West allies may prune arsenal
Brussels — Senior NATO officials have agreed to recommend sharp reductions in the West's arsenal of nuclear weapons. United States Assistant Defense Secretary Richard N. Perle, who chaired a meeting last week of NATO's so-called ''high level group,'' said the officials would suggest ceilings for various categories of nuclear arms Oct. 26, the day before NATO defense minsters are due to meet in Canada.
The recommendations come after several years of study by NATO experts of the West's stockpile of nuclear warheads and mines, now put at about 5,000.
Some differences over precise cuts still remain, according to officials, with the US aiming to reduce the stockpile by only about 1,000 and most West European countries favoring a cut of about 2,750. But the differences are expected to be resolved at the Oct. 26 meeting.
''We think that the report represents a successful effort to achieve a consensus [among NATO countries],'' Mr. Perle said. ''It does not reflect the views of any single country but the consensus of the alliance as a whole. Each individual country has had to compromise.''
NATO, which has withdrawn about 1,000 US nuclear warheads from its stockpile in Western Europe since 1979, wants to scrap even more because they are obsolete or superfluous. When the final figure is announced - probably later this month - the decision is likely to be given widespread publicity in order to blunt opposition to the deployment of US Pershing II and cruise nuclear missiles in Western Europe beginning later this year.
Some US and West European military officers, however, have said that the authority to decide the level of NATO's nuclear stockpile should not be left to political officials, but should be given to the military. They have also said that older weapons should not be withdrawn until their replacements have been readied.
At its high point, NATO's stockpile contained 7,000 to 8,000 nuclear devices. That number was reduced in the 1970s when fewer new weapons were needed to replace older weapons. The number was decreased even further in 1979 when NATO ordered a 1,000-warhead cut.