Superpower peace contest: Washington moves up fast
Months of anxious pleading by the European allies finally made an impression on the rhetoric and action of the Reagan administration in Washington during this past week.
Secretary of State Alexander Haig made a speech at the United Nations stressing butter rather than guns. He followed it up, two days later, by sitting down to talk with his Soviet opposite number, Andrei Gromyko. Out of that meeting came a statement that the two countries would reopen negotiations Nov. 30 on limiting medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
And President Reagan wrote a conciliatory letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev hoping for a "framework of mutual respect" emerging from the Haig-Gromyko talks.
In other words, the rhetoric was softened at least for the moment, and a dialogue with Moscow was resumed -- after a year's hiatus.
The change in tone and the fact of the resumption of the dialogue will improve a little the American position in the propaganda competition with Moscow. Washington has been getting the short end of that contest ever since the Reagan administration took office. The bristling anti-Soviet rhetoric and the stress on armaments had been in contrast to Soviet talk of peace and the Kremlin's restraint toward Poland.
In the eyes and minds of Europeans, Washington was beginning to sound and even look like a militant warmonger, while Moscow's peace dove pose was beginning to seem almost convincing, at least off on the political left.
The contrast was beginning to be a political factor in several NATO countries. It still just might be strong enough to evict Helmut Schmidt from the chancellor's office in Bonn. Anti-Americanism there remains a minority sentiment. But it has been on the increase, particularly inside Mr. Schmidt's ruling Social Democratic Party.
If the name of the game is alliance splitting (which is exactly what the propaganda contest is all about), then Moscow has been doing dangerously well vis-a-vis the West.Without the twin Haig moves of this week there would have been a further weakening of the ties that bind the alliance.Its condition is at best fragile. The one thing that could and would repair the damage would be Soviet &gt;Please turn to Page 13&gt; &gt;From page 1&gt; troops pouring into Poland.
We may know at any moment. Some troops are said to be still deployed near the Polish frontier and ready to move. this is what happened before the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Soviet and other Warsaw Pact units had been doing maneuvers just outside the Czech frontier. The maneuvers were concluded. But the troops went home -- by way of Czechoslovakia.
The Haig-Gromyko talks have set Nov. 30 for the beginning of serious negotiations over the deployment of new medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe. Underscoring the Reagan administration's hard-line stance is the appointment of superhawk Paul Nitze to head up the American team. Nitze, a former deputy secretary of defense, is a strong critic of SALT II.
Both sides are interested in the possibility of doing something about the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe.The West is extremely unhappy about the 160 new Soviet SS-20 missiles (range of 2,700 nautical miles), which can reach any capital in Europe from deep inside the Soviet Union itself.
But the Soviets are probably just as unhappy about the prospect of the deployment into Europe of the new American Pershing II and cruise missiles. Experts believe a deal is possible. Either the rival weapons might be limited at precise numbers or, conceivably, the Soviets might agree to withdraw their SS-20s beyond European range in exchange for nondeployment of the Pershing II and cruise missiles.
Another possibility during the Haig-Gromyko talks could be agreement on whether to try to reach a satisfactory modification of the existing SALT II treaty or to scrap that treaty and start over.
But the legislative and budget situation in Washington does not make for early breakthroughs on more than perhaps intermediate-range missiles for Europe. Washington would like to have Moscow agree to remove troops and advisers from Afghanistan, South Yemen, Angola, and Ethiopia. It would like a promise to refrain from putting troops in Poland and arms in Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
But Moscow is unlikely ever to agree to restraints on doing anything it regards as necessary to its own security. To the Russians, control over both Afghanistan and Poland are matters of their own security.
Nor is Moscow likely to promise to refrain from going to the aid of what it calls "national liberation movements." It is in the name of such movements that it helps Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, Ethiopia, and South Yemen. Freedom to give aid to such movements seems to Moscow to be the proper privilege of a great global power.
If the US can aid old established governments or right-wing dictatorships, the Soviets see no reason to withhold their aid from revolutionary movements attempting to overthrow those older regimes.
There is so much uncertainty in Washington about how many and what kind of guns the Reagan administration will want to build, and how many the Congress will be willing to pay for, that Washington does not have much bargaining power. The talk is of many new weapons and weapons systems. But so far, it is only talk.
And the proposals that Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger sends to the White House and Capitol Hill have run smack into growing resistance on the Hill.
If Washington were actually building and deploying some of the new weapons and weapons systems, there would be bargaining power -- something with which to trade. But Republican Senate leaders decided firmly this week to reject the latest White House proposals for budget cuts in the welfare and social security areas.
That means that the Reagan target for the budget cuts can now be met only from the defense program.
The Soviets will undoubtedly want to wait to see what comes out of the factories before they talk about trading. Although the dialogue reopened this week, its value will lie more in the fact that Washington and Moscow are again talking than in any prospect for new treaties or agreements. The time is not ripe for much serious business between the two superpowers.