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Conventional Arms Reductions

October 16, 1987

I want to commend Ernest Conine for his excellent piece on the necessity of conducting talks with the Soviet Union on conventional arms reductions ("Talks Needed on Conventional Forces," Op-Ed Page, Oct. 5).

The recent agreement in principle between the United States and the Soviet Union on intermediate-range missiles is a significant step forward in the arms control process. For the first time there has been agreement to eliminate--not just reduce--an entire class of nuclear weapons. Such an agreement would clearly benefit the United States, since the Soviets presently enjoy a 4 to 1 warhead advantage on intermediate-range nuclear systems.

However, neither an INF agreement nor even an agreement reducing strategic nuclear arsenals by 50%--as welcome and important as both would be--would by themselves guarantee Western security.

Rather, as Conine properly points out, the imperative is to combine these talks with negotiations on reducing conventional forces in Europe where the Soviets presently enjoy superiority over North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. As he notes, leaders of the alliance have expressed skepticism over the INF agreement precisely because it leaves NATO countries more vulnerable to a conventional attack by the Soviets. The comments of Lord Carrington, secretary general of NATO--who warned against "euphoria" regarding the INF agreement and criticized the rush to "headlong denuclearization"--vividly underscore this point.

The U.S. must therefore pursue vigorously a conventional arms agreement to redress the conventional imbalance. A positive precedent was set with the INF accord when the Soviets agreed to disproportionate reductions in weapons where they had a clear advantage: Hopefully that principle can be applied to conventional reductions as well.

There is, of course, no guarantee such negotiations will succeed which is why the West must be prepared--distasteful as it may be--to either bolster its conventional defense expenditures or spend its money more wisely. Neither seems too likely. Thus, reductions are the surest path to a stable Europe. On that, as on this issue as a whole, I want to compliment Conine on a very thoughtful analysis.

REP. MEL LEVINE

D-Santa Monica

Washington, D.C.

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