Letting Chips Fallout Where They May

"The arms control talks will come to order. Did the gentleman from the Soviet Union wish to speak?"

"My government must protest President Reagan's request for funding of new MX missiles at a time when we are in Geneva to begin arms negotiations. How are we to seriously discuss reducing weapons at the very moment your American leaders are asking Congress for authority to build more of them?"

"It is very simple, Mr. Federenko. The only reason the President wants the MX missile at this time is so you Soviets will know my country is serious about getting a fair and verifiable treaty."

"Why should we give up our ICBMs if the United States keeps building the MX?"

"Because, Mr. Federenko, you know as well as I do that the MX has no strategic value. The original idea was to move it underground so we could retaliate if you launched a first-strike attack. When that idea proved too costly we decided to put the MX in hardened Minuteman silos. The instant we did that its value as an offensive weapon was lost."

"If it has no value as an offensive weapon why does your President keep asking for money to produce so many of them?"

"Because the MX is the secret bargaining chip we intend to use in these negotiations. We're reluctantly willing to give it up at some time if you are reluctantly willing to give up one of your missile systems."

"Forgive me for asking this, but if the MX is really a secret bargaining chip, why are you telling me this?"

"Because, Mr. Federenko, we believe if we tell you what we are willing to give up, then you will offer us a bargaining chip of your own--something that has no real value in your arsenal."

"We have plenty of those. But if you eliminate a weapon you really couldn't care about, and we eliminate one that we don't want, how does that reduce the risk of a nuclear war?"

"If we both give up obsolete weapons it's easier to arrive at an agreement. The difficult part is to give up something the President insists we need."

"Such as Star Wars?"

"Exactly. Star Wars will never be used as a bargaining chip because once we develop it, we don't care if the Kremlin signs an arms treaty with us or not. If we can knock all your weapons out of the sky, why should we talk to you?"

"By the time you develop a foolproof Star Wars defensive system, we will develop a foolproof offensive system to penetrate it."

"You're just saying that, Mr. Federenko, because you want us to put Star Wars on the table."

"How can you put it on the table when you don't know what it is?"

"How do you know we don't know what it is?"

"Because if you really had a Star Wars system we would have stolen it from you by now. You should know there are no secrets from the KGB."

"Star Wars is dear to Mr. Reagan's heart, and whether it exists or not is immaterial. The fact that the President dreams about it makes the system non-negotiable."

"Then we will not agree to any nuclear arms reductions until the President stops dreaming about Star Wars."

"The Soviet Union cannot tell the President of the United States what he can or cannot dream about."

"We can if his dreams are destabilizing the balance of power in the world. We have an answer to every space weapon he dreams of putting in the sky, and we intend to start building them right now."

"Is that your final word, Mr. Federenko?"

"No, it's my opening statement. Now let's start the talks."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World