THE “HISTORIC AGREEMENT” to eliminate short-range and intermediate-range nuclear forces announced last month in Washington has been greeted with great fanfare. There have been reports of near euphoria among groups that want to end the arms race.
Before the agreement, it was well known that important issues divided the parties. Among those issues were the 72 U.S. warheads available for use on West German ‘Pershing missiles, the timetable for dismantling the missiles and the method of verification. In a radio interview after the two sides announced their ° “tentative agreement in principle.” Soviet spokesman Vladimir Alexiyev listed some of the issues yet to be settled. These include the 72 warheads, the timetable for destruction of the missile systems, and verification methods.
There are strong disagreements in the governing West German coalition about the wisdom of giving up the missiles and it is important for the Soviets that the destruction of the warheads be written into any agreement they sign.
In the absence of supporting evidence, has the gap between the two powers really narrowed? The only agreement actually announced is an agreement to meet again, an agreement to try to arrange a summit, and an agreement to talk about nuclear testing. There is no treaty; there is no completed agreement to destroy weapons. There is not even a hint of an agreement to reduce the total strength of nuclear forces.
The debate on the timetable for destruction of the missiles and warheads should point up another aspect of this situation. Withdrawing and dismantling the weapons under discussion could be done quite rapidly. The timetable is an issue because military planners want time to compensate for the loss of the weapons.
The land-based missiles included in the agreement are the most vulnerable and destablizing weapons around. They are, in a sense, totally redundant because they can be replaced by longer-range missiles, which now have an accuracy comparable to older, shorter-range missiles. Because short- and medium-range land-based missiles must be kept relatively close to their targets, there is real danger that a surprise attack could damage some of them. Because of their short range, those who fire them might encounter some of the radioactivity that results from their detonation on nearby targets. The destruction of these missiles on a leisurely timetable that allows their replacement by longer-ranged weapons and submarine-based weapons is not disarmament; it is modernization.
It is important to ask why conservative Western governments have greeted such nebulous progress with such fanfare. Pro-, militarization troupe may hope to use the illusion of progress to reduce the pressure for real disarmament. If the public’s attention can be distracted by these “dramatic breakthroughs,” it may not notice that the arms race continues unabated.
If the public believes that continued military build-ups have brought disarmament, it may lose interest in groups that want to end the build-up. If the public believes that solidarity has achieved disarmament, support for political parties favoring re-examination of military alliances would be reduced. In other words, the illusion of change and progress may be needed to protect the status quo. All the fanfare may be designed to reduce dissent within the alliances.
Those who want an end to the arms race obviously must regard this “tentative agreement in principle” as positive. However, they must not allow wishful thinking and skilful public relations to delude or distract them. We must never forget that there are powerful forces that do not want disarmament and that we cannot end the arms race by building mare weapons.