WASHINGTON — The way Brent Scowcroft sees it, about the only thing more damaging to U.S. security than President Reagan's decision to sign the new treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles would be for the Senate to refuse to ratify it.
Scowcroft, national security adviser in President Gerald R. Ford's Administration and a key adviser to the Reagan White House, said that the treaty itself is a serious mistake. However, if the Senate turns it down now, as some conservatives are urging, it would only "add to the negatives" by making the U.S. government appear totally unreliable, he said.
The former Air Force lieutenant general is one of an elite group of former top-level military and foreign policy strategists--all of them staunch supporters of Reagan on most other security issues--who have serious misgivings about the intermediate nuclear forces treaty with the Soviet Union. Some, like Scowcroft, believe that it is too late now to back away from the pact, while others intend to continue to oppose it in the Senate.
The military experts form an often uneasy alliance with conservative political activists who, whether they say so publicly or not, are so suspicious of the Soviet Union that they automatically oppose almost any treaty that would be acceptable to Moscow.
Former NATO Commander
The former officials include Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, who was military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (a post traditionally filled by a U.S. Army officer designated by the President) for most of the Reagan Administration; Alexander M. Haig Jr., Reagan's first secretary of state and NATO commander in the Ford Administration; former Reagan Administration Pentagon arms control experts Richard N. Perle and Frank J. Gaffney Jr., and Reagan's first Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director, Eugene V. Rostow.
In a telephone interview, Scowcroft described the treaty as "a step backward."
"Our fundamental objectives in Europe are twofold: to do everything possible to dissuade the Soviets from any notion that an attack would be profitable and to reassure the Europeans that we will do what we say we will do," he said. "On both counts, the INF treaty is deficient. But, if we now turn around after persuading the Europeans to go along with the treaty and change direction again, we would really traumatize them.
"It is symbolically bad," he added. "It is potentially militarily bad. If we treat it as a glorious achievement, that can be damaging. But, if we say there are dangers inherent in this, and we have to take steps to compensate for it, then it may not be too bad."
Scowcroft, Rogers, Haig and some other critics maintain that the treaty, by sharply reducing the nuclear weapons in Europe, plays into the hands of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, which has a substantial lead over NATO in troops, tanks and other conventional, non-nuclear arms.
These critics maintain that the negative aspects of the treaty could be eliminated if NATO could redress the conventional imbalance, either by persuading the Warsaw Pact to reduce its forces or by building up NATO's strength.
But it is unlikely that the Warsaw Pact would agree to surrender its advantage by making deep cuts in its conventional forces, the critics maintain. And it would be far more expensive for NATO to build up its conventional forces than it would be to retain the intermediate-range nuclear missiles, those with ranges between 300 and 3,000 miles.
Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and other supporters of the treaty agree that the Warsaw Pact has an advantage in conventional arms. But they say that NATO is the net winner in the INF treaty because it calls for the Soviets to dismantle missiles carrying at least four times as many warheads as the United States will be required to destroy.
Shultz has said repeatedly that the West will be relatively better off than before, once the medium-range missiles have been removed.
The critics do not agree. Rogers, writing in the New York Times last June, said: "Deterrence is in the mind of the beholder--the Soviet Union. The Russians must perceive that any aggression against the West will result in more pain than gain for them."
An Effective Deterrent
Rogers reasoned that Soviet perceptions of the medium-range weapons in Europe made them an effective deterrent. He said this was especially true of the Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany, which could strike deep into the Soviet Union with far less warning time than long-range, strategic weapons based in the United States.
Supporters of the treaty maintain that it was NATO's idea in the first place. In December of 1979, at a time when the Soviets already had deployed 130 triple-warhead SS-20 missiles and the West had not yet begun its own intermediate-range missile deployment, NATO foreign ministers adopted what they called the "dual-track" strategy.