Arms control around one table?

Why hold two separate sets of nuclear arms control negotiations when they keep raising issues that are inseparable? It is a question that foreign policy advisers East and West should ask their governments to consider as US-Soviet talks on medium-range missiles resume yet again this week, and talks on strategic weapons next month.

The results of both Geneva negotations will eventually have to be correlated. The logic of weaving the talks together sooner would seem to be compelling.

To be sure, the talks on medium-range missiles in the European theater are working against a deadline: the December deployment of US cruise and Pershing II missiles if agreement is not reached on cutting back the huge arsenal Moscow has already deployed. And, as US State Department officers have noted, negotiator Paul Nitze in these talks is not hermetically sealed from negotiator Edward Rowny in START (strategic arms reduction talks). They can coordinate on the positions prescribed by their government, as presumably their Soviet counterparts do.

But both the formulation and negotiation of positions would seem to be facilitated by focus on a single forum. Moscow recently showed how it can blur the issues by bringing up French and British missiles (which are strategic in their terms) as part of the intermediate-range missile talks. However, the difficulty of compartmentalizing strategic and medium-range considerations goes back to the origins of the present situation.

For example, the US initially opposed the NATO request for intermediate-range missiles promoted by then Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany. The US had tried a brief deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. This ended in 1963 when Washington reasoned that strategic weapons on submarines and in the US were sufficient for both national security and NATO responsibilities.

By the late '70s Moscow was building up its missiles trained on Europe. Mr. Schmidt wanted the symbolic presence of US missiles that could reach Russia (as distinct from the tactical nuclear arms with ranges within Europe) - and prevent Soviet blackmail.

Washington acquiesced for political reasons, though it still believed its strategic arms were sufficient deterrent. By this reasoning, the proposed deployment of intermediate-range missiles remains a political act not required for military security. Some indeed argue that deployment would work against security by needlessly adding weapons albeit to a lesser extent than Moscow has done.

This does not mean political acts are unimportant. It does mean judging whether a given act helps or harms prospects for peace. It means judging the whole military/political package with regard for overlapping strategic and European issues. The overlapping could become even more pronounced if the idea of overall warhead limits, with the sides choosing how they use them, should prevail.

Such considerations can and must take place among the separate negotiators in their separate Geneva negotiations. But wouldn't it all be easier across one table?

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