Earlier this month the West offered a draft treaty on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) which embodies a comprehensive NATO proposal intended to break the deadlock in the East-West talks in Vienna. The Allied objective remains unchanged - to reduce and establish parity of NATO and Warsaw Treaty ground force manpower at lower levels in central Europe.
In these talks, three issues emerged during the nine years of negotiations as the principal obstacles preventing an agreement: (1) the absence of agreed data on the size of Warsaw Treaty Organization forces in the reduction area; (2) lack of agreement on cooperative associated measures to verify implementation of an agreement; and (3) linkage, i.e., the East's requirement that all direct participants from the very outset of the agreement assume legally binding reduction and limitation obligations to reach the common collective ceiling of 700,000 ground force personnel on each side.
The new Western proposal solves the third problem by providing that parties to the treaty would specify in the single, comprehensive agreement the size of overall reductions each side would take - with direct participants, having major formations in the area, assuming contractual obligations right from the beginning to assume a significant share of the reductions needed to reach parity.
The process would be accomplished in four stages and within seven years. The question of linkage thus disappears. Now it is up to the East to make comparable moves on the issues of data and associated measures.
Western figures for 1980 showed around 790,000 NATO ground forces in the reduction area, compared with about 960,000 for the Warsaw Treaty forces, an Eastern superiority of about 170,000 men.
This superiority is a major destabilizing factor in the military situation in Central Europe. Its elimination could lessen the risk of military conflict. Both sides obviously must agree on the troop levels from which reductions will be taken. Exactly one year ago, the West offered a new procedural approach (as yet unanswered) to the data discussion.
Finally verification and inspection, in the form of associated measures proposed by the West, are prerequisites which must be implemented on a cooperative basis. National technical means of themselves cannot provide sufficient assurances that reductions have taken place or that residual troop levels are being maintained. The East should recognize that the Western proposal , if adopted, will enhance the security of both sides.
Offering this intiative in the form of a draft treaty, the first time that NATO has done so at the MBFR talks in Vienna, emphasizes Western political will to bring about substantial significant reductions of military manpower in Central Europe. It should provide fresh impetus and allow for progress in the MBFR talks.
With the West's major concession on the linkage question, it is now up to the East to provide a constructive response of a comparable nature to help resolve the two remaining fundamental problems. The West has laid the groundwork for an agreement in Vienna. It is now up to the East to do its part.