The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

THE biggest guessing game in the capital has centered on the question of why Khrushchev created the Berlin crisis. The probability is that there are a number of reasons. One is the arms race and its cost. Another, and far more important, is Khrushchev’s fear of accidental war in the onrushing age of push-button missiles and his related fear of the spread of nuclear weapons into West German hands. Another is Khrushchev’s conviction that Communism can win the Cold War without resort to arms or at least that it can swing to its side the uncommitted areas of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and even Latin America within a decade or so.

These opinions are widely held not only in Washington but in other capitals of the free world. Since the 21st Congress of the Communist Party in Moscow in February, another factor has been added. This is Khrushchev’s dominance in his own country, a dominance which gives him the power to make decisions and to strike bargains with the West, which he lacked in the years when he was fighting internal battles with Molotov, Malenkov, and others over both foreign and domestic issues.

Khrushchev has taken the initiative, and the West has had to react. But it has not been merely reaction. There have been strong forces within the Republican Administration and within the Democratic Congress, as well as elsewhere in the nation, which have been pressing for new negotiations with Moscow. Khrushchev’s ultimatum on Berlin in November gave these forces a boost and led to the West’s proposals for a foreign ministers’ conference.

Getting the Red Army home

Ever since it became clear that the World War II Soviet-American alliance was dead, the fundamental aim of Western policy has been to get the Red Army back to the Soviet Union. But for years this seemed fruitless, whether the policy was labeled “containment” under the Democrats or “liberation” under the Republicans. Perhaps it is still impossible. But for the first time since the Cold War began in 1946, there is now at least the feeling that a new opportunity has arrived for testing whether such a change in Soviet policy can be achieved by diplomatic negotiations.

The negotiations in 1954 and 1955 were efforts toward this end which failed, with the single exception of the Kremlin’s voluntary pullback from Austria. But Washington hopes that the Kremlin may conceive it to be in its own interest to make further pullbacks.

The key area, of course, is Germany. And it is about this area that the West, led by Dulles, has now altered its policy. For years the West held to the policy of German reunification by free elections, a move which both sides knew would mean the quick liquidation of the East German satellite regime. Now the West is prepared to tackle the East German problem by slow steps over a period of years.

But that alone is not enough to get the Red Army to leave, even slowly. The additional requirement, it is more and more apparent, is some alleviation of Soviet fears of West German nuclear armaments. Moscow knows that in the nuclear age Germany is at a disadvantage because of its relatively small area. But the Kremlin remembers that Hitler’s legions reached Stalingrad, and Russian fears seem to mount as the Kremlin contemplates intermediate-range missiles on West German launching pads aimed at all major European Russian cities. In short, if Washington is right, here is a bargaining card for the conference table.

Up to the time Khrushchev gave his Berlin ultimatum, however, the West had flatly refused to consider any of the many schemes which go by the general term of disengagement. It had rejected outright the Soviet-backed, Polish-sponsored Rapacki Plan for a denuclearized zone composed of the two Gcrmanys, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Similar schemes put forward by Anthony Eden had been pigeonholed on the grounds that Germany could not be treated differently from other NATO powers, that German arms were vital to NATO in any case, and that a demilitarized Germany would be a neutralized Germany, a power vacuum too tempting for Moscow to resist.

But the Berlin threat this winter put the West in a vulnerable position. There was only one way out: negotiations with Moscow which would swallow the Berlin issue in a larger context. That context had to be some new scheme of European security for the center of Europe. And so Dulles said publicly that in any new East-West talks a discussion of the Rapacki Plan would be “permissible.”

How far the Western powers would, in fact, go toward some form of disengagement probably will not be clear for some time. But it is fair to say that Khrushchev, by raising the Berlin issue, had created a lever for high-level negotiations with the West. The general view in Washington is that Khrushchev wants to kill off the nuclear arming of West Germany, which is scheduled to take place in the next couple of years. Technically, such nuclear weapons will be in a NATO stockpile with an American officer holding the key to the door. But that distinction is not very meaningful to Moscow.

George Kennan told the Senate subcommittee on disarmament that if there is no East-West agreement now, negotiations on the future of Germany two years from now or later will take place between Moscow and Bonn. This is not a happy thought for Washington, London, or Paris. But negotiations are based on power, and in two years, as Kennan pointed out, the West Germans will have by far the most powerful Western force in Europe.

Back in 1953, when Malenkov first succeeded Stalin, there was some reason to think that he was prepared to strike a bargain over East Germany. But he was not strong enough at home to go through with it, even if there had been a response from the West when Churchill first called for a Summit conference. Today Khrushchev has the power to strike a bargain. The issue now is whether the two sides, so long locked in mutual suspicion, can come to terms.

No time for mistakes

But the East-West issue and the compulsions on the two sides are larger even than the critical BerlinGerman problem. It is the development of missiles which makes this so. Here the months of haggling at Geneva between the Russians and the British and Americans on nuclear test suspension and on prevention of surprise attack have served a useful purpose. These talks appear to have given each side a much clearer notion of the other’s ideas about such critical issues than they ever had before.

Khrushchev inadvertently gave public recognition to the problem of war when he asked at the Party Congress: “Since we are on the same planet, which is not so very large by the scale of present-day technology, would it not be better if wc lived on it in such a way as not to elbow each other and not constantly to shake fists at each other in the form of atomic or hydrogen bombs?” What the West knows, Khrushchev also knows, and the critical point is this: decision time on both sides is growing perilously shorter, in a military sense.

The key factors are what are known as “force readiness time” and “reaction time.” Force readiness time is the time it takes a bomber unit to get ready to attack; reaction time is the hours it takes from a command to fire to the explosion of the nuclear weapon on its target. As these periods grow shorter, the danger increases of an irrevocable decision bringing on all-out war. With bombers, the reaction time lag now for the United States is estimated at between four and a half and six and a half hours. Speedier aircraft will cut this to one and a half hours at the minimum. With the coming of solid propellant missiles, replacing today’s liquid types, which take hours to ready and fire, the reaction time will be cut to a mere thirty minutes — half an hour from the command to fire to the nuclear explosion on target.

The same inexorable trend is, of course, taking place in the Soviet Union. And as this occurs on both sides, the risk of accident increases as the time for consideration and consultation decreases. But what can be done about it?

Banning nuclear tests

Kennan expressed the view that the Russians have “a fear bordering on the psychopathic” about letting foreign observers into their country as part of any inspection and control system. The talks at Geneva on both the test suspension and the surprise attack issues have demonstrated this. To Khrushchev, the Western demand for wide latitude for international inspectors is nothing more than military reconnaissance. An inspection system adequate by any Western view to cope with surprise attack seems out of the question now. But Washington has not given up hope of resolving the nuclear test suspension issue.

Part of the trouble at the Geneva disarmament talks was the result of policy bungling in Washington. The Administration has waxed and waned in its enthusiasm toward a test ban. Those who opposed it for so long, chiefly former AEG Chairman Strauss aided by scientist Edward Teller, were so adamant that they all but destroyed any hope of a reasonable intra-Administration compromise. Had they given in partially last year, the American proposal would have been to halt all aboveground tests. This would have met the world-wide fear of radioactive fall-out; it would not have halted underground testing of nuclear devices, especially in two critical categories: small weapons of the fractional kiloton variety and warheads for anti-missile missiles.

In the end, the President sided with Dulles, who argued that the United States had to come up with a plan to meet the fear of radioactivity. Eisenhower approved a complete ban based on adequate inspection and control. But a complete ban means more control than the Soviets are able to accept despite the agreement of experts at Geneva. The subsequent Nevada underground tests showed that tests of twenty kilotons and under, held underground, would be more difficult to discover than had been first estimated, thus further complicating the control issue.

Even if a test suspension or ban system could be agreed upon, it would not halt the arms race or alter the terrifying shrinkage of reaction time. But it has been argued that to set up inspection systems inside the Soviet Union and the United States would have major political and psychological meaning in terms of thawing the Cold War atmosphere. Kennan, however, argued it the other way around in calling for negotiations on disengagement.

“In the long run,” he said, “the reliability of agreements on the control of armaments will always depend primarily on the political and psychological climate in which they operate; and the best security we can have against violation will not be the inspection provisions themselves, which can never be wholly foolproof, but the absence of incentive to violation.”

Senator Johnson and civil rights

When Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson and his Texas Senate colleague, Ralph W. Yarborough, joined the caucus of Western Democrats this spring, there was general comment that the senator was trying to doff the label of “Southerner" for that of “Westerner" to enhance his presidential prospects. But what Johnson has been doing in the field of civil rights can more properly be described as trying to break up the Confederacy, which included his own state. In a sense. Johnson is following the tactic of the Supreme Court.

The day the first Negro children entered all-white schools in Virginia, the hard core of resistance to desegregation in the South was cut to six states: South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida. Elsewhere in the South and the border states, total resistance has been broken and local option has taken its place, under court pressures in many cases. That is what the Court clearly hoped would happen.

Atlanta and New Orleans could make the break just as Norfolk did if they were masters of their own affairs, but they are not. Johnson’s tactic, in proposing a sort of race relations conciliation service, is designed to help further local option. In January it did not appear likely that there would be any civil rights legislation at this first session of the new Congress; now a combination of the Johnson and Administration proposals seems a distinct possibility.

Whether Senator Johnson can pass a civil rights bill without a Southern filibuster may seem doubtful. But he has shown the ability to break the Southern bloc in Congress, as he did on the first civil rights bill in the last Congress and on the modification of the filibuster rule this year. He and his Texas colleague were joined by both Florida Democrats and by one North Carolina Democrat as well as by borderstate senators. There no longer is an eleven-state Southern bloc, and it is safe to say that whatever civil rights bill passes this year will be passed with some Southern votes in the Senate.

Mood of the Capital

Speculation about 1960 at home and the Berlin crisis abroad were the dominant Washington features as winter turned into spring. Congress got off to a fast start, legislatively speaking, but before long it was snarled in the traditional domestic battles between the conservatives and liberals, battles which once again cross party lines. The resultant legislative fuzz tended to heighten the mood of political jockeying, a favorite capital pastime.

By the time Congress quits this year, it will be only twelve months before the presidential conventions. The closer that date gets, the more the aspirants will be heard loud and clear. But the mood as of now is dominated by Senator Johnson and President Eisenhower, and both Stand in that vast area labeled “middle of the road.”