NATO Chief Urges ‘Rough Parity’ With East’s Conventional Forces

Times Staff Writer

The military man entrusted with the defense of Western Europe said Thursday that the Western allies should aim for “rough parity” with the Warsaw Pact forces in new conventional arms talks in Vienna.

Gen. John R. Galvin, supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, said in an interview at his headquarters here that the West should aim for righting the current imbalance in military forces. Only then, he said, should NATO consider cutting its own military strength.

“I think rough parity is a good goal,” said the silver-haired, four-star U.S. officer, 59.

After years of futile negotiations, NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations are scheduled to begin a new round of talks on reducing conventional arms in Europe early in March.


The knottiest problem facing Western negotiators is the disparity between the size of opposing forces. The Warsaw Pact is generally held to have up to a 3-1 advantage in heavy offensive weapons such as tanks and artillery.

Few diplomatic observers believe the Soviets will accept outright parity. But NATO planners say they think that the most serious Warsaw Pact threat could be blunted by reducing the offensive capability of East Bloc forces, particularly for a quick attack.

In addition to banning large formations of armored regiments near the border, which could be marshaled for a surprise attack, Galvin suggested that ammunition supplies be moved away from the front.

Waiting to See

Otherwise, he said, he is still waiting to see the reductions in the Warsaw Pact forces that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev promised in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in December.

On Thursday, a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Brussels rejected a Soviet challenge to match the unilateral cuts.

“Warsaw Pact superiority in conventional forces is general knowledge, and in view of this to reciprocate to statements of intent is unrealistic,” the spokesman said in response to comments by Sergei F. Akhromeyev, former Soviet armed forces chief of staff. Akhromeyev was quoted Wednesday as saying the Warsaw Pact would not disarm unilaterally while NATO looked on “without taking adequate measures themselves.”

Galvin defended NATO policy-makers against claims that they have only belatedly reacted to initiatives by the Soviets on arms reduction. Holding a 3-1 advantage in various weapons, “it is easy to seem conciliatory,” he said of the Soviets.

The Soviet overtures had come in reaction to Western strength, the general asserted, so officials of the Western allies have no basis for their propensity for “self-flagellation” and “wearing a hair shirt.”

In maintaining that strength, Galvin said the allies should modernize short-range nuclear forces, which basically means that a new U.S. missile will be needed to replace the Lance, a short-range missile now deployed in Europe that will be obsolete by 1995.

Approval Delayed

The West German government has delayed outright approval of such an upgrading, and some political advisers at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels say the delay will make it more difficult for Chancellor Helmut Kohl eventually to support nuclear modernization.

Galvin said that a green light on nuclear modernization would allow him to cut back “significantly” the estimated 4,600 nuclear artillery shells in Europe, thus reducing German fears about nuclear stockpiles on their territory.

Galvin also expressed concern about West German hostility toward low-flying training flights and large-scale military maneuvers. He said he has asked his senior commanders to figure out ways that training exercises could be reduced without impairing military efficiency.

As far as big maneuvers go, he said, “generals need training as well as privates and corporals.”

“We need less troops and more leaders in the field,” he added with a smile.

Galvin said that computer battlefield simulators help to give senior commanders experience through electronic means rather than tearing up the German countryside with tanks and troops. But maneuvers are needed, he said, so that military men may experience “what (strategist Karl von) Clausewitz called the friction of war.”

“We need Murphy,” said the general, referring to “Murphy’s Law” that asserts that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Galvin welcomed the arms reduction proposals made by the Soviet Union but said he does not share the euphoria about them expressed in some Western political circles.

Gorbachev’s leadership, said Galvin, is “taking a road that leads into an unknown situation.”