Defense Secretary Harold Brown, armed with NATO defense ministers' official endorsement of the new U.S.-Soviet strategic arms accord, warned today that congressional failure to ratify it would cause "considerable concern about the continuity and cohesion of American leadership."
"It is hard to foresee their individual reactions," Brown said of the NATO allies, "but I believe they would react with consternation and it would make relations with them more difficult."
Brown added, however, that "the U.S. would have the technology economic capacity and the will to respond" if the Soviets started an all-out arms race in the event the treaty fell through because the Senate rejects it.
"But the situation would be much more dangerous and expensive and, in general, the world would be a very uncomfortable place. Given that world, our allies would be upset and with some reason," he said.
The Carter administration is counting on the defense chief, a nuclear scientist and former president of the California Institute of Technology, to carry the fight for SALT II ratification in the Senate. Brown seemed pleased by the final communique issued at the close of the two-day NATO meeting in which the 13 ministers "welcomed the agreement in principle" and "agreed that equitable limitation of nuclear weapons capabilities . . . will improve the security of NATO."
"I THINK THAT IS A VERY SIGNIFICANT CONCLUSION," BROWN SAID LATER AT A PRESS CONFERENCE. "IT IS ONE THAT WILL PLAY IN THE SENATE DEBATE."
THE MINISTERS, HOWEVER, ALSO NOTED THAT THEY STILL HAVE NOT HAD A CHANCE TO STUDY THE TEXT OF THE NEW PACT IN DEPTH AND LOOKS FORWARD TO THAT OPPORTUNITY ONCE THE TREATY IS SIGNED.
THE CARTER ADMINISTRATION ALSO WON HIGH MARKS IN THE COMMUNIQUE AND FROM NATO officials generally for its record of "full and close cooperation" with U.S. allies on the talks. NATO officials stressed that it was necessary to continue and even expand that process because the next round of SALT is meant to consider tactical, or shorter-ranged nuclear weapons based in Europe by both sides, rather than just the ocean-spanning weapons considered thus far.
There was heavy emphasis in today's closed-door session on how to deal with the new SS20 Soviet intermediate-range missile, which the communique described as "a new dimension" in tactical nuclear weapons that "for the first time . . . can reach all the territories of Western Europe with multiple warheads from mobile launchers based in the Soviet Union."
NATO already has begun two special groups to study potential Western counter-weapons and arms control proposals to limit such weapons. These groups are supposed to present conclusions at a NATO meeting in December. Brown said today the alliance is also "aiming for a decision this year." Although he said new arms control arrangements were possible, he made it clear that the allies were starting from a position of disadvantage and that the West "should respond" and should move ahead with some form of new weaponry.
"It would not be an equitable agreement to say that the Soviets can keep the systems they have and the allies cannot deploy any weapons that can strike the Soviet Union from Central Europe," he said.
Even West Germany, which is pressing hardest for arms control talks to accompany weapons modernization, agree that some new weapons are necessary.
Brown also said under questioning that he has "considerable reason to believe that at least some other countries, including but not limited to the Federal Republic of Germany, have an interest in such a deployment" of these new weapons.
This is the first public expression of optimism by a top U.S. official on the thoughest question to be solved before any new Western nuclear weapons can be installed in Western Europe. The questions are, where to put them and what governments will allow them.
Bonn, in effect, has been saying that it would have serious political problems at home, in its relations with the Soviets and in maintaining its position as a nonnuclear power, if it became the only European NATO ally on whose soil these new weapons were based.