The title of these reminiscences avoids the word “negotiations,” because the latter implies some form of compromise. During my service as head of the U.S. delegation to the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks in Vienna during 1981-83, I learned that the East does not operate on the premise of “give and take” and has a completely different approach to arms control from the West. Sitting across the table, week after week, provided some perspective on the Byzantine mentality of Soviet and East European representatives. A rereading of George Orwell’s novel 1984 is helpful in understanding the kind of behavior which is based on political warfare. “Inversions of truth” frequently were put forward, without any embarrassment whatsoever, by our opposite numbers.
Twelve NATO member delegations faced seven from the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), an alliance directed by the U.S.S.R., which not only serves as the secretariat for the East but also originates all so-called initiatives. Only one deviation occurred during my tour of duty, when the Rumanian representative addressed a plenary MBFR session (on instructions from Bucharest) without prior Soviet clearance. All other heads of delegations from Eastern Europe had received their diplomatic training in the U.S.S.R. and spoke fluent Russian, used as the lingua franca by WTO representatives in Vienna. One of them was born during World War II in Kuibyshev, to which his parents had been evacuated when the Germans approached Moscow; the Soviet wife of another supervised contacts between bloc wives and their Western counterparts; a third had dropped out of medical school (after which there is a gap of several years in his biography); the sole bachelor finally married a foreign ministry employee while on leave, only to see her posted to Lisbon; and the fifth kept a spouse back in his home country.
The man who nominally headed the U.S.S.R. delegation reminded me in many ways of the late Nikita S. Khrushchev. As a career diplomat with two tours of duty at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., and work on the American desk in Moscow, he considered himself an expert in United States history. One of his stories concerned an alleged debate between Abraham Lincoln and his opponent for the Presidency, Al Smith. This campaign supposedly took place during Prohibition. Smith accused Lincoln of breaking the law by drinking in his (Smith’s) saloon. Lincoln confessed to the charge. However, he claimed that he had given up drinking, although Smith still operated the saloon. On this basis, Lincoln won the election. The Soviet ambassador was sober when he told the story.
The real head of the U.S.S.R. delegation appeared to be the military advisor who held the rank of colonel. He alone lived in a Vienna apartment, whereas all others resided at the Park Hotel about 20 miles south of the capital in Baden. If the West brought up anything important during the informal sessions, the Soviet ambassador would make an impromptu statement and then look at the colonel for a nod of approval. On occasion, the colonel would respond in an authoritative manner, although the question may have been addressed to his nominal superior or one of the other bloc representatives.
These so-called informal meetings took place once per week, with three delegation heads and their military advisors from each side. The ritual included six alternating statements read slowly, so that they could be written down verbatim. At the end of every paper, questions would be entertained for the purpose of clarifying points or adding information. After all six speakers had completed their presentations, time was available for discussion. On one occasion, the East gave us a prepared list of questions which required extensive research and coordination. After answering them, we gave the East our own set of queries on the same subject. No answers ever came from Moscow. So much for reciprocity!
The formal weekly sessions in the Redoutensaal of the Hofburg (where the 1815 Congress of Vienna had been held) each Thursday morning were called plenary meetings. They were attended by all 19 ambassadors as well as most of their professional staffs. Copies of speeches, delivered for the record, would be distributed in one of the four official languages: English, French, German, Russian. Simultaneous interpretation came through earphones. (I happened to be presiding at a plenary when news of Brezhnev’s death came via the wire services. The Soviet delegation head gave me a note asking that an announcement be made, which was done.)
Following each plenary session, the press conference served the East as a platform for propaganda purposes. Either the TASS or the Pravda correspondent would ask a question of the Western spokesman and would then engage his colleague in a conversation without listening to the answer. Their dispatches already had been filed, more often than not reporting only the Warsaw Pact plenary address. The unjustified diatribe against the Federal Republic of Germany on 6 December 1984 was reminiscent of an attack on the United States for allegedly prepositioning nuclear weapons in Norway—a completely false accusation. Eastern, neutral, and Western media sent representatives to these press conferences. Some of them would consciously or perhaps unwittingly pick up and report such communist information as if it were legitimate news.
The West also met with its counterparts under more relaxed conditions. After arrival in 1981 at Vienna, protocol dictated that I call upon each of the ambassadors to MBFR. There followed a round of welcoming dinners and receptions. The United States representative reciprocated by serving only California wine and local cheese, a break with the tradition of liquor plus expensive canapews. On certain of these occasions, the Soviets would transmit messages, like the one in late September 1982 that there would be no agreement at the MBFR talks, because the U.S. allegedly was attempting to undermine the worldwide military balance.
One of the East European delegation heads approached me after dinner in his residence with an offer to serve as intermediary for American messages to the Soviet ambassador. After all, the host said, his country had a historic tradition as a bridge between East and West. The U.S. delegation never took advantage of this opportunity. Most of the Warsaw Pact representatives, at one time or another, asked how long we would remain in Vienna. When they learned that Stanford University gave only two years leave-of-absence for public service, each one assured us that we would have an agreement before departure.
Although MBFR commenced in October 1973, no draft treaty had ever been submitted by NATO. About nine months after our arrival in Vienna, such a document received approval by the North Atlantic Council in Brussels and was presented to the East on 8 July 1982 at a plenary session in the Hofburg. The Soviet ambassador made an impromptu comment, for the record, that the draft agreement represented “a step in the right direction.” He returned from Moscow in September, following the summer recess, and never repeated that remark.
The West’s draft treaty included a concession to the Warsaw Pact original demand that the agreement specify the number of troops to be withdrawn or demobilized by each direct participant. Blank spaces would be filled in, once both sides had agreed to sign. NATO then called upon the East to help solve the other remaining issues: data and associated measures. The West’s major concession required the Warsaw Pact seriously to address one or both of the other problems. So we thought.
Data, meaning numbers of all armed forces in the reduction area of Central Europe (Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands in the West; Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Poland in the East), could not be agreed upon by the two sides. Although an official exchange of figures had taken place in 1980, the Warsaw Pact claimed it had 160,000 fewer ground troops than NATO intelligence reported to be stationed there. By 1985, because of the East’s steady buildup, this discrepancy has risen.to about 200,000 men. Logically, the sides must agree upon force levels before any reductions can take place.
Associated measures include those of a confidence-building as well as verification nature. The West’s draft treaty included seven specific proposals dealing with prenotification of maneuvers, a quota for inspections, observation posts at exit/entry points, and noninterference with reconnaissance satellites, among others. The East always has phrased any reference to such measures in the vaguest possible terms, claiming that intrusiveness should be commensurate with the size of reductions and might be negotiated later. This was applicable to the WTO proposals of 17 February and 23 June 1982. In neither one would monitoring apply to the reduction process itself, that is, actual removal of troops.
NATO delegations repeatedly called upon the East to establish working groups, with specialists from both sides who would reconcile the disparity in troop strengths and agree upon methods for verification. In other words, we repeatedly offered the Warsaw Pact an opportunity to discuss (1) what was being counted or not counted by each side; and (2) how the various associated measures would operate in practice. Our counterparts rejected the concept of working groups, which suggests that the U.S.S.R. had something to hide. On-call inspections obviously would reveal the sustained modernization and expansion of Soviet weapons systems being deployed in Eastern Europe.
The major concession embodied in the Western draft treaty was completely ignored during a full year of talks. Rather than make the next move, as is customary for international negotiations, the East conducted a systematic campaign of criticism which saw nothing positive in the NATO document. Frequently, extraneous “red herrings” were introduced by the Soviets, who liked to cite from Der Spiegel, although not always accurately. At long last, on 21 July 1983, an Eastern spokesman at the weekly press conference rejected the West’s draft treaty as the basis for any agreement in Vienna. It had never been offered as a “take it or leave it” proposition, although he did not mention that.
The history of arms control indicates that concession after concession will not result in an equitable and verifiable agreement with the U.S.S.R. Obviously, one can be reached in Vienna, if the West were to accept on faith Eastern figures for troop strengths in the Warsaw Pact reduction zone and only superficial ex post facto inspection measures. This is, of course, exactly what the Soviets and their allies have demanded. “Give us a signal that you are serious about these talks,” they would repeat over and over again. The NATO draft treaty was not so regarded. A major concession was disqualified, because that is what the East had demanded from the beginning of the talks. As usual, the reasoning did not have to be logical.
In order to prove that the West is indeed peace-loving and to keep the Vienna forum alive, NATO subsequently came up with a major initiative to break the deadlock over data. The East had refused in December 1983 to set a time for the next round of talks, thus breaking them off, as already had been done with INF and START in Geneva. MBFR did resume in mid-March I984, only after the United States secretary of state met with the Soviet foreign minister in Stockholm. As if in response to the walkout, the West dropped its requirement for exact figures on Warsaw Pact forces.
This occurred on 19 April 1984 when NATO delegations proposed the following: (1) an exchange of data only on ground combat and combat support forces, excluding ground combat service support elements and air force personnel; (2) reliance upon Eastern figures within an “acceptable range” of the West’s data estimates, rather than full agreement on precise figures; and (3) that the exchange be preceded by agreement on definitions of new categories under which data would be broken down, altering the framework for counting forces on both sides. This proposal underwent detailed explanation over the next three-month period in Vienna.
When the talks resumed, after the summer break, no positive response came from the East. Instead, according to a U.S.S.R. press release, on 15 November 1984 the head of the Soviet delegation made the following statement:
The NATO April proposal not only doesn’t remove previous obstacles barring progress but also erects additional ones. It does not lead to an agreement. The materialization of it would bring about accelerating the arms race and new difficulties rather than lowering military confrontation and improving the situation in Europe.
Another flat rejection of an offer to negotiate, followed by a non sequitur! The same attitude can be expected, if the West next offers to retreat from mandatory verification and other binding associated measures.
Apart from the manpower predominance in Central Europe, which the East will not acknowledge, there exists a geographic disparity. The U.S.S.R. is located only 360 to 420 miles from the border between the two Germanys; the continental United States is more than 3,500 miles from there. In the event of an agreement, this would mean moving American armed forces across an ocean, approximately 10 times farther away. Yet another problem has to do with firepower, where the East already had achieved an overall superiority of 3.3 to 1 over the West two years ago. These are facts that must be recognized.
In general, it appears that the Soviet Union does not want an equitable treaty which would open up its forward positions in the reduction area to NATO inspection. Maintaining a cloak of secrecy over its military buildup increases the opportunity for blackmail potential against Western Europe. The U.S.S.R. can threaten the Federal Republic of Germany with mass annihilation, as it did most recently before the March 1983 national elections in that country. Apparently intimidated, the opposition social democrats (SPD) have decided to remove Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles from West Germany, if they win the next election. That would further the Soviet objective of decoupling the United States from Western Europe and probably bring about the collapse of NATO.
All of this might remind us of the third Punic War between Rome and Carthage for control over the Mediterranean. By 149 B.C., the two powers had nearly 100 years of hot and cold war behind them. At this point the Carthaginians decided to sue for peace. Their opponents opened the talks with a demand that 300 children from the noblest families be sent to Rome as a token of good faith. If Carthage complied, its freedom and independence would be guaranteed. The hostages were sent to Rome.
Then came the next demand: surrender of all weapons and engines of war, both public and private. The Romans received complete armor for 200,000 men, including all warships in the navy. Finally, the ultimatum: “Yield Carthage to us and betake yourselves where you like within your own territory at a distance of ten miles from the sea, for we are resolved to raze your city to the ground.” In desperation, the Carthaginians declared war. For three years, they fought with makeshift weapons and resisted the siege. In the end the Romans took Carthage, obliterated the city, and sold all survivors into slavery.
There are lessons to be learned from history. A pro-accommodation faction of Carthaginians argued that Rome’s appetite for conquest had been satiated and, moreover, the empire needed an end to the protracted conflict due to domestic problems. History records that the Roman empire did indeed collapse under the weight of internal contradictions. By the time this happened, five centuries later, it was of no comfort to the Carthaginians.