Soviet eagerness for treaty shows depth of need ARMS TREATY

July 18, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The new U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms agreement came to fruition yesterday as a powerful illustration of the Soviet Union's changed fortunes and urgent need for economic rescue.

A country in chaos and turmoil, as several U.S. government officials put it, had far more to gain from its new association with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank than from any further confrontation on nuclear weapons issues.

Many authorities here expected talks on further cuts to follow the signing of the new pact, which is being put in final legal form by U.S. and Soviet officials in Geneva.

"We were told that all of the issues were resolved," President Mikhail S. Gorbachev told the press in London, sounding almost as if he had not made any detailed examination of what the technicians had brought him.

The way was thus cleared for President Bush's trip to Moscow this month and the cachet that may carry with it for Mr. Gorbachev.

Experts here predicted as of yesterday that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would get a severe going-over in Senate hearings but in the end would win approval.

A key staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said the political landscape was such that it was "hard to imagine it not going through."

In the inevitable debate about who won and who lost points in framing the treaty -- which Mr. Bush refused to involve himself in yesterday -- Paul C. Warnke, a former arms negotiator, contended that the United States "certainly didn't give up much."

The United States would surely be better off, Mr. Warnke argued, with what amounted to almost halving the number of nuclear warheads on Soviet ballistic missiles.

The treaty should wipe out any "residual fears" about the Soviets' being able to knock out U.S. nuclear forces in a first strike and prevent retaliation, he said.

In fact, the treaty preserves for the Soviet Union a military objective that intelligence analysts have long said that Moscow would not give up, no matter what other military cuts and concessions it made. It would, just as the United States has done, sturdily maintain its "second-strike capability," its ability to survive and retaliate to attack.

The two nuclear superpowers therefore agreed for the first time to slash their existing strategic nuclear arsenals -- and at the same time retain enough nuclear might to destroy each other. That is called deterrence.

A debate has begun here about whether Washington and Moscow, having taken nine years on START, are too exhausted to seek new nuclear-reduction goals and thus will stand pat with what they have.

The odds favor continuing talks in Geneva, several authorities XTC say. They point out that one negotiation is under way there now on ballistic missile defenses and another is promised soon on short-range missiles in Europe.

The relationship between the defense and the offense in the nuclear world almost ensures resumption of talks about the kinds of weapons limited in the START talks.

The argument runs that the new treaty is a good springboard for further cuts later on.

It is 500 pages long; but in simple terms it says that each side can have 6,000 countable weapons and 1,600 missiles and bombers to deliver them. (Bombers may carry several nuclear warheads but still are counted as one weapon.)

The two key numbers could, by this argument, be reduced from time to time in further talks. That is likely to be appealing to both sides as they contemplate more pressing needs.

"The political context is changing," said Jack Mendelsohn of the independent Arms Control Association. With the Soviet Union falling apart and the United States suffering economic woes, it will be hard to rationalize and justify the high numbers of nuclear weapons allowed by START.

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