President Bush should spurn pressures within his administration for a superpower summit unless a strategic arms reduction treaty is ready for signing. His motto should be: "No Treaty, No Summit."
Richard Burt, who was Mr. Bush's chief arms control negotiator until last February, has warned that unless the United States and the Soviet Union complete a START treaty soon, "the opportunity for nuclear arms control may be lost for years to come." Why so? Because hardliners in the Soviet Union, taking advantage of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's weakness, are increasing their pressure to scuttle START.
According to an article Mr. Burt has written for the New York Times, the Soviet military establishment is complaining of the intrusive verification measures incorporated in START draft documents.
"For the Soviet military, START does not sufficiently limit new high-tech systems like super-accurate U.S. conventional cruise missiles," Mr. Burt contends. "More important, the Soviet high command could decide to place new emphasis on its own nuclear arsenal in a strategy designed to offset U.S. technological superiority in conventional arms." In Mr. Burt's worried opinion, further delays in finishing START would give Soviet hardliners a chance to reopen negotiations on issues that have been tentatively resolved to U.S. advantage.
Mr. Gorbachev's faltering hold on power, a development that worries Mr. Burt, is ironically the very reason why some top administration officials want a strictly ceremonial summit next month. There even is talk of presenting Mr. Gorbachev with direct food and economic aid.
In our view, the notion of holding a summit without the oft-promised signing of a START agreement would be an unfortunate reversal of policy. It would take the pressure off the bureaucracies in both countries to wind up negotiations that have dragged on for almost a decade. It would push to ridiculous extremes the idea that the ending of the Cold War means arms control need no longer be a central element in East-West relations. And it might short-circuit new thinking on what kind of North-South arms control is required for a more stable world order.
The summit now being discussed was first set for last December, then February, but was postponed because of the gulf war and obstacles that have cropped up not only over START but over implementation of the CFE treaty to limit conventional forces in Europe. The Bush administration rightly took the position that until the Russians stopped reneging on CFE, there would be no further START talks. Since then, the Soviets have agreed to move some disputed troops and equipment behind the Urals. So there should be no impediments to START -- if the will is there.
If Mr. Gorbachev is as eager for a summit as he is purported to be, Mr. Bush should tell him he can have it (and perhaps a lot more) provided he muscles his military into accepting CFE and START.