How Kremlin hopes to use START to its advantage
The Kremlin has a lot of incentive to resume strategic arms talks with the Americans June 29 - and none at all to seek an early accord along the lines drawn by the Reagan administration.
Private remarks from ranking officials here suggest Soviet negotiators are heading for Geneva with at least three immediate aims:
1. To encourage ballooning antinuclear sentiment in the West.
2. To see how much the 1979 SALT II accord can be salvaged from a US President who considers the treaty fatally skewed in Moscow's favor.
3. To gauge the extent to which that President may be ready to deal away his planned military buildup during the negotiating process.
Soviet military designers, meanwhile, will keep working hard on the search for their own version of one of the new US weapons that most worries the Kremlin: the formidable, radar-elusive cruise missile, a weapon whose range and deployment modes were limited under a SALT II protocol that expired at the end of last year.
The evident hope is to signal both the Reagan administration and Western antinuclear activists that, given time, the Soviets can match any weapon the Americans come up with, and that Moscow isn't about to be bullied by a technology and resource gap into accepting Mr. Reagan's opening position in Geneva.
All in all, an early accord there seems just about as likely as a Reagan-Haig ticket in the next US presidential elections.
Dean Rusk, near the beginning of the 13-year-old process of strategic arms negotiations, dubbed them ''history's longest permanent floating crap game.''
The latest round, ending a three-year negotiating intermission, should do a lot to bolster the former secretary of state's credentials as a prophet.
The long history of SALT negotiation - a process Mr. Reagan wants to shift from mere arms limitation, to arms reduction - suggests these additional rules of play:
* Neither side looks to sign an accord whereby it challenges a component of its existing strategic force structure or bars a major military program that is being developed.
* The Soviets seek strength in size and muscle; the Americans, in technological advances. And each side uses talks as a vehicle for restraining the effects of the other's particular bias.
* Both sides' domestic political situations matter, seeming often to dictate when either chooses to unveil a negotiating shift that may speed compromise.
The announced Reagan negotiating approach presupposes that, somewhere along the way, Moscow will find good reason to move away from the first of the above rules, trimming heavy Soviet reliance on large, land-based ballistic missiles in favor of increased stress on submarine forces.
It appears out of the question that the Soviets will buy this proposal whole, if only because the Americans enjoy logistic and technological advantages on the submarine front.
Whether Moscow will gradually abandon its longtime reluctance to talk away some of its land-missile strength, meanwhile, will likely depend on such factors as the pace of US arms programs, what the Americans might deal away in return for Soviet concessions, and the degree of Kremlin anxiousness for a new accord.
Yet for now, officials here suggest, the Kremlin feels in no particular hurry.
Soviet officials mistrust the Reagan administration, with or without Alexander Haig. They feel bullied, and feel a Soviet superpower should not have to cave in to bullyish American negotiating approaches. Yet much more important, Soviet officials suggest time may be on their side. There is tension within the Western alliance. US and West European antinuclear advocates are gaining strength, and could eventually complicate US arms plans, a problem the Soviet system doesn't have to deal with.
''These talks will give (the US administration) an opportunity for greater realism,'' one senior Soviet official commented in a recent conversation with the Monitor. ''There are also other positive factors. Like the antiwar movement. And the position of Western Europe. . . . I think in the United States, a democratic country, not everything can be decided by the President.''