summit, the meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev escalated into intensive negotiations over Gorbachev’s surprise package of across-the-board arms cuts. The two sides verbally agreed to reduce the number of warheads on medium-range missiles to 100 each from a combined total of 1,000, and they decided to abolish all ballistic missiles over 10 years. But Gorbachev also demanded 10 years’ adherence to a strict interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would preclude testing of the U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), or Star Wars program, in space. Reagan refused, and all the agreements collapsed.

Many U.S. analysts argued that Gorbachev had trapped Reagan by springing his comprehensive proposals and

linking them inextricably, forcing the President either to abandon SDI or make it the focus of an arms-control fiasco. The Soviets denied any such trap. But last week, as regular arms talks resumed in Geneva, Moscow officials, after some contradictory signals,

indicated that they would continue to insist on a package deal. Still, many Western experts said that an arms accord still seemed possible. Said John Lamb, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament: “I think there was a missed opportunity, not a lost opportunity.” The U.S. public relations offensive was designed to take the onus for the Reykjavik failure off Reagan. It featured a barrage of media interviews by top officials, but its star was Reagan himself. In a nationally televised speech, the President said that Gorbachev’s insistence on “killing” SDI prevented agreement in Iceland. He called the space-based system “America’s insurance policy” and added: “SDI is what brought the Soviets back to arms control talks in Geneva and Iceland.

SDI is the key to a world without nuclear weapons.” Two days later at a campaign rally in Baltimore, Md., Reagan used Star Wars as a political weapon, accusing unnamed “liberals” in Congress of trying to “throw it away” and playing into Gorbachev’s hands.

The message seemed to get through. Although there was no shortage of criticism—Democratic senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island called the summit Sunday “a sad day for mankind”—most Republican congressmen applauded the President’s stand in Iceland. The American people seemed to agree: according to a New York Times/CBS poll, only 17 per cent blamed Reagan for the summit failure, while 44 per cent blamed Gorbachev.

After Shultz’s briefing in Brussels, most NATO leaders echoed Washington’s optimistic assessment of the Iceland meeting. Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark said that he believed the Reykjavik summit “will mark another important step toward the kind of practical agreement we all seek.” But privately, many NATO lead-

ers began lobbying Reagan to make further concessions to strike a deal on medium-range missiles in Europe, which would have been free of such weapons under the Iceland proposal. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is expected to fly to Washington soon to do just that.

In their own media offensive, Soviet officials said the Reykjavik summit could strengthen anti-American sentiment in Western Europe. They also argued that it could help Democratic— presumably anti-Star Wars—congressional candidates in U.S. elections in November. In a televised address, Gorbachev said that the United States lacked the “courage” to agree to

such a far-reaching arms accord, adding, “After Reykjavik it is clear to everyone that SDI is a symbol of obstruction to the cause of peace.” In sum, the Soviets appeared to believe they had shown the world that Reagan’s rhetoric about SDI being purely defensive was a ruse to conceal the true purpose of Star Wars: to enable the U.S. to launch an offensive first strike.

The Kremlin’s campaign is run by Yuri Sklyarov, who became head of the propaganda department of the Communist Party Central Committee just six

weeks ago. He replaced former Soviet ambassador to Canada Aleksandr Yakovlev, now secretary of the Central Committee. “He’s off to a brilliant start,” one Western diplomat said of Sklyarov. In another public relations move, Moscow allowed David Goldfarb, a 67-year-old Jewish geneticist who has a son in the United States, to leave the Soviet Union. He had been refused permission for seven years until Armand Hammer, a U.S. industrialist with longtime ties to Soviet leaders, arranged for his and his wife Cecilia’s freedom, then flew them to Newark, N.J., in his private jet.

For all their new emphasis on public relations, the Soviets had trouble get-

ting their story straight on the question of linking arms proposals. On Tuesday Soviet arms negotiator Viktor Karpov said in London that the issues of medium-range missiles and nuclear testing could now be negotiated separately from SDI. But the following day Gorbachev said that the Soviet arms proposals remained an inseparable package. Foreign ministry spokesman Gerasimov clarified the Soviet position the next day, saying that separate talks could continue but that no deals would be z signed without one on 2 Star Wars.

Not all West Europeans mourned the near-miss at Reykjavik. As one ambassador to NATO put it: “The worst thing after failure would have been success.” Gen. Hans-Joachim Mack of West Germany, NATO’s deputy commander, warned that the removal of all U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles from Europe would threaten to decouple the nuclear defence of Europe and the United States, leaving Europe at the mercy of the Warsaw Pact’s superior conventional forces and shortrange nuclear missiles.

The Iceland summit also focused new attention on Star Wars, which Reagan envisions as a nuclear shield but which many scientists say will

never work. Among them is University of Toronto scientist John Polanyi, who last week won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research into molecular changes in split-second chemical reactions — research which has been applied to SDI. A longtime critic of the program, Polanyi told Maclean’s last week that “every time you discover a new technology, the opposing side can turn that same technology—which is going to knock things out of the sky —to knock your things out of the sky.” Added Polanyi: “Philosophically it is exactly the wrong direction to go. It stems from a sort of despair about human ability to act rationally.”

In the wake of the Iceland failure, the su-

perpowers also returned to an old dispute: the U.S. order to expel 25 diplomats, alleged to be spies, from the Soviet mission to the United Nations. Washington had granted a two-week extension of its Oct. 1 deadline before the summit, but last week the state department announced that the remaining five diplomats must depart by Oct. 19. Soviet officials threatened to retaliate in kind. The moves had a familiar ring. They were a reminder that, despite the near-miss in Iceland, the superpowers remain fierce adversaries, worlds apart ideologically and geopolitically.