Conventional arms control tops new NATO chief's agenda

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Gen. John R. Galvin, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, would like clear guidance on modernization of nuclear weapons from next week's NATO summit. He would also like to get on with formulating a Western proposal for conventional arms control that would complement NATO military strategy.

The interview with General Galvin was conducted in a helicopter and at various sites as he observed an American two-division exercise, Caravan Guard, this week. The NATO commander welcomed the enhancement of NATO defense represented by the recent deployment of the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the Patriot (conventional surface-to-air missile) air defense.

Galvin discussed the issue of nuclear modernization that was a bone of contention between Bonn and Washington in the weeks preceding Chancellor Helmut Kohl's visit to the US on Feb. 17-19. Galvin stressed both the routine nature of modernization and the need for a credible nuclear element to ensure deterrence of war. He said he does not see the need for major decisions on upgrading individual systems at this point. But he ``would like to see clear guidance out of the summit or the next NPG [NATO Nuclear Planning Group] meeting [at the end of April] that this is the [general] road.''

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Galvin said no immediate decisions are necessary since modernization of nuclear artillery is already under way. The Lance missile (which the US was earlier trying to get a resistant West Germany to modernize) will not be obsolete until the mid-1990s, and any follow-on would probably use the same MLRS chassis that currently is being deployed in any case. Tactical air-to-surface missiles are already available and need only to be updated and adapted from bombers to fighter aircraft to share the nuclear burden and risk among the allies and complicate Soviet targeting.

Galvin declined to say if he would finish his own review of nuclear weapons requirements in time for the NPG meeting.

Bernard Rogers, Galvin's predecessor, made the first comprehensive evaluation of nuclear needs ever conducted by a NATO commander in 1985 and was scheduled to update it in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed in December removed the longer-range theater weapons that the military command considered the most effective deterrent, however, and the biennial review was then postponed until Galvin's appointment.

Galvin stressed that modernization would not circumvent the INF Treaty but would involve only those nuclear weapons that do not fall within the category of ground-based 500- to 5,500-kilometer range weapons eliminated by the treaty. Galvin said conventional arms control is the top priority during his command. With budgetary retrenchment in the West, NATO cannot hope to build up to superior Soviet-bloc numbers on the central front of three-to-one in tanks and artillery and an initial two-to-one in airplanes, he stated.

The only way a balance can be achieved is by having the Soviet side build down, through arms control negotiated at the Atlantic-to-the-Urals talks expected to open in Vienna later this year.

Galvin would like to see a Western proposal that would call on the Soviets to come down to present NATO levels of heavy weapons on the central front - but not dip below this level because of NATO's need to hold the border without giving up West German territory. He said he would not like to cut down on air power, but he would be willing to reduce American prestocked supplies for reinforcements if negotiations get that far.

Galvin expressed satisfaction with recent deployment of the Patriot air defense system to defend NATO airfields everywhere except in Belgium; recent deployment with American forces in West Germany of the MLRS; AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) and other sensors for target acquisition, which he said are working beyond all expectations; greatly improved buildings for the US Army in West Germany; and Paris's increased cooperation in European defense despite France's 22-year absence from the NATO integrated military command.

The general said the MLRS gives US forces a rocket (as distinct from cannon) capability for the first time and allows almost instantaneous blanket targeting of specific enemy artillery batteries that are firing at a given moment.

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