Deadly Gambits

In This Review

Deadly Gambits

By Strobe Talbott
Knopf, 1984
384 pp. $17.95
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This is the "unofficial" history of the Reagan Administration's dealings with arms control-the INF and START negotiations-by the remarkably well-informed diplomatic correspondent of Time. It follows John Newhouse's account of the SALT I negotiations in Cold Dawn and Talbott's telling of the SALT II story in Endgame. This genre of book has progressively improved even as the story that it tells becomes ever more dismal. Talbott has clearly had most unusual access, no doubt facilitated by the desire of many of the participants to look "right" in retrospect. Highly sensitive discussions at National Security Council meetings, even secret two-man conversations such as Paul Nitze's and Yuli Kvitsinsky's famous "walk in the woods," are placed in quotes. The story rings true and at this writing has not been challenged or disavowed.

At one level the story is exciting and richly detailed, high drama: thrust and counterthrust in bureaucratic warfare, with such odd alliances as State and the Joint Chiefs against ACDA and the Department of Defense, end runs around cabinet secretaries, a president who remains detached and somewhat uninformed. Ultimately, the story is profoundly disturbing: an American government that cannot break out of its internal disagreements, that consumes its energies negotiating with itself and presents little that is negotiable to the Soviets, that is divided about the very desirability of arms control. Surely the Soviets are tough protagonists and have a major share in the responsibility for the current deadlock. Yet, given the momentous stakes involved in controlling nuclear weapons, how might the historian of 50 years hence judge this political imbroglio? Were the players and the proposals they fought over equal to the importance of the issue? To Talbott he will turn.