Mixed among the more general and sometimes propagandistic elements of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s arms-control proposal are several that show evidence of a desire to make practical progress toward limiting nuclear weapons. Full use must be made of them if an agreement on arms reduction is to be achieved at the next Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
In preparing for their second top-level meeting in June or July--and there is not much time for this--both the U.S. and Soviet governments need to identify major points of similarity in their arms-reduction approaches that can be incorporated into an agreement in principle such as the 1974 Vladivostok Accord. This agreement could then serve as guidance to the negotiators in drawing up a more detailed accord when Gorbachev and President Reagan meet for their 1987 summit.
Gorbachev’s proposal for a 50% reduction in U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear arms restates an objective agreed to by the two leaders at their Geneva summit. It should now be possible, as it was in the SALT I and II negotiations, to bring the Soviet leadership to drop its insistence, repeated in last week’s proposal, that such weapons as nuclear-capable aircraft on carriers be included as part of the U.S. reduction totals for strategic weapons. Gorbachev’s suggestion of a 6,000-warhead limit for ballistic missiles and long-range, air-launched cruise missiles is already contained in the revised reduction proposals that both countries put forward before Geneva, and could be another point for inclusion in a framework accord at the next summit. The same could be said for indications of willingness by both countries to limit warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles at a subceiling of about 3,000 under the 6,000 overall limit, and to cut the throwweight of existing missiles by 50%.
A further useful element in Gorbachev’s proposal is his relinquishment of earlier Soviet demands to include British and French nuclear weapons in the reduction total of American intermediate-range nuclear weapons. He is also dropping the demand to include aircraft in a first intermediate-nuclear-force agreement--a complicating factor because of the difficulty of defining equitable reductions for widely differing types and quantities of aircraft. These simplifications make it easier to reach agreement at the next summit on the main issues toward reducing American and Soviet intermediate-range ballistic missiles, leaving other weapons for later treatment.
However, the problem of what to do about British and French nuclear forces is not yet fully resolved because neither government is likely to accept Gorbachev’s suggestion that they freeze their arsenals while the superpowers reduce their intermediate-range missiles in Europe. In fact, Britain and France plan to increase their nuclear forces over the next decade by a combined total of more than 1,000 warheads. Gorbachev’s suggestion will increase domestic controversy in Britain and France over expansion of their nuclear forces. What is significant about it in the context of U.S.-Soviet negotiations is that the Soviet position has become more flexible. Thus it may be possible to develop it further toward some acceptable outcome.
The United States and the Soviet Union should be moving now to combine these main points of potential agreement on strategic and intermediate nuclear-arms reductions with some modus vivendi on “Star Wars.” Since Gorbachev has suggested a five-to-eight-year period to complete the first stage of his arms-reduction proposal, both sides could agree to let Star Wars research go on but prohibit testing in space for the same relatively short period. Soviet leaders realize perfectly well that this research is permitted under the antiballistic-missile treaty, that the Reagan Administration will not relinquish it, and that they are engaged in similar research. Their main concerns can be met by a ban on space testing.
Gorbachev’s proposal to negotiate an end to all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 is clearly an effort to match the public appeal of Reagan’s proposal to make nuclear weapons ineffective through Star Wars defenses. From a practical viewpoint, implementation of either of these approaches is far-distanced. The issue for us is what can be done now to achieve the objective of a 50% reduction of existing weapons--an objective so ambitious in itself that it may be necessary to take it in two stages.