Kremlin restrings anti-missile bow
Reports that Moscow has ''given up'' trying to block deployment of new US missiles in Europe are greatly exaggerated. This is the message of two high-level Soviet signals.Skip to next paragraph
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What is true is that most officials here seem increasingly skeptical that they can head off the deployment, scheduled to begin in December.
What is unknown is whether Soviet or US officials have a final card up their sleeves that could improve prospects at the arms-control table before deployment is set to begin.
Meanwhile, Moscow has combined carrot and stick in two declarations in recent days. The aim was clearly to hike pressure on the West at least to delay deploying the US arms, which NATO governments see as a balance to Soviet SS-20 missiles targeted on Europe since the late 1970s.
While Moscow's words are intended in part for Western antinuclear demonstrators, amid rallies in West Germany and Britain, Soviet officials seem increasingly to feel these forces, alone, cannot seriously imperil the deployment plans.
The stick came first, last Thursday, from the Soviet commander of the East-bloc military alliance.
If deployment begins, he said, ''after consultations with our allies, we shall deploy additional nuclear weapons'' against NATO and ''take corresponding measures with regard to US territory'' as well. This was a slightly more explicit version of earlier Soviet warnings.
Friday, the Warsaw Pact ended a policy meeting with a generally softer statement omitting explicit reference to such countermeasures. Instead, the pact asked the West for ''renunciation of the schedule'' for deployment and to continue the search for accord in Geneva.
Most Soviet sources, meanwhile, lean toward the bleaker of two Euromissile scenarios suggested here:
* Scenario one: NATO deployment begins. Moscow breaks off the Geneva talks on European nuclear weapons. (One official says deployment would also ''ruin'' parallel Geneva talks on strategic arms, but stops short of saying explicitly the Kremlin would ask for their recess.)
Moscow begins ''counterdeployment.''
Sooner or later, talks resume. But ''things get worse before they get better.'' Generally, there is a ''rather difficult period,'' with Moscow leery of any kind of initiative from the US to ease relations, partly because of the Euromissile deployment and partly because such steps would seem a ''pre-electoral trick'' to help Ronald Reagan politically.
* Scenario two: Some form of home-stretch progress in Geneva.
Soviet sources are reluctant to detail what form such an accord might take. But they do not seem optimistic. And they so far insist it must rule out any new NATO missiles. The West rejects this, unless Moscow scraps all of the more than 200 SS-20 Euromissiles already in place. Soviet officials, saying some 150 SS-20 s must stay to balance warheads on existing British and French rockets, compare the planned new NATO arms to the Soviets' basing of missiles in Cuba during the Kennedy administration.
One official argues: For Kennedy, ''even one missile was too much . . . . We feel the same way now.''
If there is any hint at Soviet give, it lies in private indications Moscow is far more upset at the prospective deployment of quick-flying Pershing II missiles in West Europe than of slower, radar-elusive cruise missiles.
NATO plans a total of 572 new rockets: 108 Pershings in West Germany and 464 cruise missiles in Germany and other NATO states.
The cruise missile, too, is termed ''dangerous,'' hard to locate, track, and ''verify.'' But the much faster Pershing is seen here as a ''first-strike'' weapon against Soviet command and control targets.
''The Pershings . . . psychologically paralyze our military,'' says one official privately. ''You can say, of course, that there are similar submarine weapons already not far from our shores. But Kennedy could have said the same thing . . . . Bases on the very edge of our country cause shock.''
Latest US proposals in Geneva hold the prospect of limiting Pershing II deployments - although not so far as excluding them completely. An informal ''walk in the woods'' by the chief US and Soviet negotiators last year did touch on possible nixing of all Pershing deployment.
But so far, Moscow insists even new cruise missiles, combined with existing British and French arms, imply unacceptable NATO ''superiority.''