The nuclear freeze movement: a window of opportunity

The people have spoken on the nuclear freeze. In virtually all areas where freeze resolutions were on the ballot, except Arizona, they were approved, in most places by substantial margins.

What do freeze supporters want?

1. The freeze movement is flexible not doctrinaire.

Most voters who pulled the ''yes'' lever next to freeze resolutions on Nov. 2 (unlike some freeze organizers and spokesmen) are not rigidly wedded to any one approach to nuclear arms control, nor do they expect US negotiators to adhere rigidly to the details of freeze resolutions. In fact, several different versions of the freeze have coexisted peacefully. Freeze supporters do not necessarily prefer the Kennedy-Hatfield freeze resolution to the other versions and probably could not tell you how they differ from the Broomfield resolution approved by the House of Representatives in August and supported by the President.

If the freeze movement is so diverse, what is the common denominator that holds it together? Very simply, freeze supporters share an overwhelming desire for meaningful limitations on nuclear weapons, for agreements that will reduce the danger that such weapons will ever be used, and for an end to the arms race. More than anything else supporters of the freeze are united by fear of nuclear war.

2. Freeze supporters want negotiation not confrontation.

Far from being manipulated by the Soviet Union, freeze supporters generally distrust and fear the Soviets but they also believe that it is possible for the US and the Soviet Union to find areas of common interest and negotiate mutually advantageous agreements - not only in nuclear arms control but also in other bilateral issues, such as trade.

Above all, freeze supporters believe that nuclear weapons make it vital that we and the Soviets find ways to live with each other peacefully. Freeze supporters want the Reagan administration to stop talking about fighting nuclear wars and negotiate seriously with the Soviets to limit nuclear arms.

3. Freeze supporters can be patient but want evidence of progress.

Most freeze supporters would readily admit that there are no easy solutions to the dangers of nuclear weapons. They would probably admit that freeze resolutions - even when approved by large majorities of voters - are not magic formulas that guarantee instant arms control. After all, they want a freeze that is bilateral and verifiable. That means step-by-step negotiations with the Soviets are still necessary to work out the details and translate public sentiment into meaningful limits on nuclear arms.

But having said that, it is pretty clear that freeze supporters want results sooner rather than later.

4. The freeze movement is not the ''Rubik's Cube'' of 1982.

This movement is likely to be with us for some time. The foundations for a national movement with considerable staying power are just beginning to be laid. Electoral success is heady stuff and likely to encourage current supporters and attract new ones. Broadly based educational efforts have only just started. Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, organizations with broad national memberships, have only just begun to educate their members on the nuclear issue. Churches are also becoming active, the Roman Catholic Church most recently. And they are not alone. On Nov. 11 more than 500 colleges and universities across the country will conduct teach-ins on the theme of ''Solutions to the Nuclear Arms Race'' organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In short, a broad and powerful national constituency for arms control is in place and growing. It represents a wide window of opportunity. The question is how best to take advantage of it.

One way is to build on agreements that have already been negotiated. SALT II contains two fundamental components of a freeze that could be rapidly transformed into a formal agreement. Moreover, questions of veri-fiability - a source of intense controversy with some freeze proposals - have already been discussed and resolved to the satisfaction of many skeptics. First, SALT II freezes the number of ballistic missile warheads (MIRVs) permitted on US and Soviet missiles - both ICBMs and SLBMs. Even the Reagan administration regards missile warheads as one of the most important items to control. SALT II also freezes the deployment of new ICBMs permitting but one exception on each side. These provisions could be translated into an agreement in a comparatively short time and would contribute far more to US security than the present uncertain status of SALT and promises of future agreements.

Still another component of a freeze is readily at hand. A comprehensive ban on the testing of nuclear weapons could be completed with relative ease if the administration were interested in doing so. The major elements of a CTB have already been negotiated - even including agreement in principle on on-site inspection for verification. When US, Soviet, and British negotiators last met in 1980, the major unresolved difficulty was not how many remote seismic stations would be permitted on Soviet territory to verify compliance but how many would be permitted in the United Kingdom.

The pieces are there to be picked up. The public consensus in favor of reductions in nuclear arms already exists. Only the political will to take the needed steps is missing.

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