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Not So Fast

Taking Note

By Joseph F Kahn

TO THUNDEROUS world applause Neville Chamberlain walked away from a summit conference in Munich with Adolph Hitler, having reached a non-aggression pact with the threatening Nazi power. He was hailed in Britain and across Europe as a diplomat of unsurpassed greatness, one who could bargain with and control even the world's greatest menace without risking the atrocities of the first world war.

The applause didn't last for long.

Even as Chamberlain enjoyed the limelight back in London, Hitler completed plans to violate the treaty by sending his army into Eastern Europe. Chamberlain became a symbol of the pitfalls of diplomacy based solely on trust and goodwill. Winston Churchill was called upon to guide Britain into the bloodiest war in Europe's history.

Chamberlain had what he considered a golden opportunity to guarantee world peace. History recorded him as a well-intentioned but unrealistic pacifist. President Reagan had a similar opportunity in Iceland early this week. But the President rightly refused to submit to the allure of world fame if it meant sacrificing the security of this country for the sake of a premature and uncontemplated shift in the world's balance of power.

It is both possible and highly desirable to reach an agreement with the Soviets to dismantle both nations' offensive weapons within the next couple of years. But the possibility of the elimination of nuclear weapons, so simple and complete, is also daunting and problematic, requiring some definite qualifications and guarantees.

IT IS SOPHISTRY to imagine, as Reagan has suggested, that Star Wars will protect the people of this world from a nuclear war of the proportions possible today. A system designed to shield the U.S. and its allies from megatons of nuclear force is scientifically unlikely and financially unrealistic. In addition, Star Wars, under current conditions, would destabilize world security and promote further escalation of the arms race.

What happens, however, if the U.S. and the USSR agree to dispose of the megatons, all of the weapons for that matter? What happens to the balance of power in the world that Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev came so close to creating after just 36 hours in Iceland?

The incredible progress made in Geneva talks and at the Iceland summit shed an entirely new light on arms policy. If implemented, the results of the talks would completely invalidate past arguments about Star Wars and past arms control theories. In one weekend, Reagan and Gorbachev cut through 40 years of Cold War, 40 years of terror and 40 years of playing with the lives of billions of human beings to concur on the fundamentals of a program to systematically eliminate nuclear arms from the face of the earth. Thank God, however, that they did not yet agree to do it.

Only those possessed by a demonic vision would condone the perpetuation of the nuclear arms race ad infinitum. But only fools, or perhaps Neville Chamberlains, would succumb to the temptation to suddenly and completely change the political and military landscape without considering the possible consequences. A Reagan-Gorbachev agreement to dismantle nuclear warheads would render both of them, at least today, the greatest leaders of modern times. Tomorrow, however, they would face the uncharted and perhaps equally perilous challenges of a nuclear world without nuclear superpowers.

First of all, the elimination of nuclear weapons from the stockpiles of the U.S. and the USSR does not mean the elimination of nuclear weapons. What happens to Britain, France and China? More worrisome, what might happen with South Africa, Israel or India, all of which already or will soon have the potential to build similar bombs? Any proposal to eliminate U.S. arms would require a verifiable, reliable agreement with these other nations.

Second, even if all concerned parties agreed to dispose of their arsenals, only the products of nuclear technology dissappear, not the knowledge. The U.S., the Soviets or Colonel Muammar Khaddafy might at any time decide to utilize the knowledge to secure quick and easy military victory and the world would have no recourse. The U.S. and the USSR--and perhaps Britain, China and France--could keep a few nuclear weapons to deter third-party countries from seeking such advantage, but this would increase the likelihood of strategic calculations for alliances between the nations and strategies to win nuclear war.

With a bit a cheating, one or more powers could overrun and withstand attack from the others. This would return us to the dark ages of the Cold War when Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower used or considered using nuclear weapons to decimate portions of the world population. In other words, threats by irrational dictators or other third parties could easily overwhelm a treaty between the U.S. and the USSR, returning the two nations to the frightening doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Third, if the U.S. or the USSR were to violate the agreement after 10 years had passed and nuclear weapons were eliminated--and the USSR in particular has a dismal record of adherence to arms treaties--the non-violator would have no way of resisting the violator other than breaking the agreement on its own. Complete elimination of nuclear weapons would, therefore, by current standards, be entirely unenforceable and would rely solely on trust and goodwill between the superpowers. Here comes the Chamberlain lesson again.

This brings me to the fourth and most important point. There can be no elimination of nuclear weapons without the creation of a functional nuclear defense. Reagan must not allow one day to pass when the U.S. has neither nuclear arms nor a shield against nuclear arms. To allow a window of vulnerability on this count would, to twist Gorbachev's characterization, be madness.

The U.S. should at the very earliest destroy its last missiles only when it completes tests on a defense system and prepare for deployment. Gorbachev's insistence in Iceland that testing not proceed on the one comprehensive defense system currently being researched by the U.S. is unacceptable, because the gap between laboratory research and actual deployment would certainly be great enough to allow the Soviets or a crazed dictator to render this nation completely helpless.

WHILE REAGAN AND Gorbachev almost agreed to eliminate nuclear arms in Iceland, they remained far apart on eliminating the nuclear threat. Any complete and carefully plotted agreement would have to address both problems; they are inextricably intertwined. Star Wars technology may never serve to defend the U.S. against an all-out nuclear war, but it seems realistic, perhaps likely, that some form of the space-deployed system could be a guarantee against minimal numbers of nuclear weapons held by the two superpowers or by any third party. Once nuclear weapons had been significantly reduced or eliminated--and elimination must be the ultimate goal--Star Wars would remove the threat of first-strike scenarios.

The Iceland meeting was the catalyst for the complete destruction of nuclear weapons. Star Wars, or some derivative, is the key to removing the nuclear threat. Without both, Reagan and Gorbachev cannot create a stable world. Without Gorbachev's acquiescence on the Star Wars issue or some compromise that ensures the development of an adequate defense, America should not accept the Soviet terms for arms control.

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