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Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's withdrawal of tanks and troops from Central Europe should be viewed with caution, says Gen. Robert Herres, vice-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Soviets are simply withdrawing older tanks while at the same time building new, state-of-the-art tanks at the rate of 3,500 to 5,000 a year, he said in a meeting with Monitor editors. By comparison, General Herres noted, the United States is currently building 600 of its new M-1 Abrams tanks a year. Even so, he called the Soviet move a step in the right direction.

Herres also cautioned against rushing to change the way the Pentagon buys weapons in the wake of the recent procurement scandal involving arms suppliers and Defense Department employees. Only about a dozen people are involved in the scandal out of the thousands participating in the procurement process, the Air Force general said.

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He warned that Congress should not rush to alter the system every time a problem is found: Because of the long lapse between the time a new weapons system is conceived and approved and the time it becomes operational, changes in procurement methods can adversely affect the system's performance and cost, he said.

Declining defense budgets will force a review and reduction of US military commitments around the world, Herres said. The problem will be deciding which commitments should be reduced, because military obligations carry with them important foreign-policy implications. For example, a withdrawal of naval forces from the Gulf could be misinterpreted as a loss of US interest in the region, he noted.

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