U.S. to Propose New Cuts in Nuclear Arms in Europe


The Bush Administration, faced with growing anti-nuclear sentiment in Europe, is readying a proposal to open negotiations with the Soviet Union to eliminate all short-range, ground-launched nuclear weapons from Europe, Administration officials said Tuesday.

The proposal to launch negotiations “on an accelerated schedule” would cover the Lance missile and two classes of U.S. nuclear artillery, as well as the equivalent Soviet weapons, the officials said.

The initiative is expected to be the subject of an intense round of North Atlantic Treaty Organization consultations beginning later this week, when Secretary of State James A. Baker III meets with foreign ministers of the alliance in Brussels, the officials said.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who met with West German Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg at the Pentagon on Tuesday, is expected to discuss the new U.S. proposal with other defense ministers at a NATO Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Calgary, Canada, next week.


Unless snags develop during the allied consultations, U.S. officials could have the plan ready to present at the May 30-June 3 summit in Washington between Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The proposed move would significantly expand the goals and speed up the schedule for negotiations restricting the short-range nuclear weapons, which have become something of an anachronism in Europe now that East and West Germany are progressing speedily toward unification.

The draft proposal calls for elimination of the ground-based weapons, a goal that goes well beyond the “comprehensive concept” that NATO adopted last May. That alliance position stated that prospective negotiations on short-range nuclear forces should be aimed at the “partial reduction” of such weapons rather than a total ban.

The short-range weapons were not covered under the 1988 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned ground-launched missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. The new category of missiles would have a range of less than 300 miles.

The Administration’s new position would schedule negotiations on short-range systems to begin as early as next fall, when NATO and the Warsaw Pact are expected to sign an agreement sharply reducing conventional forces in Europe.

By contrast, last year’s “comprehensive concept” called for negotiations to begin only after the opposing alliances begin to carry out the force reductions called for in the Conventional Forces in Europe agreements. By most estimates, that would delay the start of short-range nuclear forces negotiations until at least 1992.

“The thrust is that there has been a basic adjustment” in the U.S. position, said one knowledgeable Administration source. “The calculation has been that it’s better to get out ahead of this debate than letting the Soviets propose the denuclearization of Germany” in the reunification talks set to begin Saturday in Bonn.

With the May summit already set to address long-range nuclear missiles and a conventional forces agreement, the latest Administration proposal would set out a process for addressing another major class of nuclear weapons.

The resulting negotiations would seek to ban the Soviets’ deployment in Eastern Europe of four types of short-range ballistic missiles--the Scud, Frog, Scarab and Spider--as well as three kinds of artillery pieces.

However, the American proposal would allow each side to maintain and modernize its arsenal of aircraft-carried nuclear weapons, such as air-launched cruise missiles and the U.S. nuclear-tipped tactical air-to-surface missile.

The deployment of such weapons throughout Western Europe traditionally has stirred less controversy than the fielding of ground-based missiles. In addition, excluding the aircraft-borne weapons would leave NATO with a potent nuclear deterrent capable of reaching beyond Eastern Europe and into Soviet territory from bases in Western Europe.

Bush Administration officials said that salvaging an air-launched missile force from rising anti-nuclear sentiment has been a principal U.S. aim in formulating the new proposal. By making concessions on the timing and goals of negotiations on short-range nuclear arms, Administration officials said they hope to defuse pressures for the removal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

“There is tremendous pressure on us to do something, especially from the (European) allies,” said one U.S. official. “It is not an issue that can be iced until 1992.”

But to some European anti-nuclear activists, the proposal will merely shift the focus of controversy in Europe to air-launched weapons, which have slipped virtually unnoticed into and out of European air bases.

“It amounts to turning in two handguns for an assault rifle and calling it arms control,” said Dan Plesch, an arms control analyst with the British-American Security Information Council, a group active in promoting disarmament. The air-launched missiles “will do everything ground-based systems can do and a whole lot more.”

The Pentagon had planned to spend $500 million over the next five years to build a new generation of Lance short-range nuclear missiles. But with European sentiment running high against the modernization program, Administration officials have acknowledged that the new weapons are unlikely to be built.

Technical troubles and congressional opposition also have dogged the Pentagon’s proposed production of new nuclear projectiles for 8-inch and 155-millimeter artillery weapons. More recently, the West German government has balked at deployment in West Germany of the projectiles, whose maximum range of 19 miles would ensure that any such weapon fired from West German soil would explode in East Germany or in Czechoslovakia.

New democratic governments in those two states and the prospect of German reunification make either option politically troublesome.

Times staff writer John M. Broder also contributed to this report.