Talk is cheap, but sometimes priceless
Lately, President Reagan has been expressing a somewhat hesitant, if not repentant, desire to meet with Konstantin Chernenko. It seems an election-year summit date is a thing of beauty, even if you are convinced your blind date will be ugly and ill-meaning.
If the President feels he may find himself at an embarrassing loss for words when face to face with the ''evil emperor,'' I have a suggestion for him: crisis communications.
On June 15 the US Senate, by a vote of 82 to 0, passed an amendment by Sens. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and John Warner (R) of Virginia urging the President to begin negotiations for the establishment of US-Soviet crisis communications centers. Rep. David Dreier (R) of California and I have been joined by 134 of our colleagues in cosponsoring similar legislation in the House.
The proposal made in our bill is this: The United States and Soviet Union establish a crisis communications center, located in a neutral location and jointly staffed by diplomatic, military, and technical personnel. The staff has direct access to the national command authorities of both countries.
The center's usefulness would lie primarily in providing a mechanism by which the superpowers could avoid accidental or unintended nuclear war. This could include the formulation of standard operating procedures to deal with nuclear explosions of unknown origin, known third-party detonations, proliferation risks , launch warnings, the conduct of military exercises, etc. In addition, the regular personal contact between the Soviet and American staffs of the center would certainly be beneficial.
Crisis communication is not a panacea. Nor is it a substitute for a determined arms control policy. Like an ever-increasing number of Americans, I have come to the conclusion that the Reagan record on arms control is a disaster , precisely because the President does not believe that arms control is in our security interest. But I do not go so far as to suggest that the President wants to wage nuclear war. So long as he does not, Ronald Reagan should be able to seek the establishment of a crisis communications center.
Most people think the path to nuclear war is the deliberate attack, either out of the blue or as a result of intentional escalation. That path must be considered and planned for, but is it the most likely way for nuclear war to come about? Probably not. More likely it is an accident, or a fatal miscalculation. And the threat of such an accident, miscalculation, or even the use of nuclear weapons by a third country is rapidly growing as first-strike weapons and third-world nuclear capabilities proliferate. Thus, it seems that the most likely cause of disaster has not been specifically addressed in the broader arms control debate.
The control of nuclear hardware alone does not comprehensively deal with the problem. There is now an opportunity to make progress on reducing the risk of war by working on the ''software'' of the nuclear weapons problem. A crisis communications center should be politically achievable precisely because it does not endanger the right's pet nuclear weapons programs.
Why would anyone oppose this? The risks are negligible, the potential gains incalculable. Yet, the Reagan administration has this to say about our proposal, ''The Department of Defense does not support enactment of HR 408'' (our bill). And ''The Department does not believe that a Joint Communications Center located in a third country would improve our ability to resolve crises rapidly.''
I too would like to see crises resolved rapidly. I would prefer to see them resolved rapidly and successfully. I believe our proposal would improve the chances of achieving both.
I hope the President does meet with Mr. Chernenko, as soon as possible. If he does, I hope he will propose that the superpowers assign enough professional peace-keepers to a joint communications center, so that our millions of warriors and weapons remain idle.