It may be impossible to evaluate and reach a decision on a strategic arms limitation agreement in a purely objective atmosphere, free from the slightest hint of emotionalism, and stripped of political considerations.
However, there are certain arguments that have been made that tend to evaporate under cursory examination and that are not worthy of the task before the U.S. Senate. It is my purpose here to state what I believe should be the foundational tone of the deliberations.
Withe the signing of the treaty imminent, I first hope the prevailing mood will be one of objective, independent judgment - not prejudgment - and that the climate for the discussions will be nonpartisan. I consider this decision on SALT II to be as momentous and potentially vital as any in my three decades in Congress.
Because I consider the stakes so high, I am concerned that the peripheral and extraneous issues may come to overshadow the meritorious arguments for or against the treaty and could distract senators from a studied process of decision-making. I do not deny that much of the discussion is healthy, or that it will contribute to a national understanding and awareness of SALT II. However, our ultimate purpose must be kept in focus at all times.
Recently, the president of the United States told a group of assembled reporters that our peace-loving nation would be seen as a "warmonger" if the U.S. Senate rejected the proposed SALT agreement. In my opinion, such an argument is not a creditable one, and it neither pricks the conscience nor challenges the intellect. It serves merely to cast a cloud over the preamble of our deliberations.
While no one should worry about this false imagery, neither should the present debate be pervaded by chauvinistic and hard-nosed assertions of "must" amendments, reservations or understandings. By doing so, we stand in danger of placing ourselves in concrete positions before our eyes have even fallen on the actual treaty text.
The fact is that the treaty has taken three administrations and seven years to negotiate. After it is signed and submitted to the U.S. Senate, the Foreign Relations Committee will begin hearings the second week in July. Thereafter, the Armed Services Committee will hold hearings and the Select Committee on Intelligence will also examine aspects of the treaty. The documents deserve the opportunity of careful scrutiny by these committees, free from premature discussions of possible changes while the signatures are still drying.
Perhaps some of the concerns that have been expressed may diminish as the final text is made available. In addition, other problems may be satisfactorily resolved during the committee hearings. Put simply, there is no need to rush to judgment when there is ample time to proceed in a serious and deliberate manner. It could well be that, after careful consideration, the Senate may deem it necessary to make changes in the treaty or in the resolution of ratification. I may or may not eventually favor such an action, but that kind of decision, which could carry far-reaching consequences, should be made only after the most thoughtful scrutiny and analysis.
There has also been the suggestion that the U.S. Senate, if it rejects the treaty, will have pulled the trigger on an arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In my opinion, the Senate is well aware of the dangers of a renewed arms build-up, but any decision must be made against the backdrop of reality.
It may be in the interest of the United States to approve the SALT II agreement; or, the compelling national interest may dictate that we reject the treaty. At this moment, I have taken no position on SALT II, nor do I expect to do so in the immediate future.
At present, I consider my education to be still in the relatively early stages on this vastly complicated issue. This is true even though I have had briefings pro and con on the subject for weeks, both from administration officials and civilian experts on strategic arms. I know that a number of other senators have also been meeting on and studying these issues.
When I do decide, my judgment will be centered on this basic evaluation: Will the United States be better off with this treaty than without it? In seeking the answer to that question, I am confronted with at least two other queries:
First, what will be the net effect of the treaty on the strategic balance and the United States' national security?
Second, can the agreement be adequately verified, not only to may satisfaction, but also to that of experts in this field?
Finally, I would hope that any decision on SALT II would be free from partisan politics. This is one of the most important reasons for the U.S. Senate moving ahead to complete, if possible, its consideration of the treaty this year. The matter of a SALT treaty is too vital to the national interests for it to become entangled in presidential politics, by any candidate of any party - including my own.
The president believes the administration has an agreement that is sound and merits the confidence of the U.S. Senate and the American people. It will be the Senate's responsibility to determine whether, in its judgment, that is the case.
In my own mind, I am convinced that the American people want the U.S. Senate to ratify a sound SALT agreement. They want to feel that the potential for nuclear destruction has been diminished, and that our world is a more secure and safer place.
At the same time, though, I have no doubt that the people of our nation would not want the U.S. Senate to give its endorsement to a treaty that was contrary to the best interests of the United States.
The people want a good treaty. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, by Francis Brennan