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What will come of the Geneva talks?

The talks in Geneva this week between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko will not, in themselves, bring arms control in our time. Despite President Reagan's promise that nuclear weapons reductions are his "number one priority," the official line from the White House on the eve of the talks was the modest hope that they would lead to further bargaining.

Clearly, Shultz and Gromyko are not in Switzerland to talk about arms control. They are there to talk about talking about arms control. They will see if they can agree on what to negotiate about and how best to proceed. Nevertheless, the Geneva colloquy is more than a media event. It is an attempt to resume the dialogue that was broken off when the Soviet representatives walked out of the intermediate-range nuclear forces (I.N.F.) and strategic arms reduction (START) talks in 1983 to protest the U.S. deployment of Pershing 2 and cruise missiles in Europe. If nothing comes of it, Ronald Reagan will be the first President since Harry Truman who did not negotiate some sort of nuclear weapons agreement with the Russians.

What will follow the Shultz-Gromyko face-off? The Nation asked a number of leading figures involved with arms control and disarmament efforts whether they were optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming encounter and the negotiations that might follow.

Most of those who responded expressed little faith in Reagan's self-proclaimed commitment to arms control. Peace activists who are skeptical of arms control, as opposed to disarmament, simply don't care whether Reagan has seen the light. As Daniel Berrigan put it, arms control is a "weasel code for continuing the arms-building--uncontrollably," a sentiment echoed by many others. Jim and Shelley Douglass, two activists who live near the railroad tracks that enter the Trident submarine base in Poulsbo, Washington, have no jopes that what happens in geneva will stop the trains that rattle the windows of their house from carrying warheads.

To be sure, a few respondents were guardedly optimistic. Senator Alan Cranston, whose bid for the Presidency centered on his support for a a nuclear freeze, said he takes Reagan at his word: "Four years of ex issues, global realities and the hopes and fears of the American people have undoubtedly all had a strong effect on the President. He seems to have faced and accepted the fact that there is no promising alternative to sustained arms control efforts." Herbert Scoville Jr., president of the Arms Control Association, called the Shultz-Gromyko talks a signal of the "beginning of serious attempts to limit nuclear and space weaons." Leslie Cagan, program coordinator of Mobilization for Survival, noted that "any direct negotiations between the two superpowers must be encoraged."

But even the optimists do not expect much more than posturing and, at best, a paper agreement. Hard -line opponents of any arms conrol agreement remain well entrenched in the national security bureaucracy--the same folks who sabotaged the I.N.F. and the START talks. "New policies require new policy-makers," commented Jeremy Stone, director of the Federation of American Scientists. "Since the President has decided not to change the players, there must be a strong presumption against new [policy] departures."

The Administration's policies on nuclear weapons also place obstacles in the path of a worthwhile agreement. Reagan continues to push for his strategic defense initiative (better known as Star Wars) while calling for reductions in offensive weapons by both sides. If Reagan's views become the U.S. negotiating position, little progress will be made. In that regard, Jane Wales, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, predicted: "American negotiators will likely try to avoid any constraints on 'modernization' of delivery systems while delaying serious talks on banning space weaponry and underground nuclear tests. The Soviet arms control agenda is the polar opposite." The question, according to Representative Les AuCoin of Oregon, isn't "when or where we negotiate; it's what we negotiate." That is, will Reagan and the Russians seek to halt the development of a new generation of faster and more accurate weapons?

"If and when we sse the Administration proposing to control speed and accuracy, we'll have reason to think it's become serious about arms control," said freshman Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. "Otherwise we can be sure the business in Geneva is nothing more than a pubic relations exercise."

And what about the Russians? Are they more interested in shadow than substance? How can we be sue they are ready to bargain seriously? Roger Molander, president of the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies and a former staff member of the National Security Council, offered some criteria for judging Soviet seriousness. Look first, he said, at their opening proposal on long-range weapons. "Is it pie-in-the-sky good deal for them or a reasonable from the SALT II limits?" Then look at their response when the United States raises the subject of on-site inspection to verify cruise missile limits in Europe. There are recent indications tht the Russians may well be prepared to yield a bit on that front.

But we are getting a head of the game, Geneva is only the opening round, and it would be the closing one as well. We must hope that Reagan has heard the American people's demands for conrete progress on arms control and will agree, at the very least, to limit antisatellite testing, which Atlantic contributing editor Thomas Powers noted is the "logical place to begin." Whether the President has heard those demands or not, the respondents emphasized, the people must continue to pressure him. We can't leave the task of reducing the risk of nuclear war to a jonny-come-lately. Here are some of the other replies we received. I.F. STONE

I'm pessimistic. In its response to the freeze movement the American public (including the delegates to the Republican National Conventional last summer) has shown that it believes that enough is enough. But the first hurdle for the Geneva talks is to give up antisatellite testing before the arms race enguls outer space, and there is no sign whatsoever that President Reagan understands the issue or is ready to abandon his Star Wars scenario. Down that road, terrifyingly near, is the end of the antiballistic missile treaty and, with it, all hope of curbing offensive nuclear weapons.

We are trapped in contradictions. The country fears nuclear war but is addicted to the arms race and the jobs it creates. The mounting arsenal of weaponry makes the country feel good. Vapid talk of being strong hides the truth that the more the weapons, the more the danger; the "better" the weaponry, the more insecure we become. In the meantime, the pending arms talks are already being used as an argument against even piddling reductions in the swelling military budget, lest it send a wrong signal to the Russians. The Administration is going to Geneva because it has finally realized that an arms negotiation fig leaf is an essential component in maintaining the arms race. JANE GRUENEBAUM

Any arms control discussion between the United States and the Soviet Union is a cause for hope, if not optimism. However, symbol cannot substitute for substance.

Because there has been so little public debate about the requirements for sound arms control, I remain skeptical about the prospects of anything meaningful coming out of the talks. The most serious threat to our national security is continued U.S.-Soviet modernization of nuclear weapons. Allowing such modernization will make our bombers and land-based missiles more vulnerable, increase the pressure for a first strike, make an accidental nuclear war more likely and make nuclear weapons reductions more difficult to secure. Only a freeze on the production and testing of new nuclear weapons can halt such a dangerous development.

Negotiations must be based on an understanding of the threat posed by unrestrained nuclear modernization. The prospects for successful negotiations would be greatly enhanced if, as a first step, a moratorium was declared on testing of antisatellite weapons and nuclear warheads and flight testing of ballistic missiles.

Intense public pressure demanding progress and calling for an immediate moratorium on all testing will signal the negotiators that merely talking while the arms race proceeds is not acceptable. RANDALL FORSBERG

I believe that President Reagan is interested in having some kind of dialogue with the Russians and will make an effort to open negotiations. But they will not lead to any significant restraints on the arms race.

One might expect, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union to agree to perpetuate the SALT I and SALT II ceilings in their forces. But nothing will curb the strategic defense initiative (Star Wars). I don't expect to see my arms control move to head off the MX missile, the B-1 and Stealth bombers, the cruise and Trident 2 missiles. I cannot imagine the Reagan Administration constraining any of the major features of the arms race.

As for the Soviet Union, it is interested in maintaining a dialogue, though it has said it does not want cosmetic agreements. Such a dialogue would restrain the Administration's anti-Soviet rhetoric. Although I don't see any limitations on the arms race coming out of the new talks, there might be a modest improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations. That would be a good thing, but not good enough. We need talks aimed at brining about a fundamental change in military policy. RONALD V. DELLUMS

It has been said that the difference between an optionist and a pessimist is that the latter is better informed. Judging from the record of the United States and the Soviet Union in curbing the escalation of the nuclear arms race, and the revelations about opposition to arms control within the Reagan Administration in Strobe Talbott's Deadly Gambits, there seems little prospect for success in the months ahead.

But 1985 is a new year, so one must hope that sanity will finally prevail over irrationality at Geneva in the necessary collective effort to defuse the growing danger of a global nuclear holocaust. Both sides are at fault in creating a climate of mutual fear and distrust, and both have the moral and political responsibility to the rest of humankind to halt and then reverse the nuclear arms race.

I am not a unilateral disarmer, but I am committed to constructive unilateral initiatives by both sides that would demonstrate a sense of serious purpose. The United States should prove its good faith by declaring a moratorium on the further development and testing of all space weapons, and a freeze on the further depolyment of Pershing 2 and cruise misslies. Similarly, the Soviets should respond by declaring a freeze on the further deployment of SS-20s, SS-21s and SS-22s in Europe and Asia. Further, they should fully explain the purpose of the phased-array radar complex that is under construction at Abalakova in Krasnoyarsk province, a system that may be in violation of the provisions of the ABM treaty of 1972.

Such responsible initiatives would be a mutual recognition that comprehensive arms restraint and reduction agreements are an absolute necessity if life on his planet is to continue. BERNARD T. FELD

Despite my congenital optimism, I am pessimistic about the prospects for any progress resulting from the Shultz-Gromyko talks. I simply do not see how a country can arm furiously and, at the same time, seriously control the arms race. How can a country have an announced policy of preparing to fight (and to win, whatever that means) space wars and yet strive for the nonmilitarization of space? How long can the 1972 ABM treaty--the only successful arms control measure of the past quarter-century--last when both sides are openly developing and testing missile defenses and counterdefenses? How long will we and the Russians be able to maintain the mutually advantageous and stabilizing aspects of our open-skies policies if we develop and deploy antisatellite systems?

There is little hope for arms control while both sides continue to give free rein and lavish support to weapons laboratories and their weaponers. IT is the hallmark of our time that any serious negotiation takes longer to come to fruition than the time needed to develop the weapons that will circumvent the arms control measures under consideration. As long as we permit that situation to prevail, we will continue our relentless march toward disaster. ERWIN KNOLL

I am reasonably confident that talks will take place and that they will result in some sort of arms control agreement. I believe the Reagan Administration has succeeded, with its reckless rhetoric and mindless military spending, in thoroughly frightening the Soviet leadership. Recent Soviet statements suggest an eagerness to reach accommodation even on terms that might have been unpalatable in the past.

At the same time, the Reagan Administration seems to have learned during the recent Presidential campaign that most Americans do not approve of missile-rattling, that they favor an active pursuit of peace. The President substantially moderated his tough talk during the campaign and would probably see a new arms control agreement as an asset to his party in the 1988 Presidential race.

My pessimism centers on the substantive value of any new arms control agreement. The SALT I treaty was nothing but a mutual agreement to perpetuate and even intensify the arms race. SALT II, unratified but observed by both super-powers, has had exactly the same effect; indeed, it has been observed primarily because it has permitted virtually every new weapon that either the Soviet Union or the United States could develop and deploy during the treaty's term.

There is no reason to expect more from any new agreement until we are ready to abandon the idea of arms control, which is part of the problem, rather than the solution, and embrace the concept of disarmament. And we will do that only by buidling a far larger and more insistent peace constituency than we have managed to muster so far. HAROLD WILLENS

I am optimistic because I believe second-term Presidents unfailingly turn their eyes from the hustings to the history books and this President's main chance for immortality lies in reversing the nuclear arms race. Moreover, the re-education of Ronald Reagan on this issue seems real when one compares his 1980 and 1984 campaign statements. The process that led to his enlightenment should make Reagan proud, since he places more faith in people than in government: it is the American people who have been making their political leaders understand how high a price we are apt to pay for pursuing pro-nuclear policies. But I am also pessimistic because Ronald Reagan may rely on the wrong subordinates to do the right thing for the country--subordinates who equate strategic arms reduction with building 17,000 nuclear weapons and who cannot see that Star Wars is a strategically destabilizing, economically debilitating fantasy. GORDON ADAMS

The United States and the Soviet Union have been engaged in a strategic war for four years. Since 1981 the United States has added to its arsenal 400 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, more than 100 Pershing 2 missiles, roughly 1,000 ground-, air- and sea-launched cruise missiles and more than 2,000 nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union has acquired 400 ICBM warheads, 600 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and at least 60 bombers. As a result, each nuclear power is weaker and more vulnerable. Arms control by mutual threat is a dismal failure.

The Geneva talks are a fragile reed on which to hang our hopes for change. Two bureaucratic enclaves contend for the soul of the Reagan arms control policy: the Defense Department, with its endless effort to coerce the Russians by outspending them, and the State Department, with its negotiations that have no goal or purpose. neither agency seeks arms control. The Geneva talks are motivated by domestic politics, not a desire for international peace. They are intended to silence America's first major public debate about national security since the 1960s and to sell Star Wars, the MX missile and the defense budget to a recalcitrant Congress. As a result, any arms negotiations will take a long time--perhaps four more years. Without concentrated Congressional and public pressure, there will be little progress. ADAM HOCHSCHILD

Paul Nitze and Yuli Kvitsinsky have already taken their walk in the woods, so where is there left for them to go? To the mountains, maybe? Watch for some dramatic maneuver like that, which will be trumpeted as a break-through by both sides. From it will emerge SALT III, which Reagan will go to Moscow to sign. Air Force One will touch down at Sheremetyevo Airport at 2 A.M. Moscow time, so as to be carried live on U.S. prime-time TV. Reagan will give a little speech about how we have achieved peace through strength.

What will SALT III contain? Like the two previous SALTs, it will be a rationalization of the arms race, only at a higher level. Pershing 2s, cruise missiles and SS-20s will be frozen at the levels in place at the signing, which of course will be much greater than now. Numbers of troops in Europe will be reduced but only slightly. There will be certain restrictions on laser-beam weapons in space. The Pentagon will agree to that because by then it will have learned that they don't work. And for the most deadly, most destabilizing future weapon of all, the Trident 2 missile and its Soviet equivalent, there will be a ceiling, allowing each side to build, say, only a hundred.

Why does the prospect of nonsensical agreements like this not enrage the public and draw them into the streets as it did the hundreds of thousands who filled Central Park in 1982? That is one of the great mysteries of our time. Unless we in the peace movement can solve it, we risk a world where the only things left for SALT IV to regulate will be sticks and stones and clumps of radioactive earth.
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Author:Corn, David
Publication:The Nation
Date:Jan 12, 1985
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