NATO, East bloc struggle to reach pact on reducing war risk. Negotiators groping for agreement in time for Helsinki-accord review

The 10th round of the Conference on Disarmament in Europe, in Stockholm, Sweden, is under way. And negotiators are facing a deadline. The conference -- an integral part of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that led to the 1975 Helsinki accords -- must conclude by Sept. 19, in order to prepare for a Nov. 4 review meeting of the Helsinki accords in Vienna.

A key topic of negotiations is the development rules of conduct to signal intentions and prevent miscalculations that can lead to war and to limit the way military power is used, rather than the absolute size of modern arsenals. Such rules have been dubbed confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs).

Considering the time needed to draft any concluding documents, the US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Europe, Lynn Hansen, calls the next six weeks ``absolutely critical if we are to get any kind of agreement out of the conference.''

Progress has been difficult. The NATO alliance has proposed concrete confidence-building measures aimed at increasing the openness and transparency of the military organizations in Europe. It has called for annual exchanges of military information, including organization and location, notification of military activities down to the division level (6,000 troops), and 45-day advanced notification of such maneuvers. The Western proposal also includes provisions for observers to ensure compliance.

These proposals are designed to tighten confidence-building measures included in the Helsinki final act. The signatories agreed to provide voluntary notification, 21 days in advance, of military maneuvers involving more than 25,000 troops and to invite observers to such maneuvers.

The provisions have largely been upheld. But there have been important violations. The most significant occurred when the Soviet Union failed to provide information on maneuvers that took place during the 1981 Polish crisis. Soviet counterproposals have largely consisted of ``declaratory'' statements -- pledges against the first-use of nuclear weapons, against the use of force, against chemical weapons, and a call to reduce military spending. However, the Soviets have proposed limiting the absolute size of maneuvers to 40,000 troops, and giving 30-day advanced notifications on movements and maneuvers involving more than 20,000 troops. This measure would significantly hamper the large-scale maneuvers NATO usually holds each fall.

Other participants have tried to bridge the gap between East and West. A Romania plan includes aspects of the Western and the Soviet proposals, but also calls for the creation of ``security zones'' between the borders of states. Within these zones, neither maneuvers nor nuclear weapons would be permitted.

A group of neutral and nonaligned nations, including Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Liechtenstein, Malta, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia, has also proposed a compromise package. In addition, Malta has called for an extension of confidence-building measures to the Mediterranean.

It is unclear whether participants can mold the various proposals into a common position. The Reagan administration has said it is willing to reaffirm a commitment to the nonuse of force as a gesture to Warsaw Pact concerns, and the Soviets have recently moved away from their other declaratory measures.

But the Soviets continue to press for measures that would include notification of independent air and naval operations -- something the US has steadfastly rejected. In addition, it is doubtful that the Soviets will accede to the full degree of verification the West is requesting.

East German First Secretary Hans Sachs says, ``We're not ready for excessive measures designed to gather intelligence,'' echoing the Soviet complaint that NATO is really seeking ``legalized spying.''

In the previous CSCE negotiations, the smaller nations of the East and West have influenced their larger partners and brought about a compromise. The neutral and nonaligned nations previously have been instrumental in the success of other CSCE meetings, and the East bloc countries have also desired compromise solutions.

Ambassador Hansen says, ``The East Europeans probably have the greatest single interest in the outcome of Stockholm.'' Dr. Sachs of East Germany notes, ``There is a great readiness on the Eastern side to compromise and make progress,'' but the difficulty is to ``find a way to combine national interests with alliance interests.''

That is a problem on both sides.

In Washington, the feeling is that the Soviets must be more forthcoming in any compromise. Initial Soviet proposals have been vague and ambiguous, compared to the carefully drafted Western efforts. If the talks fail, the US is ready to put the onus on the Soviets. Says one Pentagon official, ``The ball is clearly in their court. The Allies have made it clear that they're willing to compromise.''

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