At this early stage of the superpower arms control talks in Geneva, the United States is signaling its concern over Moscow's public stance. Edward L. Rowny, special adviser to President Reagan on the arms talks, says that the Soviets have not yet made any serious, specific moves in Geneva. Instead, he says, they are engaging in public propaganda and rhetoric, aimed at European opinion, and using the President's ``star wars'' defense program as a ``red herring'' and ``diversion'' to avoid coming to grips with reducing offensive nuclear systems.
``I haven't seen any real moves from Moscow since January,'' he said at a breakfast meeting Thursday, referring to the Soviet Foreign Minister's statement that he favored reductions in the unratified SALT II treaty. ``Since that time I have seen more of the rhetoric against `star wars' and that, to me, is distracting us . . . from our main objective.''
General Rowny, who was the chief negotiator at the aborted START talks and now works under chief arms adviser to the President Paul Nitze, also said that:
If no progress is made in the talks by fall on Soviet compliance with existing agreements, the US will have to consider breaking out of the limitations specified in the unratified SALT II agreement.
If the negotiators fail to get anywhere, conceivably President Reagan and new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev could break the impasse at a fall summit.
While the US insists on pursuing research on its Strategic Defense Initiative, a space-based nonnuclear defense system, SDI has complicated the possibilities for reaching an agreement on reducing nuclear weapons.
It would be better for the US to develop a mobile missile rather than the MX to strengthen the land-based leg of its strategic triad, but the fixed-based MX, though a less desirable weapon, is needed in the short term to counter the growing Soviet ICBM threat.
It will be 8 to 10 years before the US finds out whether SDI is feasible or not. At every stage of the program, however, the US has to make sure not to do things that destabilize the strategic balance and must discuss this with the Soviets.
If, eventually, Moscow does not accept the idea of moving away from offense to defense, the US cannot allow it a veto power over defensive systems and would have to consider whether to break out of the 1972 ABM (antiballistic missile) treaty.
General Rowny stressed that the US negotiators arrived in Geneva with more flexibility on achieving an agreement on offensive arms than they had in previous negotiations. He said the US has essentially resubmitted its proposals at the START talks, which call for trade-offs between Soviet heavy missiles and US bombers and cruise missiles, but offer a number of options to show ``there is a lot for the Soviets in those trade-offs.''
The US is ready to modify its old proposals, General Rowny said.
The arms adviser's comments in effect characterized the dilemma that confronts the superpowers in Geneva, a dilemma in which the two sides seem to be spinning around in a cage, chasing each other but never catching up: The US introduced the subject of SDI, insisting on a dialogue with the Russians about changing the whole concept of nuclear strategy away from deterrence based on offensive systems to defense based on a nonnuclear shield in space. The Soviet Union says it is most concerned about SDI, and therefore seeks an agreement that would trade off defensive and offensive systems. The US says SDI at this stage is not a subject of an arms agreement -- only of dialogue -- because only research not testing and development are involved; it insists on a treaty trading off only offensive systems.
General Rowny admitted that SDI is one factor that brought the Russians back to the bargaining table. But he said that in the old START talks it was US high-tech bombers, cruise missiles, the Trident II missile, and other offensive weapons that most concerned the Russians. This is what Washington seeks to negotiate now, not SDI, which is still only in the research stage.
Soviet propaganda about SDI, he says, is ``a kind of a red herring and is a detriment to getting on with arms control.'' ``Too much emphasis . . . is being put out of Moscow and other places on the impact of defense . . . but let's not focus on that when there's nothing to agree on because it's research,'' he said. ``And you don't hear anything about `let's reduce the weapons that are here and now, the number of weapons on both sides,' especially when we have proposals,'' he said. ``Let's get on with that part of the deal.''
It is possible that elements of SDI will be at the testing or development stage in three or four years, says General Rowny. But the US should not rush into development of this layered system, he said, but see if the whole SDI system across the board is feasible, based on: (1) robustness and survivability, (2) cost effectiveness as compared with deterrence, and (3) stability at every stage.
The US cannot do things that will thwart stability, he told reporters. ``So you have to have a system which, at every stage, proves more stabilizing and not more destabilizing,'' he said. ``And here you have to have discussions with the Soviets. You can't do this in a vacuum.''
Given Moscow's concern about SDI, General Rowny seemed to be reassuring the Soviets that the US would not move out ahead on SDI without discussing developments at every stage.