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Campaigning for SALT


By Brian L. Zimbler

THE WORLD is in flames all around Jimmy Carter. Our new Chinese friends and their Soviet competitors are caught up in a proxy war in Indochina, which could spill over into superpower conflict; the collapse of the Shah and the shaky status of Mideast peace negotiations have exposed U.S. impotence in the region; and there are other political kettles ready to boil over in Pakistan, southern Africa, and the Horn. In all of this, the U.S. has been unprepared, uneasy or unable to influence events as it would like. The death of Ambassador Adolph Dubs in Kabul, plus the take-over of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by leftists rubbed salt in U.S. wounds last week.

With the world falling around its ears, the Carter administration should look to the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) to restore some order and direction in its foreign policy. The treaty, whose final details are being hammered out in Geneva this month, has emerged as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. has groped at straws in an attempt to create a stable world order since World War II: John Foster Dulles tried brinkmanship, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson foundered in Vietnam, and Henry Kissinger sought a vague and cynical "stable structure of peace." So far, Jimmy Carter's conception of foreign policy has been elusive and inconsistent: he first tried "linkage" and strong human rights pronouncements. He then invited the Soviets into the Middle East peace process, and later shifted back to confrontation by criticizing Soviet moves in Africa and Asia, and normalizing relations with China. Carter has alternately courted and menaced the Russians, which has left observers at home and abroad--as well as in Moscow, no doubt--a bit confused.

Which is why SALT II is so important. The coming debate over the treaty will be an ideal opportunity for Carter to define and defend his foreign policy in concrete terms. The treaty fight will most likely leave blood on the floor of the Senate chamber and around Capitol Hill; the Carter administration has made lasting enemies over the Panama Canal and Taiwan issues, and they are sure to mass forces for SALT II. Minority Leader Howard H. Baker (R-Tenn.) served notice two weeks ago that the GOP is declaring open season on Carter's foreign policy, ending the "bipartisan foreign policy" of the Nixon-Ford years. Meanwhile, groups ranging from the Committee on the Present Danger to the Coalition for Peace Through Strength are already lining up against the treaty, making plans to pour $10 million into an all-out campaign to defeat it.

CARTER is now gearing up for the battle. In a speech at Georgia Tech last week, he affirmed that the administration will seek both to gain acceptance of SALT II and to continue to honor its commitments and responsibilities around the world adding "and you can depend on it." But rhetoric alone will not win 67 Senate votes, the number needed for treaty ratification; nor will the tricks that Carter employed to lobby Congress during the Panama Canal dispute prove sufficient. Even some substantive administration maneuvering to placate conservatives has not been enough: Carter has boosted the defense budget by three per cent to 125.8 billion dollars, and nominated a former Pentagon hawk to head the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, but hard-liners like Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) remain unimpressed. Those who oppose the treaty, including former SALT negotiator Paul Nitze, see it as another step on the road to the international decline of U.S. power. To make its case, the administration will need persuasive arguments which are part of a coherent foreign policy. In particular it should keep a few points in mind:

Don't oversell the treaty. Carter's foreign policy has too often rested on flashy form without real substance. The Camp David agreements made headlines, but have fallen into disarray; the January Guadaloupe summit with European leaders was all sun and smiles, but did not even result in issuance of an official communique. SALT II must be different. Exaggerating the treaty's benefits or painting over its weaknesses will only damage its credibility. SALT is no panacea for the arms race; even if both sides sign it, there will still be loopholes, violations, and dangerous escalation of qualitative arms competition. Though both superpowers face these problems, the U.S. should minimize them by making sure the final version of the treaty includes adequate surveillance mechanisms, and should consider its future defense strategy carefully.

Don't undersell the positive benefits of SALT II. Despite inevitable drawbacks, SALT II will be a definite asset to the U.S. position. It will stem the most blatantly threatening and currently costly aspects of the nuclear arms race. As Carter pointed out in his speech last week, the treaty will limit both sides to 2250 missile launchers and 1320 missiles with multiple warheads (MIRVs). It will require that the Soviets cut back their missiles and launchers by 250, ten per cent of their total force, while the U.S. will be able to increase its own stock of missiles and bombers with heavier payloads. True, the Soviets will still retain the heavy-duty SS-19 and SS-20 intercontinental missiles (ICBMs) they began building in the 1960s, which may currently threaten our own Minuteman ICBM silos in the south and midwest; but we will still retain a decisive edge in cruise missiles, number of MIRVed missiles, and long-range bombers.

Some concessions are being made by both sides, in order to equalize the effect of the final treaty: the Soviets have agreed to limit production of their long-range TU-26 bomber, the Backfire, while we have accepted some limits on range and delivery of cruise missiles. But the overall effect of the treaty will be to curb the growth of the most menacing Soviet armaments, while allowing the U.S. to improve its present defense position. Instead of exposing the U.S. to overwhelmingly superior Soviet strength, as its critics claim, the treaty will shift the arena of nuclear competition from quantitative to qualitative areas, where the U.S. has maintained superiority.

Stress the political benefits of SALT II. The treaty is another step on the road to cooperation with Moscow. Kissinger's original conception of detente held that limited cooperation would lead to cooperation instead of conflict in ever-growing amounts; in a sense, he expected that cooperation would train both sides in conflict resolution. Such training, provided by a successful SALT pact, could come in handy in future crises. Besides, accepting SALT II will help convince the Soviets that we are not backing Peking in its histrionics in Southeast Asia; this will reduce edginess in the Kremlin, and perhaps even convince China to curb its aggressiveness.

Don't forget to explain SALT II to our allies. The prospect of a new arms limitation agreement, plus the crumbling of U.S. influence around the globe, have sparked concern in friendly capitals. President Carter had to make a public promise of support against any invasion, with arms as well as political muscle, to reassure Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanand of Thailand two weeks ago. Carter should hold new consultations on the treaty with the NATO nations, who have been complaining that SALT II fails to limit Moscow's Eurostrategic forces," intermediate-range missiles which threaten Western Europe. We should guarantee that we possess sufficient cruise missile capability to defend Europe against aggression. Moreover, we should also point out that SALT II will lessen the chances of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, which inevitably would drag in Western Europe.

ULTIMATELY, however, strategic debates will take the back seat to Senate cloak room politics when the ratification hearings commence. No one on the Hill can predict any outcome for the treaty vote: rumors last week had it that a few key Senators, notably Frank Church (D-Idaho), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, will withold their support until they have carefully considered the complete treaty. In general, Congress seems willing to let Carter draw all the blame for foreign policy problems these days, and the Senate shows no inclination to help him out. As one Senate staffer stated Monday, "We don't want to say anything about SALT until we have to. For now, only Jimmy Carter knows what role the SALT II pact should play in U.S. foreign policy. This spring, he will have to persuade the Senate and the American people to share his vision.

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