A week later

NOW that the novelty of having the Gorbachevs in Washington has worn off, let us take a quiet afterlook at what happened. Perhaps the most important thing of all is that, to reach an agreement with us, the Russians agreed to do what Russians never in their entire history have agreed to do before.

They have agreed to allow 30 to 40 American foreigners to stay among them permanently and watch what goes in and comes out from one of their most important weapons plants, at Votkinsk, deep in the Ural Mountains near the middle of their country.

Try to imagine this happening under Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, or Stalin. Russians are notoriously suspicious of foreigners. No people are more xenophobic. We can safely conclude that they must have wanted this deal very much indeed to be willing to allow such a thing to happen to them.

Why were they willing to pay such a high price?

Partly for the military reasons. The United States Pershing 2 and the ground-based cruise missiles are much more accurate than the Soviet SS-20 missile which they were built to answer. The cruise missiles, for example, are supposed to be able to come within 20 meters (about 21.8 yards) of their target half the time. The SS-20 is rated at only 400 meters.

The US weapons to be withdrawn had the presumed capability of taking out any Soviet military headquarters, munitions dump, concentration of tanks, or airfield between Western Europe and Moscow. The Russians fear military ``decapitation.''

But there must have been other reasons as well.

Probably the greatest is that they must join the world trading community if they are ever to catch up with its other members in modern technology.

They have been living ever since World War II in relative isolation from that community. They tried to create an economic community of their own. They built a trading bloc with eastern Europe and added Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, part of the Yemens, and Vietnam.

They had a chance to keep Egypt and China in their bloc. But the very insufficiency of the Soviet trading system was a major reason that both pulled away and moved over to the Western trading community. Yugoslavia was another defector. Angola and Mozambique are trying to get over as well, but are not yet willing to give up their Cuban mercenaries.

At the time the Marshall Plan was launched the Soviets were invited to join. To the immense relief of Washington and the other West European capitals, Stalin said no. The Marshall Plan matured into what we now call the European Community. It is one of the three most thriving and prosperous economic communities in the world.

The two others are the Japanese and the North American. The three, joined now by China, form a vast, prosperous community. It has its problems. The plight of the US dollar is the most worrisome of the moment. But that is nothing compared with the stagnation that has beset the Soviet community.

If the Soviets want to become modern, they must join this Western trading community. It is imperative for them. But what is the price of admission?

The Nixon-Kissinger-Brezhnev ``d'etente'' of 1972 was expected to lead to admission. But the Soviets thought they could go right along at arms and empire building and still enjoy membership in the Western community. It didn't work.

The intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty signed last week is not in itself a ticket of admission. It is merely a statement of willingness on the part of the US to talk further about a ticket of admission.

The price will be much higher than it was in 1972. The West will want guarantees that Moscow will give up empire building. It will want Soviet troops out of Afghanistan and restraint in arming Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Above all it will want parity in conventional weapons in Europe.

There will be much more talking before the price of the ticket is finally established.

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.