The Complexities of European Arms Control
How do you `bean count' tanks, planes, and other items when even the experts can't agree on how many there are?
THE complexities of conventional arms control far exceed those of strategic or intermediate-range missile negotiations. They confront a host of problems: Not just the nuclear superpowers but all members of the two opposed alliances must be factored in and their consent obtained to any agreements.Skip to next paragraph
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Not five or 10 weapons systems but hundreds of different kinds are at issue, including not just tanks and planes but their counterpoints: antitank and antiaircraft missiles.
Each item raises definitional problems. Force estimates made by the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) include naval forces that the West prefers to sidestep. This helps explain why WTO estimates for NATO personnel and aircraft are higher than the West's. NATO contends that the naval forces should not be counted, because they might be redeployed elsewhere. But so long as they can hover within range of the Soviet Union, they are highly relevant to Warsaw Pact calculations.
Even the WTO numbers understate NATO's advantages at sea. The Western navies have far greater experience than the pact's. They are not boxed in by ``choke points,'' such as the Turkish Straits; they have true aircraft carriers vastly more powerful than the helicopter and vertical-takeoff carriers in the Soviet Navy; their technology is more dependable.
If the Warsaw Pact bargains hard, it will ask for quid-pro-quo reductions in Western naval strength to offset the asymmetrical cuts in WTO tanks and other land assets.
Asymmetries are anchored in geographical and other peculiarities of each side. Thus, the United States needs huge armadas to reach across oceans; the USSR needs large armies to defend its long borders. Washington has prosperous and stable allies; the Kremlin has impoverished and unstable vessels.
Indeed, the greatest imponderable in the whole equation is morale: Should East European forces be counted with or against the USSR? Romania has not permitted Warsaw Pact maneuvers on its soil since 1956. East German generals might be loyal to Moscow under some scenarios, but what of ordinary soldiers and citizens? Even the loyalty of the USSR's border republics is in doubt - certainly in the Baltic states and probably the Ukraine and Byelorussia as well. The USSR has only 40,000 troops in Poland, but they man vital logistical and communication routes. If communist rule falters in Poland, how many Soviet troops would be needed to intimidate the Polish people and armed forces?
Mikhail Gorbachev may reason that his policies make the East Europeans more dependable as they warm to the appeals of perestroika. But this is a risk. As Russia's imperial will slackens and Soviet forces recede, Eastern Europe will probably experience a tide of rising expectations eroding all communist institutions.
Mr. Gorbachev's glasnost has extended to the military sphere - opening the Krasnoyarsk radar and chemical warfare facilities to Western observers. In January it made another giant step: The WTO defense ministers published their estimates of the conventional balance of power in Europe - from the Atlantic to the Urals. The WTO data contained many surprises. For example, they showed higher numbers of tanks and multiple-launch rocket systems for both alliances than comparable Western studies. They also showed the importance - from an Eastern perspective - of naval strength. Most important, the WTO data put some numbers on the table to be compared with other estimates.
Comparison shows substantial disagreement not only between East and West, but also among various Western estimates. NATO's estimates of combat aircraft and helicopters, for example, differ substantially from those of the Pentagon, even though both proceed from the same data base. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a nongovernmental research agency in London, publishes quite different numbers from NATO and the Pentagon, even though the IISS depends heavily on Western intelligence estimates. The independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies in Boston also count things differently.
So long as the experts disagree on what is, they will have trouble negotiating what should be. Percentage cuts make no sense unless all parties agree on the base line. Even reductions to absolute levels are difficult without consensus on the starting point. Unless we know how many tanks or missiles are to be junked, verification will be impossible.