Soviets yielded most on road to summit. Superpower leadership on the line at summit. Reagan and Gorbachev approach their talks politically weakened and struggling with their nations' economies. Both are hoping for achievements that will restore some lost luster to their political standings at home.
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet tomorrow on a record that shows - depending on one's point of view - either extraordinary readiness to compromise on the part of the Soviets or extraordinary skill and tenacity on the part of American negotiators. In the treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear (INF) missiles due to be signed tomorrow, it is Moscow that has yielded almost all of its original positions, has finally accepted intrusive on-site inspection and exchange of previously top-secret military data, and will destroy four times as many warheads as Washington will.Skip to next paragraph
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In the talks about space-based strategic defense (``Star Wars,'' Antiballistic Missile [ABM], or Ballistic Missile Defense [BMD]), it is Moscow that has come around and condoned the bulk of the American Strategic Defense Initiative testing planned for the next decade and has withdrawn its demand for a veto on SDI deployment after that decade.
In the deep, 50 percent cuts that both sides now endorse in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), the compromises are more balanced.
A chart in today's Monitor (Page 18) tracks the concessions in these major negotiations and looks at the differences that remain to be resolved before a START accord could become the most important arms control agreement ever to be signed in the nuclear era. Dates for changes in Soviet positions refer to the formal talks in Geneva.
The perverse logic of the nuclear era - in which the destructive powers of the atomic bomb broke the age-old cycles of alternating leapfrogs between technological ``offense dominance'' and ``defense dominance'' in war - was profoundly unsettling to both superpowers.
Once the US no longer had a nuclear monopoly, an altogether new ``balance of terror'' was inaugurated in which each superpower could destroy the adversary's society, but neither could do so without itself committing suicide under the other's retaliation.
The Americans were the first to alter their perceptions and see the dreadful new weapons as having far less the traditional mission of ``war fighting'' than the rather novel one of ``deterrence.''
In the 1960s, US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara set a finite limit on the number of US missiles: the number needed to ensure a devastating American retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union after any initial Soviet attack. This ratio - which expressed a factual technological condition at least as much as any deliberate policy of mutual vulnerability - he called ``mutual assured destruction,'' or MAD.
It was on the premise of a continuing world of MAD that the US sought ``stability'' and ``predictability'' in negotiating the Strategic Arms Limitation (SALT) I and II Treaties in the 1970s. And it was on this premise that the US negotiated the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, limiting strategic-missile defense to two (later one) localized ABM sites. The aim was to avoid upsetting the stability of the offensive standoff by tempting one side to think it could launch an attack and actually win a nuclear war without triggering that unacceptable retaliation.
The Nixon administration codified this reasoning, informally lowering its sights from the goal of ``strategic superiority'' in nuclear weapons to one of ``strategic sufficiency.'' At the same time, the Nixon administration sought to establish a framework of superpower relations in the d'etente of the 1970s in which neither side would press the other for ``unilateral advantage.''
Nixon's fellow Republicans, however, rejected this evolution as too dovish, and the 1980 platform for Mr. Reagan's election campaign reverted to the goal of ``military superiority'' and confrontation with the Soviets. The new feeling was that Moscow had exploited the d'etente of the 1970s to lull the West while the Soviets made military advances in Africa and Afghanistan.
Casting US military and political resurgence in the 1980s against Soviet industrial and technological crisis, the early Reagan administration then sought to wage something akin to economic war on the Soviets to bring them to their knees and force domestic change that would tame the Kremlin's adventurism abroad.