Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze warned the Western Alliance here Saturday that Moscow might consider breaking with terms of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty or taking a rearmament step if NATO goes through with its plan to modernize its short-range nuclear missiles based in Europe.
After a meeting with West German leaders, the Kremlin official criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for planning to upgrade the U.S.-built Lance missile, a weapon with a range of about 80 miles, now an important part of NATO’s arsenal.
The aging Lance missiles will become obsolete by the mid-1990s, and NATO has made a decision to keep its short-range nuclear arms up to date.
Although no specific successor weapon has been picked for the Lance, some NATO planners are calling for a new short-range missile with a range of 450 kilometers, or about 280 miles.
This, however, would be only about 20 miles short of the cutoff range of 300 miles set by the U.S.-Soviet treaty of December, 1987. That accord calls for the abolition of all land-based mid-range nuclear missiles--those with ranges of 300 to 3,400 miles.
Asked about a Soviet response if NATO opted for a replacement for the Lance with a longer range than the current missile, Shevardnadze said: “We would have to think this over. For it would then make no sense to destroy (our SS-23) missiles.”
When Moscow agreed to eliminate the SS-23s under the intermediate-range accord, it said that these weapons actually had a range at the lower end of the intermediate range.
“Either the destruction of the SS-23s would be stopped or we would be forced to develop a new (weapons) system,” Shevardnadze said.
The plan to modernize NATO’s short-range nuclear arms has been a source of contention among the NATO allies and has been condemned, in particular, by the opposition political parties in West Germany.
Shevardnadze on Saturday also criticized the firm position of Washington and London against entering into negotiations for reducing Europe-based short-range nuclear missiles until progress has been made in current talks in Vienna aimed at reductions of conventional arms throughout Europe.
NATO’s official position, strongly backed by the U.S. and British governments, is that the Western Alliance must keep its short-range nuclear capability to help offset the Warsaw Pact’s large advantage in conventional weapons.
“What is to be feared by talking?” he asked at a news conference, after meeting with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. “No one can be forced in negotiations to do what he does not want to do.”
On Thursday in Moscow, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev told Secretary of State James A. Baker III that by the end of the year, the Kremlin will unilaterally reduce by 500 the number of short-range nuclear warheads on weapons now deployed by the Warsaw Pact.
Moscow has an estimated 10,000 nuclear warheads in Eastern Europe’s arsenals and about 1,450 missile launchers; NATO has only 88 Lance launchers.
West Germany originally supported NATO’s decision to modernize the Lance. More recently, however, Bonn has demanded that a decision on a successor for the Lance be put off until 1992, well after the next scheduled national election in this country in December, 1991.
The Bonn government has also called for early talks with the Soviets on reducing the number of short-range nuclear arms deployed in Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain, a position that has brought it into conflict with Washington and London and led to a crisis that threatens to disrupt a NATO summit meeting to be held in Brussels at the end of the month.