Making a safer world

BOB LEVIN September 28 1987

Making a safer world

BOB LEVIN September 28 1987

Making a safer world


Two days of intensive talks lay behind them. Then, at the start of the third day U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and his Soviet counterpart, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, beamed brightly for the assembled cameras in Shultz’s woodpanelled Washington office. “We are beginning today in a good mood,” Shevardnadze said. And the “good mood” apparently continued.

Closeted together, the two diplomats worked through their morning deadline for the end of talks, sent out for tuna and turkey sandwiches, cancelled afternoon appointments and talked on. They broke that evening for Shevardnadze to visit the White House, where he met with President Ronald Reagan in the family quarters for 35 minutes. Then he returned to the state department for more discussions. The payoff came the next morning: in a brief statement at the White House last Friday, Reagan announced that he and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would hold a summit in Washington this fall—on a date to be determined—to sign an epochmaking treaty abolishing their nations’ mediumand shorter-range nuclear missiles.

The agreement-in-principle last week promised the first superpower arms accord in nearly a decade and the first agreement to eliminate a class of nuclear weapons since the atomic age dawned in the New Mexico desert 42 years ago. It also signalled the longsought breakthrough that had eluded the two superpowers at the ReaganGorbachev summit at Reykjavik, Iceland, nearly one year ago. Those talks broke down after a tantalizing nearmiss on a broader range of arms-control issues.

Shevardnadze said that while the latest discussions were difficult, “not for a moment did we have any doubts about their success.” Shultz declared that the tentative agreement may mark the “cresting” of the world’s nuclear arms buildup. He acknowledged that it embraced only a small proportion of the two sides’ total nuclear weapons arsenal—less than four per cent, in fact— and did not eliminate the nuclear threat. But he added: “You’ve got to start, and I think this agreement does that. Things have changed a lot be-

tween the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The accord has not been quite finalized. Shultz noted that technical issues remained to be worked out before the

Washington summit, particularly the question of verification and the timetable for destruction of the weapons. However, said Shultz, “all matters of principle have been resolved.” Essentially, the accord embraces the socalled global double-zero option, which calls for the elimination of all nuclear weapons with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles not only from Europe but from Asia as well. Washington also saved face on the thorny question of 72 outdated Pershing 1A missiles based in and owned by West Germany.

Moscow had insisted that the missiles, which would carry American warheads, be included in the talks, but Washington maintained that the Pershings were systems that should not be part of a bilateral pact. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl broke that deadlock in late August when he announced that if the superpowers reached an arms agreement this year, Bonn would scrap the Pershings. In turn, the Soviets last week agreed to exclude any mention of the missiles from the final accord.

The agreement will represent a triumph for both Reagan and Gorbachev. Their efforts have been opposed by hard-liners for different reasons. Now, Reagan himself, a longtime opponent of

arms agreements and a passionate anti-Communist, is trying to recover from the Iran-contra scandal and, with just 15 months left in office, is eager to write his name in the history books as a peacemaker. Gorbachev, on the other hand, is anxious to divert resources from weapons-building to his planned modernization of the stagnant Soviet economy. The deal, said Stephen Cohen,

professor of Soviet politics and history at Princeton University, “is enormously important, not so much for military as for political reasons.” He added: “Gorbachev at last has something to take

home for all the concessions he has made over two years. And the most right-wing president in recent history will sign an agreement abolishing nuclear weapons that are still usable. That act will give momentum and legitimacy to policies for not just limiting but destroying nuclear weapons.”

As such, the tentative accord was warmly welcomed in the United States

and elsewhere—although some observers had reservations. Republican Senator Ted Stevens declared it to be nothing less than the beginning of a new era. Said Stevens: “I think we’ll be

heading into a period of trust and leaving a period of mistrust.” And in Ottawa, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark called the deal a “quite historic breakthrough.” But while British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe characterized the agreement as a “formidable achievement” for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he added that it must be followed by an accord limiting conventional forces in Europe, an area in which the Soviets enjoy a “very substantial superiority.” French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac called for reductions in long-range nuclear missiles as well. Said Chirac: “I do not want us to move toward the illusion that an important step has been taken in security matters.”

In fact, the superpowers did hold out hope for other future agreements— and not only on long-range missiles. At a joint press conference the day before Reagan’s announcement, spokesmen for Washington and Moscow said that the two nations had agreed to begin talks on nuclear testing. The discussions, the spokesmen said, will be designed to work out verification measures that would allow the two sides to ban testing altogether.

But officials reported little progress on resolving their dispute over Washington’s Strategic Defence Initiative

(SDI), the space-based missile system known as Star Wars. Reagan’s pet project is staunchly opposed by the Soviets, and it was that disagreement which jettisoned the Reykjavik summit. And late last week Pentagon officials said that they were planning to speed up Star Wars research, and Shultz reiterated, “We will never agree to restrictions that make it hard to pursue the Strategic Defence Initiative.” But Shultz added that Washington had agreed to try “to make the situation more predictable” by agreeing on the “concept” of a nonwithdrawal period from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would delay SDI deployment. For months the United States had been threatening to apply a more permissive interpretation of the treaty in order to do advanced testing of the space defence system. Then, earlier last week, the Senate approved a proposal that would compel the administration to strictly observe the ABM treaty for two years.

From the very beginning of Shevardnadze’s visit, it was apparent that serious talks—and carefully planned public relations—were on the agenda. “We have come here in order to roll up our sleeves and work,” Shevardnadze said after his plane had touched down at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He carried a letter from Gorbachev that, after translation, covered eight doublespaced pages; it was, said Shultz, “a good, informative letter” dealing mostly with arms control issues. Before the talks even began, Reagan presided over a Rose Garden ceremony in which Shultz and Shevardnadze signed an agreement—worked out earlier, but saved to get the meetings off to a positive start—setting up a second MoscowWashington communications link. The new link—supplementing the so-called hotline—will employ high-speed satellite communications between centres in the two capitals to allow the superpowers to exchange data on missile tests and other issues.

As the talks progressed—ranging from nuclear arms to such topics as human rights, the Iran-Iraq war and the Soviet presence in Afghanistan—Soviet officials added to the growing sense of optimism about a nuclear deal. In Moscow, Gorbachev said that a treaty on mediumand shorter-range missiles was “possible and realistic,” and could be signed by the end of the year. And back in Washington, Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov declared that “history is in the making.” Gerasimov also

showed himself to be a clever media manager. In announcing the start of nuclear-testing talks—while reporters waited for the results of the ShultzShevardnadze session, but had no news to report—Gerasimov said: “We’re being compassionate. We’ve decided to

give you something today to chew on.”

When the tentative deal was finally reached, Reagan praised Shultz and Shevardnadze for having gone “beyond the call of duty.” And a joint U.S.-Soviet statement indicated that negotiators in Geneva had been instructed to resolve remaining technical issues and complete a draft of the treaty. Key among the technical matters is the timetable for destruction of the U.S. and Soviet weapons. According to U.S. officials, the Soviets want all nuclear material in the warheads, along with their guidance systems, removed immediately; the actual missiles would be destroyed over five years. Washington, on the other hand, wants some missiles to remain in operation until the final deadline for their destruction, which the Americans put at three years.

Details of verification must also be worked out. The U.S. negotiators have softened their position, offering to limit the number of short-notice—or “challenge”—inspections. But according to U.S. sources, Washington also wants to conduct a physical inventory at every Soviet mediumand shorter-range missile site before the destruction program gets under way, while Moscow wants to

restrict access to a few sample sites.

The commitment, said one U.S. official, was “to work our backsides off on the details. It is not a commitment to sign any old thing because there is supposed to be a summit this fall.” Outside events might also endanger the delicate

negotiations. That was evident last week when the Pentagon announced that a Soviet soldier had fired upon a U.S. military vehicle that was part of a liaison team in East Germany; one American soldier was hit in the arm by a bullet fragment. But in Washington, Shevardnadze, eager to keep the arms talks on track, swiftly apologized for the incident.

Even if a treaty is signed, some experts will remain unenthusiastic. “It is not a bad agreement,” said Dimitri Simes, a Soviet studies professor at Washington’s Georgetown University. “But what really bothers me is all the euphoria. This four-per-cent solution does not mean any major changes in U.S.-Soviet relations.” That is probably the case. But it is also the case that the two sides have at last addressed the critical issue of reducing nuclear weapons—and actually reached tentative agreement to destroy some of them. For a world that lives with a perpetual nuclear nightmare, even the symbolism alone of that act was clearly welcome.