MONS, BELGIUM, JUNE 17 -- Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, the outgoing military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, sharply criticized the Reagan administration today for seeming to rush to an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union on medium-range missiles as a way to protect its political credibility and its image of leadership.
Speaking in a remarkably candid valedictory interview at the end of an unprecedented eight-year tour at NATO, Rogers also issued a call for the alliance to "draw the line" after the completion of the medium-range agreement by rejecting future proposals that would affect any other nuclear weapons system based in Europe and capable of striking Soviet targets.
"Somebody ought to stand up out there and say to NATO, 'Time out, dammit!' We have moved too quickly and it is time for us to sit back and think and reorganize ourselves," before dealing with what he expects to be a continuation of the flurry of arms control proposals that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has put forward, Rogers said.
"Somebody has to say, 'We go no further until we know what we are doing and what the long-term impact is going to be,' not just what the short-term advantages for governments and their credibility are."
This position puts Rogers at odds with the West German government, which has called for follow-on negotiations with the Soviet Union to deal with very short-range battlefield nuclear missiles. Rogers acknowledged that the alliance is now split on the question of establishing "a firebreak" in negotiations.
While he did not single out any administration official for criticism, Rogers did not mask his bitterness over the pressure he feels Secretary of State George P. Shultz and others exerted on Western Europe to put aside reservations about the medium-range accord now being negotiated in Geneva. The pact could be signed at a fall summit between President Reagan and Gorbachev.
He also laid heavy emphasis on the damage he feels Reagan's statements that nuclear weapons are immoral have done to public support for the doctrine of deterrence established by NATO. Soviet fears of nuclear weapons have kept Moscow from invading Western Europe with its larger conventional forces, according to this doctrine.
Rogers, who is 65 and whose background as a Rhodes scholar has contributed to his being accepted by European leaders as a thoughtful and sympathetic military commander, will hand over command to Gen. John R. Galvin here at NATO headquarters on June 26. As commander of the 326,000 U.S. troops stationed in Europe, the top American military man in Europe is also automatically the supreme allied commander in Europe.
Rogers has been outspoken in recent months about his opposition to the tentative agreement reached by Shultz and Gorbachev in Moscow in April, which calls for removal from the European theater of all U.S. and Soviet nuclear missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,500 miles.
But the two-hour interview contained his first comments on his concern about the administration's underlying motivation in seeking the agreement. As he heads into retirement in the Washington area, his sense of disillusionment could play an important role in what is expected to be a serious battle in the Senate over ratification of the treaty being drafted in Geneva.
On other points, Rogers: Said he regretted not having been allowed to agree to a proposal in November by the Warsaw Pact commander, Soviet Marshal Victor Kulikov, that the two meet and talk. "We could have at least taken the measure of each other," he said.Emphasized his view that NATO must take urgent steps to make up for the loss of the medium-range rockets it is negotiating away by pushing ahead with a new tactical short-range missile to replace the Lance in Europe and by improving the ability of European-based aircraft that can carry nuclear bombs to penetrate Soviet air defenses.Described a quiet but steady process of France's improving its military coordination with NATO over the past eight years despite its continuing refusal to be part of the alliance's integrated military command. He said he now feels confident that although France continues to insist it will make its own decision about what actions to take if war breaks out, "When the political decision is made, all these other things will fall into place."
Rogers was most animated when discussing the American handling of the "zero-zero" proposal that President Reagan put forward in 1981. It called on the Soviet Union to withdraw its triple-headed SS20 nuclear missiles targeted on Western Europe in return for the United States abandoning plans to deploy 572 single-warhead Pershing II ballistic missiles and ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles in five West European countries.
When Gorbachev surprised Washington this spring by agreeing to that proposal, the Soviets had 441 SS20s deployed, while the United States had 316 Pershing II and Tomahawk missiles on station in Europe.
In his meeting with Shultz, Gorbachev also offered to eliminate about 130 shorter range SS22 and SS23 systems in return for NATO not deploying new missiles with a range of more than 300 miles. Shultz told NATO foreign ministers on April 16 that the United States favored this "double zero" proposal but would like their views before making a final decision.
"When the future of Western Europe is at stake, I don't know why it is so necessary to make decisions in the aftermath of meetings in Moscow, to rush into this, other than the fact that certain administrations are going out of existence by certain time frames," Rogers said today. "Is it more important to have these things accomplished on certain peoples' watch, or is it more important in the long term to ensure what we are doing is right to the future of Western Europe?
"I happen to believe that the latter is more important," Rogers continued, "but then I am only a dumb infantryman trying to make a living as a commander in Europe and with only 10 days to go."
All of the risk of accepting the "double zero" proposal "falls on the back of the West Europeans," Rogers said. "There has been great pressure by the United States on the West Europeans . . . . The United States may not be even aware of the kind of pressure that is felt by Western Europe" when the appeal for a common NATO position is prefaced by a statement that Washington agrees with Moscow.
Rogers noted that he had opposed the "zero option" proposal in 1981, arguing then that the deployment of the Pershing II and Tomahawk missiles was needed not just to counter the Soviet deployment of the SS20 but also to "fill a gap in our spectrum of deterrence, irrespective of the SS20. The SS20 coming along in the same time frame just made it more urgent that we reach that decision."
The NATO commander suggested that the alliance's lack of candor then had created the painful political dilemma that can only be resolved now by going ahead with a militarily damaging withdrawal of the Pershing II, which he noted could hit any target within its range in 13 minutes and had the highest chance of any U.S. missile of penetrating Soviet defenses.
"The decision on deployment was sold on the basis of the negotiating track," to counter the SS20. "Now political authorities have to retain their credibility. How could they go back to their nations and say, 'Yeah, you know we were wrong, we misled you all these years.' "
The general was particularly scathing about "the preemptive conceders in high positions in the United States government" who do not push maximum U.S. positions in negotiations with the Soviet Union because of their view that "the Russians won't accept this." He cited as an example of an idea opposed by "the preemptive conceders" his proposal to refuse to eliminate the last increment of medium-range missiles until agreements had been reached on conventional and chemical forces as well.
Rogers said that in talks with West German officials during a farewell visit yesterday, he found concern "that the U.S. will roll over and fold" to Soviet demands that the medium-range ban include 72 Pershing IA missiles stationed in West Germany. The 430-mile-range missile launchers belong to West Germany; the warheads are under U.S. control.
Rogers, who said he is confident Washington will not back down on its pledges to keep the Pershing IAs out of the agreement, insisted that "the alliance has to say enough is enough and recognize the fact that nuclear weapons are necessary into the foreseeable future."
He said he expects Gorbachev to continue a "clever and manipulative" effort to denuclearize Europe by offering next to trade an estimated 1,700 Soviet tactical nuclear-capable aircraft for the elimination of about 400 such NATO planes.
"It will then be extremely difficult for governments in Western Europe to say no to that kind of offer" in that atmosphere, Rogers said.