The new U.S.-Soviet treaty banning ground-launched intermediate-range nuclear weapons will be formally submitted to the Senate today, with supporters confident it will be ratified but concerned that it may become a vehicle to block potential accord on deep reductions in intercontinental ballistic missiles.
With the Democratic leadership and the Reagan Administration allied, congressional observers last week predicted that the pact will easily receive the two-thirds majority necessary to put it into force.
Nevertheless, the White House, concerned over the possibility of "killer amendments," enlisted former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) as a special trouble-shooter. Tower is ex-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and more recently a U.S. arms negotiator.
As two months of hearings and debate open before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Administration will send Secretary of State George P. Shultz to Capitol Hill as lead-off witness. And Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) and Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) will appear to stress their own endorsement of the accord signed last month by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
A chief concern of treaty supporters is that the agreement could be jeopardized by efforts to make its ratification conditional upon eliminating the imbalance in conventional forces in Europe.
Most analysts believe that the Soviet Union and its allies hold an advantage over the 16 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations in most categories of non-nuclear weaponry. It was the East Bloc's conventional superiority that led NATO to deploy its first nuclear weapons on European soil a quarter century ago.
While the ratification process is the responsibility of the Foreign Relations panel, the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), will conduct its own examination of the agreement, focusing on the implications for the overall military balance in Europe. Nunn's committee will send its recommendations on the treaty to Foreign Relations before the treaty is submitted to the full Senate, probably in April, when leaders hope to bring the ratification question to a final vote.
Although there is a consensus that the treaty, the first that will actually reduce nuclear weaponry, will be ratified, it is found wanting not only by staunch congressional conservatives but also by experts such as former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft. But since the treaty has been signed, some critics take the position that it should be ratified for political reasons, its technical flaws notwithstanding.
In the view of some observers, the upcoming debate, expected to be the most thorough airing of nuclear arms control issues in nearly 10 years, will focus not on the treaty now before Congress but on the potential agreement on strategic, intercontinental weapons--those with ranges of 3,000 miles or more--now being negotiated in Geneva, the so-called START talks. The U.S.-Soviet treaty covers missiles with a range of 300 to 3,000 miles.
"Already, the battleground may be shifting from killer amendments, which would sink this treaty, to amendments designed to sink the strategic arms reduction talks," said Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a strong supporter of the agreement.
'No Cut in Weaponry'
"We could see, for example, an amendment saying there will be no cut in international weaponry until there is some specified balance in conventional arms."
There is already such a precedent. In 1972, the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) amended an executive agreement that accompanied the first SALT treaty, requiring that a future treaty on strategic offensive arms give the United States and the Soviet Union equal numbers of weapons.
In recent weeks, Cranston, as the No. 2 leader of Senate Democratic majority, has sought personal commitments from Senate colleagues that they will not support a "killer amendment" which would require that the treaty be renegotiated.
"I have talked to well beyond the 51 senators that it would take" to block such an amendment," he said, "and we are close to getting it." The Foreign Relations panel will hear weeks of testimony before debating any amendments and reservations late next month.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also will examine the treaty, beginning late this week or early next week, with a particular eye on its complex verification procedures.
At the same time that Shultz testifies before Foreign Relations today, Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will appear before Armed Services.
Nunn enters the treaty hearings with questions about NATO's relative military strength and doubts about the trustworthiness of the Administration in presenting the treaty to Congress, an aide said.
Arnold Punaro, the committee's staff director, said the committee will address three questions about the treaty's impact on NATO: Where does NATO stand today, militarily and politically? What should NATO look like in the future? And how does the alliance get there from where it is today?
Witnesses will include current and former military and political leaders from the United States and NATO nations, including Kissinger and former Defense Secretaries Caspar W. Weinberger, Harold Brown and James R. Schlesinger Jr., and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick.
Among the witnesses also will be Gen. John R. Galvin, the American four-star general who currently is military commander of NATO. In a breakfast meeting with reporters Friday, Galvin said he will testify in support of the treaty, but he also will point out the risks involved in withdrawing U.S. nuclear weapons without compensating by improving conventional weapons.
"The most important thing to me, of course, is 'Can I do the mission with what's left?' " Galvin said. "As I look at what's left and talk to all the senior commanders within NATO, I come to the conclusion that, yes, I can carry out the mission of deterrence and defense. . . . There is some risk there, more risk than I think we ought to be ready to take. But that risk can be offset if we continue the program of modernization" of NATO's conventional forces.
Galvin's predecessor as NATO commander, Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, however, will appear before the committee to oppose the treaty.
"It puts NATO on the slippery slope toward denuclearization of Western Europe, which is what the Soviets want," Rogers said in a Washington speech last month. "It would accelerate the Soviets' achieving their objective . . . to intimidate, coerce and blackmail West European nations without having to fire a shot . . . to enjoy the fruits of victory without the pains of war."
Also at issue will be how NATO's strength compares to that of the Warsaw Pact and how that strength is measured. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on conventional forces, last week released a study comparing the forces and concluded that while the Soviet Union enjoys an advantage in numbers of men, tanks and artillery, the two sides are roughly equal because of NATO's superior technology and readiness.
"A rough and uneasy balance now exists in Europe," Levin said last week. But, he added, "we've got to have (reductions that cut more heavily into Soviet forces) if we're to overcome that uneasy balance," especially in offensive forces such as tank divisions poised on the East-West German border.
But Levin stopped short of saying he would make such negotiated reductions a condition for his support of the treaty, and he added that he believed it is unlikely such a direct linkage would prevail on the Senate floor.
"I would like to see some progress on conventional arms control before a START agreement is fully implemented," said Levin. "But the INF (intermediate nuclear force) numbers are so small, we are not in any way jeopardizing our security."
Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S. Dak.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, already has prepared an amendment linking ratification of the INF treaty to a narrowing of the gap between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Pressler contends that the Soviet Union and its allies outman and outgun the West by 4 to 1 or 5 to 1; his amendment would forbid implementation of the treaty until the ratio is brought down to 3 to 2.
Other lawmakers, including Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) and Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), approaching the issue from a different angle, would like to see attached to the treaty a firm pledge from the United States and its European allies to spend large sums to increase the size and improve the quality of the NATO force. Quayle's "NATO defense initiative," for example, calls for an extra $75 billion in NATO defense spending over the next 15 years.
The treaty faces another obstacle in Nunn's long fight with the Administration over whether the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty allows testing and deployment of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," the space-based defense program.
The Administration claims that a broad interpretation of the ABM treaty permits extensive testing of space-based anti-missile components and says that the treaty negotiating record supports its position. Nunn disagrees, citing testimony given by officials of the Richard M. Nixon Administration during the 1972 treaty ratification debate.
Nunn insists that unless the Reagan Administration backs down from its broad reading of the ABM treaty, he will demand the full negotiating record of the INF treaty and examine it page by page to ensure that the Administration is portraying it accurately to the Senate. Such an examination would take months, indefinitely delaying, and perhaps ultimately killing, the treaty.
In an effort to avoid a dispute over submission of the full negotiating record, Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked the State Department last month to prepare a detailed analysis.