WASHINGTON — With the signing of the unprecedented agreement eliminating ground-launched medium-range missiles and an agreement, reached even before the superpower leaders held their first meeting, that President Reagan will go to Moscow next year, more was accomplished Tuesday on the first day of this U.S.-Soviet summit than at either of its two predecessors.
And the specific agreements, while limited in nature, signaled what may be a far more important attainment: a major step toward establishing a more stable and predictable framework for relations between the world's most powerful adversaries.
Encouraging as the beginning was, U.S. officials remained wary. Before the summit ends Thursday, it could still be derailed by the kind of "surprise" that reduced the last summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October, 1986, to shambles at the last minute. Renewed Soviet adventuring in the Third World, supplying MIG jets to Nicaragua or other unforeseen developments in the months ahead could also undo what is being accomplished.
Within the realm of arms control, Gorbachev made clear that radical cuts in strategic arms remain tied to U.S. restraint on anti-missile defense systems. How the two are linked apparently does not have to be spelled out this week, but "it's a ticking time-bomb," said William G. Hyland, editor of Foreign Affairs and a former senior national security official in the Gerald R. Ford and Richard M. Nixon administrations.
'New Political Climate'
Barring such setbacks, the superpowers do appear to be entering a "new political climate," in Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze's phrase, with the treaty signing and the Gorbachev's clear intention to help Reagan get it ratified by scheduling talks to key congressmen.
The Soviets have declared that another "bitter experience" with arms agreements that were laboriously negotiated and signed but never ratified, as three have been since 1974, would doom chances for a far more significant agreement cutting strategic offensive arms in half and also abort the slowly dawning era of Detente II--or "Detente 1 1/2," as one Soviet expert dubbed it.
For the United States, too, Senate refusal to ratify the agreement would be the worst of both worlds. Even those arms experts such as former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who opposed its signing because of its danger of dividing the United States from its European allies, advocate ratification.
They fear Senate rejection might cause some North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, already restive over rapid shifts in U.S. strategic policies, to demand removal of the U.S. medium-range missiles already deployed, even though the Soviets would then be under no obligation to remove their weapons.
Pact With 'Evil Empire'
The U.S. domestic political calculus is also changed somewhat by the treaty. The fact that one-time arch-conservative Ronald Reagan has signed an arms agreement with the "evil empire" will go far toward removing the issue of arms control from partisan American politics.
Four of the six Republican candidates for President oppose the treaty, in large part because the polls show that conservative party faithful oppose in principle any deal with the Soviets, according to one senior Administration official. When the fact sinks in that Reagan himself has endorsed the agreement, a greater legitimacy should be conferred on the arms control negotiations process, he said.
The overarching goal of both leaders in the summit process is to achieve a greater degree of stability and predictability in the relationship. As President Reagan said after the treaty-signing ceremony: "We can only hope that this history-making agreement will not be an end in itself but the beginning of a working relationship that will enable us to tackle other issues, urgent issues, before us."
But while the two men agreed that curbs on the more menacing weapons, long-range nuclear missiles and bombers, will have first priority among those issues, Gorbachev said he wanted "radical cuts in strategic offensive arms, subject to preserving the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty."
Disagreement Over Treaty
He was thus reflecting recent Soviet willingness to rely on the ABM treaty of 1972 to contain the Strategic Defense Initiative, the U.S. space-based missile defense system now being developed. The treaty forbids deployment of anti-missile weapons (except for one system in each country), but the Administration disagrees with the Soviets and most Democratic congressmen on how much development and testing of new weapons can be legally carried out under its terms.