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Bush's trip represents another facet of the belated U.S. public relations counteroffensive. At every stop during his two-week, seven-nation tour, the Vice President will emphasize America's commitment to peace and to reducing nuclear weapons. He will assure the allies that the Administration is serious about trying to reach a negotiated settlement, pointing out that one will not be possible unless the West Europeans stand firm on deployment. "His intention," says his chief of staff, Admiral Daniel Murphy, "is to listen to just what is on their minds and how they see the problem."
As so often in Soviet-American relations, the superpowers are playing a form of poker. The U.S. is trying to use the threat of new missiles in Europe as a bargaining chip to force the Soviets to discard the most powerful and modern of their intermediate-range missiles already in place. The prospective U.S. arsenal includes 108 Pershing IIs, all bound for West Germany, to replace the shorter-range Pershing Is that have been there since 1969, plus 464 Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) that are earmarked for Britain, Belgium, Italy and The Netherlands as well as West Germany. The Pershing IIs would arc-up to the edge of space and unleash earth-penetrating warheads that can destroy concrete-reinforced bunkers 100 ft. underground; the slow but elusive cruise missiles home in on their targets with pinpoint accuracy (see box).
Together, the two missile systems represent the state of the art in Yankee ingenuity, the ultimate bang for the buck. But like all nuclear weapons, their purpose is paradoxical: they exist not to be employed, but to be deployed, as instruments of deterrence. The trouble is, the U.S. missiles are not only undeployed—they may be undeployable. They face technical problems on the test ranges in the U.S. and funding problems in Congress.
Far more serious, the U.S. missiles must wend their way through a withering, and growing, barrage of political opposition in Western Europe. The difficulties stem from December 1979, when the Carter Administration agreed to put in new missiles by 1983 while promising to conduct arms-limitation talks with the Soviets in the meantime, in the hope that the deployment would not be necessary. That "two-track" approach was supposed to demonstrate the ability of NATO to respond in a forceful yet reasonable way to new Soviet military challenges.
The result may be just the opposite. First Leonid Brezhnev, then his successor Yuri Andropov, dangled the possibility of substantial missile reductions, thus fanning public opinion in Western Europe against deployment and increasing the likelihood that it will be delayed or even blocked. Every week there is new evidence that, the West European leaders might be wavering, or at least worrying about how long they can resist popular and parliamentary hostility to the stationing of new U.S. weapons on their soil.
West Germany is the linchpin. As Gromyko implied, it is missiles there that worry and provoke the Soviets more than those anywhere else. Partly that is because West Germany is closer to the U.S.S.R. than other NATO member states