For 5 1/2 years more than a few cynics have made a career of attacking Ronald Reagan on arms-control issues. The President isn't interested in arms control, they say. He has no strategy. Even if he does, it isn't working. Well, they're wrong.
When the President took office and spoke the hard truth about the nature of the Soviet Union and the military threat that it represented, the critics cried out that Reagan would never negotiate with Moscow--his ideology would get in the way; his rhetoric would offend the Kremlin elite.
Then when we began a long-overdue campaign to catch up with the Soviets in military capabilities, especially in the strategic-weapons area, we heard that such a "military buildup" spelled doom for arms control and would lead inevitably to a new arms race.
Then the President announced his Strategic Defense Initiative, which the critics gleefully tagged "Star Wars," and the nay-sayers labeled it the "death knell" for arms control and the opening of a potentially cataclysmic phase in our arms competition with the Soviet Union.
And, finally, when the President recently decided--in the face of substantial Soviet violations--that the United States would no longer unilaterally abide by the unratified SALT II treaty, that decision, too, became the latest "death sentence" for arms control.
And yet today, after hearing the last rites for arms control so often that we can all recite them by heart, we find ourselves trying to arrange a second Reagan-Gorbachev summit, and the arms-control negotiations are going forward in Geneva, and we have sent our response to the most positive arms-reduction proposal that the Soviets have ever offered up.
What gives? Is this just another case of the legendary "Reagan luck?" Or could it be that the President had this in mind all along?
I have a feeling that Mikhail S. Gorbachev and his Kremlin cronies know the answer, even if some of our resident media sages refuse to acknowledge it. The Soviets have correctly "read" the Reagan strategy, and have become convinced that we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure our national security. And they have seen in our determination the handwriting on the wall for their strategy of trying to achieve their ends through the blackmail of superior military strength.
At the same time, though, the Soviets have perceived far better than some American commentators that the President did not see the U.S. military buildup as an end in itself, but rather as the means to an end--the kind of real arms-control negotiations that can only be based on a rough equilibrium in military strength. Last November's summit meeting was probably the occasion on which this message really got through--that Ronald Reagan was seriously interested in arms control. But only the real thing--mutual, equitable, verifiable: the kind of pact that could enhance, not endanger, our national security; the kind that could make the world truly safer and more secure.
And so the Soviets returned to the Geneva talks that they had earlier abandoned. They slowly but surely got around to negotiating even as SDI research went forward. And, finally and very recently, they have tabled what appears to be a serious proposal that may offer some hope for real progress in arms reductions.
The White House announcement that the United States has sent its response to Gorbachev and has begun consultations with our allies demonstrates again that the President is not going to let this opportunity to make progress get away. Now that Gorbachev has seen our response, we will probably see soon thereafter a meeting between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze to work out details for a second summit later this year.
These are only the initial steps. We don't know for sure where this road will lead. But there is some reason to hope for a kind of synergism--some movement on arms control could ensure a productive summit, and that summit could give new impetus to successful talks in Geneva.
We have this hope not in spite of but because of Ronald Reagan. We have this hope not in spite of but because of Congress' support for the President's programs for the MX missile, SDI and the other key elements of our military modernization program. We have this hope not in spite of but because of our wise abandonment of the phony constraints of SALT II, and our saying that until we have a new, real arms-reduction agreement we will do whatever is necessary to ensure our national defense.
The President's knee-jerk critics aren't going to admit that they were wrong. They're going to continue to ignore history and the facts and to predict the worst. My hope is that the rest of us can move for ward, with the President, to a future where our country will be strong and secure and the world will not have to live under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.