REAGAN: President Criticized, Praised for Compliance on SALT : President’s Move Seen as ‘Getting Tough, Next Time’

Times Staff Writer

In announcing that the United States will continue to honor the never-ratified SALT II agreement, President Reagan bared his teeth at the Kremlin on Monday but, contrary to expectations, he did not bite.

The new policy proclaims a tit-for-tat strategy of “appropriate and proportionate response.” That, Administration officials said, means that in response to Soviet violations, the United States reserves the right to go beyond the limitations of the 1979 agreement negotiated with Moscow by President Jimmy Carter but never ratified by the Senate.

Yet the Administration side-stepped the opportunity to act on the basis of that policy now, despite four years of complaining about alleged Soviet cheating.

Thus, to keep the United States in compliance with a key SALT II ceiling when a new Trident nuclear submarine is added to the nation’s strategic arsenal this summer, a Poseidon submarine will be dismantled, rather than merely drydocked as many Administration officials had urged.


Similarly, development of the new Midgetman intercontinental missile will not be accelerated to compensate for a comparable Soviet missile, the SS-25, which has already been deployed. A speed-up of Midgetman had been proposed within the Administration as another measured response to what is seen as Soviet flouting of SALT II.

‘Get Tough--Next Time’

“The new policy says we’re going to get tough--next time,” complained one U.S. official. “Nominally it’s a victory for ACDA (the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), but substantively it is the State Department’s position, maybe even softer,” he added with incredulity.

In the Administration’s deliberations before the Reagan decision, the arms control agency director, Kenneth L. Adelman, had put forward the “proportionate response” option. However, his proposal also called for an immediate speed-up of Midgetman and for mothballing the Poseidon submarine instead of dismantling it.


The President, in effect, accepted the words but rejected the actions.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz and his principal arms adviser, Paul H. Nitze, had recommended continued full compliance with the agreement, which is basically the option Reagan chose. National security adviser Robert C. McFarlane also supported this option.

Shultz and Nitze also proposed that new money be sought for defense programs to compensate for gains made by Soviet cheating, however. That tougher option was also passed over, at least for now: No supplemental funds are being asked, though new money may be requested in November after completion of a new Pentagon study ordered by the President on the impact of Soviet violations.

This almost guarantees that the controversy over SALT II will surface again next year, when new U.S. weapon systems--another Trident submarine, along with bombers carrying cruise missiles--will be entering service and old ones must be retired to stay within ceilings set by the agreement.


Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard N. Perle, generally an advocate of hard-line policies, portrayed the President’s step Monday as “a shrewd decision.” He noted that the policy can be re-examined later this year when SALT II expires, and he suggested that by then the United States will have new evidence that Moscow is cheating.

The new policy will please liberals and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies while upsetting conservatives who sought a more forceful response to Soviet actions. The atmosphere at the Soviet-American arms control negotiations in Geneva should be helped, if anything, by the decision, although whether Reagan’s willingness “to go the extra mile” will lead to real advances in the talks is problematical.

Arms control advocates welcomed Reagan’s decision as proof that the United States is better off within the agreement than outside it, despite Reagan’s charges in 1980 that SALT II was “an unfair, unequal, dangerous document which legitimizes American strategic inferiority.”

Reagan had also called the agreement “fatally flawed.” But after taking office, he announced that the United States would not undercut its provisions if the Soviets were equally restrained.


Advantages for Soviets

Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the pro-SALT II Arms Control Assn., said Reagan’s decision “showed the compelling power of the arguments to stay within SALT II. All the advantages of breaking out (of the agreement) are with the Soviets, not us.”

The Center for Defense Information estimates that if the SALT limits were discarded, the Soviets could add 4,000 more warheads than the United States to their strategic arsenal by 1990.

Pentagon officials have argued that the Soviets could add 2,000 warheads even within SALT limits, but the consensus is that Moscow, with “warm” production lines for new missiles and no congressional constraints, could outstrip the U.S. production in the short-term in any new arms race.


Conservatives were disappointed with the decision, although they muted their criticism. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said a “wiser, clearer policy would have been to drydock rather than dismantle” the submarine. To Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), dismantling the submarine was “nutty when the Soviets have such an advantage.”

Though McClure generally applauded the new policy statement, which he said “tells the Soviets they can’t get away with these violations, that there will be some reaction,” he acknowledged that the Administration “can be criticized” for being short on deeds following up that policy.