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Soviet citizens, too, question the INF Treaty. Letters to the Supreme Soviet ask about loopholes and environmental impact

By Walter C. Clemens Jr. / May 11, 1988

THE Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty raises serious questions for many Soviet citizens. Their concerns in some respects run deeper than those voiced by Americans. In waves of letter writing generated by glasnost, Soviet citizens have written to the Supreme Soviet, the nominal parliament, and to various ``public'' organizations such as the Committee of Soviet Women. Kremlin diplomats and military experts have had to respond to these concerns in testimony before the Supreme Soviet's Foreign Affairs Commission as it deliberated INF ratification. Soviet citizens put awkward questions: ``Why are we giving up more weapons than the United States?'' ``Why did we have more weapons in the first place?'' ``Why do we permit Britain and France to keep all their missiles?'' ``Are there loopholes in this treaty that may help Washington to circumvent its obligations?'' Beyond questions about the military consequences of the treaty, Soviet citizens want to know about its ecological impact and what will happen to the jobs of military personnel whose weapons have been disarmed.

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Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, head of the Soviet general staff, and other military experts reply that the treaty will not harm Soviet security. The treaty is not so lopsided as it appears, Marshal Akhromeyev declares. The Soviet Union must ``liquidate'' more ``nuclear instruments'' (he prefers not to say ``missiles'') than the US, but many of the Soviet ``instruments'' are quite old. Moreover, none can reach the United States, while all US Pershing 2s ``could reach the Moscow district in 10 minutes or even less.'' The bottom line for modern missiles, he says, is that ``we will destroy 650, the US 689.''

Akhromeyev does not mention the far greater disparity in nuclear warheads removed. Since most of Moscow's modern (SS-20) missiles carry three warheads, the USSR is withdrawing (not destroying) several times more warheads than the US. Nor does Akhromeyev admit the absolute asymmetry in shorter-range missiles removed. He grants that the USSR is eliminating more shorter-range missiles than the US is; he fails to point out that the Americans have no such weapons, except for a few score transferred to Germany.

Soviet negotiators have struggled for decades to get British and French nuclear forces on the negotiating table - along with America's forward-based aircraft - Akhromeyev says. But Moscow's opponents have found various pretexts for refusing. In the next stage of disarmament such weapons must be included.

Why has Moscow agreed also to eliminate its missiles in the Far East? Because political conditions there have improved recently - an apparent reference to China. And because the Americans have not recently increased their Asian-Pacific nuclear forces close to Soviet borders.

Chief INF negotiator Yuli Vorontsov, deputy foreign minister, steps in to stress that the INF negotiations were long and difficult. Stereotypes had to be removed and emotions calmed. It was necessary to apply Mikhail Gorbachev's ``new political thinking'' to the situation. It was necessary to go beyond ``arithmetical calculations'' about the military balance to activate the movement toward disarmament. The INF Treaty is ``one of the first really palpable results of our new political thinking.''