Differences remain over START


MOSCOW -- Behind the smiles and handshakes at the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the most sweeping and complex arms control pact ever, President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev seemed divided over how fast and in what fashion to try to build on that success.

'Doctrines of war fighting must be abandoned in favor of concepts of preventing war,' Gorbachev declared Wednesday. 'Plans calling for a crushing defeat of the perceived enemy must be replaced with joint projects of strategic stability and defense sufficiency.'


Bush struck a less urgent chord, portraying START as a process that must continue. How, when and to what end were not specified.

In all the talk of friendship and partnership emerging from the Moscow summit that ended Wednesday, only Gorbachev felt compelled to defend the fact that START will still leave thousands of continent- spanning warheads aimed at U.S. and Soviet targets.

The summit, however, ended without even a modest mandate for future reductions in nuclear weapons and even with evidence that it may be some time before such a course is charted. In the interim, deadlocks over where the next round of restraints should be applied could cause prospects for broad strategic arms reductions, which have preoccupied the superpowers for two decades, to lose out to other forms of arms control.


The Soviet priorities include limits on battlefield nuclear weapons and naval arms, areas where the United States has resisted negotiations on military grounds, and renewed complaints that U.S. plans for a scaled-back 'Star Wars' anti-missile system could violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The withdrawal of Soviet and American troops from Europe, spurred by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, could make the United States more amenable than before to talks on reductions in short-range nuclear weapons it kept there to deter what had been an edge in troops, tanks and artillery by the erstwhile Warsaw Pact.

Naval arms control is a different question, raising issues of sovereignty and force projection on the high seas in a reminder that for all the summit talk of partnership and friendship, the United States and Soviet Union remain adversaries at least in the minds of the military strategists.

In Congress, there has been a surge of debate in recent months that could rekindle a sharp dispute over 'Star Wars' and the ABM Treaty that delayed the conclusion of the START accord Bush and Gorbachev so celebrated Wednesday.

Chairman Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is pushing a modified plan that has liberals nervous and the Soviets on edge.


In 1987 and 1988, congressional sentiment to keep the SDI on the drawing board and out of the sky helped move it out of the arms control picture as an impediment to START. Now, however, there is a new blueprint for the SDI, if more down to earth than the space-based umbrella Ronald Reagan envisaged when he announced the program in March 1983.

As proposed by Bush, the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) version of would use ground- and space-based interceptors to protect against missile attacks.

To sell the proposal at a time of lowered superpower tension, its proponents emphasize the need not to guard against all-out nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, but accidental launches or the hostile actions of renegrade Third World governments.

Supporters hope to exploit vivid memories of Patriot missiles knocking Iraqi Scuds out of the sky during the Persian Gulf War. Nunn has sweetened his pitch for GPALS by requiring that the initial system comprise only ground-based interceptors, keeping it in compliance with the ABM Treaty's ban on space-based and other ground-based deployments.

Calling GPALS 'a system that puts nobody at threat, nobody at risk,' Bush claimed Wednesday that 'one of the lessons out of the Iraq war -- and maybe President Gorbachev reads this differently -- is that defenses work.'


Gorbachev, sitting at his side, chose not to respond. The Soviets, it seems, may share the skeptical view of Spurgeon Keeny, president of the Arms Control Association, who likens the Nunn proposal to 'a camel's nose under the tent' of the ABM Treaty.

'While the immediate effort is certainly ABM-compliant,' he says, 'the process if pursued will certainly involve unraveling of the treaty.'

The Soviets, as well, are concerned the construction of one ABM site, something the United States decided years ago to forgo, would invite work on others and risk a clash over the interpretation or even renegotiation of the ABM Treaty. If opposed by the Soviets, opponents of that controversial step fear it could endanger the implementation of START and prospects for START 2.

For the time being, the Soviets are being circumspect, seemingly as reluctant as some Americans to reopen the argument over the SDI and the ABM Treaty, which to date has kept anti-missile programs of both sides in check.

'I think the ABM Treaty is a sacred cow of arms control and we should be careful about it,' Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnyk said Wednesday. 'But we should be prepared to listen' to any U.S. proposals or ideas, he added.


Latest Headlines