The Reagan administration finally appears ready to offer a proposal designed to break the deadlock in US-Soviet negotiations on reducing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Although continuing to support the ''zero-option'' as his ultimate goal, the President will likely propose an interim agreement allowing both sides to deploy a limited number of missiles until they are banned completely.
Compared with the simplicity of the President's zero-option plan, which calls for a ban on over 600 Soviet missiles in exchange for US agreement not to deploy 108 Pershing II and 464 cruise missiles in Europe, arriving at an interim deployment level appears more complex. This is especially so because each nation has deployed intermediate-range missiles with different motivations in mind.
How then should we view the choice of intermediate-range deployment levels? Rather than selecting an interim level based on political judgments, a more meaningful military criterion should be used to arrive at missile limits that could well become permanent. We suggest the maximum deployment of Soviet missiles should be a comfortable percentage below what Russian military planners see as their minimum essential need.
Why is this approach important and how does one arrive at estimating basic Soviet needs?
First off, the Soviet approach to developing and deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces differs greatly from the US approach. American decisions regarding weapons like the Pershing II and the ground-launched cruise missile were driven largely by political considerations. The most prominent was the need for a concerted NATO response to an aggressive Soviet SS-20 deployment. Indeed, NATO's proposed numbers of Pershings and cruise missiles (572) bear no close relationship to military targeting requirements.