In Moscow's first major statement since the start of the U.S. Senate consideration of the SALT II treaty, the senior career military officer of the Soviet Union denied yesterday that his forces seek nuclear superiority over the United States.
Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov, chief of the Soviet general staff and deputy minister of defense, broke the recent silence from the Kremlin with a lengthy article published in Pravda, the Communist Party daily.
Ogarkov's statement, which was notable almost as much for what it did not say as for what it did say, appeared to be an effort to bring the Soviet position into the debate without generating charges of pressure or intimidation.
Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko caused a senatorial furore with a June 25 press conference warning of the dire consequences of amendments to the painfully negotiated strategic arms limitation accord. After an early July visit to Moscow by Senate Democratic Leader Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), who counselled restraint in public statements, the Soviet leadership has had little to say.
American specialists were uncertain what prompted the Ogarkov article, which was not overtly pegged to any particular national or international event. Some specialists took it as evidence of the Kremlin's concern about the drift of the senatorial debate and especially the current drive to couple a large U.S. arms buildup with the ratification of the arms control treaty.
Ogarkov showed no sign of a retreat from basic support for SALT II and expressed continued hope that the accord will curb the arms race and lead to a revival of detente and broader cutbacks in arms in SALT III negotiations.
U.S. officials said the Russians have given no clear indication what they will do should they become convinced that SALT II ratification politics have generated a new leap in the weapons race which the treaty was designed to restrict.
The Soviet military leader steered away from any comment on potential amendments to the treaty, the question which generated such senatorial controversy after statements by Gromyko and President Leonid Brezhnev.
Ogarkov declared, in the fact of official U.S. estimates to the contrary, that the Soviet Union "has not been increasing expenditures on defense in recent years." Secretary of Defense Harold Brown reported last January that in the past 15 years Soviet defense outlays had grown about 3 percent yearly in dollar terms and 4 to 5 percent measured in rubles -- about the same rate as the growth in the overall Soviet economy.
July last night, in a Washington speech, presidential assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski declared that "the steady buildup of Soviet strategic nuclear forces over more than a decade and a half has gone well beyond any reasonable need of the U.S.S.R. to deter attacks on itself."
Ogarkov ridiculed as "groundless fantasies" the charge that the Soviet Union is acquiring a strategic superiority which will change the world power balance in the 1980's. Calculations to this effect relate solely to the potential power of Soviet land based intercontinental missiles but ignore the large numbers of nuclear warheads on U.S. ballistic missile submarines and heavy bombers, he said.
At the level of military doctrine, Ogarkov rebutted charges that Russia seeks nuclear superiority to gain "first strike" capability against the United States, or that it envisions a war-fighting strategy to trade Soviet deaths for American deaths.
The Soviet marshal described Brezhnev as hewing to a policy of deterrence, a defence force "sufficient to insure that no one would risk disturbing our peaceful life." He said Brezhnev's policy sought to insure there would be neither a first or a second strike but "that there should be no nuclear war." Ogarkov declared, "We have no other doctrine." CAPTION: Picture, NIKOLAI OGARKOV . . . breaks Kremlin silence