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Soviet Offer of Moratorium

August 09, 1985

We agree with many of the conclusions in your editorial (Aug. 1), "Genius and Cloddishness." The editorial implies, however, that the five-month moratorium on nuclear tests proposed by the Soviets would not be of value since the Russians "broke" the 1958-61 moratoriums, and that "unpoliced" moratoriums are therefore bad.

We do not defend the Soviet Union, but we disagree. The United States announced on Dec. 31, 1959, that the moratorium had expired and that we did not intend to adhere to it any longer. We were then planning our own new series of nuclear tests.

Throughout the moratorium, the Soviets stated they would not test unless "the Western powers" did so first. France--a Western power--detonated a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere over the Sahara in the middle of the moratorium period on Feb. 13, 1960. The French followed this with at least three other nuclear tests. Several months after these, the Soviets announced that they, like the United States, would no longer adhere to the moratorium and that they would test a nuclear weapon on the next day--which they did.

Verification of the Soviet detonation was never an issue, since the test was announced in advance. Verification of the recently proposed moratorium is, in part, possible. The United States has a worldwide seismic monitoring system in place that could detect large detonations.

This is not the crucial issue, however. A brief moratorium after 40 years of testing is unlikely to affect the strategic balance. Furthermore, the timing is good since both superpowers have just completed testing the most advanced nuclear warheads for cruise missiles.

The editorial criticizes the temporary nature of the moratorium. But its temporary quality has advantages for both sides. It could serve as a trial measure for determining popular acceptance of the idea of a halt to testing, and as a prelude to a treaty.

President Kennedy, for example, in 1963 announced a unilateral moratorium on atmospheric testing. The result was a treaty three months later, signed by 106 countries, prohibiting such tests.

RICHARD FLYER

CEDRIC GARLAND

La Jolla

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