The Reagan Administration launched the new U.S.-Soviet intermediate nuclear forces treaty toward its final hurdle Monday, assuring senators that the agreement will strengthen Western nuclear deterrence and enhance the conventional military position of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Leading off the drive for the two-thirds majority necessary for the Senate to ratify the long-debated pact eliminating ground-launched medium-range missiles, Secretary of State George P. Shultz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "We knew what we wanted, and we held out until we got it."
Shultz's satisfaction with the treaty was echoed by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, who told the Armed Services Committee: "The key point is that the treaty, in addition to eliminating a category of weapons in which the Soviet Union has enjoyed a significant preponderance, will not impede NATO's ability to maintain and modernize a credible mix of nuclear and conventional forces."
Unusual Coalition Formed
The opening of the hearings, scheduled to run for several weeks before senators turn to proposed amendments, brought together an unusual coalition of pro-arms control Democrats and an Administration that the Democrats have long criticized for foot-dragging in negotiating with the Soviet Union.
"It is a crucial beginning, a ray of hope amid the anxious gray enshrouding superpower relations," said Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), a member of the Foreign Relations panel.
But even before Shultz began presenting his meticulous case for ratification of the agreement, the Administration was put on notice that some conservatives believe it is susceptible to Soviet cheating and oppose it. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) called it "an engraved invitation to cheat" and suggested that, in fact, the cheating has already started.
While acknowledging that "the Soviet record of compliance with treaties is far from perfect," Shultz declared that the agreement "has the most stringent and comprehensive scheme of verification in the history of arms control."
'Double Checking' Assurance
He cited the provision for on-site inspections, verification of missile destruction and short-notice calls by monitors at missile facilities, which he said compromise a precedent-setting arrangement of "double checking" to assure compliance.
And, he assured senators, "It is all there (in the treaty) for you to see. There are no secret understandings."
Shultz's assurances on the verification question were backed up by Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Carlucci before the Armed Services Committee. The nation's senior military officer told senators that the heads of the military services find the agreement "militarily sufficient and also adequately verifiable."
From the outset, it has been almost a foregone conclusion that the treaty will eventually get the Senate's approval. But the first round of hearings made it clear that there will be serious efforts to amend and "strengthen" the agreement, as it was signed Dec. 8.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Vice President George Bush's chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, appeared at the opening session to renew his promise to help steer the agreement to ratification, but he said he intends to be a part of efforts to "craft language" that will minimize the chances of cheating.
'Extraordinary Event' Provision
"At a minimum," Dole said, "the Senate should go on record, first, that the United States should view a violation as an 'extraordinary event'--justifying our withdrawal from the treaty; and second demanding, at the least, that we suspend our treaty obligations or take some other proportionate response, in case of a Soviet treaty violation."
Dole said he believes that such "constructive additions" can be made to the pact without requiring that it be renegotiated.
Although confident that they will have the 67 votes needed for ratification if all 100 senators vote, treaty supporters are nevertheless concerned about the possibility of "killer amendments" that would be unacceptable to either Reagan or the Soviet leadership.
Among the most likely to be introduced are provisions that would make implementation of the treaty contingent on establishment of a balance between conventional forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact and a linkage between the treaty and a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
When Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) questioned whether it would be wise to attach a proviso forbidding the treaty's implementation until the conventional arms imbalance is righted, Carlucci flatly replied: "That's a killer amendment."
U.S. Stuck to Principles
Declaring that the treaty was signed because the United States had stuck by principles laid down early in the Reagan Administration, Shultz told senators that the agreement requires the Soviet Union to eliminate deployed missiles capable of carrying four times as many warheads as the Pershing and cruise missiles that the United States will destroy.
Although the United States will give up all of its missiles with ranges of 300 miles to about 3,000 miles, Shultz said that the West's ability to deter a Soviet attack will be strengthened because "Soviet attack planning" will be "significantly complicated" by the Soviet missile losses.
Further, he said, "it also improves NATO's conventional military posture by eliminating systems which could target nuclear, conventional or chemical warheads against NATO's ports and airfields."
Crowe indicated that the nation's military chiefs feel assured because the treaty will enable the Atlantic Alliance to go ahead with nuclear modernization plans, including the development of new weapons with ranges of less than 300 miles.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was incredulous when the admiral and the defense secretary sketched plans for modernized short-range nuclear arms.
Soviet 'Windfall' Feared
"The ink is hardly dry (on the INF treaty) when the Administration is pressing for new nuclear deployments," he said, adding that such modernization might "fracture the cohesion" of the Atlantic Alliance and provide the Soviets a political "windfall."
But the harshest attack upon the agreement came, not unexpectedly, from Helms who produced his own 179-page document detailing flaws he said he has found in the agreement.
As Shultz began his testimony, the North Carolina conservative waved another document stamped "Top Secret" in the air and pleaded with Shultz to bring it to the attention of the President.
Although he said that he could not divulge the nature of the secret information, it apparently concerned the number of the triple-warhead SS-20 missiles that the Soviets will destroy under the agreement.
Helms suggested that the 650 SS-20s declared in treaty documents is "absurdly low," and, he added: "If we want to look for the rest of the SS-20s, the treaty forbids it."
The issue is expected to be discussed in a closed session when CIA Director William H. Webster appears before the committee on Friday.