President Bush, declaring that “a new breeze is blowing across the steppes and the cities of the Soviet Union,” challenged Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Friday to open his nation’s airspace to unarmed spy flights.
In his first major presidential speech on the evolving U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, Bush expressed encouragement, but also skepticism, about the changes taking place there. He unveiled a series of tit-for-tat proposals intended to push the Kremlin toward a more open society and greater cooperation with the West--following much the same course as President Ronald Reagan.
Bush demanded that the Soviet Union demonstrate its intentions with deeds, not merely promises, because “a new relationship cannot be simply declared by Moscow, or bestowed by others.”
“Promises are never enough,” he said, in a speech at the Texas A&M; University commencement, a school with a long military tradition and one that gave him an enthusiastic reception.
Expressing wariness, he continued:
“The Soviet Union has promised a more cooperative relationship before, only to reverse course and return to militarism. Soviet foreign policy has been almost seasonal--warmth before cold, thaw before freeze. We seek a friendship that knows no season of suspicion, no chill of distrust.”
Many of the steps for which Bush called are already being undertaken by Moscow, at least to some degree, or have been promised, as the Soviet Union undergoes the political openings of Gorbachev’s glasnost and the economic restructuring of perestroika.
In his address, which summed up the results of a four-month Administration review of U.S.-Soviet relations, Bush called on the Soviets to:
- Reduce their military forces. In December, Gorbachev announced a 10% cut in Soviet armed forces personnel, and on Thursday he told Secretary of State James A. Baker III in Moscow that he would remove 500 nuclear warheads from Eastern Europe. Bush said the Warsaw Pact nations hold more than 30,000 tanks, more than twice the artillery of the NATO nations and hundreds of thousands more troops. “They should cut their forces to less threatening levels,” he said.
- Allow self-determination for all the nations of Central and Eastern Europe. In a symbolic move, a section of barbed wire on Hungary’s border with Austria was torn down by Hungarian troops earlier this month. “One day it should be possible to drive from Moscow to Munich without seeing a single guard tower or a strand of barbed wire. In short, tear down the Iron Curtain,” Bush said.
- Work with the West “in positive, practical--not merely rhetorical--steps” toward resolving regional disputes. The Soviets have withdrawn troops--but not military supplies--from Afghanistan and worked with the United States to oversee an agreement to withdraw Cuban troops from Angola. Bush saluted such efforts, but said, “there is much more to be done.”
- Install lasting political pluralism and respect for human rights in the Soviet Union. Praising the “limited, but freely contested, elections” and the “greater toleration of dissent” there, Bush said: “Mr. Gorbachev, don’t stop now.”
- Join the United States in fighting environmental problems and “the international drug menace.”
The President’s proposals reflected the rapid volley for international affection that is taking place between Moscow and Washington. Over a period of nearly half a year, Gorbachev has served up one proposal after another for scaled-down military operations and wider cooperation, which Bush fended off while foreign policy advisers completed studies of the United States’ relations around the world.
The President’s proposal to open the skies of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact nations and those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members to surveillance flights reached back to an approach that President Dwight D. Eisenhower tried in 1955. It was met at that time by Soviet rejection.
“Let us again explore that proposal,” Bush said.
“Such unprecedented territorial access would show the world the true meaning of the concept of openness,” the President said. “The very Soviet willingness to embrace such a concept would reveal their commitment to change.”
He said the flights “would provide regular scrutiny for both sides.”
Proposal Called Symbolic
But Administration officials, including retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the President’s assistant for national security affairs, and a senior Pentagon official, cast the proposal as primarily symbolic.
The Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “it’s sort of ridiculous,” because U.S. satellites crossing Soviet territory at altitudes of 150 to 200 miles perform the same military spying functions as an airplane would carry out.
“With the coverage and the resolution of the (satellite) cameras, not to mention the things they can listen to, I don’t understand the benefit of it,” he said.
The White House said the matter had not been explored in detail with the NATO allies. Scowcroft indicated that the idea had been broached with the Soviets, who had not yet responded.
In seeking greater U.S.-Soviet cooperation, Bush offered “a broader economic relationship,” but he said economic relations in the past were “stifled by Soviet internal policies” and efforts to steal Western technology under “the cloak of commerce.”
Trade Concession Offered
Addressing a subject that has been a thorn in U.S.-Soviet relations since 1975, Bush offered a temporary waiver of a trade measure that has denied special benefits to the Soviet Union in response to Moscow’s restrictive emigration policies.
Bush said he would work with Congress to obtain a temporary lifting of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 Trade Act, which went into effect Jan. 3, 1975, if the Soviet Union codifies and enforces emigration laws to guarantee free departures.
The amendment denied the Soviet Union “most favored nation” status, which otherwise would have given it the same trade preferences and tariff concessions that the United States provides to most of its major trading partners.
A White House official, pointing to the recent upsurge in Soviet emigration, said that it had reached 87,000 in 1988, including 19,000 Jews, and that in the first three months of this year, Soviet citizens were being allowed to emigrate at the rate of 9,700 a month, including 3,200 Jews--a rate well above last year’s. In the peak year of 1971, 51,000 Jews were allowed to leave, a White House official said.
While much of the U.S.-Soviet relationship has been built on arms control, there were no new proposals in this arena.
Gorbachev Proposal Hit
But Scowcroft, speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush flew here from Washington, was critical of Gorbachev’s proposal to pull 500 nuclear warheads out of Europe. He described it as an offer “designed principally to create problems” within the Atlantic alliance.
The proposal was made as NATO leaders are about to gather at a 40th anniversary summit at the end of the month, torn by a West German proposal to move toward speedy negotiations with the Warsaw Pact to limit short-range nuclear forces in Europe. The United States objects to such a plan out of concern that it would leave the West at a disadvantage in the military balance because of the Soviet bloc’s superior conventional forces.
Reflecting on the impact that the changes in the Soviet Union have had on NATO, Scowcroft said, “the glue which has held the alliance together . . . has been the kind of overwhelming threat from the Soviet Union.”
“Now as the perception of that threat diminishes, then the glue tends not to be there, and what we need to do is to replace it by a sense of mission for the alliance itself for the future,” he said.