The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

IT IS not a happy moment when the neighbors are listening in on a family quarrel. Likewise, it is not a happy period when the rest of the world, free and Communist, hears American leaders and opinion makers all shouting at once, blaming each other for past mistakes and arguing over what must be done now to save the republic.

Yet in the perspective of history this sort of family argument is the essence of democracy, provided that out of the conflict comes a hard determination of what must and shall be done. This indeed will be the test of the first half of 1958 when the second session of the 85th Congress is meeting. The apparently aimless milling about may dismay both Americans and our foreign friends and allies. But they should look for the signs of an emerging program on which there is widespread agreement among the Republican Administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, and the American people all across the land.

Nikita Khrushchev has been complaining that Western leaders have used the launching of the Soviet earth satellites to whip up a war frenzy. In Washington it has been widely said that Khrushchev’s Sputniks may turn out to be the Kremlin’s fatal error because they have so dramatically shown Americans that the United States has been too smug and complacent.

A knowledge of the facts is vital to a program of action, once complacency is stripped away. This means facts not only for the President and his handful of top advisers but for the Congress and the public on whose votes the senators and representatives depend. The battle to get the facts on record dominated the winter months in Washington. It centered on the work of the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee headed by the Democratic leader, Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, and on the Gaither Report compiled for the President and the National Security Council.

Johnson’s committee has put on record many of the unpleasant facts long heard in bits and pieces in Washington. Johnson has found the ideal political situation: the national interest coincides with the political interest of his own party. And in the present case there is a bonus for the Democrats — an issue, national security, on which the party could unite at a time when it was threatened by the divisive issue of race relations.

Johnson’s task has been to bring the defense problem into focus, to find modes of action on which his party could agree. But Congress rarely is able to make foreign policy in a positive sense; it is the President’s job to formulate and to enunciate policy and, when necessary, to battle for its enactment by the Congress.

The Gaither Report

The Gaither Committee was composed of a group of outstanding men in the business, scientific, and educational worlds, assisted by many of the ablest technical brains in and out of government. The committee went to work last summer when Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson was slashing Pentagon expenditures to live within the President’s $ 38-billion defense budget and when the new Treasury Secretary, Robert Anderson, was hopefully considering how big a tax cut the Administration would be able to propose for the year 1958.

But the Washington mood was in the process of reversal by the time the Gaither Committee laid its recommendations before the President four days after the second Soviet Sputnik. The second of Eisenhower’s two radio-TV talks prior to his mild stroke reflected some of the concern the report created in his mind.

Publication of many of the major points in the Gaither Report by the Washington Post on the day Eisenhower returned home from the Paris Conference of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization heightened the sense of uneasiness among members of Congress who were soon to reassemble, even though the report was poohpoohed by some officials, especially in the Pentagon, who saw in it a challenge to their vast domains. For the Gaither Committee in looking forward through 1970 had called for not only massively higher defense spending and increased foreign aid, but also for a sweeping reorganization of the Pentagon’s command structure and of the roles and missions of the armed services, and for a multi-billion-dollar civil defense shelter program.

No Administration in power likes to concede that it has failed to do something that it should have done, least of all in the realm of national defense. This Administration, having come to power on a pledge to put things right and end the seemingly endless crises which marked the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations, seemed to consider it would be a disgrace to admit that a new crisis was upon us.

But as the facts of American military decline came to light in one way or another and as the illusions of a Soviet collapse were swept away, the President’s mood changed. In November he was saying that while he would like to do the many and costly things called for by the Gaither Committee he did not believe that the American people would stand for the cost. But when Congress convened again he was so flooded with calls for leadership that he was willing to ask more of the public than he had ever before asked.

The NATO meeting

The Paris NATO meeting seemed to have a salutary effect on Eisenhower. By nature an optimist and a believer in conciliation, the President has always been determined to find ways and means of settling the great issues which divide the world. But because he has leaned strongly on his Secretary of State, the image of America has often been that of a recalcitrant John Foster Dulles.

In the period prior to the Sputniks, Dulles was publicly enunciating his doctrine that there could be no “meeting of minds” between the Free World and the Communist orbit. To prove his point he reiterated the charge that Bulganin and Khrushchev had solemnly agreed at the 1955 Summit Conference in Geneva to the reunification of Germany on the basis of free elections. He introduced this thesis into Eisenhower’s speech at the NATO conference table and even into the NATO communiqué itself.

In fact Dulles knows, as does every diplomat and reporter who was at Geneva, that the Soviets made no such agreement, that the phrase he so fondly quoted was from the directive of the heads of government to their foreign ministers, and that this was a semantic compromise constructed in large part by himself to paper over the fundamental disagreement on Germany and European security.

The necessity to negotiate

At Paris the other NATO nations let Dulles have his way with semantics while they concentrated on what was to them the larger theme: there must be another effort to negotiate with Moscow.

The compromise, to go ahead with the missile arming of Western Europe while trying to negotiate, was not what Dulles had intended when he left Washington. But it was fully in keeping with the Eisenhower approach. And both the American military weakness, with the suddenly realized American dependence on Europe for intermediatemissile bases, and the European political pressures for another try at negotiation made the outcome inevitable.

The fact that no American IRBMs are now available for placement in Europe and that none will be available in meaningful quantity for another year or so means inevitably a period of diplomatic haggling between East and West over the terms of a new conference. Dulles sought at Paris to limit the proposed talks to disarmament but the indications soon were that any East-West talks were likely to cover a much broader field, including the Soviet proposal (put forward through the nervous Poles) for a “nuclear free zone” and the recurrent talk of a mutual troop withdrawal and a “neutralized” Germany once the country becomes unified.

Reports from Europe have indicated that the proposals put forward just before the Paris Conference by George Kennan, now a sort of youthful elder statesman of the Dulles opposition, have had wide effect. Dulles has looked upon such ideas with suspicion but some of his subordinates, including men on whom he depends, are willing to say privately that the Kennan approach may eventually turn out to be the correct one. Many in Washington who disagree with the Kennan proposals, especially with his idea that a unified Germany can be left suspended between East and West, concede that his words have been salutary because they have made people think and realize that the present frozen situation cannot continue indefinitely.

Can we bargain with the Kremlin?

The Soviet Sputnik-missile achievements, it has been widely believed in Washington, have so inflated the self-confidence of the Russians that they will be more difficult than ever to deal with. But another reading in some high Administration circles is that today’s rough military equality — in the negative sense of the mutual deterrence terror — makes negotiation possible for the first time, provided the United States is willing to meet the Soviet Union as an equal. Soviet tactics at the United Nations over the nature of the Disarmament Commission and its subcommittee, heretofore composed of four Western nations and the Russians, testify to the demand for equality at the conference table.

But how will the bargaining be done? And what will it encompass? Khrushchev told the Supreme Soviet after the NATO Conference that he wanted a new Summit Conference “that will solve all problems that trouble humanity, including disarmament.” The professional diplomats have a built-in suspicion of meetings of heads of governments, which always leave unravelled edges for them to deal with.

The President, with the Geneva Summit experience behind him, is certainly wary of another go-around with Bulganin and Khrushchev. His publicly stated concept of such a conference before it took place in 1955 was that the top men should attend merely to ratify what had been patiently worked out by the foreign ministers and through normal diplomatic exchanges. In 1955, Eisenhower consented to go to Geneva before there were any such agreements. And the record shows that not only were no hard agreements forthcoming at the subsequent Foreign Ministers Conference that fall but that the Soviets skillfully exploited the so-called “spirit of Geneva” while the United States did little or nothing, in part because of the President’s heart attack that year.

The politics of disarmament

The central agenda point of any new East-West talks is likely to be called “disarmament” even though both sides know it will not be so limited. The incredibly rapid pace of scientific development in the arms field has made it almost impossible for the political leaders to know how to deal with arms control. Many besides Kennan are convinced that to talk of arms control is to put the cart before the horse. It is exceedingly difficult to argue against this point of view when scientists of such repute as Edward Teller argue that arms control is impossible in a fastmoving period of weapons technology.

It is for this reason that there is a growing body of opinion in the Capital which states that the re-examination of the American disarmament proposals must include political issues, that the potential seeing eyes of the Sputniks have altered the fundamental premise on which the 1955 “open skies” proposal was based, that the missile age now upon us requires easing of political tensions lest some individual or some military crew, as Khrushchev has said, take things into his or its own hand and strike the first blow which would quickly lead to Armageddon.

The sum of all these thoughts in Washington would seem to come down to this: the government, both the executive and the legislative, has at last broken out of the cocoon of complacency and this is all to the good. But as it surveys the new world about it the government, both executive and legislative, is uncertain. It knows that the first priority is to regroup the nation’s military power lest without prompt remedial action America should become the second-class nation foreseen by the Gaither Committee.

There is not yet sufficient appreciation in Washington of the Soviet tactics. The probability is less of a nuclear Pearl Harbor than of economic-political-subversive assaults on the areas of Western weakness in the Middle East and South Asia, and this calls for more economic aid to such nations as India regardless of Nehru’s infuriating pronouncements.

There is a general agreement that the arms race alone is no answer to mankind’s ills, that somehow the United States and the Soviet Union must learn to live together both on this planet and in outer space.

Mood of the Capital

Since this is a congressional election year, the Congress cannot escape the political consequences of all the momentous issues which face it. The feeling in Washington as the Congress reconvened was that the issues which center on national defense would be primary.

Nonetheless, the politicians are particularly sensitive to economic issues and the signs continue to show a downturn in the economy. As the Gaither Committee realized, an increase in defense spending may turn out to be a fortuitous coincidence in solving both the defense problem and the economic problem. But the time lag is likely to be considerable and more unpleasant statistics are likely to emerge before the downturn is reversed. The farm problem continues but this, too, cannot be divorced from the defense issue.

The defense crisis is likely to overshadow the desegregation issue. The politicians of both parties for the most part are happy to see that issue laid aside for a while and they were pleased to hear that the new Attorney General, William P. Rogers, was proposing no new legislation for this session. The newly established Civil Rights Commission will serve both parties as the excuse for leaving bad enough alone.