The Senate of the United States has begun hearings on the treaty signed in Washington last December by President Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev to eliminate all intermediate-range missiles from the superpower arsenals. The debate will be difficult and far-ranging. Some senators will try to impose conditions on the treaty that could make it unacceptable to the Soviets or even harmful to the NATO alliance.
To deflect such efforts by conservatives, mainly in its own party, the Administration may unfortunately plant the seeds of the next major security crisis in the alliance. It is already pressing for an alliance commitment to modernize short-range nuclear weapons, including extending the range of the Lance battlefield missile so that it will reach deep into Warsaw Pact territory, and arming NATO nuclear-strike aircraft with stand-off missiles.
The Administration understandably wants to show that removal of the intermediate-range missiles does not weaken NATO's nuclear deterrent, and to convince skeptical conservatives in the Senate that the alliance has the political will to deploy new nuclear weapons.
But in so doing, the Administration is pushing NATO, especially West Germany, where most of these nuclear weapons are based, toward a very dangerous controversy about nuclear deterrence.
I just returned from talks on the INF treaty with senior allied and NATO leaders and American officials in Europe. From those talks, three things became clear:
--The allies solidly support speedy ratification of the INF treaty and would regard delay or ratification with unacceptable conditions a major political and military disaster for the alliance.
--The most serious issue question facing the alliance is what its next steps should be to maintain a political and military equilibrium in Europe. There is as yet no agreement, and indeed there is deep concern that the United States may push its partners into divisive and highly visible debate over force improvements--above all, nuclear modernization--before they have time to build public support.
--Despite political risks and financial constraints, our European partners are prepared to join us in improving conventional forces and even in carrying out some modernization of remaining nuclear forces. But they need to work out these decisions carefully, and in the context of an overall NATO strategy that combines further steps in arms control with force improvements.
Everyone in the alliance agrees that the next priority after the INF treaty is ratified is to conclude a START agreement cutting the strategic arsenals by 50%. Beyond that, there simply is no consensus on what to do next.
Several of the allies believe we should make negotiations on reductions in Soviet conventional-force advantages and a ban on all chemical weapons the next priorities of the alliance. They want a pause in any further moves on nuclear forces in Europe. The goal is a stable military balance at lower levels of both conventional and nuclear forces--not the denuclearization of NATO. Nuclear deterrence is an essential and integral part of NATO's flexible response strategy.
Our German partners have a somewhat different perspective on next steps. Most of the remaining nuclear weapons are on their territory--and more important, because of their short range most would explode on German soil if used. German public opinion is increasingly anti-nuclear. Thus, Germans from across the political spectrum believe that the alliance must move promptly into talks on the rest of nuclear weapons based in Europe.
Therein lies the extraordinarily sensitive alliance management issue facing the United States, to whom all the allies look for leadership.
What is called for now is restraint on all sides so that the alliance is not forced into a premature debate on what it should do next.
The Administration should not pressure the Germans to agree immediately to specific programs to modernize short-range nuclear systems. The Germans, for their part, should not seek to rush the alliance into talks on reducing short-range nuclear systems.
And, we in the Senate, as we debate the INF treaty, should avoid the political temptation to link ratification to any specific actions by NATO on force modernization or arms control.
NATO demonstrated to all that it has the will to carry out politically difficult measures when it implemented the alliance's 1979 decision to deploy INF missiles while seeking a solution to the arms race in Europe. Implementation of that strategy was a model of alliance cooperation, consultation and sensitivity to the special needs of its individual members.
Let's allow NATO the same time and deliberation it needs to work out a common strategy, under U.S. leadership, for its next steps. The alliance should not be stampeded by the short-term political needs of the Reagan Administration, of presidential candidates seeking the limelight or of senators trying to show "leadership."