WASHINGTON — Brig. Gen. Roland LaJoie can scarcely believe that only four years have passed since an American officer under his command was shot to death by a Soviet sentry protecting an empty tank shed at a training ground in East Germany.
Now, LaJoie is commander of the U.S. forces that are monitoring Soviet compliance with the year-old treaty banning ground-launched medium-range nuclear missiles. And the Soviets are smilingly permitting his inspectors to view and touch--and soon to X-ray--some of their most secret missiles inside the Soviet Union.
LaJoie, who was commanding officer of the U.S. detachment in which the sentry's victim, Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., served, is almost disbelieving about the new U.S. accessibility.
"It's just unreal at times," he said, "that Nicholson died then and now we can literally put our arms around an SS-25 missile."
LaJoie said the Soviets "are holding up their end of the bargain" in complying with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The first anniversary of the treaty's implementation is Saturday.
"We're not cutting them any slack (allowing flexibility) whatsoever," LaJoie said in a recent interview. "Every possible violation is examined. We've had some problems and they've had some problems, but we've worked them out satisfactorily."
The Bush Administration formally concluded last week that "the record of compliance on the INF treaty generally has been quite good.
"There have been a few cases where we have raised anomalies with the Soviets, and . . . they have hastened to resolve those to our satisfaction," Secretary of State James A. Baker III told Congress. "We are satisfied there have been no violations."
About half a dozen minor violations have been alleged by each side, according to U.S. officials. But most have dealt with an isolated training missile or launcher that was apparently lost in the huge arsenals until they were discovered by spy satellites.
One Soviet complaint dealt with an old Pershing 1A launcher. "Maybe they couldn't read the 'German air force' letters from overhead," one official said. Because the vehicle belongs to West Germany, it is not covered by the treaty, although the missiles themselves, also German-owned, are to be destroyed.
The lessons learned in verifying the INF treaty are certain to be reflected in the much more extensive and intrusive verification rules that the Bush Administration is asking the Soviets to accept in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks--and even to implement in advance of signing an agreement.
One of these lessons so far is that the United States has sometimes engaged in technological "overkill" in its zeal to make sure that the Soviets are not cheating, with delays caused by the complexity of some monitoring instruments. But the equipment and procedures may turn out to be necessary for a strategic arms treaty verification, officials say.
The U.S. On-Site Inspection Agency that LaJoie heads has conducted 245 inspection missions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe under INF provisions, compared to 97 Soviet missions to the United States and Western Europe. Each nation also has established a "perimeter and portal monitoring" system at one missile plant in the other country--the Soviet plant is at Votkinsk in the Ural Mountain foothills and the U.S. plant is at Magna, Utah--staffed by up to 30 on-site inspectors.
Both Ahead of Schedule
Both sides are ahead of schedule in destroying missiles and associated equipment. In the presence of U.S. inspectors, the Soviets have exploded or launched about half of their missiles (1,030 of a total of 1,846 SS-20s and other smaller missiles) to be eliminated. Similarly, the United States has destroyed more than one-third of its weapons (325 of 846 Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles).
The arsenals on both sides of missiles with ranges from 300 to 3,400 miles are to be eliminated by July 1, 1991. For 10 more years, until the treaty expires in 2001, each side will continue to have on-site inspection rights to guard against violations.
Over the last year, the United States also has taken advantage of the unique "cooperative measures" clause in the INF treaty in which American satellites photograph bases now containing SS-25 mobile long-range missiles that once held or could hold the SS-20 intermediate-range weapons banned by the agreement. The United States has no mobile missiles comparable to the SS-25, so the clause applies only to Soviet bases.
Six times in the last year at U.S. request, all of the SS-25 missiles at these bases were wheeled out and exposed for 12 hours, with the roofs of their so-called "garages" opened while they were photographed from space to ensure that no SS-20 missile was among them.
"It's all encouraging," LaJoie said. "Some people believe that INF verification is a picnic compared to the demands of START (the proposed strategic arms treaty). Still, it's been a good start."