US sees Soviet economic motive behind arms bid
It may not be so much a matter of glasnost as a question of greenbacks. While welcoming quickened progress in Soviet-American arms control negotiations, some United States analysts have concluded that the driving force is the harsh economic realities facing the Soviet leadership.Skip to next paragraph
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They point specifically to the continuing scramble for resources that pits the Soviet Union's formidable military against a generally backward civilian sector.
Arms control, according to some US experts, may be the only way for the Kremlin to satisfy both groups. Put another way, today's bold diplomatic gestures may be clever economic and political strategy by another name.
But if they don't provide a payoff, some analysts have concluded, then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev could be in trouble.
``We do not believe that Mikhail Gorbachev has launched his modernization program and is proposing radical change in the Soviet Union's economic system for altruistic reasons,'' concludes a report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, released this week by the Senate subcommittee on national-security economics. ``His program is aimed,'' the report continued, ``at assuring the long-term security of the nation.''
And the Central Intelligence Agency, in another newly released report, has concluded that Mr. Gorbachev's ``proposals for nuclear arms reductions are motivated both by the desire to shift some resources from defense to the civilian economy and by the realization that international tensions will strengthen the hand of opponents of reform at home.'' That is not to say that the current progress in arms control is illusory or born of desperation.
In Washington, US and Soviet diplomats said their discussions this week have ``cleared away some significant obstacles'' to an arms control agreement. In Moscow, Gorbachev predicted such an agreement could be completed by the end of this year, leading to an even more significant treaty next year.
US officials say these optimistic assessments are genuine, and generally accurate.
And they acknowledge that such progress would not be possible if it were not for Gorbachev's willingness to bargain and compromise.
But they have also concluded that more Soviet ``give'' on arms control can be understood only in the context of Gorbachev's economic modernization drive. Gorbachev has concluded, according to a number of US experts, that the Soviet Union cannot continue indefinitely as a military superpower with a muddle-through economy.
Arms control, US intelligence analysts have concluded, provides a rationale for temporarily slowing the upward spiral of Soviet military spending. In addition, it provides a more stable international environment that could foster Soviet economic modernization. But it does not mean, analysts add, that the Soviet Union is waning as a military power. Quite the contrary: If the Soviet economy is stronger, it can more easily support the needs of the Soviet military.
There is widespread agreement that Gorbachev has, to an extraordinary degree, been willing to admit that there are limits to the kind of military superstructure that the Soviet economy can support.
``They [Gorbachev and his supporters] have called for a rejection of the principle `the more, the better,''' Col. Serge Chernay, director of Soviet studies at the Air War College, told a conference of the Aerospace Education Foundation this week. ``They're saying there are two ways of maintaining military security - either a buildup of weapons, or a very low level [of armaments] on both sides.''