Arms control and the Emperor's clothes

I appreciated George Ball's article ``Reagan's Ramboism -- the fantasy of star wars and the danger of real wars,'' April 28. President Reagan's insistence on the necessity and feasibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative reminds me of the story of the famous Emperor who paid a great deal of money to two con men who said they would weave him a beautiful set of clothes. These clothes would be the finest in all the land, but only a very wise person could see them. Those who could not see them were fools -- so the Emperor paraded naked until a small child said, ``But the Emperor is wearing no clothes!''

When are Americans going to be willing to say to Reagan, ``You are spending a great deal of our tax money for the illusion of `star wars,' but in terms of security we are less secure than ever before.'' It is time the US put aside the fantasy of SDI and started to negotiate with the Soviet Union for everyone's sake. Carolyn Harris Los Angeles

The synopsis of a lecture given by Ball before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences reads as if it were written by an impassioned, well-meaning college student rather than by a man who was an undersecretary of state. I am in sympathy with Ball's objectives, but his rhetoric, replete with hyperbole and sarcasm, is designed to appeal to the emotional rather than reasoning person. The article illustrates the type of emotionally oriented thinking in our government that, since World War II, has led to the mess we're in today. William Drake Nantucket, Mass.

Judith Chettle's review of ``The Heavy Dancers'' [May 2] seriously misrepresents the work of E. P. Thompson. He is portrayed as reflexively and enviously anti-American, insufficiently anti-Soviet, and a lightweight. If Chettle wishes to fairly evaluate Thompson's work, she needs to read, carefully, his essay ``Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilization.'' His thesis, that the arms race has broken loose from its historical moorings and now feeds solely on itself, is controversial, but not simplistic. His prescription -- a lone citizen's struggle for a reunited neutral Europe (hence his emphasis on independent contacts with East European dissidents and his antipathy for the World Peace Council) as a way of mending the basic ``fault line'' underlying the arms race -- is a ``patient, gradualist approach.''

The late Alva Myrdal, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has persuasively argued that state-run arms control talks merely serve as a ``patient, gradualist'' smoke screen for a continuing arms race. Thompson's patient gradualism, focusing on civil society rather than the state, deserves far better than the short shrift given it by Chettle. Michael McIntyre Chicago

The articles ``Soviets shift arms tactics'' and ``US rejects test-ban proposal'' [March 31] fail to emphasize the fact that arms control is an international problem not merely confined to two nations. Several other countries with nuclear weapons are quite capable of initiating a major nuclear holocaust. The recent onslaught of terrorism would tend to excite this frightful probability. The only realistically effective arms control agreement is an internationally unified one. Greg Pate Chapel Hill, N.C.

The article by Elizabeth Pond `` `Star wars' remains key issue in arms talks,'' Jan. 17, brings to light the importance of SDI and the complications surrounding it. The article notes Mikhail Gorbachev's determined stand against it and Ronald Reagan's determined support. Despite these attitudes, we are able to detect a slight softening on both sides. What are the diplomatic reasons for this softening, and is it merely rhetoric? It is essential that the US maintain a firm approach in this matter, as it will be a strong tool in the forming of peace. Joy Sparks Seattle

I read the neoconservative perception of the Soviet threat [``US Conservatives on the march,'' International Edition, April 5-11] with great interest. The Soviet 3-to-1 lead over the US in ICBM warheads is a misleading portrayal. For reasons of nuclear strategy and geography, the US has traditionally relied on survivable second-strike weapons such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Some 70 percent of total US nuclear warheads are based on submarines, and only 20 percent on ICBMS. Some 72 percent of the Soviet Union's nuclear warheads are concentrated on land-based ICBMs and only some 20 percent on submarines. The US, therefore, has a 2.3-to-1 lead over the Soviet Union in SLBMs. A more accurate figure would be a total of some 8,200 soviet warheads to some 7,600 US warheads. Rahul Roy-Chaudhury Norwich, University of East Anglia England

Hurray for the universities which are monitoring Moscow television [``Summit II: Reagan's plans, Gorbachev's two rival schools,'' March 25]. It is amazing that two nations that will inevitably face each other for years to come seem to know little of each other. Only a small number of American universities are ``watching'' Moscow. What about the rest of us? Jennifer Anderson Winston-Salem, N.C.

Efforts to increase cultural exchanges are valuable because it is through a better understanding of each other's culture that relations between the two countries can be improved in the form of a substantive arms control agreement. The development of cross-cultural programs in US universities, such as the one monitoring Moscow television, is a step in the right direction.

The responsibility of improving US-Soviet relations should not rest solely in the hands of Reagan and Gorbachev. Rather, citizens of each nation should take the initiative to understand the other culture instead of forming opinions based on common stereotypes. Mary Kent Parker Raleigh, N.C.

John Hughes says the Soviet negotiating strategy remains the same under Gorbachev [``Soviet offensive,'' April 4]. It seems to me that the Soviets' self-imposed test moratorium is the boldest move in the search for arms control in more than 20 years. It was the Reagan administration's response that was nothing new. According to Hughes, a ``test ban now would be hugely in their [the Soviets'] interest.'' Apparently his anti-Soviet views have closed his eyes to the possibility that a test ban would also be hugely in our interest; indeed, in the interest of all the world. Dale Giddings Shedd, Ore.

Before financing ``star wars,'' the US should have a feasibility report from a nonpolitical scientific world congress of nuclear physicists, meteorologists, and astronomers. We should know the consequences of intercepted nuclear missile radioactive fallout entering the earth's upper atmosphere. Already there is scientific evidence that certain alteration of the earth's atmosphere can increase the earth's surface temperature. There are decisions to be made beyond the realm of the politician. Irving C. Lopour Madison, Wis.

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