Assessing the Summit: The Wilson Principles

Report Europe

Assessing the Summit: The Wilson Principles

October 28, 1985 3 min read Download Report
Acting Senior Vice President, Research
Kim R. Holmes, oversaw the think tank’s defense and foreign policy team for more than two decades.

(Archived document, may contain errors)


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Assessing the outcome of the Reagan-Gorbachev summit is something which next month will preoccupy U.S. policy makers, experts, and opinion makers. What is needed is a set of broad principles by which the U.S. can judge the success or failure of the summit . A set of five such principles was offered last week on the Senate floor by Senator Pete Wilson of California. They provide an extremely useful checklist by which Americans will be able to measure whether the most important U.S. concerns had been protecte d at the summit. The five principles also provide valuable guidance to Ronald Reagan when he sits down in Geneva with Kremlin leader-.Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Wilson Principles are:

1) Do not allow the Soviets to set the agenda. Said Wilson, "The Soviets are e led to address their concerns; we are entitled to address ours. They will not be the same."

2) Do not limit the talks to arms control. Wilson wisely insisted that "we must insist upoii a -"=inkage between the subject of arms control and the subject of human rig)its, the subject of violations of the Helsinki Accord, the sponsorship of terrorism, the sponsor- ship of regional aggression and subversion, and the conduct of "espionage under diplomatic cover."

3) All agreements must be strictly verifiable. Wilson told the Senate: "The fact that we dare not trust the Soviets in no way exempts us from having to deal with the Soviet Union, but does impose the requirement that Soviet performance be verifiable." This is par- ticularly critical given recent confi rmations of Soviet deployment of the Krasnoyarsk radar and the new SS-25 missile which violate the ABM and SALT II treaties, respectively.

4) New negotiations and agreements must consider and redress Soviet non-compliance with existing treaties. Referring to the viola- s of the ABM treaty by the Sovi battle-management radar at Krasnoyarsk, Wilson warned that "we must make clear to the Soviets



that there will be a cost to t'hem for violation of any agreement. Just as@ it does no good to enter into agr eements--however high-flown the language, however optimistic the thoughts expressed therein--... so it does no good to monitor and verify performance if, when there is in fact Soviet violation, we impose no cost." 5) Neciotiations and agreements must not h inde r or prevent the U.S. ability to pursue research, d elopment, testing or future deploy- ment of systems that could defend the American people and their allies from nuclear weapons. Wilson stressed that "where unYi's- covered defensive technologies ho l d out the promise of replacing the 'balance of nuclear terror' with mutually assured survival, to forsake achieving such technology for some concession of incompara- bly lesser value would be an act of inexcusable dereliction.,'- Moscow-years ago endorsed this principle. When the ABM treaty was signed on May 26, 1972, the Soviets refused to preclude the devel- opment of some future defense "based on other principles" which at that time may be unknown. This-means, despite the tangled syntax of the U.S.-USSR Accords, that those Soviets who sign6d the ABM treaty should be in enthusiastic agreement with the U.S. that the testing and development of many new advanced strategic defense technologies are not precluded by the ABM treaty.

Wilson's five principles are a litmus for testing whether the summit succeeds. The five principles should be stamped on index cards to be carried by Ronald Reagan and all his advisors in Geneva for quick reference as they negotiate with the Soviets. These cards also should be given t o the thousands of journalists covering the summit, to enable them to fairly assess its outcome.

The Reagan Administration, Congress, and U.S. observers should define success according to the U.S. agenda. As in all negotiations, it makes very little sense to judge the outcome by criteria other than those which serve one's own interests. Similarly, success should not be defined according to Soviet criteria.

The Wilson Principles, if followed carefully,-would insure that the summit promotes world peace and improves U.S.-Soviet relations and trust. If these principles are violated, there may be little point in Ronald Reagan's going up the summit. As Pete Wilson told the Senate, "The answer is that we should not go to Geneva now or ever unles s we are prepared to insist upon and obtain our agenda, as well as theirs; and verifiable Soviet performance; and after agreement, Soviet compliance or Soviet cost."

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. Policy Analyst

For further information:

Senator Pete Wilson, "The Geneva Meeting," Congressional Record-Senate, October 22, 1985, p. S13708.



Kim Holmes

Acting Senior Vice President, Research