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Moscow Isn't Fooling Anyone

March 03, 1991

As the desert dust settles, American interests on a grander scale than the Persian Gulf are clamoring for attention. One is the future relationship of Washington and Moscow.

President Bush's euphoric hope that the superpowers could now stroll together into the rosy glow of a "new world order" may still be possible. They stayed basically together on Kuwait, although differences over details put some diplomatic distance between them. President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's move toward conservative Communist hacks and away from reformers does more damage. So does concern about the Soviet crackdown in the Baltics.

Some clues to damage will emerge as the United States and the Soviet Union return to discussing treaties to dismantle ground forces in Europe. Bush and Gorbachev signed a treaty last November calling for deep slashes in the numbers of tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons that have been stationed along the east-west border for 40 years. The goal--enshrined in the Conventional Forces Treaty for Europe--was to leave so little weaponry that a surprise attack would be all but impossible.

Compliance with the treaty could be verified by reconnaissance aircraft, ground inspections and the like. Rigid rules would require notification of any proposed changes in deployment well in advance. All told, 22 Warsaw Pact and NATO countries signed the agreement.

By then, of course, the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the near-financial collapse of the Soviet Union had made the prospects of a major war in Europe remote. Last week's Warsaw Pact decision to abolish its mutual defense agreement made them more remote still.

But the value of the CFE and ballistic missile treaties transcends arms control. They can serve as litmus tests of good intentions. They are training wheels for a world where disputes will be settled more by international laws and less by force.

What has happened since the treaty was signed is Exhibit A. The ink was barely dry before the United States and the Soviet Union began squabbling. The latest argument is over whether Moscow has a right to transfer thousands of its infantrymen to the navy--navies not being covered by the treaty.

What transparent nonsense. Were the treaty so loosely drawn, any signatory could put an admiral in charge of everything and go on about the arms race. The Warsaw Pact has sided with NATO on the issue, leaving only Moscow to pretend that it has not done something ridiculous.

With that sort of support, Washington can afford to be firm on the issue and, to a point, patient. But these treaties could be linchpins of the "new world order." On that score, time is of the essence.

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