Gorbachev's long reach

KEVIN SCANLON March 16 1987

Gorbachev's long reach

KEVIN SCANLON March 16 1987

Gorbachev's long reach


It was a clear case of first-strike diplomacy—and the fallout was impressive. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s surprise proposal last week to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles (INF) in Europe within five years sent the Western alliance into a diplomatic spin. At first some members of NATO seemed suspicious of Soviet intentions. But by the end of the week the 12 European members of the 16country alliance appeared to agree with Canada and President Ronald Reagan that the offer represented too good a chance to be missed. Indeed, on March 4 U.S. negotiators unveiled a 40-page draft treaty aimed at turning Gorbachev’s proposal into a firm agreement. Said Reagan: “The change in the Soviet position is a great breakthrough.

This is a great moment of hope for all mankind.”

The dramatic turn

came as Soviet and American negotiators in Geneva neared the end of their seventh round of arms-control talks since March, 1985. There had been no progress since last October, when Gorbachev insisted at his Reykjavik summit meeting with Reagan that a pact on intermediate weapons must be linked to a freeze in development of the U.S. space defence system, known as Star Wars. It was his unexpected lifting of that condition last week that suddenly changed the prospects at Geneva. Announcing his concession, Gorbachev said that there was now a “real opportunity to free our common European home from a considerable portion of the nuclear burden within the shortest possible time.”

Initial Western reaction to Gorbachev’s offer mixed optimism with caution. In Ottawa, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark told the Commons that the

development at the arms talks was “very good news” and cause for celebration. U.S. and NATO spokesmen stressed that there could be no INF treaty without strict rules to prevent cheating—and also agreement to reduce the Warsaw Pact’s huge advantage in shorter-range nuclear missiles. But when the Americans produced their draft treaty, which included provisions for rigorous onsite inspection and parity on shorter-range weapons, the Soviets raised no objections, and the way ahead seemed clear. Said Soviet foreign ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov: “Our initial reaction to this is very positive. We see things have started to move, and we would like to move them quickly.” Indeed, both sides agreed to extend the present round of talks for three weeks. Maynard Glitman, the U.S. negotiator on intermediate-range weapons, said that although it might take six months to hammer out a treaty, “between the two groups working together we should have a very good document at the end.” As well, President Reagan announced on March 6 that he would maintain the momentum of the Geneva talks by sending Secretary of State George Shultz to Moscow on April 13 for a four-day meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The President said that the talks would review “the entirety of our relationship, including regional conflicts, human rights and bilateral issues, and to consolidate the progress we have made.” And he added, “Most important, I hope these discussions will result in recommendations to General Secretary Gorbachev and me on further steps we might take in all aspects of our relations, including the Geneva negotiations.”

For many Western European governments, the political advantages of an INF treaty had to be balanced against possible military disadvantages. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany both said that they viewed the Gorbachev initiative as a step forward—on condition that any eventual INF pact contain a solid Soviet commit-

ment to reduce short-range nuclear weapons, as well as chemical arms and conventional forces. The Warsaw Pact greatly outnumbers NATO on those fronts.

Indeed, British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said that the Soviet leader was simply agreeing to something that the West had been advocating for six years. That was a reference to President Reagan’s 1981 offer of a “zero option,” in which the United States would refrain from deploying intermediate missiles in Europe if the Soviets would withdraw theirs already in place. Said Howe of Gorbachev’s proposal: “ It’s not an offer. It’s a response to a long-standing Western offer.”

But in Brussels, U.S. Gen. Bernard Rogers, the retiring commander of European NATO forces, said that the zero option was never meant to be taken seriously. “Some people agreed to a zero-option proposal because they never thought it would be accepted by the Soviet Union,” he told the Belgian Royal Institute for International Affairs. Rogers said that agreement on INF without linkage to other issues, such as limiting conventional forces, would seriously threaten the security of Western Europe.

Military leaders at NATO headquarters in Brussels agreed with Rogers’s assessment.

In off-the-record briefings to journalists, they said that a total withdrawal of intermediate nuclear missiles from Europe could leave the continent dangerously exposed to a crushing Soviet superiority in short-range nuclear weapons and conventional forces. Said one Canadian diplomat at NATO headquarters: “Unadulterated, a zero-option pact would work out to Moscow’s clear advantage. It would strip NATO to its nuclear underpants.”

Those sentiments were clearly taken into account by the U.S. negotiating team in drafting its response to Gorbachev’s overture. And following a briefing in Ottawa of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Defence Minister Perrin Beatty and the External Affairs minister last Thursday by Paul Nitze, the U.S. special adviser on arms control, Clark assured the United States that Canada would continue to offer

its full support for the U.S. negotiating position in Geneva.

Still, some leading analysts said that the Soviet threat was overestimated. At the London-based Institute for European Defence & Strategic Studies, disarmament expert Donald Kerr said, “While the current conventional force balance does favor the Warsaw Pact, it is definitely not of the order to encourage the Soviets to start a shooting war.” Kerr said that now that an INF pact was a possibility, NATO’s commanders found themselves in a unique position to bargain for increased conventional forces, for which they had long been clamoring. Added Kerr: “As the price of its agreement to a nuclear deal, the NATO establishment could now extract a pledge from governments to enhance the alliance’s

The European Missile Balance

NATO PERSHING II (one warhead, range: 1,120 miles), 108 deployed in West Germany. CRUISE(one warhead, range: 1,550 miles), 208 deployed in Britain, Italy, Belgium and West Germany.

WARSAW PACT SS-20 (three warheads, range: 2,300 miles), 270 according to NATO, 243 according to the Soviets, deployed in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and western Soviet Union. SS-4 (one warhead, range: 1,120 miles) 112, now being phased out.

conventional profile.”

Clearly, an INF agreement with the Soviets would be politically popular throughout Western Europe. European governments bucked public opinion to accept the deployment of 572 U.S. nuclear missiles on their soil beginning in 1983. There are already 316 weapons stationed in Europe, and the antimissile sentiment has grown. A February poll by The Guardian, a leading British daily, found that an average of 65 per cent of those surveyed in Britain, France, Italy and West Germany were opposed to the presence of U.S. intermediate missiles in Europe. Said John Roper, of London’s Royal Institute for International Affairs: “It will be polit-

ically difficult for Britain and West Germany to be seen as opposing a pullout on any grounds. The public will say, ‘You told us that this is what you wanted all along, and now that the Soviets are ready to give it, you won’t take it.’ ”

But for Thatcher, the timing of the Soviet proposal appeared to be a disappointment: politically, it had come too soon. For weeks rumors had circulated in Geneva that Gorbachev was preparing to announce a change in Soviet policy on intermediaterange missiles, and Tory strategists were hoping that he would delay his announcement until after Thatcher’s visit to Moscow later this month, allowing her to claim some of the credit.

But for Thatcher, the timing of the Soviet proposal appeared to be a disappointment: politically, it had come too soon. For weeks rumors had circulated in Geneva that Gorbachev was preparing to announce a change in Soviet policy on intermediaterange missiles, and Tory strategists were hoping that he would delay his announcement until after Thatcher’s visit to Moscow later this month, allowing her to claim some of the credit.

Still, senior Tories said that Gorbachev’s proposal would provide an electoral boost for Thatcher, who is expected to go to the polls later this year. She is likely to argue during the election campaign that Gorbachev’s willingness to accept the zero option without linking it to Star Wars vindicates Britain’s 1983 decision to deploy the missiles and Reagan’s refusal at Reykjavik to delay the development of Star Wars. As Howe put it, “The Soviet statement is an eloquent testimony to the firmness and resolve of the alliance.”