Gorbachev Pledges a 10% Troop Cut : Unilateral Pullback, Trims Told
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, in a dramatic move to give new momentum to long-stalled arms negotiations, announced Wednesday that the Soviet Union will unilaterally reduce its armed forces by half a million men and withdraw thousands of troops and tanks from Eastern Europe.
Gorbachev, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, said the Soviet Union will cut its overall troop strength by 10% in the next two years and put its forces in Central Europe and along the Chinese border on a defensive footing.
Only hours later, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze announced that Gorbachev will fly back to Moscow today, five days before his scheduled return from a trip that was also to have included visits to Cuba and Britain.
Shevardnadze told a news conference that Gorbachev’s sudden return was prompted by concern over a devastating earthquake that struck the Soviet republic of Armenia early Wednesday. But the suddenness of the announcement led to immediate speculation--which Shevardnadze denied--that Gorbachev might be concerned about political opposition to his plan to reduce the size of the Soviet armed forces.
The pledge to reduce Soviet troop strengths had been immediately welcomed by President Reagan, who, along with President-elect George Bush, met with Gorbachev for lunch after the U.N. speech.
“That wasn’t a proposal--that was a decision that has been made,” Reagan said. “Naturally, I heartily approve.”
Cautious Shultz Note
But Secretary of State George P. Shultz, briefing journalists after the meeting on Governors Island in New York Harbor, entered a cautious note.
Even after the announced Soviet reductions are completed in 1991, Shultz said, “there still will be a very significant asymmetry” between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. “So there is a lot of negotiating to do,” he said.
Soviet officials said the troop reduction, unilateral and unconditional, is meant to demonstrate the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact’s readiness to reach broad agreement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on major reductions in conventional forces and armaments in Europe--part of a broad diplomatic initiative by Moscow.
The announcement comes at a time when Gorbachev, seeking to improve economic conditions at home, is under pressure to shift resources from the military to the civilian sector.
A rapt audience of diplomats, including Shultz, listened as Gorbachev revealed his extraordinary plan to the U.N. General Assembly--the first time a Soviet head of state had addressed the body.
The packed chamber grew still as it digested not only the scope of the proposals but also the profound shift in the philosophical basis of Soviet foreign policy. When Gorbachev finished his hourlong address, the chamber erupted in applause.
As outlined by Gorbachev after months of rumors, the move involves the withdrawal to Soviet territory of 5,000 tanks and 50,000 troops now in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Hungary, where NATO says 8,353 tanks and 525,000 troops are now stationed. Six of the 15 tank divisions will be disbanded, and special assault troops also will be withdrawn from Eastern Europe.
With further cutbacks in the western Soviet Union, the overall Soviet arsenal will be reduced by 10,000 tanks out of a total of 36,153, Gorbachev said. Further, he added, 8,500 artillery systems, about one-quarter of the total, and 800 combat aircraft, about 13%, will be removed from service.
Further reductions will be made along the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia in an effort to improve relations with China. But Gorbachev, who plans to hold a summit meeting with Chinese leaders next year, did not specify the size.
“In taking this fundamental decision, the Soviet leadership expresses the will of the people, who have undertaken a profound renewal of their socialist society,” Gorbachev said. “We shall maintain our country’s defense capability at a level of reasonable and reliable sufficiency so that no one might be tempted to encroach on the security of the Soviet Union and its allies.”
Asked before his meeting with Reagan and Bush whether his plan had met resistance from the Soviet military establishment, Gorbachev replied, smiling, “ Nyet, nyet, nyet, nyet.”
Key General Retires
But the retirement announced Wednesday on “health grounds” of Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, the Soviet chief of staff and first deputy defense minister, raised questions about the extent of support within the Kremlin leadership for such a sweeping and unilateral move.
Well-informed Soviet officials noted, however, that Akhromeyev had decided to retire several months ago in favor of a younger man but had agreed to remain as Gorbachev’s principal adviser on arms control negotiations.
In a wide-ranging and often philosophical review of world affairs, Gorbachev made a number of proposals intended to define the international agenda in coming months:
-- In an attempt to break the long impasse with the United States over the controversial Soviet radar station at Krasnoyarsk, he proposed turning the facility into a U.N.-operated center for monitoring a comprehensive treaty on the peaceful uses of outer space. The Soviet Union is prepared to negotiate the “dismantling and refitting of certain units and structures,” Gorbachev said.
The Reagan Administration, which views the Krasnoyarsk station as a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, had told Moscow there was no prospect of an agreement to reduce long-range nuclear weapons unless the station was dismantled. Gorbachev’s declaration appeared to represent an important concession intended to push forward the strategic arms negotiations.
-- To end the continuing civil war in Afghanistan, Gorbachev proposed a standstill cease-fire on Jan. 1, the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, an end to all arms shipments and an international conference on the country’s neutralization and demilitarization.
The Soviet Union is committed to pulling out its remaining 50,000 troops by Feb. 15 but has suspended the withdrawal because of increased attacks by Muslim rebels, who are supported by the United States.
-- As part of its economic reforms, Gorbachev said the Soviet Union is willing to publish its plans for the conversion of two or three major defense plants to civilian production and then to discuss with other major powers joint efforts to demilitarize their economies.
-- Outlining the sweeping political, economic and social reforms now under way within the Soviet Union, Gorbachev pledged Soviet observance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations 40 years ago. He said the Soviet legislature would adopt a measure that would meet “the highest standards of ensuring the rights of the individual.”
Political Prisoners Freed
All those imprisoned for political or religious beliefs have been released, Gorbachev asserted, and new laws will prohibit “any form of persecution on those grounds.”
Restrictions on emigration will be significantly eased, and those employed at institutions doing secret work will be informed in advance of any time limits imposed on their travel abroad or emigration.
“This removes from the agenda the problem of the so-called refuseniks,” Gorbachev said, referring to the long struggle of many Jews to emigrate and the refusal of Soviet authorities to permit them to leave on grounds that they possessed state secrets.
-- Describing the debt of the world’s developing countries as one of the “gravest problems” facing the international community, Gorbachev said the Soviet Union was ready to institute a moratorium of up to 100 years on the money owed it by the poorest countries and “in quite a few cases to write off the debt altogether.”
He also proposed new international agreements to limit the repayments made by Third World countries to ensure continued growth and to establish a specialized agency that would help settle those debts through government-supported market arrangements.
-- And, pledging Soviet adherence to international law, Gorbachev called for strengthening of the United Nations as “a unique international center in the service of peace and security.”
“We face the question of a new role for the United Nations,” he said. “We feel that states must to some extent review their attitude to the U.N., a unique institution without which world politics would be inconceivable today.”
The Soviet Union, which had viewed the United Nations as a hostile, Western-dominated organization, now sees in “the recent reinvigoration of its peacemaking role” a particularly important part that it can play in international affairs, Gorbachev said.
Optimistic on Relations
In his appraisal of Soviet-American relations, Gorbachev noted the “seriousness of our differences and the toughness of the outstanding problems.” But he expressed considerable confidence that the improvement of the last three years of the Reagan Administration would continue under Bush.
Underlying the many proposals outlined by Gorbachev in his hourlong speech--the first by a Soviet head of state to the U.N. General Assembly--was a broad philosophical reorientation of Soviet foreign policy. Indeed, that may prove as important in the long run as the specific measures announced Wednesday.
International relations must be “de-ideologized,” Gorbachev said, breaking more decisively than he has before with the Marxist concept of “class struggle” as the basis for his country’s foreign policy.
“We have entered an era when progress will be shaped by universal human interests,” he declared. “The awareness of this dictates that world politics, too, should be guided by the primacy of universal human values. . . . Today, further world progress is only possible through a search for universal human consensus as we move forward to a new world order.”
Excerpts of Gorbachev’s speech. Page 30.
Warsaw Pact forces left in Europe and West of the Ural Mountains:
Ground troops: 2.6 million to 3.1 million
Combat aircraft: 7,450
NATO Forces in Europe
Ground troops: 2.2 million
Combat aircraft: 3,977
Soviet forces in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary:
Overall Soviet armed forces:
Total: 5.1 million
Total tanks in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and European Soviet Union:
Artillery systems in Eastern Europe and European Soviet Union:
Combat aircraft in Eastern Europe and European Soviet Union:
Soviet troops in Mongolia: 60,000
Reduction: A “major portion,” according to Gorbachev.
SOURCE: U.S. Defense Department North Atlantic Treaty Organization, International Institute for Strategic Studies and Congressional Budget Office.