BRUSSELS — The U.S.-Soviet arms control treaty now in the final stages of negotiation, while eliminating ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, will create pressure to step up the deployment and capabilities of other nuclear weapons not covered by the agreement, especially air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles, U.S. and NATO officials say.
However, a move to deploy new weapons, while permitted under the planned treaty and considered necessary by some NATO strategists on military grounds, could send political shock waves through Western Europe by appearing to circumvent or negate the accord.
Some officials express concern that eliminating intermediate-range missiles will also add to what they see as a larger danger of sliding toward a denuclearized Europe, which could find itself at the mercy of Moscow's far-stronger conventional forces.
Thus, even before completion of the U.S.-Soviet agreement eliminating missiles in the 300 to 3,000-mile range, strategists in Washington and here at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have begun wrestling with problems that they expect to arise from such an accord.
Most immediately, officials say, such a treaty will increase pressure to:
-- Reach a new strategic arms agreement with Moscow that would reduce long-range (intercontinental) offensive weapons.
-- Compensate for the loss of medium-range missiles by increasing the number and quality of non-restricted weapons of the same range, notably air-launched and sea-launched weapons, as well as of short-range missiles--those with a range of less than 300 miles.
-- Begin negotiations with the Soviets on reducing such short-range nuclear forces in Europe, as strongly urged by the Bonn government last month. It is these negotiations especially that some strategists see as accelerating a move toward removing all nuclear weapons from Europe.
NATO is particularly concerned with the last two issues but has yet to decide how to tackle them.
Options Marching By
"We are letting the options march by right now without opting for any of them," one alliance official said.
The United States, which is negotiating with the Soviets on the long-range weapons as well as other weapons systems, is planning to make a determined effort to reach an agreement reducing those strategic offensive weapons before the end of this Administration.
Western officials see several risks if the intermediate-range missile agreement is not followed soon by a reduction in long-range weapons. Among them are both tangible and subjective dangers, they say.
One is that both sides will seek to increase their long-range arsenals to use those weapons as substitutes to cover targets formerly assigned to the intermediate-range missiles.
The Soviets will eliminate more than 1,565 warheads based on 683 missiles. In exchange, the United States will dismantle 364 Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles, each with one warhead, and forgo deployment of 224 additional such missiles.
Another potential pitfall is that the Europeans will again begin to fear that their interests and safety are being separated--"decoupled," in the jargon of strategic planners--from those of the United States by the elimination of the intermediate-range missiles if there is no reduction in the threat from the strategic systems.
It was the fear of such decoupling, among other factors, that led West Germany a decade ago to call for the deployment of the U.S. intermediate-range missiles that are now to be removed.
Not all authorities accept these arguments, however. For example, some Western officials here point out that the Soviet deployment of the SS-20s in 1977, to which the U.S. deployment was a response, was made in a visible and potentially intimidating way, and that this "political" use of the SS-20s was the main contributor to the European fear of decoupling. With the SS-20s to be removed now, the resurgence of such fears is not likely, in their view.
Nonetheless, U.S. officials, concerned that a new medium-range missile agreement may otherwise be short-lived, will give high priority to breaking the logjam in the strategic arms arena.
Regarding the second impact of the prospective treaty, two factors have now come together to create the impetus for new and increased forces to compensate for the eliminated medium-range missiles.
In 1983, the NATO defense ministers agreed to cut the number of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe by 2,400--to about 4,500--while improving the remaining weapons. The other factor is that NATO strategists fear that elimination of the medium-range missiles removes a major rung from the escalatory ladder in the alliance's doctrine of "flexible response." Under this doctrine, NATO has sought to be able to threaten to use nuclear weapons of increasing power and range to deter or stop a Soviet invasion.