When the American, British and Russian negotiators sit down at the conference tables in Geneva this morning, they need only put the finishing touches on a plan that has been already worked out in outline. But the basic plan which they are to perfect was agreed upon in August, 1958. Since then, the talks have slowly cleared up a number of small points of procedure and technical detail. In these series of talks, such minor matters have taken on a significance that seems unwarranted on the surface of things; but to each is attached an intricate web of political considerations.
The plan's basic feature is a ban on the test explosions of all nuclear devices, to be enforced by a system of test stations. The system is to extend throughout the world, and will be operated, by an international commission composed of Western, Communist, and neutral nations. Test stations will use seismographs, which accurately register virtually all explosions in the atmosphere and underwater and a certain proportion of those underground. These test instruments register the difference between man made and natural disturbances within a certain range of accuracy, the exceptions being small underground nuclear blasts. In order to determine the nature of such disturbances, the plan calls for on-site inspections within the national boundaries of the treaty nations.
Within this general framework, there have been numerous disagreements, some of which have finally been ironed out through the long process of diplomatic haggling. One of the major disagreements has been the question of partial agreement versus a comprehensive treaty. The Soviets originally held out for a single treaty that would make provisions for all future ramifications; the West preferred signing separate treaties for each separate stage of agreement as it is reached. In spring of 1960 agreement was reached on a controlled ban of explosions, underwater tests, air tests, and underground tests producing a seismographic signal in excess of 4.75. This figure represented the point below which scientists could not agree on the nature of the disturbance. The plan also made provision for a progressive lowering of this "threshold level" as new research made better detection possible.
The major area of continuing disagreement has been on the problem of on-site inspections inside the Soviet Union. The Russian military men try to keep the number of aliens moving freely about their installations to a minimum. They consider their superior security a major advantage over the West, and see in all inspections systems an attempt at espionage.
Western scientists estimate that at least twenty on-site inspections in Russia will be necessary for the minimum amount of security; this is the lowest number that will make it possible to identify twenty per cent of the ambiguous disturbances. Communist and Western scientists typically disagree on the number of earthquakes occurring annually that would fall into the Dubious category; as might be expected, the Russians tend to minimize, and the West to maximize, the total.
The Soviets maintain that three inspections per year within their borders will be sufficient, the same number that they propose within the U.S. and Britain. The Russians can finally offer to compromise on an intermediate number of inspections, which would still be below the West's minimum, but which the West could not refuse without appearing unreasonable.
Another related problem is the number of posts to be established inside Russia of the agreed total of 180. The West wants twenty-one, and Russians fifteen. There is also controversy over the staffing of such posts. The Russians demand that the head of a post must be a national of the country in which it is located; the West maintains that he must be a non-national.
Another major problem is the representation of nations in the Control commission. The West wants three seats out of the seven, with two going to Russia and a satellite, and the remaining two seats to be taken by selected neutrals. The Russians demand a 3-3-1 representation. Since a two-thirds vote will be necessary on all budgetary matters, the West will have an effectual veto over the systems operations. The Western objection to the 3-3-1 ratio is that it places too much strain on the neutral in cases of disagreement, but gives him too little influence in matters of agreement.
But the Russians feel that they must have a veto as well, and are not likely ever to accept the West's current position. They are, however, willing to expand the commission to nine or eleven members.
In March, 1960, a Western delegate listed twenty-five unresolved issues. In some of these areas, such as the problem of detecting high-altitude explosions, no proposals have as yet been brought forward. In a number of cases, agreement depends on the willingness of both sides to compromise, to make minor sacrifices in their demands for absolute security. If the delegates present plans today that show a serious consideration of all the problems, and a sincere desire to effect an agreement, the negotiations may have a chance of resulting in the first workable disarmament measure of the cold war.