President Reagan's specatacular proposal about negotiating with the Soviets breaks down into two parts. Part one is made up of specific proposals about weapons in Europe. Part two is the declaration of readiness to begin negotiating for reduction of strategic weapons. Part two is the important part.
The weight of the specific proposal is disclosed by the facts. Mr. Reagan says he will call off the prospective deployment of American Pershing II and American cruise missiles in the European theater if the Soviets will dismantle their SS-20, SS-5, and SS-4 weapons now assigned to the European theater.
If the Soviets agreed to dismantle their existing weapons in these three categories they would then have left about 460 nuclear warheads in the European theater. The Western allies together would have 1,811 nuclear warheads on vehicles committed to the European theater and nearby waters. All of these can reach Soviet military targets in or near the prospective battlefront and many of them can reach targets inside the Soviet Union itself. (For these calculations I am using figures from the reports of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.)
It would be wonderfully comforting to all citizens of the Western countries if Moscow would buy this deal. Obviously, the Soviets never will because the effect of it would be to transform what is at present a theoretical Soviet advantage in nuclear weapons in the European area into an overwhelming Western advantage. There is no peaceful way I can think of to induce the Soviets to take such a drastic reversal in their military posture.
Besides, there is at this time no certainty that the Western allies in Europe are going to allow the new American types of short- and medium-range nuclear weapons to be deployed on their territory. That is what the recent marching, shouting, and demonstrating in Western Europe is all about. Many Europeans, and not all of them on the political left, are vociferously opposed to having the new American weapons on their soil.
So, in effect, Mr. Reagan was proposing that the Soviets give up an advantage they now have for something which is not yet in Europe now and may never be allowed by the Europeans themselves to be placed in Europe. No trained diplomat bargains away something for nothing. The Soviets are well trained in diplomacy.
Also, Mr. Reagan was using highly selective figures in arriving at his statement that the Soviets today outnumber the West in European theaternuclear weaponry by 6 to 1. You can get that figure by counting only American owned and operated land-based missiles against all Soviet missiles. But France and Britain also have nuclear weapons systems. And there are large numbers of American, British, and French aircraft and several submarines all with nuclear weapon capability which are assigned in case of war to the European theater.
If you count the number of all nuclear warheads assigned to the European theater by the Western allies the ratio drops from the 6 to 1 used by Mr. Reagan to under 1.5 to 1. The Soviets are ahead, but not by any such margin as 6 to 1. It is a gap which can be closed by deployment of the new American weapons. That of course is the major reason why Soviet propaganda is working overtime these days to whip up European sentiment against the new American weapons.
So when the actual bargaining gets under way among the professionals no one is going to pay serious attention to the figures Mr. Reagan used in his speech, or to his specific proposal to trade off American Pershing II and cruise missiles (which are not even built yet) for the Soviet SS-20, SS-5, and SS-4 weapons which are trained on Europe and ready to go.
Conventional force reduction is not a promising subject for discussion either. Soviet forces in Eastern Europe are there for a double mission. They keep the satellites in line as well as being a potential assault force against the West. The Soviets would probably want almost as many as they have there now, even if true detente broke out between East and West. It takes a big Soviet army to make sure that East Germany and the other satellites will not slip out of Moscow's grasp.
But the professionals already are paying earnest attention to the second and important part of Mr. Reagan's message, which was an expressed willingness to talk about reduction not only in European theater weapons but also in the big intercontinental weapons. He says he is ready to talk about where we go from that SALT II treaty which was never signed.
The real and big news in the Reagan statement therefore is that a man who has talked all through the campaign and during the months of his presidency up to now as though the Soviets were his implacable enemy - now says he is ready to talk on the new assumption that they might be worthy co-workers in the admirable task of trying to save the human race.
This is a new Mr. Reagan. A lot of people hope it is the real one.