Soviets show conspicuous restraint on arms issues at a conference

If Moscow is wooing Europe at the expense of the United States, there is precious little evidence of it at the first East-West conference in Europe since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's announcement in Paris of the Kremlin's new arms-control proposal. President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or ``star wars'') was condemned as usual by Soviet participants at the Haus Rissen seminar on ``Superpowers in Dialogue'' Oct. 7 and 8.

But there was surprisingly little effort to make common cause with West German SDI critics at the conference. Nor did Soviet participants talk about a common European identity including Russia but excluding the US -- a theme that featured prominently during Mr. Gorbachev's visit to France last week.

Equally conspicuous by its absence was any repetition of previous Soviet insistence that the US renounce SDI research as a precondition to any arms-control agreement.

Also notable were the pains taken by Daniel Proektor of Moscow's Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) to make sure that Washington views the Gorbachev proposal as a signal of Soviet openness to negotiation rather than just a propaganda ploy. Soviet speakers of course argued the virtues of the Soviet proposal in routine fashion to European participants as well, but American diplomats present seemed to be the prime addressees for the Soviet message.

Professor Proektor noted that his remarks represented his personal opinion rather than his government's policy. Because of his nearly two decades of conference-going in West Germany, however, the West Germans have come to take his comments as a reliable guide to current Kremlin thinking.

At one point Proektor publicly praised the flexibility of the previous presentation by a US diplomat. He replied to the American's explanation that the US does not want confrontation with the Soviet Union by saying that, for its part, Moscow also wants improved East-West relations and especially improved Soviet-US relations.

He did not take up the American diplomat's further explanation that if Washington does not meet good will on the part of Moscow, the American character is such that a strong reaction can be expected in SDI and in superpower relations in general.

At the Hamburg conference, Proektor was unusually explicit in discussing Soviet incentives for arms control.

He described SDI as a threat to the Soviet Union because it would upset international stability, and he spoke of Soviet fears of an American capability for a nuclear first strike as the highly-accurate American Trident II and MX missiles become fully operational in the early 1990s.

These are arguments that are staples both of Western debates about nuclear strategy and of closed-door conversations between US academic strategists and Soviet interlocutors from IMEMO and other Soviet think tanks. They are not arguments that Soviet participants in semi-public conferences in Europe have willingly used in the past, however.

When asked explicitly in conference session whether he meant disruption of ``crisis stability,'' Proektor replied in the affirmative and said he was talking about both crisis stability and political stability. Last March the same question to a Soviet participant in a conference in Tutzing, West Germany, brought only the unsophisticated answer that new weapons like SDI destabilize the arms race.

Stability was set as the goal of the current superpower arms-control talks in the agreement of last January between US Secretary of State George Shultz and then Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, setting up this year's negotiation. But it is a concept that comes straight out of Western strategic analysis and does not correspond to the Marxist-Leninist concept of dialectics and constant change leading to the ultimate triumph of the Soviet system.

The absence at the Hamburg seminar of any Soviet appeal to a common European identity as against the US was especially striking in the forum of a conference in West Germany. This appeal was central to presentations of the Soviet position at such conferences throughout the Euromissile debate of the early 1980's and certainly through the Tutzing conference of last March.

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