WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger charged today that the Soviet Union has begun deploying a new mobile nuclear missile in violation of the SALT II accord and said it provides fresh justification for President Reagan's "Star Wars" program.
Weinberger confirmed the deployment of the new SS-25 missile in the course of attacking Administration critics who believe "that arms control is a more ethically justifiable course of action than attempting to strengthen deterrence through defensive weapons."
"Recent history shows that arms control has hardly been a raving success," Weinberger told a conference sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington think tank.
"Today, I can officially confirm that one of their new ICBMs, the mobile SS-25, is now being deployed and is an unquestionable violation of Soviet assurances given to us under the SALT II accord," he continued.
"The SS-25 is road-mobile and can be housed in launcher garages equipped with sliding roofs. This makes it an extremely versatile weapon. The SS-25 violates the SALT II agreement that permits development of only one new type of ICBM. Their first new type developed, the SS-X-24, is now being tested."
No Number or Location
Given the failure of previous arms control agreements to force a reduction in nuclear weapons, "it is, I think, difficult to argue that the only moral course of action open to the United States is more of the same," Weinberger added.
The existence of the SS-25 and SS-24 missile programs within the Soviet Union has long been a matter of public record. It was not until today, however, that senior Pentagon leaders were willing to state categorically that the Soviets have actually begun deploying the former.
Weinberger provided no precise information on the number of SS-25s the Pentagon believes have been deployed or their location. He also failed to say whether there is any evidence that the Soviets are retiring older missiles as they begin deployment.
But he made it clear that the Administration has not changed its view that the SS-25 is a violation of the SALT II accords under any circumstances. Under that 1979 agreement, which both sides have pledged to heed even though it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, the United States and Soviet Union were authorized to develop one new intercontinental ballistic missile.
U.S. MX, Soviet SS-24
In the case of the United States, that one new missile is the 10-warhead MX. In the case of the Soviets, the new missile is the SS-24, a similar, 10-warhead missile that is expected to be deployed next year.
The Soviets maintain that their development of the SS-25 is permissible because it is merely a modification of an older missile, the SS-13. The United States has flatly rejected that contention, noting differences in size, range and propellant.
The President's Strategic Defense Initiative, more popularly known as "Star Wars," involves development of lasers and other high-technology weapons that could automatically shoot down nuclear missiles fired at the United States or its allies.
While Reagan is committed to achieving "real, equitable and verifiable arms reductions in Geneva," Weinberger said such arms control negotiations do not justify abandonment of the Star Wars program.
"In fact, the efforts are completely complementary," he asserted, suggesting that arms control agreements may never offer the hope provided by "Star Wars" of ending "the mutual suicide pact we now live under."