Soviet Expert on U.S. Says Arms Talks May Be 'Modest Steps' Toward Detente

Robert Scheer is a Times national correspondent.

Few Soviet citizens are in a position to analyze the fluid new state of U.S.-Soviet relations quite as authoritatively as Prof. Henry Trofimenko. As head of the U.S. foreign-policy section at the Institute of American and Canadian Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he is one of his government's most prominent advisers on U.S. affairs. He travels frequently to the United States and spoke with The Times after a lecture at Middlebury College.

Scheer: The Reagan Administration's forceful demands for better verification of any new treaty are bound to be a major stumbling block in the new round of arms-control negotiations. Why is the Soviet Union resistant to more on-site verification?

Trofimenko: I don't think that the American military will be very enthusiastic about on-site inspection of every weapon that you have. However, in principle, the Soviet Union is not against verification, but it will not go along with verification that is really reconnaissance. Sometimes I think the demand for more verification is simply an escape hatch. When there is too much (domestic) pressure for the White House to sign this or that agreement, it can always say there's not enough verification and we don't want it.

Q: The other major sticking point in any new talks is bound to be President's Reagan's so-called "Star Wars" defense proposal. Last year, in an interview with The Times, Yevgeny Velikhov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, said that he convened a meeting in the Soviet Union to figure out the Soviet response to the President's original "Star Wars" speech. Velikhov said that, even though the overwhelming majority of Soviet experts thought this was a dangerous idea that would threaten both sides, the Soviets would be compelled to build a "Star Wars" system simply because the Americans are doing it. "The Americans," as he put it, "are not stupid guys" and if they're doing it then "we need to have something against it."

A: Velikhov put it very well.

Q: But I suspect the ordinary person in the United States or the Soviet Union listening to your statement would say, why not break the cycle unilaterally?

A: Unilateral actions don't impress Americans. Sometimes unilateral restraint is considered in the United States as a sign of weakness.

Q: That's exactly what President Reagan says. He says America restrained itself under detente, and the Soviets went on piling one weapon on top of another.

A: The United States didn't disarm. It still has considerably more weapons than the Soviet Union.

Q: The argument is that your weapons are more destabilizing and, therefore, more dangerous.

A: In the Pentagon's view, every weapon the Soviet Union has is destabilizing; every weapon the United States has is a stabilizing weapon. They said that the Soviet SS-16 missile was immediately destabilizing, but when the United States started to build MX missiles it was immediately stabilizing. Sometimes this game of numbers is designed to distract the people's attention from the greater problem of how do you ensure the security of your own country. In this present time of overabundance of nuclear weaponry, security ought to be ensured by mutual agreement on arms control and not through competition of one against the other.

Q: Do you honestly expect some breakthrough in arms control?

A: I expect there will be modest steps putting both of our countries back on the track of serious negotiations--maybe not very grand, but serious steps in arms control. Because many factors work in favor of it. First of all, the economic situation. Whatever you say, your country and our country shouldn't throw such amounts of money away on this business.

Then, too, this mad psychology of the arms race is more and more understood. The further we go up this ladder of escalation in arms competition, the more other countries try to imitate us and the more danger there is. The necessity of survival pushes leaders to negotiate. The Reagan Administration's change in attitude is, to some extent, also related to (domestic) grass-roots movements; the freeze movement generated the momentum.

Q: How seriously do you take some of Reagan's rhetoric about the Soviets--the reference to an evil empire, his joke about beginning bombing in five minutes. Does this rhetoric alarm you?

A: To a certain extent, but I would repeat what (the late Soviet Premier Yuri V.) Andropov once said: We could pardon the American leaders all these nasty words about the Soviet Union, if they would be serious about arms control. Then we would regard such statements as having been made for internal political reasons. On the other hand, when there is a military buildup and no negotiations, those assertions are all very alarming.

Q: But you know President Carter pointed out that whether or not you think the Soviet Union is an evil empire, you cannot develop detente with a government that throws important scientists and other dissidents in jail. Didn't detente contain an implicit expectation that the Soviet government would allow some liberalization of its society?

A: The internal policies of the Soviet Union are our own business, just like the internal policies of America are its own business.

Q: Yes, but the fact is that when the United States talked about giving the Soviet Union most favored nation status there was an understanding, for instance, on Soviet Jews being able to leave. There was an understanding in all detente discussions that there would be a modification of Soviet behavior.

A: No, the expectation that detente would modify Soviet behavior was an American hope, and one of the ways that the policy was sold to some American conservatives. But the only thing detente can modify is the other country's behavior as an adversary in international matters.

Q: Are you suggesting that detente requires silence about things that you find morally repugnant in the other society's behavior?

A: No, it's one thing to criticize each other, and during the time of detente there was criticism. We never stopped criticizing your ways of doing things--capitalism and so on--but it's only a problem when, as a government, you use this criticism to intrude into the other fellow's business.

Q: Does it surprise you to find people like former American Ambassador to the Soviet Union George F. Kennan, who was one of the architects of the Cold War containment policy, now are more supportive of the position you're taking?

A: I am very relieved when people like Kennan look into the future of mankind with this madness of the arms race and become conscious advocates of a more reasonable course. And it's not only Kennan. There are others who understood that for the tactical gain of some pressure on the Soviet Union, you're sacrificing the much more grand strategic gain of living in peace.

Q: Don't changes in position, like the one Kennan has undergone, attest to the vitality of the democratic society? You have been coming here for 25 years and have met many people who profoundly and publicly disagree with the government. Isn't there something exciting and valuable about that?

A: Let's say that's your way of doing business. We don't have to remake each other's society to avoid nuclear war. During the Cold War, you tried to force the Soviet Union to change its internal system, and only if we changed our internal system would you deal in peace with us. Detente meant trying to change both sides' international behavior, thereby creating security for both without going into the other's business. Live and let live. That's a good American slogan under which a lot of things could be done.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°