clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

SUMMIT LAYS A FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE FREEDOM, SAFETY

At the risk of oversimplifying, the U.S.-Soviet summit that winds up this weekend can be characterized as an effort to beat swords into plowshares - then sell the plowshares.

Which is to say that of the nine agreements reached between President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the most significant ones are those dealing with nuclear arms control and trade.The other pacts provide for curbs on chemical weapons, tighter verification of nuclear test limits, expansion of air travel between the two countries, closer cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, maritime trade, the opening of cultural and information centers, and increasing student exchanges.

Just the length of this list indicates that the 1990 summit can be considered a reasonable success. But there are still plenty of rough spots in the road ahead.

For openers, take the new U.S.-Soviet trade agreement. It contains plenty of potential benefits for both Americans and Russians. But there's room for wondering when, or even if, the accord will take effect.

The trade pact contains a variety of provisions aimed at expanding opportunities for American companies in the Soviet Union. When it comes to farm commodities, the Kremlin gets a guaranteed source of grain from the United States. Gorbachev gets the most-favored-nation trading status the Soviets have long sought from the United States. For their part, American farmers have an assured market for their product.

But President Bush won't send the trade pact to Congress until the USSR follows through on its promise to make it easier for Jews and others to leave the Soviet Union. Even after that hurdle is cleared, Congress may not approve the pact unless Gorbachev eases his economic blockade of Lithuania and other Baltic states trying to secede from the Soviet Union.

What's more, the Soviets now produce little - aside from caviar, vodka and luxury furs - that interests American consumers.

As for the new agreement on reducing strategic weapons, it represents the faint beginnings of a turnaround in the nuclear arms race. Earlier agreements have called only for ceilings. This one contemplates actual reductions.

But the reductions are only marginal - a 6 percent cut for the United States and a 13 percent cut for the Soviets. That's a far cry from the goals set at the 1986 summit in Iceland - a 50 percent reduction in strategic missiles within five years and total elimination of all remaining ballistic missiles within 10 years.

Moreover, the new pact contains some big loopholes that future arms control negotiators must try to close. By far the most important of these loopholes allows multiple nuclear warheads on the same missile. The superpowers also remain far apart on another accord to withdraw tens of thousands of troops and tanks in Europe.

The arms race, then, is not over - or even under control.

Even so, enough progress was made at this past week's summit to warrant optimism about the future. The new agreements signed in Washington can easily serve as a foundation for continued improvements toward making the world freer, safer and more prosperous.