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Despite Soviet Reforms, Crowe Remains Skeptical

Times Staff Writer

Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported Sunday that an unprecedented 11-day trip to the Soviet Union had convinced him that “change is everywhere” but left him just as skeptical of Soviet policies as before.

“I returned from my trip,” he said, “with basically the same view that I have had before I went, and that is I think that there’s change afoot in the Soviet Union but that we should move warily and carefully, exploiting opportunities as they present themselves (and) that we should be very deliberate in our actions and take steps as the horizon clears.”

Admiral to Retire

Crowe, interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” also announced that he would retire as chairman of the Joint Chiefs when his four-year term expires Sept. 30. President Bush and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had reportedly urged Crowe to stay on for at least another year.

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Crowe echoed the Bush Administration’s cautious approach to the momentous changes in the Soviet Union.

His visit, during which he was allowed to tour major military installations, observe maneuvers and address the Soviet military academy, was itself a product of those changes. Crowe’s tour followed a similar one by then-Soviet Chief of Staff Sergei F. Akhromeyev to the United States last year.

Crowe said he returned from the trip convinced that U.S.-Soviet negotiations for a reduction in long-range missiles, which resumed recently in Geneva, will be “protracted.”

‘The Same Issues’

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“The same fundamental issues that have plagued us are still there,” he said. " . . . We start from different base-lines on practically every question that we address. And one of the insidious things about arms reduction talks is, the devil is in the details. General principles don’t hack it. You’ve got to get down to verification details and so forth--very difficult.”

Although Crowe said he did not find war between the superpowers to be very likely right now, he rejected the Soviet Union’s contention that it is transforming its military strategy from offense to defense.

“I saw some evidence, rather tangible evidence, that they are doing defensive exercises. . . . I saw some war games in the war college that were defensively oriented rather than offensively,” he said.

But, he continued, “what makes a force offensive is not a particular tactic or exercise you do. What makes it offensive is superior numbers, superior ammunition supplies, large ammunition dumps, large supply chains and trains. If you have overwhelming numbers . . . you can overcome the enemy, and that makes you formidable and threatening.”

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Overwhelming Numbers

And the Soviets, Crowe said, still have overwhelming numbers.

Crowe also insisted that Gorbachev faces a formidable task in trying to improve the Soviet economy by reducing the military budget and transforming the military system.

“I do not question the genuineness or the sincerity of what they’re about,” he said. “Change is everywhere. You can hear it, you can smell it, you can see it. But the task they’ve taken on is immense, it’s ambitious, it’s risky. I think they have underestimated the task.”

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He said that “several leaders I talked to at the very top” told him how difficult it would be to shift 100,000 military officers into the civilian economy. “They’re not quite sure how they’re going to do it,” he said.

Crowe appeared to differ with Cheney’s previously expressed doubts about Gorbachev’s ability to survive as the Soviet leader.

“Certainly, the (military) leaders I talked to insist that they do support Secretary Gorbachev,” Crowe said. “I saw lots of evidence that they are wedded to his policies, that they are trying very hard to find ways to contribute to his overall policy. . . . I didn’t hear any kind of criticism that would suggest that he is in difficulty.”


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