The leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Tuesday ended their two-day summit meeting on a triumphant note after endorsing a nuclear arms compromise that healed a serious rift in the alliance.
The compromise, worked out after midnight by foreign ministers of NATO’s 16-member nations, calls for U.S.-Soviet talks on reducing--but not eliminating--short-range nuclear weapons. It makes such cuts contingent on an agreement in East-West talks under way in Vienna on reducing levels of conventional weapons.
The wording of the summit’s final communique treads carefully between the desires of West Germany, which has favored the elimination of the short-range nuclear weapons, and the United States and Britain, which favor retaining the weapons, virtually all of which are based on West German soil. In particular, the United States and Britain were keen to develop more up-to-date delivery vehicles than the 88 Lance missile systems now deployed in Europe.
The document appears written to allow each side to claim at least a partial victory.
“Consistent with the alliance’s defensive character, its strategy is one of deterrence,” the final statement said of the alliance’s mission. " . . . For the foreseeable future, deterrence requires an appropriate mix of adequate and effective nuclear and conventional forces which will continue to be kept up to date where necessary; for it is only by their evident and perceived capability for effective use that such forces and weapons deter.”
Washington and London benefit from provisions of the final document specifying that cuts in the short-range nuclear arsenal would be a “partial reduction” only and that Washington and Moscow must first agree on conventional arms cuts.
The West Germans can take comfort in the language of the statement saying the United States is prepared to negotiate on reducing short-range weapons once agreement is reached in Vienna.
Missile Deadlock Broken
Until this week, President Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been deadlocked with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl over his insistence on early East-West talks on eliminating short-range weapons.
Bush was a major recipient of the summit’s success, since he apparently paved the way for the compromise with his idea--proposed Monday and adopted by the other leaders the same day--for cutting American and Soviet combat troops in Europe to 275,000 on each side and reducing military aircraft by 15%. By saying such cuts could be negotiated with the Kremlin within six months to a year, he offered the Germans the possibility of “early” talks on the short-range arsenal.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders were unanimous in declaring the summit a resounding success. Bush called it a victory for the alliance. Thatcher said she was “very, very satisfied” and added that the organization has “never been more unified” in the last 15 years.
Kohl said, “This is an excellent birthday present,” referring to the 40th anniversary of the alliance’s founding. And NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner said it was a “highly successful, forward-looking summit.”
Before long, however, there were comments from some of the leaders making it clear that the bargaining had been hard and that differences remain over interpreting the summit’s results.
“Margaret Thatcher stood up for her interests, in her temperamental way,” Kohl told reporters.
And Thatcher attempted to scuttle any possibility that the West Germans could press for the abolition of all short-range missiles from their territory by declaring: “Wriggle as some people may, just read what they signed. We’ve all--everyone of us--signed up to that, so that’s that,” she declared.
The Americans and the British emphasized that use of the word partial precludes a total ban on short-range weapons. It had been their fear that once talks on the short-range arsenal were started, their momentum would lead towards elimination.
Now, as Bush put it, “Partial means partial .” And Thatcher said, “ Partial cannot mean entire .”
The meeting produced two documents: a 10-page final statement, a political declaration praising the Soviet Union and East Bloc countries for changes they are undertaking and calling for expanded NATO relations with the East; and a 17-page paper on NATO’s “comprehensive concept,” outlining the alliance’s military needs and priorities for arms reductions.
“In the Soviet Union,” the final statement said, “important changes are under way. We welcome current reform. In keeping with our values, we place primary emphasis on basic freedoms for the people in Eastern Europe.”
Under the compromise, NATO will delay until 1992 a vote on whether to modernize its arsenal of the Lance tactical nuclear weapons “in light of overall security developments,” a provision that pleased the West Germans, who wanted to avoid the domestically unpopular modernization issue until then. In the meantime, the United States will continue to develop a successor to the Lance.
The talks on reducing the short-range weapons cannot begin until an accord is reached to reduce conventional forces and NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations have actually started to carry out those cutbacks, a U.S. official explained. And the nuclear cutbacks cannot start until the conventional cuts are finished.
Congratulating themselves for having kept the longest European peace since Roman times, most of the participants paid special tribute to Bush for the summit’s happy ending. Woerner said, “His leadership set the tone for the whole meeting,” and Thatcher also singled him out for praise.
The final statement reflected the alliance’s adjustments to its strategy for dealing with the political challenge posed by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s fast-breaking arms offers.
Bush’s proposal for conventional arms cuts provided a “psychological lift” to NATO, Thatcher said, by restoring to the West the arms control initiative that it had long enjoyed until Gorbachev came to power.
But to the extent that Bush’s proposal and the new NATO strategy were tailored to respond to Gorbachev’s moves, the Kremlin leader was an unseen presence at the summit deliberations.
A Pravda correspondent asked Woerner if the alliance was competing with Gorbachev in its new arms proposals.
“In all fields now being negotiated,” Woerner responded, “the West suggested the main principles.” He cited talks on strategic weapons, medium-range missiles and conventional forces.
Woerner acknowledged that Gorbachev had accepted some of the West’s principles, thereby leading to the present negotiations. But citing NATO’s new agenda, he insisted:
“We compete with only one thing: Our vision of Europe--Europe with open borders, human rights, freedom of peoples. . . . “
Some NATO specialists suggested that it will be extremely difficult to reach an accord with the Soviets on the new arms proposals in six or even 12 months, as proposed by Bush. Even the British prime minister said the time span is “very optimistic.”
But this seems to have been papered over to make Bush’s first NATO summit meeting a triumph, and it appeared to satisfy the leading proponent of early talks on short-range missiles--West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.
Genscher said the summit meeting moved the NATO position on short-range missiles “from an obligation to modernize without negotiating to an obligation to negotiate without modernizing.”
Thus Genscher could persuade voters back home that he was engaged in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in West Germany--a popular position--without actually disrupting the Western Alliance.
“Genscher has played this very cleverly,” a senior NATO official commented. “He’s put NATO on the (short-range missile) track he wanted and played to the voters back home. And the summit has not collapsed under his maneuvers.”
Toward the end of the arduous negotiating on the final statement’s language, it appeared that Washington had played the role of peacemaker, bringing together the polar positions of West Germany and Britain.
In his post-conference remarks, Woerner said the successful outcome shows that NATO is alive and well after 40 years of keeping the peace in Europe.
Times staff writer Robert Toth in Brussels also contributed to this article.