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President's Corner

Post-Summit Speculations

To greet a few handshakes and smiles as harbingers of a detente may be to indulge in wishful thinking,but wishful thinking — also called “hope” — may be an ingredient of effective action. Effective action depends on avoiding two kinds of danger: succumbing to despair when things go bad and indulging in com­placence when things seem to get better.

The Reagan administration in the U.S. has made things look very bad indeed. Sabre rattling has exceeded in intensity all the noises heard since the start of the Cold War. While deterrence remained the chief argument-stopper in all discussions of the arms race, the proponents of winnable nuclear war unmasked their batteries and went over to the of­fensive.

Deeds may speak louder than words; but as inputs to social re­ality words are deeds. Every one is to a certain extent a prisoner of one’s own rhetoric, politicians es­pecially. Of course, politicians are also adept in making about-faces but it takes effort. What is being said becomes part of social reality, in particular of the political cli­mate, one of the determinants of the amount of trust or distrust and of the degree of cognizance of reality or of paranoia in the relations be­tween the superpowers.

Those that argue that trust must be established between the super­powers before any serious steps to­ward disarmament are undertaken are half right. Those that argue that the paranoid attitudes of the super­powers’ leaders are induced by fears generated by the arms race are also half right. The truth is not “some­where in between”. The truth en­compasses both positions, as is so often the case when cause and effect are interchangeable.

The intensification of the cold war had already started during Car­ter’s administration. The momentum carried over into Reagan’s and made it that much easier to shift the drive toward war into high gear (the “High Frontier”). The substrate was already there, namely the rhetoric of hatred and threat and the sel­f-righteousness of crusade. Of course rhetoric alone was not enough to keep up the impetus. That was pro­vided by visions of new opportuni­ties to spike the arms race with “high tech”. And this is what has attracted ever more competent scientists and technicians and imaginative war planners to the mammoth preparations for the final holo­caust. Coupled with the rhetoric of war planning,the provision of vast resources for war planning produced the politically lethal climate of these Reagan years for the whole world.

To the credit of the peace move­ment, it did not succumb to despair. There was a crescendo not only of protest, but also of substantive debate. The Star Wars issue, es­pecially, provided a welcome oppor­tunity to carry the debate to the camp of the war community when scientists and even strategists joined the “peace mongers” in building resistance to the drive to war.

Of course it was too much to ex­pect that Star Wars would be drama­tically scrapped. Politicians are prisoners of their rhetoric. But it is just barely possible that the stout resistance mobilized against the drive to perdition played a part in defusing the rhetoric.

Thus, the better-than-expected outcome of the Summit heralds hope. It will be somewhat more difficult for the US or the USSR to proceed openly with plans for a first-strike knock-out blow after a publicly stated agreement that a nuclear war is unwinnable. In effect, both leaders started to speak in the lan­guage of the peace movement. In the context of international politics, words are acts.

People now must avoid the danger of complacency (to which they suc­cumbed after the last Summit). Both failures and successes, whether real or not, should be occasions for in­tensifying effort.

– A.R.

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