WASHINGTON — The proposed intermediate-range nuclear missile treaty will face critical and prolonged scrutiny in the Senate when it arrives for ratification early next year, several senators predicted Friday.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum expressed skepticism about the proposed pact. Even the agreement's strongest supporters were not willing to predict that it can garner the two-thirds vote margin needed for ratification.
On the right, the prospective treaty is in trouble because it is seen as hurting American and European security interests while improving the position of the Soviet Union, which has a substantial advantage in conventional, or non-nuclear, forces in Europe.
On the left, it is criticized for being more a symbolic gesture than a real reduction in worldwide arsenals of nuclear weapons. Senators in this camp note that the elimination of the intermediate-range weapons would still leave the United States and the Soviet Union each with missiles with more than 20,000 nuclear warheads.
And, in the center, the treaty inspires no real passion, indicating that its ratification may hinge on tangential or wholly unrelated issues, from interpretation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to hometown pork-barrel politics.
Treaty's 'Fine Print'
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), a proponent of the treaty, said that he wants to see the proposed pact's "fine print" before delivering a verdict, but said: "I am ready to assume that this . . . intermediate treaty will be a sound one. I will be leading the effort to see to it that the treaty submitted by the Reagan White House is adopted."
He cautioned that ratification is "no cinch." He said he believes that already 22 of the 100 senators oppose the pact as outlined and that number could easily rise to the 34 needed to scuttle it.
"I think that would be a disaster," Cranston said.
The arms proposal is more popular with Senate Democrats than with senators of President Reagan's own Republican Party. GOP senators, particularly those of the party's hard right, are suspicious of any accord with the Soviets, who they claim cannot be trusted to observe any pact. They also believe that the resulting conventional advantage for the Soviets in Europe outweighs any political or psychological benefits of eliminating a small number of nuclear arms.
"One thing is certain," said conservative Republican Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming. "The Soviets remain Soviets. They shot at a U.S. soldier in Potsdam (on Thursday). They are in violation of an existing treaty.
Doubts on Verifiability
"I have reservations about verifiability. I have particular reservations about enforcement. I'm curious to know why we're entering into a new treaty when provisions of another treaty are being violated."
Wallop was referring to the ABM treaty, which the Administration asserts the Soviets are violating by the construction of a massive defensive radar system near Krasnoyarsk in the central Soviet Union.
He said that the treaty has "no political push or passion behind it. It doesn't reduce one missile aimed at the United States."
The Wyoming senator and others on Capitol Hill said that, because the proposed treaty has no committed constituency backing it, it may be the subject of extensive political horse-trading or, as Wallop put it, "an opportunity for high political palaver."
He predicted that "a lot of roads and bridges and judges"--senators' pet projects back home--will get traded for votes to ratify the treaty.
Will 'Destroy' NATO
Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) typically went further than his colleagues in criticizing the proposed agreement with the Soviet Union. "In the long run," he declared, "this will destroy" the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"The idea that we can take anything the Soviets have to offer in good faith is dangerous nonsense," Helms said in a prepared statement.
The treaty also faces a potential roadblock in Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nunn has been battling the Administration over whether the ABM treaty allows development and testing of President Reagan's space-based missile defense system, the Strategic Defense Initiative.
On Friday, Nunn repeated his threat to delay ratification of the intermediate-range missile treaty unless the Administration backs down on its ABM treaty interpretation, which would allow development of SDI, also known as "Star Wars."
Nunn predicted that the Senate will add reservations and amendments to the treaty, some of which may have to be approved by Moscow, further delaying ratification.
But Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that the proposed treaty is "a numerically small but symbolically large step. I am pleased the Administration has taken it. . . . It is highly important because it is the Reagan Administration entering into an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. It's a little like President (Richard M.) Nixon going to China."