the history of disarmament negotiations is such a sordid one, that it is not surprising that many people cannot summon up any enthusiasm for them. Yet upon this thread hangs everything. Sceptics of the Left are often suspicious of negotiated disarmament. Governments alone, they argue, cannot solve by summit negotiations conflicts which are basically economic, political and ideological. All they can do is to tie up mutually advantageous arrangements which would preserve the political status quo in both camps.
This view appears to us wrong, on at least two grounds. In the first instance, the arms race has been one of the prime reasons for the slow momentum of socialism in the world. The threat of war has held the military, and therefore the political, status quo steady in Eastern Europe: it has inhibited radical protest in the West: and it has distorted out of all proportion such different situations as the Congo and Cuba. Secondly, this interpretation does not sufficiently allow for the “independence” of all the factors which are related to war preparations. The arms race is not, of course, the primary cause of world tension: but it is an exaggerated reflection of that tension. Structures of power, such as the para-military technologies of the nuclear states, or ideologies of war (e.g. the belief in massive retaliation shared by Stalin and Dulles) can develop irrational “logics” of their own. The possession of nuclear power, for example, has tended to fix the movement of history and social change between the two dominant images of American capitalism and Soviet communism: yet this, in itself, is a distortion, an irrationality, of the Cold War. The Defence Department is a creation, strictly a servant, of the American Congress: but, within the Arms race, “There is little doubt that the armed services exert more control over Congress than that body exerts over the Defence Department”
What hope is there for any such release? The position was admirably summarised by Hugh Thomas recently in a series of articles in Tribune In his concluding article, he pointed out that there was a fortunate coincidence between the reappraisal of the Kennedy administration, and the victory of Mr. Khrushchev over the doctrine of inevitable war in his own camp. “Now is not the time to hold back waiting for America to show what she is going to do. It is a moment when we must take a real initiative.”
The question is, what kind of initiative? It cannot be a diplomatic initiative alone. If the West were now to compromise over the question of frequency of arms control inspection; agree that control teams should be tripartite (one “West”, one “East”, one “neutral”); accept the threshold of 19,000 tons of TNT as the lowest limit for inspection; then the Soviet Union might be persuaded to drop her demand that the head of control centres should be a national of the country being inspected. (We wouldn’t trust Mr. Teller to look into Los Alamos any more than we would trust his opposite number in Uzbekistan.) On the basis of such a compromise, a Disarmament Treaty could well be worked out, provided that the Americans were to accept the principle, already agreed to by Britain and the Societ Union, that the end-goal is “general and complete disarmament under control”. The allimportant disengagement, including the release of Western Europe from Strategic Air Command, and the release of Eastern Europe from Marshall Zhukov, might follow.
But this is deceptively simple. The basis is correct, but what is missing is the dynamic—the “initiative”. We have been closer to agreement than that before—in 1955 when the Americans forced a recess of negotiations at the point where all the delegates were agreed. The missing elements then were political leadership, and popular agitation from below. Any realistic discussion of disarmament, therefore, pushes us back to the politics of disarmament, and to the various glosses which Governments and political parties now place on the word “initiative”.
The weakest of the existing interpretations of “initiative” is that which Mr. Watkinson elaborated recently on behalf of the Government.