Why missile talks bewilder Moscow
There is a belief in Moscow that the United States is determined to see new nuclear missiles deployed in Europe at any price, military or political, despite statements from the Soviet Union that it will have to react.
This has led to a sense of bewilderment, almost of helplessness, about what the Kremlin can do. As seen from the Soviet Union, there is no dialogue and no serious arms control negotiation between the superpowers. One prominent Russian said flatly: ''We are on a collision course with the United States.''
These conclusions were reached after two weeks in the Soviet Union which featured conversations at several institutes of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. Among them were discussions with officials of the important Institute of the USA and Canada, whose director is academician G. A. Arbatov.
There are currently two sets of arms control negotiations in progress between the US and the Soviet Union. One is the strategic arms reduction talks (START) which are concerned with intercontinental weapons. The other involves the plans of NATO to deploy 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs). These are known as the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF).
The decision to deploy these missiles was taken in 1979 as a response to the Soviet introduction of its new SS-20 ballistic missiles. At the same time, NATO agreed to undertake negotiations to see whether the deployment could be averted. These opened in Geneva in November 1981.
As the Russians see it, the only proposals made by Washington since then are designed to disarm the Soviet Union and ensure American superiority. And they believe their proposals have never been seriously considered by the US. Instead, they are brushed aside as only propaganda.
The Americans, it is said, are not interested in a breakthrough because it would spoil their military buildup. They have turned the INF talks into a ''test of wills,'' and because no one likes to be seen as giving in to pressure an agreement is now virtually impossible.
In Moscow, officials speak as though they despair of ever doing business with the Reagan administration. They have concluded that no one in Washington is listening, and that time is running out.
The first Pershings and cruise missiles are due to reach Europe by the end of the year, and it will be extremely difficult to negotiate an agreement of substance in five months. The Russians say that if deployment were postponed, they would respond ''in an appropriate way,'' though what that phrase means was not spelled out.
It is easy for an outsider to accuse both superpowers of grandstanding, of being more concerned with scoring points than with reaching agreement. Both may have become the victims of their efforts to win the battle of public opinion.
In international affairs perceptions are as important as facts. If a proud nation believes it is being asked to make impossible concessions, it is likely to behave like a cornered animal by fighting back. It will not capitulate. A foreign ministry official explained: ''There are always limits beyond which you cannot go without damaging your security.''
In addition, there is a sense that a major US objective is the overthrow of the present regime. As one leading Russian put it: ''We do not regard the US government as illegitimate, and we do not say that it must change its ways or perish. But we are subjected to this kind of vilification.''
Russians in the institutes which undertake research into foreign policy issues appear to have concluded that the Reagan administration believes its own rhetoric and is using that as the basis for action. They have also come to believe that no one in Washington is listening, or seems interested in listening.
As a result, they conclude that the US is more concerned with gaining superiority than with finding a common basis for security. They express the belief that Washington is willing to pay any price, military or political, to achieve this, and they are worried that the price will be a lot higher than anyone can now foresee.