East-West relations put to test in Madrid
The next major text of East-West diplomatic relations begins today in Madrid with both camps thrown into confusion by the Polish crisis and other political upheavals of the 1980s:
* The Western allies are expected to enter these talks on European security and cooperation in the same disarray that marked their handling of the Afghan intervention and participation in the Olympic Games -- despite months of preparations here and in other capitals.
Western diplomats are cautious about evaluating the impact of the Polish situation on the meeting of 33 European countries plus the United States and Canada. But they add that the creation of free trade unions in the communist bloc is bound to be a factor.
* The Soviet camp will be too stunned by the Polish uprising to pursue their expected policy of exploiting the Western allies' disunity or whether it will be so testy over the Polish events as to overreact to any Western mention of this or other related issues.
Some critics of the communist system will want to raise the Polish example, but most sources are unsure how far to press the delicate point at the risk of disrupting the conference and further endangering detente.
European Community and NATO officials meeting to forge a coordinated front for the Madrid conference felt -- before the Polish chapter -- that most Western participants would be able to stand together. They also hoped the Madrid meetings would lead to a follow-up East-West conference on military detente and security.
Although there seems to be a general consensus in favor of a conference devoted to such subject in 1981, most NATO allies want to study the ramifications of any new undertaking. NATO officials also foresee that the Soviet Union will seek to drive a wedge between the United States and European allies on this sensitive issue.
European officials now realize they will have to tread carefully to avoid the risk of increasing tension not only between Eastern and Western countries, but also within the allied group. This will require finer tuning of the Western position on post-Afghanistan relations with Moscow and human rights than has been the case in recent months. "The aim is not total concordance," noted one Western official, "but rather to have general unity and not to surprise each other."
The first round of talks beginning Sept. 9, while largely confined to laying the agenda and timing on specific subjects, will nevertheless broach some highly political questions.
Some nations want to avoid a specific time limit to the conference that could choke off debate on sensitive issues. Many also want some accounting on compliance, especially by the communist bloc, to the Helsinki principles regarding human rights, the exchange of information and nonintervention in the affairs of other states.
There are different attitudes in the West about how hard to press the Soviets on their tough stand on dissidents, foreign journalists and information, the Afghanistan intervention, and jamming of foreign radio signals during the Polish crisis -- all of which are considered against the Helsinki charter. Some were inclined to cancel the Madrid meeting over these violations. But according to one NATO source, they were convinced by East European governments to keep the Helsinki process alive because these communist countries saw it as a key defense against the Soviet Union and as a way of liberalizing their regimes. "There have been a number of success stories in rights in Eastern Europe since Helsinki ," commented one expert here. "The question arises of how far can one go in the wake of Afghanistan, but the general agreement is that for better or worse going ahead with detente should be tried."
The Western allies are also aware that they will face heavy fire from the Soviet Union over their economic sanctions against Moscow after Afghanistan, the boycott of the Olympics, and alleged human-rights violations of minorities in the West. "They are making full dossiers of everything true, untrue, or half-true and will turn that into a thundering indictment of the West," one expert forewarned.