On-Site Arms Control Verification Proceeds

US, Soviet activities continue under terms of START, INF, and Forces in Europe agreements

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AS the Soviet threat fades and budget cuts bite deep, the armed forces of the United States appear to be facing a reduced role in the future. But in today's new world order there is at least one Pentagon activity still planning for major growth: arms-control verification.The three-year-old On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA) is the US military's "point man" for enforcing arms treaties. Founded in response to the Reagan-era intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF) pact, OSIA's workload will expand soon, when the new strategic nuclear (START) treaty and Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) limits take effect. At OSIA's suburban Washington headquarters there's a palpable sense of being on the cutting edge of superpower security relations. "It's an exciting process," says Navy Capt. John Williams, chief of the OSIA inspection division. Ten years ago the idea of a Pentagon agency devoted to on-site inspection of arms agreements seemed improbable at best. A suspicious, closed Soviet government resisted disclosing information of any sort to outsiders. Spy satellites were the only means of verifying adherence to treaty provisions.

Sudden Soviet change Mikhail Gorbachev and the INF treaty changed all that. The suddenness with which the Soviets embraced openness can be seen in the fact that much US equipment for on-site inspectors had to be developed on a crash basis as implementation of the intermediate-range pact became imminent in the late 1980s. Since July 1988, OSIA teams have conducted more than 400 INF inspections on Soviet or former Warsaw Pact territory, watching, among other things, the dumping of almost 1,500 missiles into the Baltic after they had been crushed or otherwise destroyed. The OSIA teams have acted as hosts for some 200 Soviet inspections in the US. Under the terms of the INF pact, US inspectors have kept up a permanent watch outside a Soviet missile assembly factory at Votkinsk, 600 miles east of Moscow. The Soviets maintain similar "portal monitoring" near a plant in Magna, Utah. OSIA's interaction with the Soviet military has by now become routine. During the uncertain times of the coup attempt in Moscow and its aftermath, "all scheduled arms control activities happened," says Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Parker, OSIA director. That included a rotation of the Soviet inspection team in Utah. The disintegration of Soviet central authority and the secession of the Baltics could well have some effect on arms control inspections. But it isn't yet clear what that will be, insist a number of US officials. The Soviet military, for its part, says it has every intention of proceeding to implement the START and CFE pacts. Some START verification activities have already begun. OSIA teams have visited Soviet bases to take a look at some of the weapons covered by the treaty and to make sure they understand the weapons' physical characteristics. The Soviets have made similar trips here, looking at such things as B-52 bombers. START verification rules are basically like those of INF, only more complicated. To make sure the Soviets stay inside treaty limits (roughly a 25 percent reduction in warheads, with various sublimits) OSIA inspectors can conduct 12 kinds of on-site inspections - including surprise trips to strategic weapon sites. There will be a permanent watch on mobile missile factories. There will be 16 START inspection teams to begin with, says Captain Williams, with five people to a typical team. Though they will carry portable radiation detectors for warhead scrutiny, equipment for the most part will be simple and light. "It needs to be able to work in the middle of Siberia," says the inspection division chief. Unlike START, the conventional forces in Europe treaty is multilateral, and thus will involve inspection teams with representatives from a number of different nations. NATO allies are now forming their own OSIAs to aid in the process. CFE will generally be a "gross counting exercise," says Captain Williams, with validation of equipment destruction one of the most important on-site verification activities. After all, once a tank is blown up its replacement is expensive, and a process relatively easy for spy satellites to spot.

Destruction instructions Thus, the CFE treaty has quite detailed instructions for what constitutes "destruction." For instance, the gun tubes of armored vehicles that are to be destroyed "by smashing" must be visibly bent. Explosive demolition of mortars must rip their bases into "two approximately equal parts," according to treaty language. As they involve large items made of metal which are difficult to mistake for consumer goods, both START and CFE involve relatively cut-and-dried procedures - at least compared with another treaty looming on the horizon, a worldwide chemical-weapons ban. Verification of a chemical treaty will involve such ticklish questions as defining which precursor chemicals to poison gas are banned, and which are not, and how intrusive inspections of commercial chemical plants may be. Some sort of chemical sniffing equipment will surely be needed, but "you don't want to sniff for everything," notes Williams, because commercial firms will want to protect trade secrets. National labs are working on new sniffing equipment now.

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