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Professor Worked to Revive Troop-Reduction Talks : Behind-Scenes Player Watches Global Drama

January 05, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

For many, the recent reports of a break in troop-reduction talks between NATO and Soviet Bloc countries probably was lost amid news of record cold, the surging stock market and holiday shopping.

But Fred Bergerson didn't miss the reports. Not a chance; not after spending a year trying to get the stalled talks moving again. The Whittier College professor was one of many who labored behind the scenes for a time to break the deadlock on the complex issue of troop withdrawal in central Europe.

Bergerson's work on the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks was one of several fronts the political scientist was assigned to while a government employee in Washington.

Beginning in August, 1984, Bergerson spent a year on a team of scholars chosen to work at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. The Whittier resident and five others were the first to serve the agency as part of the William C. Foster Visiting Scholars Program, an attempt by the federal government to draw university educators into U. S. arms control negotiations.

The job afforded him an inside look at how U. S. arms control policy is shaped, then sold to allies and enemies alike.

But Bergerson was more than an observer, a college professor on sabbatical taking notes for future lectures. He was a player, pitching ideas and plugging holes in policy drafts.

At the agency he worked in a bureau that focused largely on reducing the threat of war in central Europe.

The bureau examines ways to build confidence and trust between North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Warsaw Pact nations to avoid incidents that might lead to armed conflict. Troop and weapons limitations in the region, including nuclear arms, a key element in the recent U. S.-Soviet summit in Geneva, also are part of the bureau's charge.

In a nutshell, Bergerson was part of Washington's vast "rear guard" that conceives, nurtures and polishes arms control policy for U. S. negotiators abroad.

"Many days weren't much different than a graduate school seminar; a group of articulate, very committed people sitting around a table, going line by line, word by word to hammer out American policy," said Bergerson, who returned to Whittier College this fall for his 15th year of teaching.

Going from idea to negotiated agreement between international powers often takes years as the concept churns its way through the approval mill, Bergerson said. The obstacles are endless.

Talks about troop reductions in Europe, for example, have been bogged down almost since they began in 1973, largely because of Soviet resistance to share data on numbers of troops stationed in Eastern Bloc countries. But there was a break in the stalemate earlier this month when NATO dropped its demand for more troop information. Now it appears the talks will resume in earnest early next year.

"Great news, isn't it?" Bergerson said, flashing a broad smile. The professor traveled several times to Europe during his year in Washington to sit with U. S. delegations at various negotiations, including the 40-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, which deals with issues like chemical warfare and weapons in outer space.

"Some career bureaucrats work for years on a specific issue, with few tangible results," he said. "So after months of no progress, any kind of movement is reason to celebrate."

A registered Democrat, Bergerson said he went to Washington to be "persuaded about the efficacy" of the Reagan Administration's hard-line approach to arms control. As a private citizen, he said, he has serious doubts about the president's "Star Wars" satellite defense proposal. Despite his personal convictions, he said, his ideas at the arms control agency were welcomed.

"No matter how I felt about an issue, once a decision on a direction was made, I worked extremely hard to support that position--even if I didn't personally agree with it," said Bergerson, who was selected to serve by a panel of former arms control agency directors.

During his time at the agency, he confronted several myths about government, particularly regarding those who work in the vast national-security network. Most outsiders, he said, view those people as a "self-serving elite" bent on manipulating policy for personal gain.

"The American public should take comfort from knowing that most people I met and worked with were patriotic, nation-serving types, whether they agreed or disagreed with an accepted policy," said Bergerson, who also served as a congressional fellow in the late 1970s.

Bergerson called the recent summit in Geneva a "small step" toward a possible arms control agreement between the United States and Soviet Union. While improving relations between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the talks produced more questions than answers, Bergerson said.

The professor said he believes "Star Wars" remains a hurdle to any significant reduction in nuclear warheads. And he said Reagan's plan to build trust by sharing weapons technology with the Soviets is unrealistic.

"It is hard to imagine our generals and admirals, and even our diplomats, agreeing to share the world's most modern war technology with people who have been our most threatening enemies over the past four decades," Bergerson said.

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