The Soviet Union reiterated today its serious doubts about Washington's intentions as U.S. and Soviet negotiators prepared to open talks here Monday on limiting nuclear weapons in Europe.
The talks will be the second major attempt by the superpowers to get a grip on atomic armaments since the age of nuclear-tipped missiles began more than two decades ago.
In a strong restatement of the Soviet position, Tass published a commentary, written by a senior executive of the official news agency, saying Soviet citizens were "far from sure" that the United States shared Moscow's desire for agreement on curbing medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
Anatoly Krasikov, deputy director general of Tass, said while the Soviet Union was pressing to consolidate the existing balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the United States was counting on "achieving military supremacy."
The soberly worded commentary underscored the impression of Western diplomats that the Soviet Union was set to adopt a tough bargaining posture at the Geneva talks.
The first attempt to control nuclear missiles began in the late 1960s when Moscow and Washington started what came to be known as the SALT process, for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. It was meant to put some limits on the growing arsenals of big, intercontinental-range missiles and bombers based in the United States and the Soviet Union that could devastate each other's homeland in 30 minutes.
Those efforts have continued on and off through the 1970s and may resume again early next year. They have met with only limited success so far: a treaty to limit antimissile defenses and a SALT I agreement, which has now expired, to put a ceiling on certain kinds of weapons.
The SALT process has been a private affair between the United States and the Soviet Union. The talks that open here Monday morning with a procedural meeting at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations also will feature only Soviets and Americans at the bargaining table.
But to a far greater degree than before, the Europeans, especially U.S. allies in Western Europe, are also central players in these new talks. These so-called Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) talks will focus on the hundreds of intermediate-range missiles and aircraft that are based in Europe. These aircraft and missiles, with a range of between 600 and 3,000 miles, carry bombs and warheads that would explode in Europe, including the western Soviet Union, if the nuclear button ever were pushed.
In a sense, then, these talks have a greater reality and sense of urgency to more people than SALT. While it may always have seemed implausible to some that the United States and the Soviet Union would one day suddenly fire atomic missiles at each other over the poles of the earth, the prospects of war in Europe, the main arena of two global conflicts in this century, seem more real and more frightening. The approach of these talks has forced Europeans, as never before, to think about nuclear war and the best way to prevent it.
In political terms there may be more riding on these Euromissile talks than on the SALT negotiations. These INF negotiations could take years, will be largely secret, highly technical and revolve around vastly different assessments of the existing balance of power in Europe and views about which weapons should be counted. But what really is at stake here is, to a large extent, the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance.
In December 1979, the 14-nation NATO military alliance took a momentous step. Worried about the buildup of Soviet intermediate-range weapons in the western U.S.S.R. such as the 3,000-mile-range SS20 missiles and the even longer-range Backfire bomber, the Europeans agreed to deploy, between 1983 and 1988, 108 U.S.-built Pershing II missiles in West Germany and 464 U.S.-built cruise missiles in West Germany, England, Italy and possibly Belgium and the Netherlands.
The NATO decision was momentous because the new missiles provided the ability to launch missiles from Western Europe capable of striking quickly, deep inside the Soviet Union, with considerable accuracy and little warning.
Because the deployment decision, even then, was highly controversial among an increasingly engaged West European public, the Allies also agreed to seek arms reduction talks with Moscow. It is those talks that are starting now.
In the two years since the NATO decision, European political debate over the arms race has grown louder and more pointed.
The talks also come at a time when Europe itself is changing. The generation whose members have taken to the streets in protests that seem aimed more at the United States than at the Soviet Union is not the one that remembers Americans as liberators and benevolent victors. It is, rather, a generation that grew up with a more complex view of America, including Vietnam and Watergate and new strategies for deterring or fighting a nuclear war.
Thus, the outcome of the talks and the political ability of Allied governments to keep their constituents behind NATO's determination to deploy these weapons -- if the Soviets do not agree to dismantle theirs -- remain uncertain.
What, for example, would happen in 1983, when the first new U.S. missiles are ready to be fielded, if there are signs of progress in the talks but no agreement? American officials say privately that it will take an actual agreement to stop the deployment. But will European leaders be able to keep their constituents in line, especially if the Soviets keep up a skilled propaganda campaign that seeks to portray Washington as the chief threat to stability in Central Europe?
The United States once before had missiles able to strike Russia from bases in Europe, but these were withdrawn in the early 1960s. Since then, the huge atomic arsenal of the West in Europe has basically included only short-range artillery and battlefield missiles able to hit front-line Warsaw Pact troops fighting in West Germany or perhaps in East Germany, Poland or Czechoslovakia.
There are also hundreds of Allied airplanes in Europe that could carry bombs to the Soviet Union, but many of them cannot fly very far and all would have to get to their targets through heavy Soviet antiaircraft defenses.
The idea behind the new missiles was to warn the Soviets that they could not attack Western Europe with their missiles without being hit in kind on their own territory from Western Europe. Plugging this hole in Western deterrence was also meant to reinforce the link between all the U.S. battlefield atomic weapons and the big strategic missiles in the United States so the Soviets would have to continue to reckon on possible all-out atomic war as well.
There are, however, three significantly different points of view to be considered as these talks get under way. All will be important to the eventual success or failure of the Geneva negotiations.
The official Allied view was laid out by President Reagan in a speech on Nov. 18. He proposed that the United States forgo deployment of the 572 Pershing and cruise missiles if the Soviets dismantle all of their 250-plus SS20 missiles and about 350 of their much older SS4 and SS5 missiles.
The SS20 is a formidable weapon, able to reach every NATO military target in Western Europe in 10 to 15 minutes, not only from west of the Urals in the U.S.S.R. but even from positions east of those mountains.
This is important because the Soviets have suggested they may withdraw those missiles farther east as a concession.
In fact, because the SS20 can be moved around on its truck-like transporter, the West wants all SS20s, even the 75 or so aimed at China, to be dismantled.
Thus, the West argues that the first round of talks must focus exclusively on eliminating these missile threats, the current Soviet threat and the future U.S. threat.
The West maintains that the vast majority of several hundred jet fighter-bombers on West European airfields or U.S. aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean are meant to support ground troops and attack behind enemy lines.
So the West doesn't want to talk about jet planes right away and when it does, it will insist that the Soviets count all their jet fighter-bombers based in Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. capable of reaching Western Europe. The Soviets have many more such planes than does the West.
The Soviets want to count British and French atomic missile and bomber forces, but the United States so far has said it will not and cannot negotiate over the independent forces of Allied nations.
From the Soviet side things look vastly different. This is made clear in a major new document published by Moscow this month. It is called "The Threat to Europe" and it lays out in more detail than ever before the way the Soviets see the atomic balance.
In Moscow's view, there is currently a rough balance of power in Europe when the American aircraft and British and French forces are balanced against those nuclear-capable missile and aircraft forces Moscow is willing to list as intermediate-range.
The Soviets contend that the coming NATO missile deployment would tip the European balance against them by 50 percent and alter the strategic balance.
In the Soviet view, all of these new Western missiles and older jet planes can hit Soviet territory, while none of the Soviet weapons can hit the United States. Thus, they see all of these so-called forward-based systems as strategic they could cause the Soviet homeland great damage while the United States would suffer none from the Soviet counterparts.
They argue that their old, single-warhead SS4 and SS5 missiles were built 15 to 20 years ago as a response to the ring of Allied air bases surrounding the Soviet Union. These old missiles, which take a long time to fire, are vulnerable to being knocked out by U.S. warplanes, the Soviets say. The desire to replace them with more modern SS20s is the same as the Western concept of replacing weapons once they get too old, the Soviets say.
The Soviets, insisting that American, British and French forces be taken into account in the talks, say that the United States has consistently refused to include these forward-based systems in the earlier SALT talks and that if Washington had allowed their inclusion, there would have been no need for the SS20s.
The Soviets also say there is no doctrine in Soviet strategy that calls for a first, or preemptive, strike against the West. They argue it would be suicidal to launch a first strike with SS20s in Europe because it would tip off Washington and give it a clear chance to launch its strategic missiles toward the Soviet Union before they are attacked.
The Soviets also argue that the Pershing II missile, which can fly at least 1,000 miles, is a first-strike weapon because it could hit Russian targets with virtually no warning and that even the cruise missile, which flies more slowly, is a first-strike weapon because it is so small that it is impossible to detect.
In effect, the Soviets insist that the American idea to discuss missiles ignores vital security interests of the Soviet Union.
Finally, there is the view of those Europeans who may not yet be in the streets with the demonstrators but who find the whole subject of such war too insane to contemplate. They see no advantage in continuing the arms race, let alone the talks.