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Open Skies?


Folks for some time now have been aware of a phenomenon in Western thought known as laissez-faire thinking. Its latest expression has come in Eisenhower's Geneva Conference proposal for "open skies." With the true homely-phrase-making genius of the American politician, the President presented the world with an appealing slogan. "Open skies" sounded like a Good Thing, because Americans are good at free competition so long as it is clean and "open." "Open skies" called to mind Woodrow Wilson, fair play, and possibly even Blue Skies. It was, in short, a note of hope. Perhaps it still is. But it is also an inadequate and delusory approach to the problem of disarmament.

Common sense might well suggest that aerial inspection would have its futile aspects. Atomic energy can be manufactured and nuclear experiments of all sorts can be carried on in buildings not distinguished by any peculiar shape. Even if planes were equipped with monstrous Geiger counter devices, neither nation would have a very sure idea of what was going on. Intended as a means for initial communication, "open skies" might possibly breed increased fear and suspicion, especially should either side find it difficult to account for various mysterious installations. Even if aerial inspection were limited to flights over Arctic airfields it could neither check surprise attack effectively nor inspire much mutual trust. Inspecting planes would have to be searched by counter-inspectors, and even with this there would always be a lurking dread.

Ground inspection would seem much more effectual, both because of its greater accuracy and because it would necessitate closer communication between the two nations. There is, naturally, some resistance to ground inspection. It is, perhaps, asking too much to urge that the Russians be given all of our Secrets. Undoubtedly, the Russians, wily as they are, feel the same way. But it would seem that a system could be devised for inspecting nuclear power production without exposing every smidgen of the latest techniques and theories.

Although ground inspection must be the final aim, aerial inspection is at the moment necessary as an initial negotiatory gambit. At one time, when Russian nuclear developments were not so well progressed, the United States might have secured ground inspection. But the President instead substituted "open skies." (It sounded so nice.) Now the Russians, with obvious new strength, have agreed to deal with America on its own futile terms.

Obviously, since Eisenhower first proposed this delusory scheme, the United States must continue to stand behind it. This is exactly what it seems to the Russians that Dulles is not doing. By denying air inspection of the encircling European bases which now frighten the Russians more than somewhat, America in effect seems to be taking back with one sinister hand what it had given with the other. Dulles' argument that aerial inspection of Europe presents impossible political problems perhaps has some validity. But his cynical attitude on the whole issue of disarmament must give the Russians the impression that he is really only baiting them.

Even without Dulles' disagreeable behavior, the United States' negotiators face a dilemma. About all that can be done in the "open skies" line is to appear co-operative on the thorny problem of European aerial inspection. It does seem that Mr. Stassen is capable of appearing much more cooperative than Mr. Dulles, who tends to rave slightly in times of impasse. But a quiet Dulles and the Stassen smile will not be enough. If aerial inspection of Europe is impossible, United States' negotiators must shift their approach to ground in which they can afford to give and take. As it happens, this area is the one which should have been stressed from the start. Ground inspection might be started tentatively in Europe and on non-nuclear projects. Then, as America's courage gathered, it might gradually come to accept an effective plan.

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