Gorbachev Plans Defense Budget Cutback of 14%
Revealing new details of a planned military cutback, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said Wednesday that the Soviet defense budget is to be reduced by more than 14% and that nearly half of a previously announced cut of 500,000 troops will come from units in the European part of the country.
Speaking during a wide-ranging meeting, the Soviet leader also challenged U.S., West European, and Japanese representatives of the prestigious Trilateral Commission to follow the Soviet lead in restructuring what he described as outdated thinking about East-West relations.
“Our perestroika will come to pass,” he promised, using the Russian term to describe his reform program. “But we expect perestroika from your side as well.”
Among commission members at the meeting were former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Accounts of their talks were broadcast on Soviet television and distributed by the official Soviet news agency, Tass.
Neither account made clear the timetable for Gorbachev’s promised 14.2% defense budget cut. Nor did they explain the basis on which it was calculated.
Officially, the government has listed defense spending at 20.2 billion rubles ($33.6 billion) annually for the last three years. However, it admits that its figure does not include many items, such as research and the cost of military production by civilian industries, which are included in Western defense budgets. Various Western estimates put the true Soviet figure as much as three times the official one.
Based on the official figure, Gorbachev’s announced cutback would amount to about $4.8 billion. He said that spending on arms and military technology would decrease by even more, by 19.5%.
Gorbachev announced plans for a unilateral cut of 500,000 troops during a dramatic speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 7. In his meeting Wednesday, he revealed that 240,000 of those troops will be removed from units in the Western part of the country, 200,000 from the East, and 60,000 from the Soviet Union’s southern borders.
He said the troop reduction is equal to 12% of the total strength of the Soviet armed forces, indicating a standing military of about 4.2 million. That is significantly fewer than the approximately 5 million troops that Western experts say are under arms here.
The Kremlin chief had also announced at the United Nations that total Soviet armed forces in Eastern Europe and the European part of this country will be cut within two years by 10,000 tanks, 8,500 artillery systems and 800 combat aircraft in order to reduce the offensive threat now facing Western Europe.
On Wednesday, he criticized Western speculation that he intended only to get rid of outdated tanks. More than half the tanks to be withdrawn are among this country’s “most advanced” models, Tass quoted Gorbachev as saying.
He said 5,000 tanks will be “physically liquidated,” while the rest are converted “into prime movers for civilian use and into simulators.”
Earlier this month, in a speech to a group of intellectuals, artists and writers, Gorbachev lamented the effect of the national budget deficit on the supply of consumer goods and indicated that one immediate solution was to cut military expenditures.
However, there have been indications that some segments of the military oppose the cuts. A recent issue of the armed forces ideological journal includes an article by an army captain, criticizing unilateral military cuts as inappropriate and at odds with government and Communist Party policy.
The former chief of staff, Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, whose resignation from the top military post for reasons of ill health coincided with Gorbachev’s U.N. address, has denied that he opposed the cuts but acknowledged this month that such opposition might well exist in the army.
On broader issues, Gorbachev urged his Western interlocutors to strive for their own “breakthroughs in thinking.” He complained that “there is a certain lopsidedness in the very wording of the questions asked here: ‘How will the Soviet Union be changing, as much depends on this?’ But how will the West be changing? This is also an aspect of no little importance.”
The Soviet Union has already discovered “that the revision of the way of thinking is a painful process,” he said. “But this process is indispensable.”
Gorbachev warned against “the temptation to score propaganda victories” in international relations. The cardinal lesson of past experience, he said, is that “using the old approaches, we have gone too far--in the area of military rivalry, of political confrontation and also in opposing ourselves to others economically.”
Both sides must “discard primitive cliches,” Tass quoted the Soviet leader as saying. “We have underestimated (capitalism’s) ability to adapt and develop in new conditions. We have predicted its early failure. And to this day there are many people in the West who view socialism as a stillborn baby of civilization and deem it necessary to relegate it to the garbage heap of history.”
Instead, he called for “new forms of cooperation in the world process. . . . Internationalization of problems is needed. This is why we attach such an importance to the United Nations organization, which has long been unable to bring into play its possibilities. But it has been waiting for its hour, and it has come.”
Regarding the economy, he said the Soviet leadership is “close to taking a decision on principle” to join international economic organizations. However, he cautioned, “we cannot accept the rules of participation in (organizations such as the International Monetary Fund) all at once. . . . The West also should adapt to such a partner as the U.S.S.R.”
He also called for an end to Western “restrictions and bans” on trade. The Soviet Union, he noted, has over the past two years “soundly liberalized our principles” governing new forms of economic ties--an apparent reference to Moscow’s new encouragement of joint ventures here with Western firms.
Gorbachev said his country wants to integrate itself into the world economy “in phases. . . . It would be tempting to spend away money abroad to quickly replenish the market with consumer goods,” he said. “But we were not thinking of one or two years. We were thinking of creating such an economy as would give us both the required amounts and the required quality of output. That is why we have invested very heavily in modernizing the entire technological fiber of our industry.”
The Trilateral Commission is a non-governmental organization uniting prominent politicians and businessmen from the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.