Believers in arms control are undaunted by the evidence of history. But they might suffer a doubt about peace-through-parchment if they turned their attention from Geneva to the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi. There, in Middle School 2, a young teacher recently died heroically when, to protect his pupils, he absorbed the blast of a grenade.
What was a grenade doing in Middle School 2? The answer, reported by Iain Elliot in the London Times, is relevant to the coming argument about continued compliance with SALT II.
The teacher, a graduate of a KGB border-guard college (think about that), had been delivering the military instruction that is a compulsory part of the curriculum for Soviet children. He was teaching how to handle what should have been an unarmed grenade. When he pulled the pin a wisp of smoke showed that a live grenade had become mixed in with demonstration grenades, and he gave his life.
The children's manual, which teaches "hatred for the enemies of socialism," also teaches assembly of machine guns and the use of bayonets and rifle butts in the "decisive armed conflict of the two opposing world systems," a conflict that will involve "vast casualties on an unprecedented scale." As Elliot says, "The soldiers now carrying out orders and committing atrocities in Afghanistan began playing serious war games with their first steps in education."
It is with representatives of this manic militarism that U.S. officials are planning to negotiate substantial reductions of offensive strategic-force levels. The promise that such reductions would come in SALT II was what made SALT I's high and unequal limits, and the ABM Treaty, palatable to Congress in 1972. But Soviet deployments of offensive systems accelerated, as reasonable people expected from a nation that teaches children to handle grenades.
The administration warns the public not to have high expectations from the Geneva talks, yet describes the talks as the first step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. In defense of such rhetoric Paul Nitze, the president's special arms control adviser, says that elimination of nuclear weapons "is a long-term goal set by the U.S.S.R." 25 years ago.
Yes, it is old Soviet boilerplate, and all previous American administrations have regarded it as empty propaganda. This is the first administration to define U.S. objectives in terms of such a patently unrealizable goal.
The administration has not committed itself to spurn an agreement that, like SALT I and SALT II, does not involve substantial reductions. Indeed, such is the administration's hunger for even the cosmetics of arms control, it may continue to comply with SALT II limits even after the end of the year, when that agreement would have expired if it had been ratified. It was never ratified, because enough people joined candidate Reagan in denouncing it.
Both sides have agreed not to "undercut" SALT II. The Soviets are violating it in many ways, so that the "no undercut" policy is actually unilateral compliance.
SALT II limits both sides to 2,250 delivery vehicles, and some other limiting categories. The Soviets were above 2,250 in 1979 and today have 2,568. We are in compliance with the 2,250 limit, but when the new Trident submarine Alaska enters service we will stop being in compliance with the limit on MIRVed missiles -- unless we scrap some land- based ICBMs or, more likely, a Polaris submarine.
For us, scrap means reduce to scrap metal. However, as the Soviets deploy new systems, including some in violation of SALT II, they retire some older systems but do not destroy them. They put them in storage, or turn ballistic-missile submarines into cruise-missile submarines.
The Polaris is about at the end of its useful life, and it would be expensive to replace the nuclear core. That fact is being seized upon by those who usually rationalize American unilateralism.
But the case for keeping the Polaris in service a while longer is larger than this economic calculation. The credibility of the president will be a casualty of continued compliance with an agreement he stingingly criticized. Furthermore, destroying the Polaris might destroy the MX. Some conservatives might stop voting for a vulnerable land-based ICBM if deployment of it requires destruction of sea-based systems.
And, as the administration considers twisting itself even more out of shape in pursuit of arms control, it should consider that it is chasing a chimera: a useful agreement with the people who put grenades in Middle School 2.