On the Confusion Surrounding Reykjavik

By Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament

THE BEST CHANCE SINCE 1945 FOR ACHIEVING major reductions in nuclear weapons may have been missed at the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik, Iceland.

While each side blamed the other for the failure, the Soviets compromised much more than the Americans on a range of issues that had been holding up an arms reduction agreement. The Soviet compromises included:

Agreement on this package, however, was prevented by the Reagan Administration's insistence that the United States be permitted to go ahead with "Star Wars" development and testing, and begin deployment at the end of ten years. Its supporters have argued that Star Wars was largely responsible for forcing the Soviets back to negotiate with the U.S. over nuclear weapons and to wring compromises from them. Star Wars, some have predicted, would lead to a "grand compromise," under which Moscow would agree to deep cuts in strategic nuclear forces in exchange for restrictions on strategic defences. However, in Iceland, President Reagan continued to reject such a dual.

The failure to reach agreement in Iceland does not necessarily mean the collapse of arms control or even that hopes of a grand compromise have been dashed for all time. Both leaders indicated that the Geneva arms talks will continue and that the compromises struck in Iceland would be the subject of further negotiations.

The Canadian government's evaluation of the Reykjavik summit given in the House of Commons on October 22 by the Secretary of State for External Affairs, Joe Clark, quite properly portrayed the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting as a positive step. The agreement reached on several specific aspects of the overall problem of superpower arms reductions represents a major accomplishment from which any future accords will undoubtedly proceed. A number of significant questions, however, require further examination.

The Future of the ABM Treaty

Mr. Clark's view that disagreement over the future role of strategic defence constitutes the chief obstacle to an eventual accord was especially apropos. He was correct in saying that it is not simply a question of whether to say yes or no to SDI, and that it is up to the superpowers themselves to decide on the limits of permissible research.

The more Significant obstacle, however, remains the disagreement over what type of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) development and testing should be permitted. The "restrictive" interpretation of the ABM Treaty prohibits the development and testing of all forms of ballistic missile defence except that which is fixed and ground-based.

The Soviet Union proposed at Reykjavik to sustain this restrictive interpretation for at least ten years. The Reagan Administration proposed a looser, interpretation of the Treaty that would permit unrestricted development and testing of ABM systems, including space-based systems. In the Administration's view, deployment could then proceed.

Thus, while it is true that the United States is currently adhering to a restrictive interpretation of the Treaty, the arms control proposal it presented to Reykjavik is predicated on the adoption of an interpretation that would effectively remove all legal obstacles to the pursuit of SDI. Even were the Soviets to alter their current stand on the research issue, this larger question would remain. Mr. Clark's statement was unclear on this important point.

While the broad interpretation apparently won out at Reykjavik, the Reagan Administration has yet to commit it-self irrevocably to this course. Evidently, the debate in Washington has yet to be resolved. Where Canada and its allies have a role to play is in encouraging both sides to adhere to the restrictive interpretation of the ABM Treaty and to encourage the Reagan Administration to incorporate the interpretation into its negotiating position, pledging to abide by it in the future.

Support for SALT II

I N looking ahead, Mr. Clark observed that it was important that all actions be resisted which might be seen as weakening or unravelling the existing international framework on which East-West relations and arms control are built." In this connection, it is surprising that the statement failed to mention the SALT II accord. The Reagan Administration has indicated that it intends to exceed the limits of SALT II later this year. While it still may reverse its course, were it to carry through on its stated aim, serious harm could be done to the prospects for further progress.

The Issue of Linkage

Mr. Clark raised another important issue in noting that "progress in other areas should not be held hostage" to the solution of difficulties relating to SDI and the ABM Treaty. This is certainly true with respect to intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF). At the summit held last November in Geneva, Moscow undertook to seek a separate accord on INF. Reneging on that commitment now represents a significant step backwards.

Mr. Clark also seemed to argue that a deal on strategic nuclear forces should not necessarily be linked to agreement on SDI and the ABM Treaty. However, practically speaking, the nature of the strategic relationship between the superpowers demands that reductions in strategic offensive forces be accompanied by strict limits on strategic defences.

Nuclear Testing

In setting out the accomplishments of Reykjavik, Mr. Clark noted that agreement had been reached on the desirability of a step-by-step approach to the problem of nuclear testing. In doing so, however, he suggested that the agreement was based on a principle that there could be a "complete cessation of tests once nuclear weapons had been abolished." This is indeed the Reagan position. if Mr. Clark meant, though, that this is also the Soviet view, it must be said that nothing in the public record supports him.

A Follow-On Summit

Finally, Mr. Clark's call for a follow-on summit early next year is well taken. Given the vagaries of domestic politics on both sides, and the danger that side issues will divert attention from the central purpose of reversing the arms race, maintaining momentum is essential. Another summit, preferably one less surrounded by hype than the last one, could contribute significantly to that objective.

This article was prepared by the Canadian Centre for Arms Control and Disarmament, an independent research and public education organization in Ottawa.

Peace Magazine Dec 1986-Jan 1987

Peace Magazine Dec 1986-Jan 1987, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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