Inside Moves

  • For once the sherpas have been understating their accomplishment. Those on both sides who have been making the preparations for next week's Moscow summit say no final deal or formal treaty will be signed there. At best, President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev will agree to a framework for further negotiations. Their satisfaction, it is said, will have to come from the knowledge that their fourth meeting marks a significant warming trend in Soviet-American relations, as well as a new record for the number of meetings between the heads of their two nations.

    In fact, what has already been achieved is nothing less than a major breakthrough -- an important and promising feat in its own right, and all the more extraordinary against the history of the relationship. As recently as 1984, the arms-control process had collapsed. Washington and Moscow were barely speaking. Now the main provisions of an unprecedented treaty that would significantly reduce the largest, most powerful and most dangerous weapons on earth -- intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) -- have been committed to paper.

    The pact is more than 90% done. Of course, the remaining 10% includes some tricky issues, and it may be there, in those details, that the devil resides. While a fifth Reagan summit with Gorbachev is possible, it may take Michael Dukakis or George Bush to finish the work. But it is impressive work nonetheless. The result would be the first major cut in strategic arsenals since the arms race began 40 years ago. Even more important, the effort could lead to "stabilizing" reductions that could enhance the nuclear peace.

    The inside story of the past five years, much of it never before told, contains revelations that highlight the significance, and in some ways the . irony, of next week's encounter in Moscow. For example:

    -- The superhawks of the Administration, who ended up championing Star Wars, originally opposed the President's dream of a perfect defense.

    -- An important early proponent of Star Wars was Robert McFarlane; initially, the scheme was part of McFarlane's elaborate covert operation to lure the Soviets -- and the President himself -- into an arms-control deal.

    -- At a critical moment in the talks, the U.S. negotiators in Geneva found themselves bargaining secretly not with the Soviets but with a delegation of American Senators led by former Democratic Presidential Candidate Albert Gore Jr.

    -- In the end, a Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) treaty was blocked as much by divisions within the U.S. Government as by disagreements with the Soviet Union.


    Only in one respect might Reagan be chagrined by what he and Gorbachev have been unable to achieve. The President had wanted to usher in a brave new world in which the aim of diplomacy would be to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. In that respect he has failed. The past few years have seen a restoration of the traditional goals of arms control. The legacy that Reagan leaves will show remarkable continuity with the one that he inherited. That may be a disappointment to him, but it should be a relief to the rest of the world, since precisely what was most revolutionary about Reagan's approach to nuclear policy was also most dubious.

    Reagan came into office with a visceral distaste for the idea that peace between the superpowers should rest on the suicide pact known as "mutual assured destruction." "You better believe it's MAD!" he remarked, shortly after his Inauguration in 1981. He occasionally received visits in the Oval Office from various proponents of what sounded to him like a better way -- "mutual assured survival," deterrence based on antimissile defenses rather than the threat of retaliation.

    Reagan's senior advisers did not take the idea seriously. Unlike the President, they subscribed to the long-established wisdom that the sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons makes the quest for defenses a mug's game: it will always be relatively cheap to add offensive spears that can overwhelm the enemy's more expensive shields.

    A turning point came in February 1983, when Reagan discussed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff the possibility of a program to develop strategic defenses. The Chiefs were cautiously supportive of the need to accelerate research. They did not realize that Reagan would treat this as a green light to announce, as he did six weeks later, an all-out program to develop a missile-defense system so comprehensive that it would "render nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." On the day Reagan met with the Chiefs, Washington was digging out from a blizzard. The meeting became known as "the great snow job."

    But who had snowed whom? Virtually no one in the Executive Branch outside of the White House was pleased with the President's decision to proclaim what became known as the Strategic Defense Initiative. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger cautioned the President that the program was "not something I can endorse." Equally skeptical was the Pentagon's most tenacious hawk, Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. Weinberger and Perle were concerned that what sounded like a harebrained scheme would jeopardize political support for a buildup in offensive weaponry.

    Aside from the President, only two senior officials favored the plan: National Security Adviser William Clark, a novice in foreign policy who liked the idea of SDI because it appealed to his boss's dislike of traditional deterrence, and Clark's deputy Robert McFarlane, an experienced professional who had his own convoluted motives for midwifing the birth of SDI.


    McFarlane was concerned that the centerpiece of the Administration's new missile program, the ten-warhead MX, was suffering Chinese water torture on Capitol Hill. An alternative scheme, for a mobile, single-warhead missile, dubbed the Midgetman, was also running into trouble. Meanwhile, the Soviets seemed to be plunging ahead with more and better weapons of their own. Nor did arms control seem to offer much hope of blunting the burgeoning Soviet threat. START had run into a stone wall.

    McFarlane was looking for a way to breathe new life into START. As he put it, the U.S. needed some way to say to the men in the Kremlin, "O.K., you guys can go mobile with your ICBMs, including with multiple-warhead mobiles. We can't, because of all our political and budgetary problems. But if you insist on going down that road, there are things we can do that will make you very sorry."

    Thus, in McFarlane's mind, SDI was a step toward an agreement in which the program would be limited in exchange for diminution of the Soviet offensive threat. Briefing other members of the Government on what became known as Reagan's Star Wars speech, McFarlane said a highly publicized push to develop space-based strategic defenses could turn out to be the "greatest sting operation in history."

    "The arms-control potential" of SDI, he later said, "was always at the center of my motives." He believed that when the right moment came to cut a deal, the President would be "willing to return to, and reaffirm, the concept of deterrence as we've known it."

    Meanwhile, however, Weinberger and Perle learned to exploit SDI for just the opposite goal. They saw SDI not as a lever to advance the process of arms control but as a way of spiking the wheels of the process. Thus they overcame their initial objections and became champions of the President's dream in its most ambitious, least negotiable form. They fought furiously in the bureaucracy against concessions.

    In September 1985 McFarlane was at a conference in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force's Space Command. During a quiet moment between sessions, he was reminiscing about his role in the inception of SDI. He paused, heaved a heavy sigh and said, "I guess maybe I've created a Frankenstein monster, haven't I?"


    A few days after Reagan's Star Wars speech in March 1983, the Kremlin released a statement denouncing SDI as a "bid to disarm the Soviet Union," and proposed a treaty that would ban the "militarization" of space. But they quickly let the issue of strategic defense slip to the side. Like many Americans, they simply did not take the President seriously.

    The Soviets instead focused on their goal of blocking the deployment of American intermediate-range missiles in Europe scheduled for the end of 1983. When these missiles were installed, the Soviets walked out of the talks in Geneva. It was a full year before the superpowers agreed to resume negotiations, and when the talks were set, it was clear that SDI was at the center.

    In early 1985 Secretary of State George Shultz flew to Geneva for a meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Just before leaving, Shultz privately said he was prepared to "signal" that SDI was "open for discussion" as long as Gromyko acknowledged that the Soviet superiority in ICBMs was also negotiable. Gromyko and Shultz quickly agreed that the Geneva negotiations between the superpowers would resume in three forums under the umbrella of the Nuclear and Space Talks. Two forums would deal with the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) talks and START that had been suspended in late 1983. Defining the third forum posed more difficulty. The Americans wanted to designate the subject "defense and space." Gromyko at first objected to the word defense in any connection whatsoever with SDI. "Whatever you call them," said Gromyko, "these are all offensive systems," since American stations in orbit over the U.S.S.R. would constitute a "Sword of Damocles." He stressed that the three sets of issues in NST would have to be resolved "in their interrelationship."

    McFarlane, who had succeeded Clark as National Security Adviser, believed that those three words contained the necessary hint of eventual linkage between START and SDI. Shultz, too, was satisfied that the U.S. had sent -- and the Soviets had picked up -- the right signal about the possibility of a deal.

    When the talks opened two months later, the chief American representative, Max Kampelman, spent almost as much time mediating among his American colleagues as he did negotiating with the Soviets. Meetings in the "bubble" -- the bugproof chamber inside the American mission in Geneva -- often turned into squabbles between Pentagon and State Department officials over what "interrelationship" might mean. Kampelman, an experienced lawyer equally skilled at conciliation and tough bargaining, waved his hand and said, "Let's not argue about theoretical issues that are not yet before us. Let's wait until the Soviets get serious about offensive reductions before we worry about SDI."

    He wasted no time in trying to get his counterpart, Victor Karpov, to be more specific in the Soviet objections to SDI. Karpov and other Soviet negotiators replied that the antiballistic missile treaty of 1972 prohibited any research with the purpose of developing systems that would themselves be a violation of the treaty. Kampelman replied, "I want you to understand and to tell Moscow one thing: There's no way we'll give up the right to do research." It was a carefully formulated negative, inviting the Soviets to infer that other, less stringent limitations on SDI might be negotiable as long as they were accompanied by dramatic reductions of offensive weapons.

    In August 1985 Gorbachev tipped his hand. In an interview with TIME, his first with a Western news organization, he said, "When the question comes up about research, and the question of banning research, what we have in mind is not research in fundamental science. Such research concerning space is going on, and it will continue. What we mean is the design stage, when certain orders are given, contracts are signed, for specific elements of the systems. And when they start building models or mock-ups or test samples, when they hold field tests, now that is something -- when it goes over to the design state -- that is something that can be verified."

    "TEMPT US!"

    Meanwhile, the Soviets were trying to whet the appetite of the Americans for the offensive reductions that might be possible if SDI ever became negotiable. If the U.S. would just agree to "ban space-strike arms," there could be reductions in offensive forces that would, in the words of one delegate, Grigori Zaitsev, "make your head spin."

    Karpov told the chief American negotiator in the START forum, former Texas Senator John Tower, that they would begin to "talk turkey" after a recess, during which the two sides would return to their capitals. "Well, Victor," Tower replied, "I'll be ready to hear whatever you've got to say when you come back. I'm a good listener. My Methodist clergyman father taught me the value of patience."

    Kampelman went further: "You don't come up with what you want to do in START," he said. "You talk about radical reductions. But it's just talk. Give us some numbers. Tempt us!"

    Later in 1985 the Soviets seemed to take Kampelman's advice. By the fall they were proposing an overall ceiling on each side of 6,000 "nuclear charges" -- a term that subsumed warheads on ballistic missiles as well as weapons on manned bombers. Karpov said 6,000 would represent roughly an overall 50% cut in strategic forces, since each side would cut from approximately 12,000 weapons. That was something of a magic number for the American side. Shultz told his staff that a START agreement would have to cut in half the most dangerous part of the strategic arsenals to satisfy Reagan's determination to achieve deep reductions. "Without 50%," he said, "the fun goes out of it for the President."

    Now the Soviets were moving toward meeting that standard. They also agreed in principle to subceilings, which would limit the number of warheads that could be kept on each "leg" of the strategic triad -- ICBMs, submarine- launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and intercontinental bombers. The U.S. wanted what it called "preferential" subceilings, which mandated deep cuts in ICBMs, where the Soviets had piled up most of their firepower, while all but leaving alone SLBMs and bombers, two areas of American advantage. "That's not fair, and you know it," said Karpov. "If there are to be subceilings, they'll apply equally to all three delivery means."

    When the U.S. tabled new numbers weighted against ICBMs, one of the Soviet negotiators, Gennadi Khromov, took out a Japanese pocket calculator and busily figured what the new American numbers would do to the strategic rocket forces of the U.S.S.R. -- and to the U.S. Air Force.

    One feature in the American proposals of late 1985 came as an unpleasant surprise to the Soviets, and to many in the U.S. as well. It was a move to ban mobile ICBMs, including single-warhead missiles like the planned Midgetman. The prohibition was shoehorned into the U.S. position at the behest of Perle and the Pentagon. They wanted to stop the Soviet deployment of mobiles, which had already begun.

    Notified at the last minute about the new American proposal, advocates of Midgetman were furious. They included four outsiders whose backing was important if the Administration was going to maintain bipartisan support for its defense policies: Brent Scowcroft, a former National Security Adviser in the Ford Administration; Democratic Senators Sam Nunn and Albert Gore Jr.; and Democratic Congressman Les Aspin. All had been supporting Midgetman for three years, arguing that it had the twin virtues of being harder for the other side to hit, since it was mobile, and less threatening as a first-strike weapon, since it did not have multiple warheads. The incident heightened tension between the Administration and Congress, and hastened the day when Congress would insist on playing a more direct role in the formulation of U.S. arms- control policy.


    In late November, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Geneva for their first summit. The President used the occasion to convince Gorbachev that the two had an opportunity to free the world from the "uncivilized doctrine" of mutually assured destruction. "I simply cannot condone the notion," said Reagan, "of keeping the peace by threatening to blow each other away. We must be able to find a better way." SDI, he said, was a better way. After a long pause, Gorbachev replied, calmly, slowly, in his most authoritative baritone. But his vehemence grew as he spoke about his suspicions: "What you call research" on SDI had the potential of producing "offensive nuclear weapons circling the earth." The U.S. was "plotting" to use SDI to re-establish a "one-sided advantage" over the U.S.S.R.

    Reagan reminded Gorbachev that the U.S. had enjoyed a monopoly in nuclear weapons after World War II but had not employed those weapons for aggressive purposes. "Why don't you trust me now?" Reagan asked. Gorbachev turned the question around: Why didn't Reagan trust him? The President said that any American leader must base policy not on trust but on a sober assessment of the other side's capabilities. Precisely, said Gorbachev: SDI could upset military "parity" and the strategic balance. "It looks," he added, "as though we've reached an impasse."

    Reagan invited Gorbachev for a walk. They bundled up against the cold, left their aides behind and went to a nearby pool house, where a fire had been prepared. Reagan handed Gorbachev a manila envelope containing a Russian translation of a set of "guidelines" that the two leaders might issue to their negotiators. The guidelines called for a 50% cut in strategic offensive forces, and assurances from both sides that "their strategic defense programs shall be conducted as permitted by, and in full compliance with, the ABM treaty."

    That sentence was inserted at the behest of Shultz. It was intended as a hint of compromise. Another sentence had been included, however, at the insistence of Weinberger and Perle: "The sides should agree to begin exploring immediately means by which a cooperative transition to greater reliance on defensive systems, should such systems prove feasible, could be accomplished."

    "But this allows SDI to continue," objected Gorbachev.

    "Yes," said the President, now speaking for himself, not needing to refer to carefully prepared talking points programmed to transmit subtle signals of compromise. "It must continue."

    "Then we just disagree," said the Soviet leader.


    The Soviet negotiators were in a testy mood when talks resumed in January 1986. Tower made a conciliatory statement saying that despite the deadlock over SDI, there were a number of areas of "convergence" in START, and special working groups should be established to explore the "common ground."

    "There is nothing to discuss," snapped Karpov. "There is no common ground, no convergence. The important areas are those where we differ." The polemical tone continued for much of the round. On a number of occasions Karpov launched into philippics on the sins of the U.S. Tower would reply with low-key sarcasm, "Thank you, Victor. We subscribe completely to your characterization of the American position. Now let's get down to business."

    But business in START was painfully slow. Karpov and his colleagues seemed determined to hold further progress on offensive reductions hostage until they extracted some indication of American flexibility on defenses.

    During a long conversation over lunch, Kampelman said to Karpov, "Look, Victor, I don't know if you know what 'wiggle room' means." He pointed to his shoe. "It means room for the toe to move around in. At this moment I have no wiggle room. None. That's because you're handling these negotiations badly. You are desperately eager to have us show you wiggle room ((on SDI)), but I can't do it. I don't even want to ask for it back in Washington. However, if you can come up with significant reductions -- not promises, but realities -- I might get some wiggle room. But I won't even try to get that unless you show us something. I can't even explore with you what is possible unless you show us more on the price you're willing to pay in reductions."

    In fact, the Soviets had already done a great deal to sweeten their offer on offense: they seemed willing in principle to accept an overall ceiling of 6,000 nuclear charges and a subceiling of 3,600 on ICBM warheads. At the end of May, Karpov and his colleagues eased their position on defense as well. Backing away from their earlier insistence on an immediate and comprehensive ban on all "space-strike arms," they proposed a package of what they called interim measures: a ban on antisatellite weapons, a ban on "space-to-earth weapons" (such as lasers mounted on orbiting battle stations) and a "strengthening of the ABM treaty." They suggested adding a new protocol to the pact that would prohibit either side from withdrawing for 15 to 20 years.

    But the U.S. continued to practice sales resistance -- minimizing Soviet concessions, emphasizing the obstacles and refusing to budge on its own position, especially on SDI.

    The Soviets grew impatient with the slow pace of the negotiations in Geneva, so in the summer of 1986 they proposed higher-level talks. Paul Nitze, a State Department official and the Administration's elder statesman of arms control, led an American team that included Perle, Kampelman and others. Two sessions were held, in Moscow in August and in Washington in September. Both sides moved closer on details of a possible START agreement, but there was no progress on SDI.


    It took negotiations at the highest level of all to assemble these pieces into the makings of an agreement. Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik in October 1986 for one of the most bizarre encounters in the history of diplomacy. The Soviets lured the Americans to the meeting on the pretext of putting the finishing touches on a separate INF deal. When Reagan arrived, Gorbachev surprised him with a comprehensive package not just on INF, but on START and SDI as well.

    In the hectic, high-stakes atmosphere of what came to be called the lost weekend, the two leaders got into a bout of one-upmanship over who was willing to go further toward total nuclear disarmament. In the end, the meeting collapsed when Gorbachev tried to get Reagan to agree to confine SDI research, development and testing to the laboratory -- a restriction Reagan saw as aimed at "killing" his most cherished program.

    But before the meeting degenerated into fantasy and failure, it yielded significant steps toward a START accord. Gorbachev agreed for the first time that the 50% cuts would apply to Soviet heavy ICBMs, the most destabilizing of all Soviet weapons. The two sides agreed formally on ceilings of 6,000 nuclear charges and 1,600 launchers, and the Soviets accepted in principle that they would have to cut more than would the U.S. in the most troublesome categories of weapons.

    On SDI, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed that a deal could include a ten-year ban on withdrawal from the ABM treaty. But they remained at odds over what kind of testing would be permissible during those ten years.

    In early December, after the Nuclear and Space Talks resumed, Karpov complained, "We're already making all the concessions, and that's not the way a negotiation should take place." Kampelman replied that American concessions on SDI, if any, would come only when the U.S. had a satisfactory START deal in hand, and even then, wiggle room would be limited. For the U.S., the most important piece of unfinished business from Reykjavik was Soviet agreement to subceilings that would further restrict the number of warheads allowed on ICBMs.

    While Max Kampelman was trying discreetly in Geneva to nurture what he called "the arms-control potential" of SDI, Weinberger and Perle were doing the opposite back in Washington, generating momentum for early deployment of a system that would force the U.S. out of the ABM treaty. In December 1986 they and Lieut. General James Abrahamson, the director of the SDI organization, gave President Reagan a secret briefing on the short-term possibilities for early deployment of a rudimentary system of space-based interceptors. Reagan listened approvingly to all this good news about his favorite program. "Cap," he said, "that's great! Good for all of you over there. It looks like we're going full speed ahead."

    Weinberger had chosen his moment carefully. Shultz was attending a Christmas party at the State Department. The National Security Council staff -- which was supposed to referee disputes between the State and Defense departments and prevent one agency from sneaking its preferences past another -- was in disarray because of the Iran-contra affair. In February the full NSC met, and Weinberger pushed for a presidential decision. Admiral William Crowe, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, demurred. "The Chiefs support SDI," he said, "but we don't have enough in hand to decide now." He cautioned particularly against scrapping the ABM treaty. Shultz used the meeting to argue against a decision for early deployment and in favor of "feeling out" the Soviets on their views. Weinberger objected. "We shouldn't debate with the Soviets what can and can't be prohibited," he said.

    When word leaked that Weinberger was accelerating his campaign for early deployment of strategic defenses, in violation of what the Senate understood the ABM treaty to permit, Sam Nunn, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that the Administration was on the brink of a "constitutional confrontation of profound dimensions." Messages of more muted concern poured in from European leaders, including Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany and Lord Carrington, the Secretary-General of NATO.

    Sensing the growing skepticism and impatience with SDI on Capitol Hill, the Soviets soon realized that they could ease their own demands for restrictions on SDI. Said one adviser to Gorbachev: "There is no need for us to ask for more than reasonable and influential members of the Congress are insisting on." They also replaced Karpov as chief NST negotiator with Yuli Vorontsov, a ) higher-ranking diplomat who seemed more flexible and determined to break the impasse.

    In April 1987, when Shultz visited Moscow, Gorbachev told him that the Kremlin was willing for the first time to accept an agreement that would admit the possibility that SDI might someday be deployed. This concession was accompanied by a warning: if one side decided to proceed with "the practical establishment of an ABM system," the other side would be released from its obligations to reduce its offensive weaponry. Still, the Soviets were postponing the moment of truth well beyond the life-span of the Reagan Administration. They were saying that offense-defense linkage in the longer term need not stand in the way of an offense-reductions agreement in the near term.

    Meanwhile, there was a subtle shift in the balance of power within the Reagan Administration. Perle resigned in March 1987. He told an associate that he sensed "it's getting to be springtime for arms control around here," and he did not want to be part of it. Howard Baker, the new White House chief of staff, was frequently siding with the State Department against the hard-liners of the Pentagon. He and the latest of Reagan's National Security Advisers, Frank Carlucci, were concerned that Weinberger's attitude toward SDI was becoming a liability for the Administration in its dealings with Congress.

    At the same time, however, their visits to the Oval Office constantly reminded Carlucci and Baker how devoted Ronald Reagan was to SDI and how resistant he was to any suggestion that smacked of trading it away. Carlucci commented on a number of occasions that "asking this President to sign on to restrictions on SDI testing would be like asking him to raise taxes tomorrow." A consensus was emerging among the President's advisers that the trick was in finding some way to satisfy the Soviet need for insurance against "SDI breakout," or rapid deployment of large-scale defenses, while satisfying the President's insistence on preserving a "robust" research-and- development program.

    In Geneva, Kampelman continued to press the Soviet negotiators for a subceiling on ballistic-missile warheads. "I will not ask the President for anything that changes or modifies our position on SDI," Kampelman told Vorontsov, "unless and until we've got sublimits that satisfy the Joint Chiefs of Staff." Last August, Kampelman got a chance to press the same point with Eduard Shevardnadze during a visit by the Soviet Foreign Minister to % Geneva. Shevardnadze complained that "sublimits are designed to interfere with the structuring of our forces."

    Yet on that issue too the Soviets finally yielded. In October, at a meeting in the Kremlin with Shultz and Carlucci, Gorbachev presented a new START proposal that included two subceilings: the U.S.S.R. would accept as few as 3,000 land-based ICBM warheads if the U.S. would limit submarine-launched ballistic-missile (SLBM) warheads to only 1,800. The submarine limit was much too low for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Soviets knew it. But they also knew that the sum of the two numbers they had proposed -- 4,800 warheads on both land- and sea-based ballistic missiles -- was exactly what the U.S. had been offering. Gorbachev seemed to be saying, Let's drop the separate subceilings for ICBM and SLBM warheads and instead agree to an aggregate subceiling for both.

    The General Secretary asked his visitors what could be accomplished at the upcoming summit in Washington beyond an INF treaty, then nearly complete. Could there also be an agreement in principle on the outlines of a trade-off between START and SDI? Shultz and Carlucci replied that President Reagan would not agree to anything that would have the effect of "crippling" SDI.


    It took one more high-level meeting to nail down a date for the Washington summit. In late November, Shultz once again met with Shevardnadze, this time in Geneva, and once again Weinberger fired a shot across his bow. The Defense Secretary set up a screening for Reagan of a pro-Star Wars film, sdi: A Prospect for Peace, that was funded in part by SDI contractors. It drew an analogy between the SDI program and medical research on incurable diseases.

    A few weeks later, Weinberger reluctantly concluded that he had to resign as Secretary of Defense to spend more time with his ailing wife. With Perle and Weinberger both gone, the Administration began to function collegially on the issue of arms control for the first time since it came into office. Crowe and Shultz both commented to aides that they felt relief and optimism that the process of government would no longer be like tong warfare.

    Gorbachev came to Washington last December to sign an INF treaty and lay the groundwork for a START agreement in 1988. "We are going forward with the research and development necessary to see if this is a workable concept," the President said to the General Secretary, "and if it is, we are going to deploy it."

    "Mr. President, you do what you think you have to do," replied Gorbachev. "And if in the end you think you have a system you want to deploy, go ahead and deploy it. Who am I to tell you what to do? I think you're wasting money. I don't think it will work. But if that's what you want to do, go ahead." Then he added, "We are moving in another direction, and we preserve our option to do what we think is necessary and in our own national interest at that time. And we think we can do it less expensively and with greater effectiveness."

    That exchange became the basis of the most important -- and most contorted -- sentence in the communique released at the end of the summit. The two sides would "observe the ABM treaty, as signed in 1972, while conducting their research, development and testing as required, which are permitted by the ABM treaty, and not to withdraw from the ABM treaty, for a specified period of time." The commas and subordinate clauses left deliberately vague exactly what level of testing would be permissible during the nonwithdrawal period. Kampelman commented that the superpowers had found a way of "kicking the can down the road."

    On START, the meeting produced a breakthrough on a common subceiling of 4,900 to cover ICBM and SLBM warheads, only 100 higher than the U.S. had wanted. There was a lingering disagreement over whether there would be additional, separate subceilings on ICBMs and SLBMs.

    Gorbachev recognized that the compromise meant that Reagan would be able to claim, just as he had after the Geneva summit in 1985 and again after the Reykjavik meeting in 1986, that he had protected his favorite program against Soviet efforts to cripple it. But that was now a claim that Gorbachev seemed willing to let Reagan make, for it had an increasingly hollow ring against the backdrop of mounting congressional skepticism and the political calendar. When Reagan proclaimed his satisfaction that SDI was alive and well and proceeding toward full deployment, there would be Sam Nunn, much of the Congress and most of the American foreign-policy establishment all rolling their eyes and looking at their watches. From Gorbachev's standpoint, Reagan's attachment to SDI had become less a threat perpetrated by a dangerous adversary and more an object of indulgence, the fanciful obsession of an eccentric lame-duck President whom Gorbachev could afford to humor.


    Sure enough, no sooner was Gorbachev out of town than Reagan claimed that the summit had "resolved" the dispute over SDI and the ABM treaty. In fact, the issue of strategic defense was still profoundly muddled, even within Washington. Some officials were still committed to a version of the President's original vision of a comprehensive shield that would protect the entire U.S. and its allies as well. Others were privately contemptuous of that goal but were interested in SDI to protect U.S. missile silos. Still others doubted that even such limited "point defenses" could be deployed without provoking Soviet offensive countermeasures that would upset the strategic balance.

    When Admiral Crowe wrote a letter to the White House urging that the U.S. seek clarity and precision in whatever deal it struck on SDI, a member of the NSC staff remarked, "The good admiral is asking us to get from the Soviets something we can't get from ourselves -- agreement on what a good defensive system would look like and what is permitted by the ABM treaty." Crowe took this problem directly to Reagan. The admiral was concerned about the divisions in the Government on a wide range of strategic issues. "Mr. President," he said, "we can't advise you properly on what we should seek with the Soviets until we know what we're planning for on our side."

    At a meeting with the President just before leaving for a visit to Moscow in February, Shultz argued passionately in favor of pressing ahead. Carlucci, now the Secretary of Defense, said he was worried that "we won't play well if we go into a two-minute drill" by negotiating against the deadline of the summit. Shultz replied, "If you talk like that, you'll never get anything. We won't know what we can accomplish until we try. Let's not base policy on a self-fulfilling prophecy."

    Howard Baker sided with Shultz. "I have but one constituent," he said, referring to the President, who was chairing the meeting. "And I understand that he wants to overcome these obstacles and push ahead. We have a presidential commitment. We have an obligation to make a real effort."

    The President agreed. Borrowing a phrase from the Winter Olympics, then under way in Calgary, he proclaimed that the U.S. should "go for the gold."

    Gorbachev seemed equally committed. Receiving Shultz in Moscow, he said the Washington finesse on SDI was still fine with him. Shultz came home optimistic, telling colleagues that he was sure the Soviets would not let the SDI issue get in the way of an agreement.

    But as the spring wore on, it became increasingly apparent that the diplomats and policymakers were not going to make it to the finish line. The negotiating process in Geneva and the decision-making process in Washington both began to resemble Zeno's paradox: How does a runner who gets halfway to the finish line, then halfway again, and so on, ever make it there?

    The principal factor in this frustration was not SDI. Nor did it have much to do with the reduction of strategic ballistic missiles. Instead, the insurmountable final obstacle to an agreement for next week proved to be the dilemma of how a START treaty should deal with a low-flying, slow-flying weapon that barely qualified as strategic. This is the nuclear-armed sea- launched cruise missile, a jet-powered drone that can be fired from a submarine or surface ship at targets on land.

    The U.S. leads in the miniaturized guidance and propulsion systems for cruise missiles. Partly for that reason, the Soviets first wanted to ban SLCMs in START and later subject them to stringent limits. Some American military experts have argued that SLCMs are among the nastier creatures to emerge from the Pandora's box of nuclear weaponry, and that the U.S. should agree to ban them. They predict that the U.S.'s technological edge will prove temporary, while the geographical "asymmetries" between the superpowers are permanent -- and favor the Soviet Union. Key American cities and military installations are near the coasts, therefore easy marks for Soviet SLCMs, while comparable Soviet targets are deep inland and protected by the most extensive air defenses in the world. Paul Nitze, drawing on his experience as a Secretary of the Navy in the Johnson Administration, proposed simply banning nuclear-armed SLCMs altogether.

    But Carlucci and the Joint Chiefs decided they wanted to preserve the option of deploying ship-to-shore SLCMs as a kind of auxiliary to America's ballistic-missile force. That meant coming up with a verifiable way of counting them. Trouble is, SLCMs are small and easy to hide; it is almost impossible to differentiate the nuclear from the conventionally armed version at a distance. Thus what for years had been a bothersome detail in strategic arms control became a treaty blocker.

    At yet another presummit sherpa expedition to Moscow in April, Shultz found that the more movement there was on other matters, the more serious the impasse on SLCMs became. Kampelman tried out the idea of finessing the problem in somewhat the same way as SDI was -- putting it off into a future negotiation. "Maybe we can kick that can down the road too," he said. But the Soviets wanted the weapons subjected to verifiable limits.

    Returning to Washington, Kampelman told Shultz that the experience reminded him of last-minute, drawn-out snags in contract law: "After you've got the major issues in your pocket, the minor issues become major issues."

    By now, Shultz was close to giving up on the gold. Instead, he realized, the best the two leaders could do at the summit would be to "take a photograph of where we're at." They might even consecrate and publish the work that had already been done on the so-called joint draft text of a START treaty and leave it to their subordinates, and perhaps Reagan's successor, to remove the remaining brackets indicating points of disagreement.

    Whatever device the leaders adopt at the summit to paper over their differences and mask their disappointment, they deserve credit for having achieved an important breakthrough that lays the foundation for a lasting accomplishment.