Geneva: lingering but receding euphoria
THE captains and the commissars have long departed from Geneva, and so have some 3,000 of their sisters, cousins, and aunts. As for the news media, many a usually ebullient White House correspondent recalls his failure to penetrate the fondue curtain. The initial euphoria was to be expected but is likely to be short-lived. Both Washington and Moscow, at their joint press conference concluding the summit, spoke of a ``fresh start.'' More recent statements by President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev are considerably more restrained.Skip to next paragraph
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This is in recognition that bridging the difference between the two superpowers is most difficult. There remains a wide gulf between the United States and the Soviet Union about nuclear arms control, Afghanistan, Angola, other regional conflicts, and human rights.
The most positive aspect of the summit is that a dialogue, of sorts, took place between the US and the USSR. This is not an insignificant accomplishment. As Winston Churchill once said, ``Talking jaw to jaw is better than going to war.''
Another positive is that the principals are to meet again -- in 1986 in Washington and in 1987 in Moscow.
The mere scheduling of future summits hopefully may accelerate the pace of the arms control negotiations.
It is not to be discounted in reviewing the summit that President Reagan again demonstrated that he is too often and unjustly underrated. He conducted, with dignity and fortitude, several hours of face-to-face negotiations, without staff or cue-card assistance, and did not give away the store, particularly his commitment, rightly or wrongly, to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
And Secretary Gorbachev acted with civility, albeit with a rather distorted conception of the United States and its power structure.
The agreement, in principle, that both powers agree to a 50 percent reduction in nuclear weapons is neither new nor surprising. Both countries previously made the same commitment.
Unanswered is the ``mix.'' The goal of the US is to reduce the number and throw-weight of the Soviets' land-based ICBMs, the bulwark -- and most menacing element -- of their nuclear arsenal. And while the parties agreed to interim negotiations on intermediate nuclear weapons, there is no indication that the Soviets are prepared to forgo their superiority in SS-20s over our Pershings and cruise missiles.
The Soviet objective is drastic reductions of components of our triad: ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.
It will be a herculean task to agree upon an equivalence at the Geneva arms talks resuming in January. The summit provides no guidelines for a mutually acceptable compromise.
For the moment, at least, the Soviets have somewhat lowered their voices and President Reagan his rhetoric. How long this will continue is anyone's guess.
There are notable and, from the American standpoint, regrettable omissions in the joint statement that concluded the summit. Although I credit the President's statement that in his private conversations with Secretary Gorbachev he raised the questions of Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, other regional differences, and human rights, including repression of Jews and other nationalities and religions, the joint statement is virtually silent on these subjects. The obscure 14-word reference to humanitar ian concerns is gravely deficient, in light of the egregious violations by the Soviet Union of human rights in violation of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.
Inasmuch as the President, according to background reports, forthrightly addressed these subjects in his talks with Secretary Gorbachev, it would have been the counsel of wisdom to forgo a joint concluding statement rather than to agree to a communiqu'e silent on these important matters.
I presume that silence in the joint statement on ``star wars'' was our quid pro quo; hence, Mr. Gorbachev's rather defensive speech to the Supreme Soviet. Gorbachev was hard put to explain his failure to obtain agreement on elimination of star wars. Thus he was required to assure his Soviet colleagues that he had raised this subject at length in private conversations, somewhat similar to President Reagan's statements about raising the issues of Afghanistan, regional conflicts, and human rights in his co nversations with Mr. Gorbachev. Parenthetically, it seemed that Gorbachev was somewhat insecure upon his return to Moscow. It is to be remembered that orderly successions to power in the Soviet Union, since Stalin's death, are not easily achievable, as history demonstrates.
Cultural exchanges, the opening of an additional consulate in each country, the resumption of air service, and student exchanges are mere frosting on the cake. There is nothing basically wrong with agreement on these subjects, but we have agreed before in these areas without noticeably improving the climate of our relations on matters of more vital concern.
The vital issues remain the same -- arms control, Afghanistan, regional conflicts, human rights.
Yet, there is a lingering but receding euphoria about the summit in our country and apparently in the Soviet Union. Some of this euphoria is justified. At long last, the two superpowers are again talking -- if not to each other, at least at each other. This is all to the good. It is simply unrealistic to ignore the common interests of the United States and the Soviet Union to resume a dialogue on the critical issues that divide us.
Whatever the results, the fact that this dialogue is conducted and is to continue with civility and seriousness must be regarded as a plus in Soviet-American relations.
But as Mr. Reagan reminds us, amiability and expressions of goodwill are not substitutes for good ideas.
And with respect to good deeds, the jury is still out. Thus, d'etente is not at hand; rather, as President Reagan has aptly said, there is only ``a crack in the door.''
Arthur J. Goldberg is a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, US ambassador to the United Nations, and ambassador at large.