Reagan, Brezhnev parry over arms reduction
The crisis in Poland may have dimmed prospects for nuclear arms reduction by the United States and the Soviet Union, but it has not kept the two countries from advancing arms control proposals.
In a flurry of activity this week, Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev offered to cut medium-range missiles in Europe by two-thirds if the US would do the same. At the same time President Reagan announced the formal presentation in Geneva of a draft treaty embodying his ''zero option'' proposal. Under this plan the USSR would have to dismantle the hundreds of medium-range missiles already in Europe in return for a US pledge not to deploy similar weapons.
While Mr. Brezhnev's offer does not come close to Mr. Reagan's, ''This is a definite indication of a willingness toUFdaveSoviet's deep-diving sub: how threatening?WS10
deal,'' says former strategic arms limitation negotiator Paul Warnke of Soviet leader's offer.
The Reagan administration contends that the Soviets have several times the number of theater nuclear weapons and delivery systems as has the NATO alliance. Using different standards of comparison, the Soviets say the two sides are roughly equal.
In announcing Reagan's rejection of the latest Soviet proposal, White House spokesman David Gergen said, ''. . . We are familiar with this Soviet proposal for phased reduction from an alleged current balance. The Soviet 'balance' is based on selective use of data and is not a meaningful basis of negotiations.''
Thus, Washington sees Brezhnev's offer at least in part as another attempt to convince NATO allies in Europe of Soviet reasonableness. Officials here say they cannot confirm reports that the USSR has at least temporarily stopped deploying the new medium-range SS-20 missiles aimed at Western Europe.
Nuclear arms talks between the two superpowers theoretically proceed along two tracks: theater nuclear forces in Europe (which began in Geneva in November) , and strategic arms discussions. US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has postponed resumption of strategic arms talks as a sign of US displeasure over martial law in Poland and Soviet support for that crackdown.
Mr. Warnke, who served as director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency as well as chief SALT negotiator, argues that negotiations over strategic and theater nuclear weapons are in effect the same, since any allied missiles in Europe are directed at the Soviet Union.
''With the Geneva talks, we are really engaged in START (the Reagan administration acronym for strategic arms reduction talks), not just theater nuclear force talks,'' he told a breakfast meeting with reporters Feb. 4.
As the nuclear weapons discussion between superpowers continues, it also is being sharpened in Washington. In a study released Feb. 3 by the Center for National Policy, Warnke and former Navy Undersecretary R. James Woolsey put forth what is seen as the Democratic view of the Reagan administration's strategic military policy.
While there are some points of difference, the two former Carter administration officials align themselves in many ways with the direction and specifics of the President's strategic plan.
''The Reagan administration's strategic modernization program is, in many respects, better than might have been expected given earlier comments about the therapeutic value of a nuclear arms race and the 'fatally flawed' nature of the SALT II treaty,'' says Warnke.
Both Warnke and Woolsey laud the administration's plan to improve strategic communications systems, which Woolsey says may be ''the most important part of the package of new strategic decisions.''
They also approve the effort to expand the Trident ballistic missile submarine force, which improves overall strategic ''survivability.'' Making strategic forces more survivable, they assert, makes a Soviet first strike less likely.
They contend that the administration's decision on the MX missile - to temporarily house it in existing Minuteman silos instead of adopt President Carter's proposal for racetracks in the Southwestern desert - does nothing to improve the new weapon's survivability.
Woolsey agrees, however, that the Reagan decision to consider putting the MX in deep underground silos or aboard continuous patrol aircraft (especially the latter) are well worth looking at. Warnke is concerned about the administration's apparent effort to develop a nuclear ''warfighting'' capability that assumes a nuclear war can be won or that a limited nuclear exchange is possible.
''Our strategic nuclear weapons policy should be one of no first use,'' he argues. ''If the Soviet leadership knows that its facilities and people are safe from nuclear destruction only so long as its strategic arsenal is unused, our own security is strengthened.''