The word from pollsters in Western Europe is that people there find Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev a more convincing champion of peace and arms control than President Reagan. If that is the case, Europeans need a refresher course in recent history.
The President, to be sure, has said and done plenty to deserve a hawkish image. In his first term in office, he scared Europeans out of their socks with casual comments about nuclear-war fighting. More recently he has seemed to block a possible big-power reduction in strategic nuclear arms by refusing to accept common-sense limitations on ballistic-missile defenses. The Administration's tough-talking posture in the Persian Gulf area has added to allied nervousness--although, in fairness, he has a right to ask what Europeans are prepared to do to protect their own energy supplies.
When the Europeans give Gorbachev credit for peaceful intentions, however, they are overlooking his continuation of the cruel, Soviet-launched war in Afghanistan, not to mention the Soviet-backed Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. On arms control, the negotiations of most direct concern to Europeans are those dealing with the prospective elimination of medium- and short-range nuclear missiles from Europe. The Soviet leader does deserve a full measure of credit for helping to bring agreement near, but the fact is that he basically has accepted proposals that were made long ago by the American President.
The zero-zero formula, under which both sides would remove medium-range missiles from Europe, was first proposed by Reagan. It is nice that Gorbachev has come around, but the fact is that Moscow at first ridiculed the proposal.
Gorbachev did go further with his idea for the removal of shorter-range missiles as well--but the main opposition in this case came not from the Reagan Administration but from Europeans, especially the West Germans, who were mindful of the residual Soviet advantages in battlefield nuclear weapons and conventional forces.
Many Americans, including us, have been harshly critical of what they considered the President's stubborn resistance to concessions on the Strategic Defense Initiative. But no such stubbornness has ever been in evidence in regard to the removal of nuclear missiles from Europe. If we and our allies are to stay on the same track, it really is necessary to keep the facts straight.