Why did the Soviets decide to go ahead with the 35-nationa European security conference here -- despite the risks -- after initially stalling? The Madrid conference, called to review the 1975 Helsinki accord on human rights, seemed on the verge of collapse before the Soviet turnaround.
Western diplomats believe the Soviets realized their own intransigence had united not only the United States and its Western European allies, but also Spain, the neutrals (Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and Austria), and, privately, even some Eastern Europeans.
Until almost the very last minute the Soviets had dug in their heels. They regused to get on with the main business at hand until the agenda was agreed upon. Since the Soviets were opposed to a full airing of human rights on the agenda, the conference appeared doomed from the start.
Success of the conference still is not assured.
Cheif Soviet delegate Leonid Illichev saw a benefit for "the Soviet Union and its friends" in the fact that the main conference is taking place. In the corridor outside the meeting hall he told journalists that this "places a dam before lovers of the cold war."
According to a Western Europe press spokesman, there is now a gentlemen's agreement that despite the lack of an agenda, no more conference time will be spent on the procedural questions that remained deadlocked in the nine weeks of preparatory discussions.
In the run-up period the West consistently advocated adoption of the rules used at Belgrade in the first Helsinki review conference two years ago. The Belgrade procedure, itself a compromise after acrimonious East-West bargaining, alloted 11 weeks to the review of past implementation of human rights and other provisions of the Helsinki agreement (as desired by the West), then three months to new proposals on scientific and other nonpolitical cooperation (as desired by Moscow). The Soviet Union, while adamantly rejecting the Belgrade compromise this time, declined for six of the nine preparatory weeks to say what it wanted in Madrid instead.
Despite the latest "gentlemen's agreement" some Western diplomats still expect that the Madrid conference will turn into a "floating procedural wrangle." Under present circumstances, an American source said, US Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie is not scheduled to attend the conference.
The formal opening of the 1980 Madrid conference as prescribed in Belgrade two years ago, did take place on Nov. 11, barely. Shortly before midnight Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Pedro Perez-Llorca officially declared the meeting opened, then adjourned it after two minutes.Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez addressed the conference the afternoon of Nov. 12 prior to the first speeches. Soviet chances for splitting the West during the rest of the Madrid conference seem as poor as their record so far would indicate. six months ago, when there were sharp differences between the American and Western European responses to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union tried to woo Western Europe away from the US by separating European detente from Afghanistan. A Soviet "peace offensive" was widely expected that might isolate the US in a hard-line position and dissuade Western Europeans from deploying the new nuclear weapons that NATO agreed on last December.
The Soviet desire to hold a tacit threat of military intervention over the new Polish free trade unions, however -- along with the consequent East German turn from detente with West Germany to denunciation of West Germany -- effectively scotched any Soviet peace offensive toward Europe. European as well as Asian detente was clearly being undermined by the soviet bloc, not by American hard-liners.
No Western European country would now accept a European disarmament conference that was a propaganda flourish without substance. The Wsest -- including an unenthusiastic but signed-on US -- is united in accepting only a European arms control conference (as proposed by the French) that would cover Soviet European territory as well as the rest of Europe and would discuss concrete "confidence-building measures" rather than utopian goals. "Confidence-building measures" include such things as advance notification of large-scale maneuvers and invitations to adversary observers to monitor these maneuvers.