Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, chief of the Soviet general staff, accused the United States today of seeking to abrogate the 1972 antiballistic missile (ABM) treaty and warned this would remove entirely the basis for Soviet-American arms negotiations.
Akhromeyev's long article in Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper, revealed deep concerns here about the future of the "arms control process" and appeared to link it unequivocally to the fate of the ABM pact.
If the U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty "were to be abrogated for some reason, then the foundation on which one could base and conduct talks will disappear," he said. "Practically, this will symbolize the collapse of negotiations and usher in an uncontrolled arms race for decades to come."
The treaty, Akhromeyev argued, is about to be punctured by President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, the proposed space-based antimissile system. The Americans, he said, seek to do this in a subtle way, proposing to modify the pact to permit certain types of antimissile tests. But, he said, this is merely an "unsavory trick" to deceive public opinion.
Akhromeyev's article left the impression that the Soviets see Washington's position at the current round of arms talks in Geneva as one of trying to induce them to accept an entirely new arms control environment. This appears to focus on the Soviet notion that the United States wants the two sides to manage the introduction of new SDI weaponry by modifying the ABM treaty and at the same time negotiate deep cuts in strategic missiles.
The Soviets consider this unacceptable if for no other reason than that it would require new capital investments and a restructuring of their forces and industries that would be far more complex and difficult than that faced by the United States, given the rigidity of the Kremlin's planning and budgetary process. The Soviet Union is in the final phases of developing its next five-year plan, for example, and it is to be adopted at a party congress early next year.
The sort of amendments being proposed for the ABM treaty, he said, would change "the essence of the treaty and emasculate its principal content -- which is the prohibition of the deployment of ABM systems for a defense of the territory of the country."
"The Soviet Union naturally will not agree to turn the treaty . . . into a coverup for the U.S. policy designed to ensure an arms race in the field of space antiballistic missile systems," he said.
Restating Moscow's belief that the SDI program has a "clearly aggressive purpose," Akhromeyev said that in these conditions the Soviet Union is left with no choice but to "build up its offensive strategic forces and to supplement them with defensive means."
Referring to the talks in Geneva, Akhromeyev made it explicit that Moscow will not talk about cuts in attack missiles unless the United States cancels SDI. "Limitations, not to mention reductions, of nuclear weapons are unthinkable in the conditions of militarization of space," he said.
On the other hand, he said, "if the offensive space weapons are banned, if an end is put to preparations for their development already in the stage of scientific development and research, then we will have opening before us broad possibilities for radical reductions of nuclear arms." He pointed out that Moscow had earlier proposed a 25 percent cut in strategic missiles.
Akhromeyev asserted that Moscow has not violated the ABM treaty. He said a phased-array radar under construction at Krasnoyarsk, deep inside Soviet territory, which Washington has cited as a possible violation, was not linked to an early warning system but intended "for the observation of space objects."
Washington's allegations of Soviet violations, according to Akhromeyev, were designed to project a picture of the treaty being violated by both sides.
At the same time, he said, the Americans have sought to interpret the language of the 1972 pact as providing for revisions and even for some of the exotic weapons systems envisaged by the SDI program.
Akhromeyev specifically criticized Paul Nitze, Reagan's arms control counselor, for contending that the treaty allowed for the development of space-based ABM components based on "different physical principles."
Akhromeyev conceded that it does not rule out the possibility of ABM systems "based on different physical principles." But he said this applies "only within the framework of limitations set forth by the treaty," which allows each side to deploy antiballistic defenses around one area, either the national capital or a military installation.
SDI is designed to protect the entire continental United States and is possibly global in scope, Akhromeyev said, and therefore "a direct breach of the treaty."