Vance vs. the arms race

What is it about the state of global security that prompted such a diverse group of world leaders to form the Palme Commission?

A deep and growing concern on the part of not only leaders but also the peoples of countries all around the world about the dangers that we face and the need to do something concrete about reducing those dangers.

The dangers are not only in the nuclear field, but also in the problems created by so-called conventional conflicts. The members of the Commission felt that the time was long past to halt the upward spiral in both of these areas and to try to create downward momentum which would lead to a less dangerous and more stable and peaceful world.

What, specifically, did the Ccommission feel could be done in the short run to reduce the risk of nuclear confrontaton in Europe?

Several things. First of all, the Commission recommended that there should be agreements reached as soon a possible on any necessary clarifications or adjustments to the SALT II treaty. We agreed that the foundation for reducing the dangers of nuclear war was to reaffirm the SALT II agreement.

Second, we believe it is essential to reaffirm the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This is necessary in order to prevent an unstable situation which would increase the possibility of nuclear war.

Third, we believe that it is important to start further discussions, based on SALT II, which will lead to further reciprocal, deep cuts on nuclear weapons.

Also related to the nuclear problem, the Commission believes that if we could achieve parity of conventional forces, which had been a hope for many years, it would be possible to lessen the danger of the early use of battlefield nuclear weapons. This would be accomplished by their withdrawal from a battlefield-nuclear-weapons-free zone in Central Europe. Until we achieve parity of conventional forces, it is, in the Commission's judgment, not possible to bring about a withdrawal of battlefield weapons from such a zone. However, if we were able to reach agreement and achieve parity of conventional forces, then it would be possible to remove battlefield weapons from a zone extending one hundred and fifty kilometers on either side of the dividing line between the two Germanies.

This would remove the greatest danger - the precipitous use of battlefield nuclear weapons - and thus a step which would cross the nuclear firebreak leading to an ultimate exchange of strategic nuclear weapons. How would this danger be reduced? By taking away those weapons stored in the area which might be overrun at an early stage in a conventional war, thus forcing a quick decision on whether the weapons would be used or overrun by the other side. This , the Commission believes, is the most destabilizing and dangerous element in the nuclear equation.

Fourth, the achievement of Soviet-American agreements on rough parity in intermediate- (medium-) range nuclear forces.

Fifth, agreement on a comprehensive nuclear test ban.

Would the reestablishment of conventional parity be done through reductions on one side or buildup on the other?

It would be done by negotiations which would lead to reductions in conventional forces, producing equal numbers of conventional forces at lower levels.

Do you think that the degree of public concern that exists today - demonstrations, the referenda - is a positive contribution to the arms control movement?

Yes, I do. It indicates a concern on the part of the people to become more involved in and learn more about nuclear issues. It also puts political pressure on the leaders of both countries to act seriously and to make progress in addressing the nuclear issues that face us.

You mentioned that the Commission feels that elements of SALT II should be clarified and strengthened; there's a move in Congress to revive ratification. . . .

No, I said that ''to the extent it may be necessary, SALT II should be clarified or adjusted.'' My own view is that we should accept the SALT II treaty as is, and we would be way ahead of the game.

How did the Commission deal with the sensitive question of verification of arms control agreements?

The Commission investigated deeply the question of verification. It concluded that you could never achieve a hundred percent accuracy in verification, and you could never prevent either side from attempting to cheat or from being subject to charges of cheating. The Commission concluded, however, that both sides have the capability adequately to verify all of the strategic arms treaties which have been negotiated to date. The Commission further believes that the capability for verification will continue to improve in the future.

The Soviets are said to be more open to discussing verification procedures, even on-site inspections. Did you see confirmation of this trend in the course of the Commission's deliberations?

The Commission examined the question of on-site verifications, and concluded that there is a real possibility of future agreement on some form of on-site verification. The Commission was encouraged by the progress that had been made in this area in the Comprehensive Test Ban negotiations, where agreement was reached on limited on-site inspections. In light of this, the Commission felt that there is a real possibility that some form of on-site inspection can be arrived at in future SALT negotiations.

Was the Commission concerned about US charges that the Soviets are using chemical and biological weapons?

The Commission discussed this at length on a number of occasions. The Commission felt that it did not have sufficient information on which to make a final judgment. It pointed out that the subject was still under study by an international commission and that until that report was completed, it should withhold judgment on charges of the use of chemical and biological weapons in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan.

To what degree did the Commission see the growth in arms sales as a threat to global security?

It saw it as a major threat.

And what specific recommendations did it make?

It made several recommendations. First, it recommended universal compliance with the General Assembly resolution on reporting military expenditures to the United Nations in accordance with a standard reporting system. Second, it urged the resumption of negotiations looking to regional agreements which would control the sale of conventional weapons in each region. Third, it recommended agreements on supplier- and recipient-state guidelines for conventional arms transfers.

As a result of your experience on this Commission, are you optimistic or pessimistic that reduction of strategic arms can actually take place in the medium term, and that the global security situation can be improved?

I think it is clearly possible to achieve further reductions in strategic weapons within the next few years if there is the political will on both sides. Second, I think it is possible to reach agreement soon on parity of conventional forces in Central Europe and on the reduction of those forces to lower levels. We've been talking about these issues for a long while in the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks in Vienna. What is required now is the political will to move forward. I was heartened by the fact that our Commission, which included a representative of the Soviet Union, was able to agree that this was indeed a realistic possibility and that steps should be taken immediately to raise the level of negotiation to the foreign-minister level.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.