The right agenda at Reykjavik
PRESIDENT Reagan should not allow General Secretary Gorbachev to dictate the agenda of this weekend's mini-summit in Iceland. Moscow would like to focus almost exclusively on arms control. It contends that Soviet repression is essentially an internal matter. The Kremlin also charges that America's own record is far from admirable and that the United States does not have the right to teach morality to others. On regional issues the Politburo does not see much chance of accommodation. And the Soviets would like to highlight an alleged US stonewalling on weapons cuts rather than their own seven-year-old war in Afghanistan, as well as military backing of a wide variety of brutal dictatorial regimes and terrorist factions. Michael S. Gorbachev is the beneficiary of the Western tendency to equate peace with arms control. Both in the US and in Europe there will be a strong temptation to judge the outcome of the Reykjavik parley by progress on arms control. Ronald Reagan has no choice but to take this political reality into account. And there are some useful things in the arms control field that can be accomplished.Skip to next paragraph
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But the roots of the US-Soviet rivalry are not in weapons buildup. The buildup naturally reinforces mutual fears and suspicions, and it is the responsibility of both leaders to try to contain it as much as possible. That is especially true because, at the present level of nuclear overkill, many current weapons programs are redundant. Their costs are disproportionate to what is achieved in terms of security. And they divert resources and attention from the much-needed modernization of US conventional forces.
Nevertheless, the source of United States-Soviet rivalry is not differences about arms but rather conflicting interests and contrasting values. It is these disputes that have to be confronted as the No. 1 priority if we are indeed serious about living in reasonable tranquillity with the Soviet Union.
Of course, only the desperately naive and/or optimistic would believe that the US has the leverage to change Soviet domestic structures. Communist Russia is a great power, with its own unique history, tradition, and circumstances. Any major transformation will have to be shaped by internal impulses.
But even token Soviet concessions on human rights matter more than -- for instance -- cuts in intermediate-range missiles (INF) in Europe. Soviet SS-20s and American Pershing 2 and cruise missiles were deployed more for political than military reasons. Even dramatic reductions in their numbers would leave the US and the USSR alike with plenty of systems perfectly capable of performing identical missions equally well or -- especially in the Soviet case -- even better. An agreement on INF may reflect more a desire to compete for Western European opinion than an effort to eliminate the danger of nuclear confrontation.