Wide-ranging US-Soviet arms talks -- of the sort now beginning in Geneva -- may, under today's strategic and political conditions, lead to stalemate. New, and perhaps more limited, approaches are needed if the arms race is to be slowed anytime soon, said a number of experts here for a major arms control conference led by two former Presidents.
Such interim measures, said conference participants, might include:
Establish ment of regular discussions between Soviet and United States military leaders.
Resumption of nuclear test-ban talks.
Creation of a forum for the two superpowers to discuss the implications of weapons under development.
With Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford as hosts, dozens of former State Department officials, a scattering of ambassadors (including the USSR's envoy to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin, and a Reagan appointee or two, spent April 9-13 at Atlanta's Emory University, discussing ways of keeping peace in the nuclear age.
A common theme voiced in public sessions was that it is far more difficult to conduct comprehensive arms talks today than it was in the days of the two Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, SALT I and SALT II. Nuclear arsenals are larger and more varied; political opinions towards arms control in the US are more polar-ized; the Soviet Union may be cheating on treaties already signed. Yet in Geneva, negotiators are sitting down to another round of important, broad talks.
``I believe we have essentially run out of ideas on arms control,'' said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
If arms negotiations are to be successful, Mr. Kissinger said, they must be accompanied by quiet, general talks between high political leaders.
Not all conference attendees had such bleak feelings about traditional forms of arms talks, but most echoed Kissinger's call for more leader-to-leader discussions. Gen. David Jones, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested regular meetings between the top military men of the United States and the Soviet Union. General Jones said that when as chairman of the Joint Chiefs he met with his Soviet counterpart during the SALT II talks, it was the first such contact since the end of World War II.
Another theme repeated by participants was that the two superpowers could work on limited treaties even if the large Geneva talks stall. They might, for instance, resume talking about nuclear weapons tests.
Under current formal treaties and informal agreements, the US and USSR only conduct weapons tests underground, and do not test weapons with more than 150 kilotons of explosive power. At the Carter conference, Kinya Niiskei, chairman of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, urged the superpowers to resume talks on further limiting, or perhaps banning, weapons tests. Mr. Niiskei said Japan would share its sophisticated seismic technology, to aid in test-ban verification.
President Carter agreed that pursuing at least step-by-step reductions in nuclear testing would be a good idea. The Soviet ambassador to the US, Anatoly Dobrynin, said his government has repeatedly asked the US to negotiate such a pact.
``It is time to conclude a nuclear test-ban treaty,'' Mr. Dobrynin said.
The grandfatherly Dobrynin, dean of Washington's diplomatic corps, also hinted that the Soviets might allow a US delegation to inspect the large radar being built at Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia.
US officials have charged the radar is a violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Technological developments -- new radar facilities, new classes of missiles -- have long had an unsettling effect on US-USSR relations.
The developing nation claims it is simply playing catch-up; the other side says the superpower military balance has been destabilized, and presses forward its own military research.
A formal mechanism for talking about the implications of new weapons might help break this action-reaction cycle, said former President Carter.
Such a mechanism might have headed off the current buildup of intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe, Carter said.
Most of the former secretaries of state, former generals, and think-tank experts assembled at the Carter Center were not hopeful that quick agreement might be reached in the ongoing broad arms talks. An agreement might be reached in Geneva, they felt, if the United States will put space-based defense research (called the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI) up for negotiation, and if the USSR is willing to part with some of its heavy, intercontinental ballistic missiles.
``There is the making of a grand bargain in the Soviet fear of SDI, and our fear of large Soviet missiles,'' said McGeorge Bundy, national-security adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.