YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Hollow Ring to 'Hanging Tough' Line : Soviets Followed Own Interests, Not U.S. Persistence, on INF

October 09, 1987|JACK MENDELSOHN | Jack Mendelsohn, the deputy director of the Arms Control Assn., served on the U.S. SALT II and START delegations and at NATO headquarters.

With a treaty to eliminate all intermediate-range nuclear-force missiles now within sight, Reagan Administration officials are claiming that "hanging tough" is what brought the Soviet Union to accept the "zero option" and to agree to junk its array of INF weapons.

Appealing as this argument may be, it does very little to explain why Mikhail S. Gorbachev actually said da .

Moreover, it ignores a number of factors that have influenced Soviet behavior between 1981, when the "zero option" was put forward, and 1987, when it became acceptable to Moscow:

--Under Gorbachev's new vital leadership the Soviet Union has become a more complex, and therefore less manageable, player on the international stage. Part of this new complexity appears to be an increased desire to moderate East-West tensions in order to proceed with, and to engage the Western economies in, Soviet industrial renovation.

--The new leadership has at last recognized that the original INF deployments represented a U.S. political commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization rather than a military necessity. Therefore, Gorbachev understood that Soviet agreement to remove all INF missiles would wreak more havoc in the alliance and cause more embarrassment for Washington than it would exact in military costs to Moscow.

--There are indications that the Soviet Union has become increasingly disenchanted with nuclear weapons in theater warfare and views their use as inconsistent with the conduct of successful military operations. This realization has been coupled with a drive to develop sophisticated, high-technology conventional weaponry and with accusations that the United States is pursuing "Star Wars" in order to tap its spin-offs for conventional weaponry.

--Moscow also sees valid military reasons for accepting a "zero" outcome on INF. The new variable-range SS-25 strategic ballistic missile, which is unconstrained since the United States repudiated its political commitment to SALT II, allows the Soviet Union to trade away its SS-20 intermediate-range missile and still cover European and Asian targets. In addition, the Soviet Union desires to rid Europe of the U.S. Pershing 2 missile, whose short flight time (12 to 13 minutes) and high accuracy pose a particular threat to early-warning and command-and-control installations in the western part of the Soviet Union.

--Gorbachev would clearly be aided by a concrete foreign-policy achievement. His nuclear-testing moratorium failed to capture Western elite opinion. And while he has succeeded in focusing critical attention on President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, he has not been able to bring Washington back to an unqualified acceptance of the anti-ballistic-missile treaty or to stop SDI.

--By agreeing to conclude a separate INF treaty the Soviet Union undoubtedly hopes to create enough momentum in one sector of arms control to make it more difficult for the United States to dampen the prospects for success in the other, more important, sectors. The Soviets have been explicit on this point. According to Henryk Trofimenko of the U.S.A. and Canada Institute, "There are already a lot of people looking very critically at the current (SDI) program, both in Congress and in the miliary, which has other ways of spending its money. But if the U.S. wants a deal, and if it's groping for a deal, it would be considered outrageous to undercut relations while we're negotiating."

Ironically, the Administration can hardly claim to have been "hanging tough" since Washington was seeking to move away from the zero-option outcome. At Reykjavik, according to Gorbachev, Reagan's response to the Soviet offer to eliminate all but 100 INF warheads was to return to an earlier U.S. "interim" proposal that would have retained 140 missile launchers in Europe. Gorbachev says, "(I) expressed my surprise . . . . We propose to accept the American 'zero option' in Europe . . . while you, Mr. President, are abandoning your previous stand. This is incomprehensible." According to Gorbachev, "The Americans stubbornly stuck to the so-called 'interim' proposal . . . . We categorically opposed this . . . . As for the President, it was difficult for him to fight his own 'zero option,' which he had promoted for so long."

Most important, the "hanging tough" argument implies that sheer persistence will force our major adversary to change its view of its national-security interests. There is absolutely no evidence to support this conclusion. But there is good reason to be concerned that such a simplistic understanding of negotiating dynamics will handicap U.S. policy in future dealings with the Soviet Union.

It is much more likely that Soviet appreciation of the value in agreeing to an INF settlement, even at zero, has changed as a more vigorous leadership took control, as a more sophisticated approach to U.S.-Soviet relations emerged and as vital new Soviet policy imperatives came into play.

Los Angeles Times Articles