Superpower football; US-Soviet relations harden

Some kind of crisis seems to lie ahead in Soviet-American relations. One cannot survey the situation without awe. We have been warned so often of the danger - the public is more interested in football. ''The world's stockpile of nuclear weapons represents an explosive force over 5,000 times greater than all the munitions used in World War II.'' That is the summary of a new study. So what; is there anything new in it? Why yes, it appears there is.

Observers note the comment by Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in Moscow in the exchange with President Reagan over the Russian shooting down of an unarmed Korean passenger plane. Andropov said, ''Even if someone had any illusions about the possible evolution for the better in the policy of the present US administration, the latest developments have finally dispelled them.''

What does he mean? Andropov seems to be saying to his colleagues and subordinates that the time of debate with the US is now over. That's the interpretation put on it by Marshall D. Shulman of Columbia University, a recognized authority on the Soviet Union. On the NBC ''Meet the Press'' broadcast this week he said the Russian leader seemed to be saying that illusions about better relations with the US are useless; that things are not going to improve. Andropov is saying that he has given up dealing with the Reagan administration.

The instant reaction, I think, is that it is not our fault. But that is not the point in the present confrontation. The world is hurrying to its crisis over the proposed deployment of American medium-range missiles in Europe beginning this winter, including US cruise and Pershing II nuclear missiles. America is supplying them partly to reassure Western allies, some of whose leaders feared that we would back out of a showdown if Russia proved obdurate. Russia has gone ahead with its own missile build-up and the test lies just ahead. A monster antimissile rally is being prepared in West Germany for the week beginning Oct. 15. A month later the West German parliament votes on the matter.

A major nuclear military showdown may be at hand. Should President Reagan remain tough? Hard-liners have said for years that Moscow would back down: Dr. Shulman thinks that's wrong. ''I think the more likely effect is that it will cause them to raise the level of their own military deployments . . . do foolish things like the deployment of the surface-to-air missiles in Syria.''

Many conclude there is no such thing as a ''limited'' nuclear war, that if the first missile is exploded it will trigger the rest. Most observers feel Russia injured itself by shooting down the Korean jetliner. It toughened the program of military preparedness in America, made it harder for ''peace groups, '' weakened Moscow's own effort to create a peaceful image of itself, and roused anxiety over the Soviet military's bureaucracy.

Does that justify the West in an aggressive attitude? Not according to Dr. Shulman: ''I think we will regret the day that we begin to deploy the cruise missiles in Europe,'' he says. The systems which we now propose to deploy, he explains, are not only theater weapons (short range) but those with a strategic (long range) capability. They can threaten cities all over Russia. Moscow is likely to counter with its own buildup.

In Chicago this week former President Jimmy Carter publicly disagreed with the Reagan administration whenhe said, ''the Soviets have negotiated in good faith. I don't know of any case where the Soviet Union reneged on talks.'' Russia's destruction of the airliner last month was ''abominable'' but he urged that negotiations nevertheless continue.

This is a strange time in human history. The world wags on, even though military costs mount steadily; a new authoritative report estimates the world's military budget at $660 billion annually. It says ''the cost of a single nuclear submarine equals the annual educational expenditures of 23 developing countries.''

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