Summit: in search of mutual benefit

IN his speech to the United Nations on Oct. 24, President Reagan proposed that he and Mikhail Gorbachev talk at the coming summit about five areas where the United States has legitimate grievances about Soviet behavior: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua. The President, we had assumed, was looking for a way to score points in the public-relations campaign leading up to the summit. Whatever the President's motives, we can only hope that he doesn't expect to make any progress in these are as in two days at Geneva. Mr. Gorbachev is bound to see this move by the President as an effort to play the summit as one would play in a zero-sum game, that is, a game in which one side wins and the other loses. Considering all that Reagan has said about Nicaragua, it is difficult for Gorbachev to believe that the President has in mind agreeing to any significant residual Soviet role or influence there. It appears that the President is attempting to win in all five regions by easing the Soviet Union out of all these countries; for Mr. Gorbachev such developments certainly would be losses.

Although these regional issues must be tackled one day, in the reopening of serious discussions with the Soviet Union the US should concentrate on areas where US interests and those of the Soviet Union do not compete so directly. Why not first look for areas where we could both benefit from reaching agreement? At least three nonzero-sum games could be played.

The most obvious is arms control, where both are interested in reducing costs and increasing stability. Here the two leaders could move quickly by agreeing to an easily verifiable ban against the testing of ballistic missiles. Such an agreement would signal that neither leader was interested in continuing to develop the capability for a surprise nuclear strike at the other.

Another area of mutual interest is the inhibiting of nuclear proliferation. Neither the US nor the USSR has any reason for wanting Libya -- or even Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, or South Africa -- to get the bomb. Reagan and Gorbachev could easily agree at Geneva to form a joint commission to pool intelligence about which countries are developing nuclear weapons and how. Each nation would, of course, have a few pieces of intelligence that could not be shared lest doing so would expose a source. Still, ju st the fact that the world knew that such exchanges were taking place would be an inhibiting factor and could open the door to more complex arrangements later. At first, simple and straightforward agreement could be built around the interests the two countries share in curbing international terrorism.

Recent events in Beirut have likely brought home to Gorbachev that the USSR, as well the US, is vulnerable to terrorists. Perhaps the silver lining in this Beirut cloud is that the kidnapping of Soviet citizens may increase his willingness to collaborate against terrorism. Reagan and Gorbachev could agree to create an ``International Airport Inspection Agency.'' The agency's function would be to send teams of inspectors to check security procedures in international airports. The inspectors would attempt

to board airliners with concealed weapons. If they succeeded at an airport more than once in a 30-day period, the airport would be considered insecure. That would trigger an obligation on the part of member countries to prohibit their airlines from using the airport for the next 30 days.

It's important that the criterion for penalizing an airport would be absolutely objective -- either the inspectors got aboard an aircraft with a weapon or they did not. Since the member nations would have pledged to adhere to the results of the inspection, they could ward off pressures to make exceptions when the airports of their friends were ruled unsafe. The threat of having airports placed out of bounds for 30 days would create pressure on nations to curb international terrorism.

In none of these examples of nonzero-sum arrangements would either the US or the USSR be placing anything at risk if the program failed. Both have so many nuclear weapons in excess of need that a moratorium on testing one brand of them, ballistic missiles, could hardly denude us, even if we subsequently had to start production and testing. Because neither nation wants anyone to join the nuclear club, giving away information about proliferation wouldn't hurt us, even if it did no good.

The President has committed himself to exploring the five tough zero-sum situations he laid before the UN. Let's hope he also makes a major effort in areas where the mutual benefit is so clear that Gorbachev will be hard pressed not to agree. If we can open the door a little in the nonzero-sum areas, it will be easier to slip in the tough zero-sum ones at a second summit.

Stansfield Turner, author of ``Secrecy and Democracy -- The CIA in Transition,'' was director of central intelligence from 1977 to 1981.

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.