Commentary Magazine


Khrushchev's Visit: The German Problem Remains
Possibilities for a Settlement

In a letter to Dr. Konrad Adenauer some time before his own trip to the United States, Premier Khrushchev warned the Federal German Chancellor against “fanning of passions and preparation for conflict” and declared that in his meetings with President Eisenhower “we naturally cannot limit our talks to the question of corn or cucumbers. We shall discuss political questions, state affairs, and unsolved problems. And the main unsolved problem is the elimination of the last traces of the Second World War, without which it is difficult to consolidate peace and the security of nations.”

These words, which Khrushchev was quick to repeat on his arrival in the United States, were certainly intended to make Adenauer feel uneasy. There was a definite suggestion that Khrushchev and Eisenhower, as the leaders of the two world superpowers, were going to settle the affairs of Central Europe in secret negotiations, without regard to the views or rights of the West German government. To reassure Adenauer that this was not his intention was the main reason Eisenhower made Bonn the first stopping place on his European tour. Needless to say, Eisenhower’s pledge not to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union behind the back of the West Germans greatly disappointed those circles in the United States and in Britain whose idea of a settlement between the Soviet Union and the West is essentially of one at Germany’s expense; one leading British newspaper even expressed the hope that Eisenhower would not take “too literally” any promises to his allies which might restrict his freedom of action.

Nevertheless, Eisenhower’s conversations with Khrushchev were in fact negotiations, even though they were officially only “exploratory,” and the meetings of the two men on American soil were in reality a bilateral summit conference; this is universally assumed both by those who wish to make sure that Eisenhower does not bargain away any of the interests of his allies, and by those who would like to give him a free hand on behalf of the whole Western coalition.

Certainly Eisenhower and Khrushchev did not confine their talks to corn and cucumbers. But when Khrushchev said that he was mainly interested in discussing “the elimination of the last traces of the Second World War,” What should he be taken to mean? Is this a mere empty phrase or does it hold the key to the attitude and purpose of Khrushchev in his direct negotiations with the President of the United States? What, precisely, are the “last traces of the Second World War”? In trying to estimate the chances of progress toward a general settlement through the Khrushchev-Eisenhower talks, it is worth while to begin with a retrospect across the years to the brief moment when Hitler’s Third Reich bestrode the continent of Europe from the Bay of Biscay to the Volga.

Hitler very nearly won the Second World War. Even without winning it, he achieved a degree of integration of Europe under central control comparable to that accomplished by Napoleon. Like Napoleon, Hitler failed to subdue either Britain or Russia, but in contrast to the Napoleonic period the defeat of Hitler could not be brought about by any purely European coalition; it needed the intervention of the United States, both through its own strategic operations and through lend-lease to alts allies, to drive Germany to unconditional surrender.

From the end of 1941, the United States took part directly for the second time within three decades in a great European war; the question was whether it would again this time revert to its traditional isolation, as after 1918. Had American policy in 1945-47 followed the isolationist precedent of 1918-20, the immediate consequences in Europe would have been quite different from what they were on the previous occasion. After the collapse of Hohenzollern Germany, Europe was left without any power that could aspire to a continental hegemony, for France was too exhausted and Russia too much weakened and disorganized by revolution and civil war. Until the military power of Germany was re-created by Hitler, therefore, the political and strategic disengagement of the United States from Europe did not involve any prospect of the unification of Europe by a single imperial power; the danger lay, rather, in the increased territorial fragmentation and political disunity of the Continent, which were later to render it so vulnerable to the Nazi bid for supremacy.

But in 1945 it was clear to any open-eyed observer that the total elimination of German power, with Russian troops in Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest, and Vienna, must mean a decisive Russian preponderance in Europe unless a balance of power were to be maintained by a continuing American “presence” on the Continent. The question was whether American foreign policy in the postwar years would provide this. In 1945 it was very far from being certain that it would; the indications indeed pointed toward a reversion to isolationism qualified by American participation in a veto-bound United Nations.

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President Roosevelt not only failed to comprehend the nature and purposes of the Soviet Communist regime; he also, from his own past experience, took a pessimistic view of the future willingness of Congress to permit American involvement in European affairs after the overthrow of Hitler. At Yalta, he told Stalin he was afraid Congress would not allow American troops to be stationed in Europe for the occupation of Germany for more than two years after the end of the war. This information was by way of apology for an anticipated American failure to carry a fair share of the burden of Allied postwar occupation in Germany.

To Stalin, however, Roosevelt’s words must have been sweet music on the ear, for these American forces would be the one really serious obstacles to that supreme power over Europe which he already saw within his grasp. If he had only two years to wait, he could be confident that within that time he would have so organized control of Eastern Europe that the extension of Communist power to the Atlantic would be a matter of no great difficulty. That his original project of domination covered Western as well as Eastern Europe was curiously disclosed in his correspondence with Tito at the time of the Yugoslav-Soviet break in 1948. Reproaching Tito for arrogance in claiming for his Yugoslav partisans sole credit for the liberation of his country, Stalin wrote: “the Soviet army came to the aid of the Yugoslav people, crushed the German invader, liberated Belgrade and in this way created the conditions which were necessary for the Communist party of Yugoslavia to achieve power. Unfortunately the Soviet army did not and could not render such assistance to the French and Italian Communist parties.”

This is a clear statement—made in a communication between two Communist parties not intended for publication—that Stalin would, if he could, have installed “people’s democracies” in France and Italy just as (he did in Poland, Rumania, or Hungary. What prevented him was simply the fact that in the course of the war Europe west of the Elbe and the Adriatic was overrun, not by Russian, but by American and British troops. But, as far as the American troops were concerned, this barrier could be expected (from President Roosevelt’s own forecast) to disappear long before Western Europe would have recovered economic and political stability.

If the American forces had been withdrawn from Germany before the end of 1947, there would no longer have been any nation in Europe capable of standing up to the pressure of Soviet power. The Soviet Union emerged from the war far stronger than Britain—an outcome which Churchill, preoccupied with the annihilation of Germany, anticipated too little and too late. So Stalin waited for the American withdrawal from Europe, and meanwhile prepared for the satellization of Germany by extending the political activity of the “Socialist Unity party” into the Western occupation zones and pressing diplomatically for the “international control of the Ruhr,” which was to be the base for Soviet penetration into the economy of Western Europe.

It is unnecessary to add that the outcome for which Stalin waited is not what actually happened. American troops were not withdrawn from Germany; Russian demands for participation in control of the Ruhr were rejected; the Communists were not allowed to build up their power in the Western occupation zones. The United States and Britain combined to oppose further Soviet expansion in Europe, and the United States intervened to revive Europe economically through the Marshall Plan. Stalin succeeded in consolidating his Eastern bloc of satellite states by means of the coup d’état in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, but his attempt to drive the Western powers from Berlin by blockade was thwarted by the American-British airlift. The sequel to this bitter contest was the formation of the North Atlantic Alliance committing the United States, as it had never in peacetime been committed before, to a responsibility for armed assistance to a group of European nations in the event of attack on any one of them.

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From a Communist point of view, something went wrong in the period just after the war; essentially it was that the Americans, instead of getting out of Europe, as was expected even by their own President at the beginning of 1945, obstinately stayed there. How to get the Americans out of Europe has therefore been the cardinal problem of Soviet foreign policy ever since. Basically there were two possible ways of achieving it, which were alternative, though not entirely incompatible. The one was to turn European peoples against America: to represent Marshall aid and NATO as devices of Wall Street imperialism to enslave Europe, to encourage neutralist and anti-American sentiments in every European country, and to carry on political campaigns against American bases in Europe; it was as part of this agitation that French Communists used to paint walls in seaport towns with the slogan “Americans Go America.” The alternative method was to start at the other end, to turn the American people against Europe: to persuade them that it was not worth their while to assume obligations to protect European nations and that they could have lasting peace with the Soviet Union if only they would cease to support the anti-Soviet intrigues of reactionary European governments.

From the time of President Truman’s first moves to contain Soviet expansion in Europe to the arrival last spring of Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan on American soil, it was the anti-American line in Europe that had priority in Soviet political propaganda; the enemy was American imperialism and the American “instigators of war.” But it was only to be expected that sooner or later, if Moscow failed to turn Europe against America, it would have a try at turning America against Europe. When Khrushchev finally decided on a direct political approach to the United States, he did not wait for an invitation; Mikoyan arrived uninvited, ostensibly to pay a call on the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, but, having arrived, he was treated as an official guest and given the maximum of publicity for his propaganda tour. This promising start was followed up with the Kozlov-Nixon exchange and led on to the agreement for an exchange of state visits at the summit, with direct conversations between the President of the United States and the man who now combines, as Stalin formerly did, the offices of First Secretary of the Soviet Communist party and Prime Minister of the Soviet government.

The Soviet drive for a bilateral superpower summit conference, which was not to discuss corn and cucumbers, but to “eliminate the last traces of the Second World War,” was accompanied by a switch of worldwide Communist propaganda from an anti-American, to an anti-German, line. No longer during the last year have Wall Street and the Pentagon been plotting war against the Soviet Union with Adenauer as their puppet; the West German government itself has emerged as the villain of the piece, controlled by ex-Nazis and militarists, dreaming of revenge for the defeat of 1945, and striving to set an unsuspecting America against an innocent Russia. At the very least, Adenauer is represented as a stubborn old man whose “rigidity” is the great obstacle to the peace which could otherwise quite easily be secured. This propaganda has had a striking degree of success in Britain, where it has not been difficult to revive wartime anti-German feelings and stimulate fears of German rearmament. It appears also to have had a measure of success in America.

It was in this context that the idea of “the elimination of the last traces of the Second World War” was introduced, together with the Soviet demand for a peace treaty to be concluded with the two German states without waiting for their reunification. It is essentially an attempt to gat back politically to the international setting of 1945. Russia’s greatest diplomatic victories were at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, when America and Britain were the allies of the Kremlin against Germany; since then a democratic West Germany has become a member of NATO, while a Communist dictatorship in East Germany has been sustained solely by the presence of Soviet troops. Today Russia seeks to remind America and Britain that Germany is a defeated enemy with whom a peace treaty still has to be made, and tries to persuade her former allies that German affairs should be settled by a conclave of the victors, as they were at Potsdam fourteen years ago. To loosen, and finally to break, the ties binding the German Federal Republic to the Western coalition by pressing America and Britain to make concessions at Germany’s expense is now the principal objective of Soviet diplomacy.

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To get back to 1945, however, may not be so easy for Khrushchev, for many things have happened to condition American thinking about international affairs since Roosevelt told Bullitt that “I just have a hunch that Stalin doesn’t want anything but security for his country.” Eisenhower received Khrushchev in Washington under the shadow of the Soviet Russian threat to terminate unilaterally existing agreements with regard to Berlin unless the West gave way to Soviet demands. By implication, this was a threat of war, for the Soviet separate peace treaty with East Germany, which was to be concluded if the West did not agree to Soviet terms for a peace treaty with both German states, was to place all communications with West Berlin under the jurisdiction of the East German government, which Russia had promised to protect by force of arms against any Western use of force to keep the supply routes open. Khrushchev came to America, therefore, as a man who had threatened his host with war if he did not gat what he wanted. He came, nevertheless, as a man of peace, whose one aim was to relax international tension and build up friendship between America and Russia; nothing would distress him more than to have to translate his threat into action. (It is, indeed, the characteristic technique of totalitarian political action to cover its fundamental violence with the most extravagant expressions of the desire for peaceful solutions.)

Fortunately, President Eisenhower did not allow the mood of generous hospitality appropriate to the reception of an official guest (who, to flatter his vanity, was received as a head of state, although by the constitution of his own country he is not one) to divert his mind entirely from the fact that his guest was trying to blackmail him. On his television broadcast to the American people on September 10, the President declared unequivocally that “any agreement to hold a summit meeting must be based on the certainty that our status and rights in Berlin will be respected.” These words, if they meant anything, meant that Eisenhower would not negotiate under duress, and that the condition of any progress toward a settlement must be an undertaking by Khrushchev that the status quo in Berlin will not be altered by any unilateral action on the Soviet side.

This was the most fundamental issue of the conversations, and doubtless came up right at the start. Khrushchev was bound to do all he could to extract concessions as a price of allowing the Western powers to remain in West Berlin, for his indirect threat of a new and more formidable blockade has been his main lever to force the Western powers to enter into summit negotiations, from which he hopes to make big diplomatic gains because of the craving of the Western peoples for relief from the aggravation of international tension. Khrushchev must have a crisis, or the threat of one, to make a summit conference urgent and compel the Western governments to take part in it without preparatory agreements negotiated through diplomats or meetings of Foreign Ministers.

The interest of the Western governments is to work up to the summit through normal diplomatic processes, because in negotiations conducted by professionals without a time limit, progress can only be made through give-and-take bargaining and there can be no agreements unless the Soviet Union has something to offer. Khrushchev, on the other hand, has persistently avoided such a procedure because he has had no intention of making any real concessions in return for the gains he seeks, except only a temporary release from the imminent danger of war. He has therefore tried to create an atmosphere of menace, so that any agreement reached at an enforced meeting of heads of government will appear to public opinion in the Western democracies as a victory for peace, no matter how disadvantageous its terms may be.

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Last year Khrushchev used the crisis in the Middle East as an occasion for demanding an immediate summit conference, and his failure to get it then was due more to the objections of China than to the unwillingness of the Western powers. With his ultimatum over Berlin last November Khrushchev deliberately provoked a crisis which made high-level negotiations a matter of urgency, but the Western powers were able to obtain a Foreign Ministers’ conference as the precondition of a summit. When the Foreign Ministers’ negotiations reached a deadlock, as they were bound to do in view of Gromyko’s attitude, the West was faced with the alternative of either remaining in the diplomatic deadlock, with a most dangerous situation developing in Germany, or proceeding to a summit conference without any of the previous progress toward a solution on which, its statesmen had said they would insist. The Eisenhower-Khrushchev meeting was a way out of this dilemma, in that it provided for discussions at the highest level, and yet formally was still only preparatory, since the taking of decisions was reserved for the full four-power conference. This plan also had the advantage from the Western point of view that it gave Britain time to hold a general election, which was in any case due within a short time, and to obtain a government with a fresh mandate from the electorate before having to take the strain of a critical summit meeting.

To Khrushchev, the meeting was acceptable, first because his personal prestige would be enhanced by a state visit to America, and secondly, because he undoubtedly had enough confidence in his own personality to believe that he could make a profitable impact on the American people by appearing among them as an apostle of peace. What were his hopes of persuading the President we cannot know. But he doubtless hoped to impress his host with his desire for a settlement and his wish to avoid an armed conflict. The question to which no public statement has yet given a clear answer is whether his attempt to reassure the President went so far as to provide that “certainty that our status and rights in Berlin will be respected” which the President declared in his broadcast of September 10 to be the condition for a summit meeting.

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In his press conference after the talks, the President did not say that the Soviet leader had given any such undertaking; what he did say was that Khrushchev had assured him that there had been nothing final said about Berlin and that negotiations could now take place without anyone being under any duress. Eisenhower may, indeed, have considered Khrushchev’s declaration that a threat had never been intended as equivalent to a withdrawal of the threat, and that he could therefore proceed to a formal summit conference—without any inconsistency with his pledge to make a Soviet recognition of Western rights in Berlin a condition of holding the conference.

But Khrushchev’s reassurances, in the form in which the President communicated them to the press, cannot be regarded as satisfactory. It is nonsense for Khrushchev to say he never intended any duress; and as long as he does not specifically declare that Western rights will be respected, whether a new agreement on Berlin can be reached or not, the duress remains. The threat which has been made is that if the West does not make a new agreement with Moscow—on terms which Moscow regards as adequate within a period which Moscow regards as not too long—then Russia and Poland will protect East Germany in steps which the East German government thinks it is proper to take to liquidate the so-called abnormal situation in West Berlin. That threat has not been withdrawn; and while it remains it must overshadow all negotiations.

It can, of course, be argued that the West should go on negotiating whether under duress or not, for in the last resort the duress can be defied if there is no willingness on the other side to relax it. But in that case it would be far better for a democratic statesman to be quite frank about the situation in talking to his own people, so that they may be under no delusion as to what is happening and ready to support him adequately if the affair reaches a stage of crisis.

It was noticed, moreover, at the President’s press conference that he said he agreed with Khrushchev that the situation in Berlin was “abnormal.” In one sense that is indeed obvious; but it is disastrous to say so without the essential qualification that the situation in East Germany is also abnormal, and that the East German “abnormality” is the cause of the “abnormality” of West Berlin. In constantly emphasizing the abnormality of West Berlin, an enclave a hundred miles within Communist-controlled territory, Khrushchev is trying to project the idea of something contrary to the natural and reasonable order of things which must be eliminated for the sake of international peace. But what is really abnormal is that Russian power should be holding a third of the German people under a dictatorship which could not otherwise be sustained. If the Western position in Berlin is admitted to be something extraordinary in an environment which is accepted as normal, then the Western case is given away even before negotiations begin. East Germany is as much one of the “last traces of the Second World War” as West Berlin, and the West cannot agree that the former is to be regarded as a fact of a higher order of validity than the latter.

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We do not know what the two statesmen said to each other at Camp David about Germany, but we must assume that they discussed various possibilities in the endeavor to find a basis on which negotiations could be carried on. The results of these discussions are not yet clear, but one can state broadly the possible solutions of the German question which are open to discussion. Four appear to be within the bounds of practical politics:

  1. Germany to be unified on the basis of free elections and free to conclude alliances at will. This has been so far the objective of official Western policy.
  2. Germany to be unified by a confederation of West and East Germany coming together as equal partners. This would involve internally a combination of democratic and Communist elements and, externally, a position of neutrality for the confederate state. This is the current objective of Soviet policy.
  3. Germany to be unified on the basis of free elections, but thereafter to be neutral, i.e. to be internally a democracy, but externally attached to neither of the power blocs.
  4. Germany to remain, as at present, divided between two states, but full diplomatic recognition to be accorded by the West to the East German government in return for specific recognition of West Berlin as an outlying piece of West German territory and stringent guarantees of access to it. On this basis the two German states would continue to belong to the NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances respectively.

Of these four possibilities, the first must now be ruled out as unattainable, because the prospect of a reunified Germany joining NATO is not one which the Soviet Union can be expected to accept as long as it has a puppet regime in East Germany and the military power to keep it there. On the other hand, the second is a solution which the West will not contemplate as long as the West Germans themselves do not in their majority desire it. For, by giving the Communists a position of built-in privilege within a unified Germany, it would effectively destroy German democracy, and there would be every probability that the political monstrosity thus created would in a short time become a satellite of the Soviet Union.

There remain solutions three and four. Any scheme involving (the neutralization of Germany is open to serious objections, both because of the loss of West German forces to the Atlantic Alliance and because of the danger that an isolated Germany might pursue a policy of adventure by shifting its weight between the two blocs. Nevertheless, this solution, if Russia could be brought to accept it, would be, from the West’s point of view, well worth the sacrifices and risks it involved; it would reunify Germany, preserve German democracy, and automatically solve the problem of Berlin. Nobody doubts that genuinely free all-German elections would leave the Communists in a small minority, and there would be good reason to expect that the society emerging from the reunification would be a peaceful one concentrated on economic progress, as West Germany is now. If the Oder-Neisse frontier with Poland were also to be recognized and internationally guaranteed as part of the settlement, Germany’s neighbors would be relieved of their fears of German revisionism, and the desire of the Czech and Polish peoples—as distinct from their Communist parties—for Russian protection would be correspondingly weakened.

If the Russians were concerned only with their own strategic security, they should be well pleased with a bargain which interposes a neutral buffer between themselves and the NATO which they profess to regard as aggressive. Whether they accept it or not, it would be well for the West to give the fullest publicity to proposals—assuming that they could be agreed upon among the Western governments concerned—for a formula of free elections plus neutrality as a solution for the German problem; it would certainly impress world opinion as a reasonable basis for a settlement. It is unlikely, however, that Khrushchev would be ready to accept it, because it would involve the disappearance of the Ulbricht regime in East Germany and therefore a large-scale territorial retreat of Communism, which would be highly dangerous for the stability of the system in other East European satellites and even in the Soviet Union itself. Moreover, it would mean that the Kremlin had definitely, given up the hope of dominating Germany—and through Germany, Western Europe as a whole; but there is no reason to believe this to be so.

Given the fundamentals of Soviet policy insofar as they can be ascertained, it must be Khrushchev’s aim that the tension produced by the division of Germany should be either resolved by a settlement on Russia’s terms or not resolved at all. But, confronted with the risks of war over Berlin, and yet in need of some gain which he can represent as a notable diplomatic success, he may perhaps be considering for the time being an agreement on the lines of the fourth, a solution whereby he would get full international recognition of the East German regime in return for confirming and defining the rights of the West in Berlin.

Such a limited agreement, involving much less departure from the status quo than any of the other possibilities mentioned, would probably be acceptable to Bonn because, after the equality of representation given to the two German states at the recent Foreign Ministers’ conference, the outlawry of Pankow is in any case a thing of the past, and formal recognition is no longer an intolerable violation of principle.

Once the two Germanys were internationally recognized, they could both become members of the United Nations, and this would set the precedent for the three other cases of countries in which Communist and anti-Communist states now coexist with the support of their respective power blocs—that is to say, Korea, Vietnam, and China. China was in any case one of the subjects of discussion in (the Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks, for Khrushchev left for Peking after his visit to Washington, and he had to be able to say there that he pressed Communist China’s claims for seating in the United Nations. Certainly he was not reluctant to do so, for he knows that the divergence between American and British policies toward China is one of the most vulnerable points in the front of the Western powers, and he was also aware that the recent additions of Asian and African members to the United Nations have made it very doubtful whether an Assembly majority in favor of Peking can be averted much longer. On the other hand, the United States is bound by a solemn treaty of alliance with the Nationalist government in Formosa and cannot repudiate it without utterly destroying its credit as an ally. In these circumstances a formula which would provide for recognition of both the Peking and Taipeh governments would be the best attainable solution, and it would follow naturally from recognition of the two Germanys.

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There is, finally, disarmament. A spectacular initiative for disarmament, indeed, featured Khrushchev’s visit to America; but it was not an agreement or approach to the subject reached as a result of his conversations with the President. Rather, it was the grand gesture of world demagogy contained in his address to the United Nations General Assembly. That Khrushchev should urge total disarmament of all nations within four years, at a time when the West is menaced by the use of Soviet military power to alter the status quo in Germany, is a piece of political salesmanship so impudent that it must command admiration for the nerve of a politician who can do it without embarrassment.

It would be unwise to underestimate the appeal of the radical simplicity of Khrushchev’s proposal, in contrast to the complicated schemes produced by those who are genuinely trying to find the basis on which nations can agree to scale down their armaments. The world today is not in a condition in which nations can discard all means of defense without evidence of general honesty, good will, and acceptance of a reign of law in international relations, including a universal readiness to submit to an all-seeing inspection without veto or obstruction. Nothing in the history of Communist states up to the present is any ground for confidence in their genuine will to cooperate honestly with a system of the type Which Khrushchev has proposed. Disarmament cannot be a cure for the tensions of the cold war; when it comes, it will be the consequence of their abatement.

In only one field of armaments is it reasonable to hope for a speedy agreement, and even this is not, strictly speaking, a matter of disarming. It would be a great encouragement to all mankind, and an immense gain for the world reputation of the United States, if an agreement to stop all tests of nuclear weapons were concluded without further haggling about an inspection system which Russia is evidently determined to deprive of real knave-proof effectiveness.

The undertaking on the American side should be unconditional, because in this matter—in contrast to most kinds of arms limitation or prohibition—it cannot make much difference if the other side cheats. “Enough is plenty,” as Eisenhower himself said; America has enough bombs and sufficient knowledge of how to detonate them; the real rivalry now is in the development of missiles and counter-missiles. Since there is general agreement among scientists that nuclear testing is to some degree harmful to the present and future health of mankind, a ban on it is desirable even if the Russians secretly go on with explosions underground. They will be able to do that anyway under the proposed system of “quotas” for on-the-spot investigations, for any child can see that if x inspections are allowed in one year, the way to cheat is simply to arrange x innocent explosions for investigation and then make x + 1 the nuclear test.

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