Road maps for peace

In his speeches to the United Nations and World Bank, in his White House turnstile greetings of a half-dozen foreign ministers or heads of state, including those from the Soviet Union, Canada, and Israel, in his private chat with former President Richard Nixon and his sidekick Henry A. Kissinger, both veterans of Washington-Moscow negotiations, President Reagan has clearly earmarked this as ''foreign-policy week'' of the 1984 campaign.

It would be unfortunate, however, to dismiss the burst of White House interest in the fundamentals of diplomacy as so much electoral posturing. And it would be as sorry to miss the opportunity this presidential campaign affords to lift Western thinking to the discipline and vision needed to win world peace.

Giving the timing, public skepticism about Mr. Reagan's new conciliatory tone should come as no surprise. Add to that the recollection that just a year ago, this week's Soviet guest at the White House would not travel to the UN opening conference because the White House would not intercede to guarantee the safety of his landing in the New York area. Just a month ago in Dallas, the President and his administration's spokesmen were still at their rhetorical drubbing of the Soviet leadership. And on the campaign trail last week in Iowa, Mr. Reagan repeated his conviction that rebuilding US military might must precede effective negotiation: ''As I will tell Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko when I meet with him in a few days, we seek no territorial expansion and are making no effort to impose our will on anyone,'' he said. ''But we will never again allow the United States of America to let down its guard.''

Add, too, that for the public, apart from what a leader says and does, there is the inherent difficulty of assessing a leader's intention.

Yet what Mr. Reagan said about building a structure for negotiating with the Soviets - institutionalizing regular ministerial or Cabinet-level meetings on the full range of US-Soviet difficulties, erecting an umbrella negotiating approach for the several separate missile and space weapon forums, and drawing up ''a road map ... showing where during the next 20 years or so these individual efforts can lead'' - surely sounds like the right way to go.

In part Mr. Reagan was extending an olive branch to the Kremlin; but it was a branch without leaves - that is, there were no specific proposals for arms talks themselves. The conciliatory tone reflected the ascendancy on this occasion of the President's diplomatic chieftains, who have continually had to compete with the President's confrontational military advisers for his attention. How that internal competition would be resolved in a second Reagan administration would be up to Mr. Reagan himself to decide. The public favors a militarily strong America. Yet the President cannot mistake the equally high priority that Americans and their allies put on improved relations with the Soviet Union.

It is time for Mr. Reagan to place US diplomatic rearmament on the same plane as military rearmament.

It is hard work to make peace: Note that the figure for peace is a sword turned into a plowshare. Diplomacy, institutions for negotiation, regularized summits deserve the same lead time - running to a generation and more - as is now given to sophisticated weaponry. There can be no illusions about improved relationships; they emerge from recognizing shared interests, not from happy talk. Yet instruments for peacemaking require investment, too.

This newspaper is now inviting its readers to propound strategies for peace - looking back from the year 2010 and describing how world peace was achieved in the intervening 25 years. You may have noted the ''Peace 2010'' contest outlined on a preceding page. Such a time frame suggests to us the scope of the task.

A ''foreign-policy week'' is far from enough.

In the current election campaign, both candidates should outline their road maps for peace - a bipartisan journey leading through presidencies beyond their own.

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