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MBFR: the forgotten negotiations

Ten years of negotiations on conventional force reductions in Europe between Warsaw Pact and NATO countries in Vienna have produced no results. In Stockholm recently the American negotiator at these talks, Ambassador Richard Staar, was congratulatory to the NATO side for advancing its first draft treaty in 10 years. He was optimistic that there would be a response from the Warsaw Pact and he portrayed the talks as a priority of the Reagan administration and an equally important part of the triad of arms negotiations now in progress.

But the question is whether these arms control talks for mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR) will be revived by this new draft treaty, submitted by the 12 NATO countries to the 7 Warsaw Pact countries in Vienna in July. Ambassador Staar described the new draft as containing a major concession by NATO, thereby proving the serious intent of the West and necessitating a serious and substantive response from the East. However, there are troubling aspects to the treaty that seem to indicate a hardening of the NATO position:

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1. The concession is simply that all the NATO countries would sign one treaty. A previous Western proposal in December 1979 spoke of two treaties: first, a United States-Soviet treaty for three years and, then, a second agreement in which all the participants (12 NATO and 7 Warsaw Pact) would cut their conventional forces. The Soviet Union has always wanted cuts by all the participants from the beginning and this ''concession'' by the West seeks to resolve that problem by having all the NATO countries sign the initial treaty.

However, on closer examination, it appears that the reductions would still occur in stages, with the US and the Soviet Union reducing first. Even though all the countries would be committed to making the reductions during the seven-year period it is still not a complete concession since the East wants all countries to reduce from the start, especially West Germany.

2. The US apparently wants special compensation for the distance of the withdrawals since the US would withdraw 5,000 kilometers while the Soviets would only withdraw 500 kilometers. Therefore, the US wants to expand the geographical area covered in the Soviet Union knowing that the Soviet opposition to such proposals has traditionally been fierce.

3. The American position dismisses as irrelevant any suggestion by the Soviet Union that the latter's unilateral withdrawal of two tank divisions from East Germany should be counted as a reduction in force levels because the withdrawals could not be verified and were done outside the MBFR framework. Such a position would not seem to encourage other unilateral concessions on the Soviet side inside or outside a negotiating framework.

4. The East is accused of never providing accurate information on its forces. But, at the same time, France will not be a signatory to the new treaty and the Western side will not count the French forces. While the Soviet Union has refused to provide new figures on current force levels there has been some willingness to move beyond the data problem of troop totals by agreeing to unequal reductions (an initial step of 13,000 US troops and 20,000 Soviet troops) and by setting a goal of equal collective ceilings. These and other slight negotiating changes were part of a Warsaw Pact proposal tabled in February 1982, a proposal which the new NATO treaty largely ignores and does not build on.

5. The East is also accused of stonewalling on verification. But it is the West which insists that satellite verification is inadequate and wants ''permanent'' observation posts during not only the reduction period of seven years but also for eight years after that. The Eastern side has accepted ''temporary'' observation posts during the 7-year reduction period. Also, the US wants inspection on call by low-flying aircraft, helicopter, and ground teams.

The new draft treaty presented by the West in Vienna does not seem to break new ground; on the contrary, it seems to indicate a more rigid stance. It certainly does not exhibit the cleverness, creativity, and political will needed by both sides to break negotiations out of a 10-year deadlock and to reach common ground. The alternative is pressure on both NATO and the Warsaw Pact to boost the quality and quantity of their conventional forces in Europe.