Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has provided the most positive statement to date from the Reagan administration in support of arms control talks with the Soviet Union.
In his first comprehensive speech on the subject of arms control, Secretary Haig declared that "this administration will strive to make arms control succeed."
Speaking on July 14 to the Foreign Policy Association in New York, the secretary of state said the United States would like to see formal talks with the Soviets on limiting the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe begin between mid-November and mid-December. Haig said the US intended to appoint a senior official with the rank of ambassador as its representative to such talks. And he said the Americans would be prepared to pursue innovative arms control ideas, such as "confidence-building measures" in Europe.
Although Haig was not specific on the subject of confidence building, this is usually taken to mean such measures as exchanges of information between East and West on military maneuvers, or having military officers from the two sides observe such maneuvers.
This is the kind of talk that America's West European allies, who are closer to the "front-line" with the Soviets, like to hear. The Haig speech on arms control was required, in part, to placate the allies, some of whom are under strong domestic pressure to show that the planned buildup of American nuclear weapons in Western Europe will be coupled with arms control negotiations. In the words of one West European diplomat, many Europeans have viewed the Reagan administration as being "too confrontational."
Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev has charged that the new administration in Washington has until now not shown a real wish to conduct serious negotiations on the question of nuclear arms limitations in Europe.
The administration, meanwhile, has been deeply concerned over what some officials call growing "pacificism and neutralism" in West Germany, Britain, and smallr European nations. It feels this might disrupt, if not undermine, plans to deploy new American missiles in Western Europe.
One senior State Department specialist in European affairs told reporters last week that the US must demonstrate to the West Europeans that the US is serious both about deploying new weapons and opening negotiations to limit them.
"The charge that we are not interested in arms control or that we have cut off communications with the Soviets on these issues is simply not true," declared Secretary Haig in his 15-page speech on arms control. "The United States wants a more secure and peaceful world. And we know that balanced, verifiable arms control can contribute to this objective."
"We are also confident that the Soviet leaders will realize the seriousness of our intent," Haig continued. "they should soon tire of the proposals that seek to freeze NATO's modernization of theater nuclear weapons before it has even begun, while reserving for themselves the advantages of hundreds of SS- 20s already deployed."
Haig was referring to the Soviets' deployment, starting in the late 1970s, of mobile missiles aimed at Western Europe, with a range of up to 3,000 miles. These missiles, known as SS-20s, are fired from reloadable launchers and carry three independently targetable warheads. They are both less vulnerable and more accurate than the older Soviet missiles. It was primarily in response to the SS-20 that the NATO allies decided to deploy in Western Europe new American ground-based nuclear weapons that could strike all the way into the Soviet Union.
William H. Kincaide, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan organization devoted to promoting positive steps toward arms control , described the Haig speech, for the most part, as "very, very positive."
But there was much in the speech for conservatives to applaud as well. The secretary of state made it clear, for example, that in the Reagan administration's view arms control would have to fall within the frame- work of a continuing American defense buildup. As he put it, arms control is "an essential element," but "only one element in a comprehensive structure of defense and foreign policy designed to reduce the risk of war."
Haig also reemphasized the administration's well established advocacy of the theory called "linkage." He declared that the Soviets' "international conduct" would directly after the prospects for success in arms control. The implication is that the Soviets must restrain their behavior among the developing nations of th eworld or see arms control negotiations fail. The Carter administration, at least in its first year or two in power, had consistently resisted the idea of linkage, insisting that arms control negotiations were important enough to stand on their own.