As the world moves into an era of shifting power among nations, the deterrence afforded by US and Soviet nuclear weaponry can no longer be relied upon to safeguard humanity from a third world war, according to American and Soviet experts at a University of Texas conference last week. The key to another 40 years without global warfare, say these superpower experts, will be cooperation -- not only between the US and the USSR, but encompassing the rest of the world as well.
These were among the points stressed at a conference entitled: ``The Future of US-USSR relations: Lessons for 40 years without War.''
Several participants said the 40-year absence of world conflict was ``remarkable,'' especially in light of the feelings of inevitability about nuclear war that gripped the world in the years following World War II.
Nevertheless there was a reluctance to use the word ``peace'' to describe the state of affairs in the post-war period, with some American participants stating it was a ``bitter peace'' for those nations that had come under Soviet domination after the war. Others chose simply to use the term ``non-war'' to describe the period.
Participants, who ranged from former national security advisors among the Americans to scientists and Americanologists among the Soviets, generally agreed that the presence of nuclear arms was the greatest single deterrent to world war since 1945.
``Optimism is a vital prelude to war,'' said John Gaddis, a Cold War historian from Ohio University. ``But nuclear weapons have a dampening effect on anyone who might otherwise have been optimistic about the outcome of a war.''
Notes of caution were sounded over the possible destabilizing effects of expanding technologies, and of an emerging new international economic order.
Noting a ``recent, radical shift'' in third-world countries to a rapid adaptation of high technologies, former national security advisor Walt Rostow said the world's security might depend on how the superpowers respond to an accelerating shift in world economic standings. ``The real job,'' he said, will be to ``organize our affairs so the absorption of the rest of the world into this kind of technology is done peacefully.''
Several participants said continued deterioration in the Soviet Union's economy could emerge as a major threat to international stability. In light of this, President Reagan's multi-billion-dollar Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was termed destabilizing by some Americans, as well as by the Russians.
``In as much as SDI becomes another way to conduct economic warfare with the Soviet Union, then it is clearly destabilizing'' and ``dangerous,'' said Ed Hewett, an economist with the Brookings Institution. Sergey Rogov, first secretary at the Soviet embassy in Washington, said his country considers SDI -- also known as ``star wars'' -- an American attempt to ``force us to spend beyond our means on armament.''
The Soviets expressed particular frustration over the development of an expensive, all-new arms technology since it comes at a time when their ``feeling of security is the greatest perhaps since Peter the Great'' in the early 18th century, according to Andrey Kokoshin, deputy director of Moscow's Institute for the USA and Canada.
The Soviets stressed arms reduction as the only means of enhancing world security. But a number of the Americans said it would be foolish to rush into dismantling the very weapons systems that have helped bring the world ``fragile security'' for four decades.
``To toy around with [arms reduction] before we've achieved better relations between the US and the Soviet Union would be very destabilizing,'' said Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor to President Gerald Ford.
Former Sen. John Tower, who has just completed a little more than a year in Geneva as arms reduction negotiator, said that even though both sides accept the concept of a non-nuclear world, ``I don't think that either nation has a carefully formulated, practical plan to arrive at that result.''
Several participants noted that nuclear arms reduction -- or eventually their elimination -- made little sense if the result was to make the world safe for conventional warfare.
Former CIA deputy director Bobby Ray Inman cautioned that rapid technological advancements in conventional weaponry -- and the growing number of ``world players'' who will have access to them -- will pose new threats to world stability.
Robert Bowie, former deputy director of the CIA and professor emeritus in international relations at Harvard University, said he sees the ``needs for cooperation greatly exceeding the capacity for cooperation at this point.'' Nevertheless, he said the superpowers are ``staggering toward the cooperative approach.''