Western leaders wait for Kremlin to respond to recent overtures
When Soviet President Yuri Andropov passed on last month, the Western allies instinctively reacted in concert. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and American Vice-President George Bush all went to the funeral in Moscow and met new party general secretary Konstantin Chernenko.Skip to next paragraph
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And if French President Francois Mitterrand didn't attend, that perhaps had less to do with his attitude toward the Kremlin than with his attitude toward his domestic ally-rival and the Kremlin's client, the French Communist Party.
Remarkably, given the past four years, all the Western visitors to Moscow carried roughly the same message. They hoped the changeover in the Kremlin could provide an opportunity for a new beginning in East-West relations.
They certainly didn't expect any revolution in Soviet thinking from what was basically a continuation of the old collective leadership in the Kremlin.
They did hope, however, that some sterile tactical choices made by the Kremlin in 1982 and 1983 might be dropped, now that the personal prestige of the top leader was no longer staked on them. The collective leadership under a new leader had the leeway to rethink policy, a leeway it did not have so long as Andropov lived.
The Western overtures to Moscow did not begin with Andropov's funeral, of course. They coalesced, perhaps, with NATO's successful generation of decisive political support for Euromissile deployment at the end of 1983 in the three countries of initial stationing - Britain, Italy, and especially West Germany.
With the stationing, the allies believed Moscow had been thwarted in its grab for sudden theater nuclear superiority in stationing 243 SS-20 aimed at Europe between 1977 and 1983. They believed NATO's new Euromissiles unmistakably signaled Moscow that such a surge was unacceptable and that the West had the political will to counter it.
There was thus no longer the need to display determination by confrontational rhetoric. The Pershing II and cruise missiles on the ground in Greenham Common, Schwabisch Gmund, and Comiso spoke louder than words.
Domestically, the need changed from the mobilizing of public opinion to calming it down. A strong impulse to the antimissile movement, the West Germans pointed out early, came from popular fear of a heightened danger of nuclear war.
It therefore behooved NATO governments to demonstrate - by promoting continued East-West German amity, the new Stockholm conference on security-building measures, a new environmental conference, and whatever other East-West dialogue could be mustered - that Europe was no closer to war after than before the new Euromissiles were emplaced.
The West Germans lobbied for such tactics, and they got formal endorsement of them in the conciliatory ''signal from Brussels'' to Moscow as the NATO ministers met early last December.
Again and again Bonn argued that firm maintenance of the military balance (as in the new Euromissile deployments) must be complemented by readiness to explore areas of mutual interest (like preserving the political status quo in Europe) and mutual need (like arms control).
Philosophically, West Germany contended that the sun of East-West contacts would do far more than the cold wind of hostility to forward the (admittedly slow) evolution of the Soviet Union into a more tolerant live-and-let-live power.
Britain's ''Iron Lady,'' while skeptical of the West German philosophy, had nonetheless also decided that East-West confrontation had reached a dead end. She signaled her shift at the Tory party conference last October, offered herself as a forerider of dialogue by visiting Hungary in January, and advertised her interest in visiting Moscow as well.
In Paris, President Mitterand was underging a comparable metamorphosis.