Why has the Soviet Union decided to accept the ``global double-zero option'' for medium- and shorter-range missiles? This is a question Soviet specialists have discussed since General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev made the concession public last month. Until that concession, the Soviets had insisted that 100 medium-range missiles must be based in the Asian portion of the USSR to ensure the country's security.
At a recent round-table discussion organized by the Institute of International Affairs, a common thread emerged: that the new Soviet position has more to do with the sensibilities of Asia than with a new reading of the political climate in Washington.
Edward Grebenshchikov, an Asia hand, said Mr. Gorbachev's initiatives were made in response to favorable trends in Asia and the Pacific region, where ``antinuclear sentiment is spreading in a chain reaction.''
The deputy director of the institute, Alexander Kislov, linked Gorbachev's statement to the new willingness of Soviet foreign policy makers to consider public opinion in other countries. Said another speaker to a Japanese journalist: ``Our medium-range systems could have posed a threat to Japan, so we took into account the wishes of your country in particular in making this offer.''
The specialists played down the China factor. ``Although one can see from the Chinese press that there has been a lot of anxiety about these missiles, in our bilateral consultations they have not moved to the fore in the last two years,'' one commented. ``Our proposals are not directly linked to the border talks [with China] but should make the climate more favorable for them.'' Another round of these talks is due to start in Peking Aug. 7.
Political commentator Radomir Bogdanov, writing in the newspaper Sovietskaya Rossiya today, made it clear, though, that the Soviets do perceive a better climate for arms control in the US as well as in Asia.
Referring to the 1982 statement by US arms control official Kenneth Adelman, that arms control talks are a lie to pacify our allies and the American people, Mr. Bogdanov said that the administration ``would hardly risk repeating this position publicly in Washington now.''
Deputy Director Kislov, speaking at the round table, avoided any signs of undue optimism when speaking about the chances of an arms agreement. He singled out the US reluctance to include the US-owned warheads on West Germany's 72 Pershing 1-A missiles in negotiations, a sticking point.