Inspectors Upbeat After 1st Year : U.S. Salutes ‘Hands-On’ Missile Treaty Compliance

Times Staff Writer

Brig. Gen. Roland LaJoie can scarcely believe that only four years have passed since an American officer under his command was shot to death by a Soviet sentry protecting an empty tank shed at a training ground in East Germany.

Now, LaJoie is commander of the U.S. forces that are monitoring Soviet compliance with the year-old treaty banning ground-launched medium-range nuclear missiles. And the Soviets are smilingly permitting his inspectors to view and touch--and soon to X-ray--some of their most secret missiles inside the Soviet Union.

LaJoie, who was commanding officer of the U.S. detachment in which the sentry’s victim, Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson Jr., served, is almost disbelieving about the new U.S. accessibility.


“It’s just unreal at times,” he said, “that Nicholson died then and now we can literally put our arms around an SS-25 missile.”

LaJoie said the Soviets “are holding up their end of the bargain” in complying with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The first anniversary of the treaty’s implementation is Saturday.

“We’re not cutting them any slack (allowing flexibility) whatsoever,” LaJoie said in a recent interview. “Every possible violation is examined. We’ve had some problems and they’ve had some problems, but we’ve worked them out satisfactorily.”

The Bush Administration formally concluded last week that “the record of compliance on the INF treaty generally has been quite good.

“There have been a few cases where we have raised anomalies with the Soviets, and . . . they have hastened to resolve those to our satisfaction,” Secretary of State James A. Baker III told Congress. “We are satisfied there have been no violations.”

About half a dozen minor violations have been alleged by each side, according to U.S. officials. But most have dealt with an isolated training missile or launcher that was apparently lost in the huge arsenals until they were discovered by spy satellites.

One Soviet complaint dealt with an old Pershing 1A launcher. “Maybe they couldn’t read the ‘German air force’ letters from overhead,” one official said. Because the vehicle belongs to West Germany, it is not covered by the treaty, although the missiles themselves, also German-owned, are to be destroyed.

The lessons learned in verifying the INF treaty are certain to be reflected in the much more extensive and intrusive verification rules that the Bush Administration is asking the Soviets to accept in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks--and even to implement in advance of signing an agreement.

One of these lessons so far is that the United States has sometimes engaged in technological “overkill” in its zeal to make sure that the Soviets are not cheating, with delays caused by the complexity of some monitoring instruments. But the equipment and procedures may turn out to be necessary for a strategic arms treaty verification, officials say.

The U.S. On-Site Inspection Agency that LaJoie heads has conducted 245 inspection missions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe under INF provisions, compared to 97 Soviet missions to the United States and Western Europe. Each nation also has established a “perimeter and portal monitoring” system at one missile plant in the other country--the Soviet plant is at Votkinsk in the Ural Mountain foothills and the U.S. plant is at Magna, Utah--staffed by up to 30 on-site inspectors.

Both Ahead of Schedule

Both sides are ahead of schedule in destroying missiles and associated equipment. In the presence of U.S. inspectors, the Soviets have exploded or launched about half of their missiles (1,030 of a total of 1,846 SS-20s and other smaller missiles) to be eliminated. Similarly, the United States has destroyed more than one-third of its weapons (325 of 846 Pershing 2 and ground-launched cruise missiles).

The arsenals on both sides of missiles with ranges from 300 to 3,400 miles are to be eliminated by July 1, 1991. For 10 more years, until the treaty expires in 2001, each side will continue to have on-site inspection rights to guard against violations.

Over the last year, the United States also has taken advantage of the unique “cooperative measures” clause in the INF treaty in which American satellites photograph bases now containing SS-25 mobile long-range missiles that once held or could hold the SS-20 intermediate-range weapons banned by the agreement. The United States has no mobile missiles comparable to the SS-25, so the clause applies only to Soviet bases.

Six times in the last year at U.S. request, all of the SS-25 missiles at these bases were wheeled out and exposed for 12 hours, with the roofs of their so-called “garages” opened while they were photographed from space to ensure that no SS-20 missile was among them.

“It’s all encouraging,” LaJoie said. “Some people believe that INF verification is a picnic compared to the demands of START (the proposed strategic arms treaty). Still, it’s been a good start.”

Besides providing confidence that the Soviets are not cheating, the INF verification experience has shown that relations between the superpower inspectors can be professional and that procedures agreed to can be carried out without infringing on the host’s security concerns. No inspector on either side has been caught in any illegal activities.

But on-site inspection has also shown U.S. hosts that there is a reciprocal discomfort in hosting Soviet inspectors. Under the strategic arms treaty, more attention is expected to be paid to the “Red-on-Blue dimension,” or the disadvantages of permitting Soviet inspectors in the United States, one U.S. official predicted, including the cost of protecting U.S. secrets.

Many more types of missiles and associated equipment are expected to be covered under that treaty, along with bombers and their equipment. What could prove the most difficult to monitor are the ceilings on the weapons--6,000 warheads and 1,600 “delivery systems” with a range greater than 3,400 miles.

The INF treaty requires the elimination of all missiles covered by its terms, so that even one such weapon found after July 1, 1991, would violate the agreement. Under the strategic arms accord, the weapons will have to be counted against the various limits, a much more difficult task.

Many perimeter and portal monitoring systems probably will be set up in each nation, with some provision for “tagging” weapons coming out of production so that they can be identified later as “legal” missiles or bombers as distinct from possible clandestine or “illegal” production.

The U.S. technological complexity in monitoring the INF treaty is most apparent at the Votkinsk missile assembly plant. U.S. inspectors there use 28 TV cameras, while Soviet inspectors at the Magna plant rely on four.

In addition, U.S. inspectors at Votkinsk use an infrared scanner to measure the outside dimensions of railroad cars and trucks, feeding the information into a computer that decides if the vehicle is large enough to contain an item limited by the treaty. The Soviets use a long pole with graduated black and white stripes to make the same measurements.

U.S. inspectors at Votkinsk also soon will have a high-powered X-ray “cargo scanner” to peer inside missiles to ensure that the Soviets are complying by not hiding smaller SS-20 missiles inside the shells of bigger SS-25s. Why the Soviets would want to hide a less capable weapon inside a more capable one is unclear, but the treaty provides for inspecting eight missiles each year with such a device.

The 9-million-electron-volt X-ray machine, costing between $6 million and $14 million, did not exist before the treaty was signed. Building the device has taken longer than expected, and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an outspoken skeptic of arms agreements with the Soviets, has complained that the machine should have been in Votkinsk last December. It will not be in place until October.

The Soviets have insisted on extensive test results and other documents relating to the capability of the machine. U.S. officials privately have called their requests reasonable and have said they are intended to ensure that the machine will not pick up information beyond what is permitted by the treaty.

The machine is permitted to view only a “slice” of the missile, but depending on its power and scope, for example, it could learn details of the rocket motor, including even the composition of its fuel grains.

The Soviets have reciprocal rights to put an X-ray machine at Magna. So far they have not, and U.S. officials speculate that they never will.