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When the Big Four Meet

Appraising the chances for negotiation.

Since there has been so little detailed consideration, as yet, of the latest Russian disarmament plan, by the press or by responsible political leaders, the New Republic this week dispenses with its Behind-the-Headlines reports in order to present the following analysis and interpretation.

AT THE summit, where Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States are soon to meet, the weather prediction from all sides is cold. The men who are to meet there share one condition: they are shivering. 

For its own reasons each government privately fears the encounter. The French Government, which fears any consideration of German unification, has pressed for this meeting because it was promised the public in reward for ratification of the Paris and Bonn accords. The Soviet Government, which shares French fears of German unity, has no wish to be pinned down on the terms for unification. The British Government and our own are haunted by the continuing fear that faith in negotiation may subvert our common resolution to bear manfully the burdens of Western defense. And yet each government is subject to the same pressures. “Throughout the world,” said President Eisenhower in explaining his reluctant assent to the meeting, “there has been clear evidence presented through the press, through correspondence . . . through diplomatic sources that there is a vague feeling that some good might come of the conference.”

The President’s own feeling, far from vague, had been that no meeting should take place at the summit until the foreign ministers had established their base camps in successful prior meetings. Even this procedure entailed risks. For decisive action would be demanded of a climactic meeting that followed months of conferences. And yet it is not in the nature of the conflict with Communism that decisive and co-operative action can be completed in a few months time.

Under the procedure now agreed upon, those who meet at the summit are cast in a wholly different role. No settlement of major issues is demanded of them in the course of a few days. Instead they go to the meeting as the President goes to the opening ball game; he throws the first pitch, not to strike out the batter but to affirm that baseball is the national sport.

The ball park is not yet chosen, but the ball is resting in the President’s hand. Of his own role, Mr. Eisenhower states, “You are going to meet, to try to discover whether you believe the other people are sincerely hoping to relieve tensions. If so, what are the areas of greatest tension and what can these people do.”

Negotiation, the President reaffirms, is the objective to which building strength is directed. Many people will find renewed hope in that reaffirmation. But others will oppose it. For them it is absurd to suggest, as President Eisenhower does, that the Soviet rulers can be sincere about anything save the war they wage ceaselessly upon the non-Communist nations. It is improper to set out to relieve tensions by negotiations because these tensions are the natural result of our resistance to the extension of Soviet rule. Negotiation in this view implies a recognition of the legitimacy of the Soviet state, and must lessen our pressures upon it. Therefore negotiation is not only futile but dangerous, since our objective is not accommodation with but the downfall of Soviet power. 

However laudable this objective is, the practicable aim in compromise even at some cost to Soviet objectives, of the US and its allies has been the more limited one of defending the non-Communist world against Communist aggression. Universal and enforceable disarmament on Marxist theory and nuclear war achieves our purposes if in fact it can eliminate the Communist military threat.

In a similar spirit other critics of a meeting now at the summit hold that while negotiations are worthwhile, they are premature since our relative strength is rising. The reverse could be true. The conventional armed forces of the West have levelled out well below those of the Russians and Chinese, and the imbalance will not be righted by 12 German divisions. In the past our nuclear stockpile served as a deterrent to aggression by Russia’s massed armies. But as Soviet bomb production grows, nuclear stockpiles are likely to offset each other and to become a deterrent not to all warfare but to nuclear war.

As the stockpiles grow, however, the trend toward neutralism seems certain to rise among the smaller states that cannot defend themselves against devastation. Their alliances with this country are founded on their belief that our common strength is directed toward an active search for peace. Strength in its true sense, political and spiritual as well as military in its resources, demands that we seek out every opportunity that is offered for peace. 

For eight years, certainly, the opportunities presented for agreement with the Kremlin have proved illusory, The collapse of the Moscow conference in 1947, the failure of the London meeting later that year, the 109 days of wrangling in the Palais Rose in 1951 and the futile discussions held in 1953 all suggest that the differences are irreconcilable between the Kremlin and the West and that the sole purpose of the Soviet leaders in meeting is propaganda. This time, in contrast, there is some evidence that military, economic and political considerations lead the Kremlin to believe that its self-interest lies in compromise even at some cost to Soviet objectives.

In military terms Western experts have noticed recently that the Soviet press is filled with anxious debate on Marxist theory and nuclear war. While the rise of socialism from the ruins of a future war is predicted, there is no longer denial that ruin will cover the world.

In economic terms the Soviet state is clearly strained beyond capacity in attempting simultaneously to produce nuclear weapons, to maintain five million men in uniform, to serve as the industrial supplier of China, and to raise living standards of the Russian people. In terms of political considerations, whatever additional fears are aroused in the Kremlin by the ambitions of Bonn and the foolhardiness of Peking, this much is certain: in retreating from Austria, in petitioning Yugoslavia, in moderating its response to the German accords, and in abandoning its rigid stand on disarmament, the Kremlin is showing its dissatisfaction with its recent policies. For no man tinkers with success.

The break-up of the Western defenses remains, of course, foremost among the Kremlin's objectives. Bulganin, the Soviet Premier, spoke very frankly in Warsaw: “It is necessary to take all steps to prevent the revival of German militarism and to wage an extensive and comprehensive struggle against the implementation of the Paris agreements.” It would be surprising if “all steps” did not include a new offer by the Kremlin to extend to all Germany the independence and neutrality already granted to Austria. The offer will be extremely difficult for the West to meet, for Chancellor Adenauer has brought Western Germany into NATO on the explicit understanding that NATO in return will become the means of securing German unification. The Soviet Union most certainly is not going to present the East Zone of Germany to NATO. Nor are the NATO powers going to consent to a disarmed and neutral Germany. For, a Sir Anthony Eden has said, if Germany is disarmed, who will keep her neutral, and if Germany is neutral, who will keep her disarmed?

The new Soviet proposals, presented by Jacob Malik to the UN Disarmament Commission on May 10, appear to envisage a partial evacuation of foreign troops from Germany, prior to all-German elections, and within the context of a world disarmament plan. To these two proposals the Soviet spokesman is likely to add a third, for a security system for all Europe, in which each nation guarantees all others and Germany is granted, not neutrality, but equality with all the rest.

Apart from the political necessity of meeting the challenge, the approach is worthy of serious consideration. For there is merit in treating German unification within the context of a larger settlement for Europe. And successful and vital as NATO is today, NATO, like all our defense plans, is no end in itself.

The substance of the Soviet proposals rests, of course, on the Kremlin’s new disarmament plan. To be successful that plan must pass two tests: it must encompass the goal of universal enforced disarmament; it must progress toward this goal in such a mariner that at each stage the present balance in military strength is not lost to one side or the other. On neither count can the skeleton proposal that the Russians have submitted be judged adequate or wholly inadequate. But it offers a basis for worthwhile discussions at last.

For eight years serious discussion on disarmament has been frustrated by basic conflicts in the approaches of Russia and the allies and, further, by a basic disparity in their positions. Russia and China possessed an enormous superiority in local armed might in each embattled area. It was matched by the universal superiority of the allies acquired through our possession of a stockpile of atomic bombs. These two expressions of armed strength, so dissimilar, could not be meshed in a single plan of disarmament and control. But now the non-Communist nations have built up their local military forces, the Communists have accumulated their stockpile and so the relating of conventional and nuclear disarmament becomes possible.

The West has insisted that disarmament start with conventional forces. The Kremlin has disagreed. As late as February 25, 1955, the Soviet delegates to the UN Disarmament Commission reaffirmed their country's insistence that the freeze on armed forces be fixed at the levels of January 1955, and that later these forces be reduced by one-third in exchange for a ban upon the use of nuclear weapons. Thus the Kremlin protected its superiority in non-nuclear warfare, while denying the West the weapon that permits a world balance in armed force. 

Now the Soviet Union proposes a reduction of conventional forces to 1.5 million in the case of the US, the Soviet Union and China, and 650,000 for France and Great Britain. Fifty percent of the difference between these levels and those prevailing on December 31, 1954, is to be achieved within one year. The impact of this reduction may be judged by an approximation of conventional forces at that date.

US—3.2 million regular troops on active duty  
USSR—4.5 million regular troops on active duty
UK—829,800 (including national service, nurses)
China—2 million in regular army, 1 million in security forces, over 6 million in militia
France and the French Union—907,000 on active duty
Soviet Satellites—1.43 million on active duty

Apparently the initial impact of the new Soviet plan, once implemented, is to deprive Soviet Russia of its preponderance of armed force in conventional weapons. The conventional forces of the Communists would be rapidly cut down to levels which the non-Communist nations are permitted and can maintain. And until further reductions are accomplished, the free nations retain their capacity to wage a nuclear war. In addition, a further concession is indicated on the system of controls.

Unlimited, enforceable inspection has been and still is (the key to allied disarmament plans. The control proposals submitted to the UN Disarmament Commission by Britain, France, Canada and the US require first, that the control agency be functioning in each state prior to the commencement of disarmament; second, that it certify that each stage of disarmament is completed before the next stage is undertaken and third, that it have unlimited access to all installations and areas and not merely those listed as relevant by the country concerned. Neither these provisions, nor the view they represent, are accepted by the Soviet Government in its new plan. Whatever nations may proclaim, states the Soviet Government with some logic, they will not in fact permit unlimited inspection in the present climate of distrust. Distrust, the Kremlin holds, is caused by threats such as the ring of bomber bases with which the US has encircled Russia, The solution, in the Kremlin view, is to create a limited inspection system and to eliminate the bases.

THE control system proposed by the Kremlin follows the pattern already established in Korea. “Preparation for another war,” it argues, “is inescapably associated with the need to concentrate at definite points large military formations. . . . Such concentrations . . . and their transfer can be affected only through big junctions, ports and airfields.” On these installations the posts of an international control agency will be established in the first stage of disarmament. The agency will have further access to official information on the progress of disarmament which it cannot verify. In the second stage, when the dismantling of bases creates the climate of mutual trust, the functions of the international agency are extended. The added functions will include inspection carried out by international civil servants who “within the bounds of the control functions they exercise would have unhindered access at any time to all objects of control.”

The value of this last provision rests plainly on the length to which the list of “objects of control” is extended. “Unhindered access” in other words is subject to negotiation at last and so, it may be assumed, is the dismantling of bases. Obviously the US bases overseas will not be scrapped overnight. The reactivation of a base in Pakistan, should the plan break down, would take much longer than the reactivation of a Soviet division, and so the condition set for balanced disarmament would be upset. And yet intermediary stages are obviously possible: the bases can be placed on standby status, like the mothball fleet.

For the present, the details of the Soviet proposal are less important than the question of whether the outline of the proposal has merit in principle: the answer is probably yes.

If armaments are fixed at levels far below those demanded for successful aggression and if selective inspection can be established to see that these levels are broadly kept, then the major activities can be outlawed which are part of mobilization for war. 

If this is true, and we believe it is true, then the task at the summit is clear: it is to declare the season open for negotiation and, while permitting no relaxation in present efforts to counter the economic, political and military expansion of Communism, to set the experts to work, Their task is to examine the details of the Soviet and Western proposals in the most painstaking awareness of concealed dangers and obvious needs. They may break through, if at the summit there is, in Churchill's words: “the will to win the greatest prize.”