Gorbachev Offers More Arms Cuts : Contingent on New NATO Talks; U.S., Allies Reject Plan
Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev offered Thursday to make further unilateral reductions in the Soviet Union’s large arsenal of tactical nuclear missiles as soon as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agrees to open negotiations on the issue.
Challenging NATO’s unity on this and other key disarmament issues, Gorbachev also proposed preliminary talks with the United States, Britain, France and those European countries with nuclear weapons on their territory to find ways of reducing reliance on nuclear arms and of reaching agreement on a new concept of “minimum deterrence.”
His proposals were swiftly rejected by the United States and its NATO allies.
Calls for NATO Adherence
In Washington, President Bush said that NATO should adhere to its decision in May to insist on reductions in conventional armed forces in Europe before discussing even partial cuts in tactical nuclear weapons. The NATO position is that the nuclear weapons offset the numerical inferiority of its land forces in Central Europe.
“I don’t want to get off track by reopening the SNF (short-range nuclear forces) question when we have a good package that has wide support,” Bush said.
“Would we welcome unilateral cuts on his (Gorbachev’s) side? Certainly,” he added.
In Brussels, NATO said in a statement that it saw “no reason to change this position.”
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater suggested that Gorbachev’s proposal was little more than a propaganda ploy that NATO had anticipated and dismissed in advance as inconsequential.
“Our position remains the same as it was in our proposal--that we deal with conventional forces first,” Fitzwater said. “I wouldn’t anticipate any changes.”
Speaking here to legislators from the 23-nation Council of Europe at the end of a three-day visit to France, Gorbachev stressed that European unity requires vision and boldness and a willingness to compromise in order to achieve mutual security and to build what he calls a “common European home.”
The speech was one of Gorbachev’s most important foreign policy addresses, less for the offer to NATO on tactical nuclear missiles than for his reaching out to the non-Communist nations of Europe, urging them to put aside the divisions of the Cold War and to cooperate on common political, economic and social concerns.
To those neighbors concerned by the Soviet Union’s readiness to use its military might in Europe to preserve its “sphere of influence,” Gorbachev gave his clearest assurances of Moscow’s new readiness to accept the establishment of multi-party political systems among its allies in Eastern Europe and even the possibility that these might lead to non-Communist governments there.
In seeking a place for the Soviet Union among the European democracies, he declared that without respect for full human rights, there could be no real security for any nation.
“A world where military arsenals would be reduced but where human rights would be violated would not be a safe place,” Gorbachev said. “We have made this conclusion for ourselves once and for all.”
As the first Communist leader to address the council, founded 40 years ago as one of the postwar institutions devoted to expanding what is now regarded as “Western democracy,” Gorbachev stressed the Soviet Union’s willingness to adhere to the rules of Western international behavior as defined by the council. He also reiterated his determination that his country become a society “based on law” rather than on party policies.
And to this, Gorbachev added several proposals for cooperation on “urgent” projects, including a clearing center on environmental disasters, nuclear safety, a trans-European high-speed railway and an all-European satellite television system.
“Europeans can meet the challenges of the coming century only by pooling their efforts,” he said. “We are convinced that what they need is one Europe--peaceful and democratic, a Europe that maintains all of its diversity and common humanistic ideas, a prosperous Europe that extends its hand to the rest of the world, a Europe that confidently advances into the future. It is in such a Europe that we visualize our own future.”
The 45-minute address was warmly received by the council, which gave the Soviet leader a long standing ovation. Anders Bjorck, a Swedish member of Parliament who is its current president, called it “a brilliant speech.”
“Thanks to you and other farsighted leaders in the world, the expression ‘Cold War’ is now seldom heard, and I hope that it will soon disappear entirely and be found only in history books,” Bjorck said.
In offering further unilateral cuts in the Soviet nuclear arsenal, Gorbachev was clearly challenging NATO, and particularly the Bush Administration, to match his initiatives and maintain the fast-paced momentum that he wants in the East-West dialogue.
“If it becomes clear that NATO countries are ready to join us in negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons,” Gorbachev said, “we could . . . carry out without delay further unilateral reductions in our tactical nuclear missiles in Europe.”
The Soviet leader had announced the withdrawal of 500 tactical nuclear weapons from the Soviet arsenal in May as an inducement to NATO to agree to talks on the issue, now one of the most sensitive disarmament questions in Europe.
But NATO, after a bruising internal battle that threatened its unity by pitting Britain and the United States against West Germany and several smaller members, declared at the end of May that it would enter negotiations on short-range nuclear forces only after an agreement had been reached with the Warsaw Pact on reducing conventional armed forces in Europe and was being implemented, a process that would take a minimum of two or three years.
Gorbachev’s remarks seemed intended to force a break, if possible, in this hard-won compromise by asking who really wanted to maintain all these weapons and why.
“Who needs them? Only Europeans who have no intention of waging war against one another are threatened by those weapons,” he said, implying that for this reason the United States was indifferent to the delay or even wanted to maintain such forces on European territory. “The ultimate objective is to completely eliminate those weapons.”
Gorbachev did not specify how many rockets his country would be willing to destroy if NATO agreed to negotiations. Soviet officials have acknowledged they have 1,608 short-range nuclear missile launchers, to NATO’s 88, a 18-to-1 advantage, although NATO has a better position on other tactical nuclear weapons, including land mines and artillery shells.
Some U.S. officials in Washington expressed puzzlement over Gorbachev’s proposal.
“Gorbachev had to know that his offer was a non-starter,” said one. “Britain and France are certain to slap it down, even if we didn’t. I almost suspect that Gorbachev was really announcing that the Soviet Union would make no further unilateral reductions in its forces, only reductions after negotiated arms agreements.”
East-West Defense Strategies
In his other ground-breaking disarmament proposal, Gorbachev called for new talks on the role of nuclear weapons in East-West defense strategies as a way to leap over the often tedious negotiations on specific disarmament agreements.
His thinking appeared to be that, if an understanding were reached on such concepts as “minimum deterrence,” or on what sort of nuclear weapons each country needed and in which numbers, then the actual negotiations would go more smoothly.
He proposed inclusion of Britain and France as nuclear powers, as well as those European nations with nuclear weapons deployed on their territory. Washington is certain to object to other countries’ inclusion in what it regards as a preserve of the two superpowers.
In discussing East-West relations in broader terms, Gorbachev formally abandoned Moscow’s self-proclaimed “right” to intervene in other Communist countries to “protect the gains of socialism” there. He acknowledged that the people of those nations might decide in the future to change their political system.
“The social and political order in some particular countries did change in the past, and it can change in the future as well,” Gorbachev said. “But this is exclusively a matter for the peoples themselves, for their choice.
Times Staff Writer Robert C. Toth, in Washington, contributed to this article.
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