The Health Sciences auditorium at Emory University was the scene last April of a two-day discussion, presided over by two former chief executives of the United States: Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford. Invitations for the event came from the Carter Center of Emory University (not actually to be built until 1986), and sponsors included Coca Cola, Delta Air Lines, Ford Motor Company, and Turner Broad casting System. (TBS provided 11 hours of live cable coverage.) The invitation led participants to believe that they would be involved in “consultation” and would be given an opportunity to speak out on the issues. In fact, the program had been carefully structured to prevent any participation from the floor.

Carter served as master of ceremonies, his famous smile (so beloved by cartoonists) never seemed to fade. Mr. Ford spoke only once during the first day, when he berated a fellow Republican serving in the current administration. Both former Presidents gave the impression that they enjoyed the limelight and perhaps wanted to influence the American foreign policy decision-making process, even if that meant denigrating it.

As one invited to attend, I soon discovered that many of the 30 men on the four panels had arrived during the previous weekend and spent several days in private, attempting to produce “consensus” papers that would be commented on, for the most part, by themselves. The select group included four Soviet government officials and one from the People’s Republic of China. As identified on the printed program, these Moscow “designated representatives” included (1) Ambassador Anatolii F. Dobrynin; (2) physicist Evgenii P. Velikov, the leading Soviet ABM expert; (3) Lieutenant General Konstantin I. Mikhailov from the Ministry of Defense (whose board membership on the State Committee for Science and Technology was not mentioned); and (4) Sergei P. Tarasenko, a deputy chief in the USA Department at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. At least two of the Soviets sat on each panel.

The treatment accorded one of the consensus papers, “Weapons, Strategy, Doctrine,” illustrates the nature of the entire consultation. Panel chairman Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, USAF (rel.) and a former assistant for national security affairs read a report outlining disagreements over how to enhance strategic stability. The Americans proposed to their Soviet and Chinese counterparts that this objective could be achieved by adding to the survivability of strategic weapons systems; reducing the value of individual military targets on each side; making command and control invulnerable; and reducing the possibility of surprise.

The Soviets rejected all of the proposals, insisting that strategic stability depends on nothing less than ending the arms race. They called for an end to development and deployment of new weapons systems, especially weapons in space. They denounced attempts to upset the current balance of forces and to undermine past arms control talks. Finally, they called upon the United States to renounce the first use of nuclear weapons—and of all other military forces. 

Ambassador Dobrynin served as the first discussant. He read a prepared paper, mentioning the names of old “friends” on the panel, and alluded to the relaxation of tensions achieved during the 1970’s when Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter had negotiated important arms agreements with the U.S.S.R. But the Soviet envoy claimed that the United States faced the choice of either abandoning the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or engaging in a perilous arms race. He accused America of refusing to discuss SDI at Geneva until research and development were complete. This allegedly violated the January 1985 Schultz-Gromyko agreement. Dobrynin also complained that the U.S. had rejected Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s “moratorium” on intermediate-range nuclear (INF) weapons systems. Dobrynin ended his comments with a threat: either stop cruise missile and Pershing II deployments in Western Europe or the Soviets will respond. 

The second discussant, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, expressed dismay concerning the American panel’s position on deterrence. He suggested that arms control had not increased security, but rather had permitted the massive Soviet buildup during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the U.S.S.R. built 200 strategic launchers per year and the United States built none. Secretary Lehman then suggested that both countries might have several mutual interests. Since it is expensive to maintain strategic missiles, their numbers could be reduced; the U.S.S.R. had accepted intrusive verification in the PNE (underground nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes) treaty and might do so for smaller numbers of strategic weapons; and contrary to the current U.S.S.R. perception, even the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) may come to be perceived as an advantage for both sides. 

For some reason, Mr. Carter described Secretary Lehman’s suggestion as a clear and radical departure in arms control. After the cochairman, Mr. Ford, attacked Secretary Lehman for being either grossly uninformed or knowingly misrepresenting the past—namely, the Ford Administration’s record on defense—Carter immediately called on the next discussant without permitting Lehman to respond.

Mr. Harold Brown commented on Dobrynin’s prepared remarks which had not included any mention of Soviet ICBM preponderance, ABM monopoly, and “robust” air defenses un matched by American forces. The former defense secretary (who noted that such a debate could not take place on television in the U.S.S.R.) also observed that the neighbors of the United States were “less uncomfortable” about their borders than were those next to the other superpower. According to Brown, deterrence by threat of retaliation is a fact of life and had become U.S. doctrine not by choice. He then asked several questions on which Soviet doctrine is not clear: “Can a nuclear war be won? Can the U.S.S.R. survive such a war?” Dobrynin, who sat nearby, did not answer. Brown called the Soviet demand for the abolition of nuclear weapons a dream, and he characterized arms control talks as “sacramental.” Political leaders hold them to show they are important and are trying to accomplish something. 

In analyzing SDI, Brown saw sever al dangers. If the system were perfect, or nearly so, it would enhance bilateral stability at the nuclear level-if both sides have a strategic defense. However, that in turn might encourage conventional war. If SDI were imperfect and the number of warheads were reduced by a factor of two, the resulting situation could be destabilizing. One side might preempt. 

The fact that foreign governments had “designated representatives” in attendance at the two-day meeting in Atlanta made one wonder about its purpose. Nothing said there involved diplomacy. The Logan Act forbids such activity by private citizens. Why then did these two former Presidents organize a series of “consultations” (the fourth to be held this fall in Ann Arbor, Michigan)? Is it just an ego trip for two men who crave publicity? Or do they both harbor grudges against Ronald Reagan? Only Messrs. Carter and Ford can answer those questions.