Disarmers Respond to Gorbachev

This month, Peace Magazine asked several knowledgeable people the questions: What is your response to the Soviet unilateral test moratorium and General Secretary Gorbachev's recent proposal to abolish nuclear weapons; and what should be Canada's response to these initiatives?

By Eugene Carroll, Franklyn Griffiths, George Ignatieff

Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll (Ret.)

We sent three letters [recommending the moratorium] and we also sent three to the White House. So we were obviously very gratified and surprised that the Soviets tooks the initiative. We were appalled that the U.S. Government rejected it out of hand and particularly for specious reasons. They just wiped out and made a non-event of the Soviet moratorium, and they did it with duplicity and deliberate misrepresentation! There is absolutely no truth in the "orgy of testing" business. After they got over their surprise [at the extension] they started planting stories that the Russians never test in the winter anyway. They haven't tested in January in recent years, but they've tested in February, March, November, and December. The moratorium simply flies in the face of our determination to continue testing to develop the nuclear weapons for the SDI--a program that the President himself told Gorbachev was non-nuclear. We're testing actively with a nuclear weapon that generates an X-ray laser. Another positive element of the proposal was the extreme attention to the need for improved verification and the commitment of the Soviets [to that] in advance, including on-site inspection. The proposal [also mentions] the possibility of neutral nations providing observers. We can no longer justify non-agreement on the basis of verification provisions. That's a bunch of patently lying sophistry!

On the negative side, the proposal is extremely complex and hard to reach agreement on terms. What will go on is the "talk-test-build" process. We'll talk about all those wonderful visions for years and we'll go right on testing and building. During the 1970s ten agreements [were concluded] that were intended to limit nuclear weapons. [Meanwhile] both sides tripled their strategic weapons. There'll be no reduction of nuclear weapons as long as we continue to test and build while we talk. All we have to do to take "test" [out of "talk-test-build"] is for us to quit. If neither side can get ahead in the technology of nuclear arms [by testing] then you take away one of the great goads in the arms race. [But] we want to gain advantage so they can't harm us, but we'd like to leave it that we can harm them. And as long as we test, each side is pushing for this advantage. The CDI calls a CTB the first essential step to avert a nuclear war. The second is to agree not to test delivery systems. The third is no new deployment of new systems. The fourth: End the production of nuclear explosives. Why build untested junk that you can't do anything with except stick in a cave and hide? So you end up with a fully verifiable, mutually enforceable freeze. Then you can get very serious about Gorbachev's or Reagan's proposal. You can negotiate up a storm to get those arsenals down and there's be no testing and building going on to drive them up. The end of testing would be the first positive statement by both sides that we are serious about getting nuclear weapons under control. We could have a CTB in 30 days if we wanted it. The Soviets have been too consistent too long on this...After April 1, they'll undoubtedly wait until we explode another weapon, then they'll "reluctantly and with great sorrow" etc. explode a nuclear weapon.

Franklyn Griffiths, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

It seems to me they have an interest politically in this sort of measure, and the real question is how deep it goes into a military and actual strategic interest. It allows them to seize the high ground as it were in what I think is the most important aspect of Soviet policy these days, which is the minds of men and women. And this is a very good move from that standpoint...The Soviet Union in 1927 astounded the world by proposing for the first time ever general and complete disarmament. This was a proposal by Litvinov in Geneva. In '59, Khrushchev at the U. N. proposed GCD again. We're talking here about all weapons. For some years the Soviets and the Americans and others discussed this. Khrushchev was aware [that it was unrealistic] but also that it had appeal and that it would loosen up perhaps the debate and create a basis for discussion and maybe agreement on items that would be separated from the total package. It's probably where the Soviets are going today. Take the high ground and then settle for less. There are probably some elements in this package that are separable and I think as a practical negotiating proposition that's the way anyone would have to approach it...I don't think that negotiations on arms matters are at a point when there is very much to worry about. [When that happens] then I think Gorbachev will surely, like any other Soviet leader, have to reconcile competing differences...[Internal opposition] would have to come in part from the Soviet military, which would just by the nature of the technology have similar interests to that of the U.S. [miltary]. Then there are others who feel that the U.S.'s having dedicated itself to remobilizing American power [means] any substantial level of agreement with the Americans would amount to appeasing American belligerence. The other side would say it's through piecemeal, step-by-step measures that you reduce American belligerence, providing, though, that the Soviet Union maintains an adequate level of strength. We have in other words, in the East and West two parallel debates going on, as I see it.

We should not be the one to, in effect, tell the Soviets and the Americans what to do. Better to talk with our allies and other friends who have a common position rather than Canada standing alone preaching to the others.

George Ignatieff, Chancellor of the University of Toronto

In a way it was a pity that they didn't put it forth in the Geneva context first very quietly instead of making a big row about it. But it does contain very serious proposals that not only Canada but all of NATO has to address. They have offered and continue as an example of good faith the moratorium on testing. Gorbachev specifically said he would be willing to accept on-site inspection as could be developed in negotiation. There's no excuse for not accepting what Canada has regarded [as essential] in successive regimes, dating from the days when I was still in the Department as Assistant Undersecretary working with Howard Green--we put a test ban absolutely at the top of the list and it's been at the top ever since. We've been under American pressure, pretending it isn't there and voting against test ban resolutions at the U.N.--which I can't understand. But now we have verification offered. They have offered prima facie what we have been demanding. [Another] important thing about the new proposal is the fifty percent cut, which matches Reagan's fifty percent cut. It's just a question of which weapons to cut. These are extraordinarily important positions which challenge the current NATO strategy of nuclear retaliation. The main opponents of the Gorbachev proposals say that you can't undo nuclear weapons because you can't undo nuclear knowledge and nuclear power. But you can if you set your mind on it....The argument isn't valid if you talk about 50,000 nuclear warheads which could blow up the planet, as against the danger of one or two warheads which could conceivably threaten a community. [A U.S. rejection of the proposal] would signal to me nuclear intimidation and threat contrary to the basic commitment of the U.S. and ourselves and everybody else under the U.N. Charter not to use force or the threat of force. Contrary to that, they would be committing themselves to the rule of empire. We'd then have to consider whether we would be allies of the U.S.

I would hope that Canada would urge the serious consideration of the proposals in Geneva and set out a position of our own. My view is that NORAD should not be renewed--or renewed perhaps for a year--and should become a NATO responsibility. We should use every multilateral forum as well as bilateral. We've got a common problem. We don't want to merely preach sermons to the U.S.--that won't go down very well--but we should come up with concrete pragmatic propositions.

Hon. Pauline Jewett, External Affairs Critic, New Democratic Party

I'm in favor of a moratorium that would be undertaken by both sides. I'm glad the Soviets have undertaken theirs; I've been urging the government to press the United States also to join in a permanent ban on all nuclear testing. But a comprehensive test ban is an essential part of any significant nuclear disarmament proposal. In the Gorbachev proposal the Soviets have asked that in the first of the three stages, a comprehensive test ban be agreed upon. They don't say whether this is a precondition for any other element of the first stage, or for stages two and three of their long-range proposal. If it is a precondition for other features of the first phase, and if the United States refuses, then you don't go anywhere. Although it's not clear, my understanding is that they are prepared to go ahead with other aspects of the first phase in the hope that, by showing good intentions, a comprehensive test ban would ultimately be accepted by everybody.

Now for the first time Soviets seem prepared to pursue on-site inspection, if that should be necessary, and this would be true for the reduction proposals as well. We've certainly been pushing verification.

The thing I find the most challenging and innovative about the Gorbachev proposals is that by envisioning a world without nuclear missiles by the turn of the century, he gives us a sort of a timetable. If we had a timetable, there might be a real effort on both sides to implement it in its three phases. We've talked about living in a world without nuclear missiles; the United States has proclaimed that to be their goal since 1946, but this is the first time that a proposal has come forth of a three-phased timetable for reaching that goal. It's also significant in the light of Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative, because if you're really going to take seriously getting to a world without nuclear missiles, then why develop a costly space-based defence against them?

The Soviets have shown flexibility as well in some of their proposals: they've certainly given us an interesting new version of the American Zero-option, and I thought that was useful, agreeing that both sides would eliminate their missiles in Europe, including Soviet Europe. They refer to the European zone, which would of course include the western part of the Soviet Union. And the French and British missiles, which they've always argued had to be phased out or reduced at the same time, they now say could go into phase two. There is interesting flexibility in some of the Soviet proposals. So I have some hope. Paul Nitze has been in Europe for the past several days talking with the Europeans about the Gorbachev proposal. I would expect that we would soon have something quite specific coming out of Washington at Geneva.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1986

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1986, page 11. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Eugene Carroll here
Search for other articles by Franklyn Griffiths here
Search for other articles by George Ignatieff here
Search for other articles by Pauline Jewett here

Peace Magazine homepage