World watches anxiously as US, Soviets wrestle over nuclear accord

As the two superpowers jockey for position on the crucial nuclear arms control issue, their audience grows quiet with concentration and considerable concern.

These are the countries whose billions of citizens will be directly affected by how the Soviet Union and the United States resolve an arms race that is frightening to all. Some see themselves as helplessly part of a potential battleground. Others are developing their own strategic weapons. All long for a more stable world.

''We are all depending on the patience of the two superpowers to avoid the final cataclysm,'' says A. K. Damodaran of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in India. ''We have earned the right to be consulted, the right to be involved. Whether we like it or not, our fates will be decided by the actions of others.''

Mr. Damodaran was speaking last weekend at the Seventh International Arms Control Symposium, conducted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. Among the cosponsors were scholarly groups from Britain, France, India, West Germany, and Japan. It was an unusual setting, in which a correspondent from the USSR's Tass news agency could be seen sitting next to a scholar from the People's Republic of China, where a Soviet official could pour a glass of water for an American hard-liner blasting the Soviet Union's ''massively armed totalitarian state.''

Nothing was resolved at this gathering of professors, expert analysts, and mid-level government officials. But the papers delivered, the working group discussions, and the talks in the hallways and over shared meals indicated how pervasive the subject of arms control is around the world.

''The world has changed significantly in the past 15 to 20 years and is getting fed up with this East-West, Moscow-US axis of discussion,'' said Derek Boothby, a British official with the United Nations Center for Disarmament. ''More attention ought to be paid by the two superpowers to the strains of development and border disputes in the regions. If not, they might be pulled over the lip of tragedy into some kind of confrontation that they don't want.''

In Senate testimony earlier this year, Eugene Rostow director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, described the situation in graphic terms.

''The United States and the Soviet Union are not peasants in a country market , haggling over the price of pigs,'' he said. ''We are the two leading nuclear powers in the world, possessing arsenals of frightening power and menace.''

Much of the rest of the world is made up of peasants in country markets, however, even in this ''age of globalization,'' as Japanese political science professor Hiroshi Kimura put it.

''This Europe-first, Asia-second thinking has tended to delay or put off arms-control agreements in Asia,'' said Professor Kimura. Talk about moving Soviet mobile missiles ''east of the Urals,'' he added, ''is exactly what the Japanese fear.''

Lesser powers are already involved in some attempts at arms control. But these - including the nonproliferation treaty and so-called ''nuclear-free zones'' - have been a disappointment.

Outlining the possibilities of nuclear terrorism, Fabienne Luchaire of the Centre d'Etudes Politiques de Defense said, ''Terrorism is a periodic phenomenon , and now it seems a new period has started.''

Both the US and USSR came in for some criticism at the symposium.

''The United States has turned the issue (of deploying medium-range nuclear weapons and sharing the defense burden) into a test of loyalty for the Europeans ,'' said Welsh professor of international relations Philip Williams.

Noting that many nonaligned nations, which often take sides against the US, voted in the UN against the Soviet Union for its activities in Afghanistan and Cambodia, Kishore Mahbubani of the Embassy of Singapore said, ''The concerns of the third world are changing in the 1980s.''

China has some nuclear weapons (years behind the US and USSR in capability), but has pledged not to use them unless attacked with such weapons first.

''As I see it, the main danger of the world right now is competition between the two superpowers,'' said Zhengqing Hu of the Institute for International Studies in Peking. ''Each side should reduce military spending 5 percent a year and stop further production of nuclear weapons.''

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