Washington — Whatever the outcome of this week's top- level debate over new American weapons, US officials remain cofident that the Soviet Union will negotiate on arms control.
Indeed leading Reagan administration officials argue that America's arms buildup will spur the Soviets toward negotiation.
Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny, the new chief US arms-control negotiator, says the Soviets will make "a lot of noise" about the buildup but will, in the end, negotiate. General Rowny says this is because the Soviets "understand strength" adn because they cannot win a new arms race.
"They want a treaty, and they need a treaty, and they'll come around and they'll do business with us in the end," General Rowny said in an interview on the day of his swearing-in as chief negotiator. "But we'll do business better if we negotiate from strength than if we negotiate from weakness."
"Wehre going hand in hand with a two-track approach," he says, "showing that we've got the will and the commitment, as Churchill said, to 'arm to parley.'"
While in California, President Reagan is scheduled to consider major weapons building decisions in meetings with some of his top national security advisers Aug. 17. Most controversial among those decisions is the question of how to deploy the big MX intercontinental ballistic missiles that the United States is developing.
US Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was reported to be leaning toward either postponing a decision on the MX or toward placing the missiles on a new type of transport plane that could stay in the air for two days at a time. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. was said to oppose the airborne MX and to favor sticking with the Carter administration's original plan -- deploying some 200 MX missiles in 4,600 shelters in Utah and Nevada. According to the New York Times, Mr. Haig was prepared to argue, among other things, that abandonment of the land-based MX would create new political pressures among the West European allies againt the deployment of American medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
Regardless of how it is deployed, the MX will prove to be an expensive weapons system. Early estimates place its cost at around $50 billion. In addition, the Reagan administration is expanding the Army and Marines and is buying new bombers, fighters, and aircraft carriers, with a total of $1.5 trillion to be spent on defense over the next five years.
The Soviet Union has vehemently denounced the US buildup, growing particularly strident when it came to the administration's recent decision to go ahead with full production of the neutron warhead. A commentator for the official Tass new agency said last week that the neutron warhead decision showed that the administration was in the grip of "dangerous insanity."
Reagan and other top officials appear to be unperturbed by all this. The President has accused the Soviets of engaging in the "greatest military buildup in the history of man." But he also has disclosed that in correspondence with Soviet President Leonid I. Brezhnev, he suggested that the two leaders meet at some point. Mr. Haig emphasized in a recent speech that the US was willing to offer the Soviets trade and technology if the Soviets show "restraint and reciprocity."
In his interview with the Monitor, Rowny says that he foresaw strong protests from the Soviets over the American military buildup. But he predicts that the Soviets ultimately would react with a sense of realism that could lead to productive negotiations.
"They're realistic people, they understand international politics, and they understand the correlation of forces," the chief arms control negotiator says. "I think that they're finding in this administration a formidable adversary. . . . I think that now they've got to say to themselves, 'Look, we're dealing with somebody who's got some idea of where he's going . . . and he's not going to be pushed around.'"
"They understand strength in weapons and they understand strength in people," says Rowny, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff representative at the SALT negotiations who resigned from the military service in order to speak out against the unratified SALT II treaty.
Why would the Soviets prefer negotiations to continuing the arms race?
"In the end, the Soviets have certain long-range goals -- to advance their type of society -- so detente fits in with their picture of the world," replies Rowny. "They don't want to rouse us undully, because they know that if they force us into a race, they can't win."
"We've got better technology, and we've got twice the gross national product that they have," he continues. "If you put our allies together with us and their allies together with them, it's four to one."
"They'd love to have and they want technology transfers. They'd love to have loans. So a treaty, or talk towards a treaty, helps them. They've never closed the door. They've been making overtures about coming around."
But Rowny and other officials see no reason for complacency in this. He predicts that sooner or later the Soviets will move to tet Reagan, possibly through surprise and probably in the so-called third world.