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Arms control prospects after the summit

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THE summit has come and gone without improving the prospects for strategic-arms control. No doubt the meeting was useful in allowing Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to become acquainted and size each other up. Each seemed to convince the other that he wanted better relations (on his terms). The world breathed a bit easier by reason of the civility of the talks and the promise of their continuance. But of substance there was not much. On strategic-arms control, President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) remains a roadblock. During the meetings and since, Mr. Gorbachev repeated that sharp cuts in offensive weapons would be feasible, but only if coupled with constraints on SDI. And just as adamantly Reagan reasserted his determination to pursue his vision of a leakproof defensive shield that would free the world from the threat of nuclear weapons and make them obsolete.

Gorbachev's arguments that SDI would actually accelerate the building of offensive as well as defensive systems and would jeopardize the stability of deterrence fell on deaf ears. He might have cited in support a passage from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's report to the President just before the summit. ``Even a probable territorial defense,'' Mr. Weinberger wrote, ``would require us to increase the number of our offensive forces and their ability to penetrate Soviet defenses to assure tha t our operational plans could be executed.'' But that would not have budged Mr. Reagan. His long suit is not analysis.

Does this mean that strategic-arms control is foreclosed under Reagan? Not necessarily. Sometimes he can be moved in other ways. As governor of California and as President, he has shifted his position when faced with concrete choices with clear political costs and benefits.


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