Hopeful outlook on arms, but tough bargaining ahead
The Reagan administration is preparing a compromise proposal that would capitalize upon the arms control progress made at the Iceland summit. The new proposal will be put on the table by American negotiators at ongoing arms-control talks in Geneva. Experts both inside and outside the administration caution that some extremely tough and complex bargaining is ahead. But some say that the outlines of a possible agreement are already coming into focus.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Some of the toughest bargaining in fact may be taking place within the Reagan administration itself -- over what technologies will be explored in pursuit of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
Such a compromise would be founded on two assumptions.
One is that both Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan are genuinely seeking major reductions in superpower nuclear arsenals, and are not engaged in rhetorical posturing.
Members of both the United States and Soviet delegations at Reykjavik say they were struck by the depth of commitment of both men to arms reductions. One American participant says that although the idea of an end to the nuclear arms race may seem farfetched, ``I think they really believe it.'' A Soviet diplomat says, ``General Secretary Gorbachev really wants to reduce the threat of nuclear war to mankind.''
The other assumption is that ``give'' in one area -- reductions in strategic nuclear weapons -- makes ``give'' in another -- SDI research -- possible.
The exact American proposals are being kept secret. But interviews with experts in and out of government give some indication of American goals.
The Reagan administration apparently believes a separate agreement on reductions in intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe is still possible.
The Kremlin seems of two minds about that. Mr. Gorbachev says the Soviet proposals at Reykjavik were part of a package. Soviet arms control negotiator Viktor Karpov, meanwhile, suggested last week that a separate agreement was possible. Later, however, Mr. Karpov tried to resolve the apparent contradiction by suggesting there could be negotiations on separate parts of an overall accord.
One United States analyst suggests the Kremlin may genuinely have been unprepared for the outcome of the Reykjavik summit, and is now uncertain about how to address the INF issue. But, he says, ``They will ultimately be forced to agree to a [separate] INF proposal,'' because the Soviets earlier assured Western European governments that an INF agreement would not be held hostage to an agreement on SDI.
Some US experts expect that an eventual INF agreement will be quite similar to the last proposals on the table at Reykjavik -- withdrawal of all American and Soviet medium-range missiles from Europe. The US would be able to keep 100 medium-range missiles in the US; the Soviet Union could keep 100 in Asia. Such an INF agreement might be welcomed in Moscow, according to US experts, because Gorbachev would have then achieved a longstanding Soviet goal of getting US medium-range missiles out of Europe.
On the other hand, the US could plausibly argue that other elements in the American nuclear arsenal -- bombers, submarines and sea-launched cruise missiles -- can adequately protect Europe from a reduced Soviet nuclear threat.
James P. Rubin, an analyst at the private Arms Control Association (ACA), says one sticking point might be the duration of the agreement. The Soviets may lean toward an indefinite agreement, in order to permanently bar American missiles from Europe. On the other hand, they may not want an open-ended agreement, since that might limit their flexibility in responding to planned modernization of British and French nuclear forces.