Washington — Paul Nitze, head of a new American arms control negotiating team, is a flinty veteran of talks with the Russians who says that the United States has fallen badly behind the Soviets in the military arms race.
Urbane and articulate, Mr. Nitze is to some observers the quintessential superhawk. But of all the "hawks" who engaged in debate over the SALT II agreement which was negotiated by the Carter administration, Nitze was perhaps the most respected. For one thing -- no matter how much his critics disagreed with him -- they acknowledged that he did his homework and had wide experience in national security affairs.
A former secretary of the Navy and deputy secretary of defense, Nitze charged that the Carter administration made concessions to the Soviets which damaged national security. Nitze says he agrees with the Reagan administration philosophy that the US should not feel pressure to agree for the sake of an agreement not in keeping with American military requirements. He indicates that the US cannot obtain military superiority over the Russians and that it must find a balance.
A member of the SALT I negotiating team, Nitze has now been appointed to be chief negotiator with the Soviets over Europe-based nuclear missiles in talks which are set to begin in Geneva Nov. 30.
Nitze served as vice-chairman of the US Strategic Bombing Survey in 1944-46. That gave him a firsthand look at the effects of the atomic bombs which devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Several years ago, he told this reporter: "I have an intimate knowledge of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs. I want to devote my life to minimizing the chances of that ever happening again and to minimizing the chances that the Gulag Archipelago spreads all over the world" -- a reference to the string of Soviet prison camps for dissidents and more generally to Soviet repression.
His experience in negotiating with the Russians taught him, he said, that they understand strength and firmness, but do not necessarily respond to unilateral restraint.
From the spring of 1969 until mid-1974, Nitze served as the representative of the secretary of defense to the SALT I talks. He resigned, he told this reporter, when it became clear that what he called the Watergate "crimes" of President Nixon had undermined the US negotiating position.
In 1976, Nitze joined a group of experts commissioned to take a critical look at estimates of Soviet capabilities and intentions prepared by the American intelligence agencies. The group, known as "Team B," came to the conclusion, controversial at the time, that Soviet military strength had been consistently underestimated by US intelligence.