Negotiating with the Kremlin. Recent diplomatic history shows that agreement is possible with the right mix of patience, firmness -- and perseverance
AFTER a prolonged hiatus we are now negotiating nuclear arms control with the Russians at Geneva. Further, President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev will meet at the summit in November. The American attitude toward negotiating with the Russians is both ambivalent and the result of profound misapprehensions.Skip to next paragraph
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On the one hand we, by and large, welcome negotiations, in the hope that agreements will be reached for balanced nuclear arms control and other important matters.
On the other hand, we harbor deep-seated suspicions about any negotiations with the Russians.
At the risk of being simplistic, I shall attempt to shed some light about this much mooted issue of negotiating with the Soviets, in question-and-answer form.
1. Is it possible to negotiate treaties and agreements with the Russians? Yes. We have a surprising number of treaties, resolutions, and agreements, bilateral and multilateral, negotiated with the Soviets. I shall mention only a few: SALT I and SALT II (although SALT II has never been ratified, both parties are abiding by its terms), the Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Treaty on Outer Space, and the Antarctic Treaty. At the United Nations, important resolutions such as Resolutions 242 and 338 were negotiated, primarily between the Soviets and the US. The Helsinki Accord of 1975 warrants special mention because of its unique significance.
2. Do the Russians honor treaties and agreements solemnly entered into? By and large, yes, sometimes no. The verdict of history is that the agreement at Yalta about the future of Poland was not honored and this has affected American perceptions ever since. It would appear that the Soviet large radar installation at Krasnoyarsk is in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Perhaps the most flagrant violation of an agreement by the Russians is their almost disregard of human rights provisions of t he Helsinki Final Act. To be frank, the US, on occasion, has been in technical violation of the Test Ban Treaty, by reason of the venting of nuclear material following permissible underground tests. However, it has been demonstrated that these violations are largely accidental.
3. Do the Russians out-negotiate us? The answer, on the whole, is no. Russian negotiators are not 10 feet tall nor are they pigmies. American negotiators are not patsies. In some agreements and treaties the Russians seem to have an edge; on others we do. This is inevitable in agreements.
4. Are the Russians totally inflexible in negotiations? No. They are tenacious and yield obvious and untenable positions only at the last minute, thus sorely trying the patience of American negotiators.
But when their national interests are importantly involved, the Soviets are capable of both flexibility and expeditious decisions. Witness their agreement at the United Nations immediately following the 1967 war to a cease-fire without provision for complete withdrawal of Israeli forces to the June 1967 lines.
Again in 1973 (the Yom Kippur war), the Russians with almost unseemly speed agreed to Resolution 338 which provided for both a cease-fire and direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Arabs -- a concept strongly resisted by the Arab states.
5. Do American negotiators possess unlimited flexibility in negotiations, as President Reagan recently seems to have indicated, while Soviet negotiators are held on a much tighter leash? No. Ambassador Nitze's famous ``walk in the woods'' agreement with his Soviet counterpart was repudiated by both the US and the government of the Soviet Union. Perhaps what the President means is that the American negotiators have greater flexibility to explore various options. But the bottom line (ultimate terms of set tlement) requires, in our case, approval by the President and in the case of the Russians, approval by the Politburo. Gorbachev is not empowered to approve or settle on his own the nuclear balance or other transcendent matters.