The Venice Summit: Is All This Futility Necessary / Reagan's 'Good Will' Lift of Japan Tariffs Was Main Accomplishment

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Venice could be the summit to end all economic summits.

The congresses of the heads of the major industrial democracies that began at Rambouillet, outside Paris, in 1975 and continued in successive years through Puerto Rico, London, Bonn, Tokyo, Venice, Ottawa, Versailles, Williamsburg, London again, Bonn again and now Venice again have degenerated into opportunities for photos and fatuities.

Where the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) took more than eight months to redraw the map of Europe, the three-day Venice summit has sought to tackle an agenda that included the:

- Promotion of noninflationary economic growth.

- Curbing of protectionism.

- Reduction of excessive trade imbalances.

- Lowering of agricultural subsidies.

- Elimination of structural barriers to investment and employment.

- War on poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

- Solution of the third world's debt problems.

- Protection of shipping in the Persian Gulf and the threat of war if Iran attacks American-flag vessels.

- Need to combat AIDS and drugs.

- Elimination of intermediate-range missiles from Europe.

Obviously, these are all terribly important problems. And one cannot say that the economic and political problems are not closely interrelated.

The drug trade, for instance, is significantly linked to the poverty, unemployment, agricultural and balance-of-payments problems of Venezuela, Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Similarly, the issue of European military security and the reduction of nuclear arms is linked to the budgetary problems of the United States, West Germany, Britain and the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. As Christoph Bertram, the diplomatic correspondent of a West German weekly, Die Zeit, writes in the current Foreign Affairs, ``NATO's conventional forces will almost inevitably shrink'' in the years ahead, largely because of the budgetary squeeze and because of the shrinkage in the supply of conscripts or volunteers.

``None of the major nations will be able to make up for the reductions experienced by the others,'' Bertram concludes. ``On the contrary, once one nation announces reductions all the others are likely to follow suit only too eagerly.''

Hence, whatever the outcome of arm negotiations with the Soviet Union, military expenditures in the West for both nuclear and conventional forces appear to be headed down.

Should budgetary constraints - and an unwillingness to raise taxes - be determining national and international security policy? Or should the economic threats to the world be the crucial determinant of budgetary policy? The summiteers come with too little time and too little preparation to discuss so vital a question. …