Which comes first in '85: US-Soviet nuclear talks or a summit?
DESPITE the Soviet Olympic boycott, it's a rare Kremlinologist who doubts that 1985 will see a resumption of US-Soviet bargaining - particularly on nuclear arms control.Skip to next paragraph
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Debate has already begun on whether the American President and Konstantin Chernenko ought to hold a low-key get-acquainted summit before arms bargaining starts.
The orthodox view is that a summit should be the carefully scripted end result of hardheaded nuclear bargaining. But some of Walter Mondale's advisers have urged the summit-first, arms control-second approach. Mr. Mondale himself reminded the nation's newspaper editors last week that he would like to start ''annual'' working summits. He would couple a summit to moratoriums on nuclear weapons testing. The moratoriums would be aimed at getting arms talks going.
There are ironies in this chicken-egg debate over which comes first, summits or arms talks. One savvy adviser to two recent presidents recently expressed concern to me that if Ronald Reagan is reelected, a summit-first approach with Mr. Chernenko would hold too many risks of personal confrontation. So he argued for arms talks first.
By contrast, one of Mondale's foreign-policy consultants worries that with either Reagan or Mondale elected, eagerness to start arms talks might lead the Russians to increase their bargaining price. So he argued for a low expectation first.
Differences among these experts may be less disturbing than they seem. The important factor is that both President Reagan and Mr. Mondale personally want to go into the history books as signers of a major nuclear-arms agreement. Reagan's recent attempts to revive the Geneva talks were not just election politics.
But the chicken-egg debate on summits does point up the need for more sensible planning of United States policy toward the men in the Politburo. And it serves as a reminder that for 65 years America has been handicapped by mercurial swings of attitude toward Moscow.
Joseph Nye Jr., a former State Department official and current Harvard professor of government, proposes some practical remedies in a book to be published tomorrow by the Council on Foreign Relations (''The Making of America's Soviet Policy''). Professsor Nye and 12 other scholars and policymakers look at what can be done to make US-USSR relations less prone to delay, waste, risk, and misunderstanding.
They argue for a number of reforms in the way the White House and Congress approach business with the Kremlin.
Nye's centerpiece recommendation calls for a ''Soviet assessment commission'' - a bipartisan panel that would report annually to president and Congress. Four of its members would be appointed by the president; four by the opposition leader in Congress (now Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.). Those eight would choose their own chairman. Each would serve for several years - perhaps a three-year renewable term.
The commission's job would be to assess, with as much agreement as possible, the mass of intelligence material available on the Soviet Union. It would then draw up each year whatever consensus (and dissents) its members reached on such matters as the growth and strategic intent of the Soviet military-industrial complex, the state of the Soviet economy, progress or lack of progress on economic reforms, increase or decrease of basic resources, and changes in the Kremlim political hierarchy.