Roald Sagdeev, director of space research at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, maintains that abandonment of SALT II would lead to an ``absolutely unpredictable world'' -- and that US complaints about Soviet compliance with arms control agreements could be worked out quietly. And Richard Garwin, an IBM physicist and an activist against the nuclear arms race, contends that scrapping of SALT II by the United States would hurt Washington more than Moscow.
In a double interview with the Monitor on the fringes of the sixth congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, both scientists also urged strengthening the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty as well as observing the unratified second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) of 1979.
Their comments came in response to a question about President Reagan's announcement last week that the US no longer feels bound by SALT II restraints and will abandon them at year's end.
In abridged form, the English-language interview ran as follows:
Monitor: How important is the observance of SALT II for the continuation of the arms control process?
Sagdeev: While both sides consider the reduction of strategic offensive forces a very important next goal, we should keep the atmosphere. The previous important agreement, even [though] not ratified, should be still taken into account.
Garwin: What [President Reagan] ignores, and may not even know, is that by saying he will no longer be bound by the limits of SALT II, he is allowing the Soviet Union to do anything it wants legally. . . . So I think probably Mr. Reagan has been deceived by those in the Pentagon . . . into taking this act, looking only at the freedom that it gives the United States and ignoring the problems that it will cause us as the Soviet Union takes advantage of those same freedoms.
Monitor: How about the US complaint that the Soviet Union is not living up to previous agreements, especially in the case of the phase-array radar at Krasnoyarsk [which could be used for defense against missiles]? Is it important for the Soviet Union to make any gestures in this area?
Sagdeev: In my view the whole list of potential noncompliances is not very significant, and I am sure most of the items could be agreed through the existing channel of the permanent consultative committee [set up in Geneva under the SALT I agreement]. The few remaining questions which are discussed during last years could be set up maybe in a different way.
If some of the problems like Krasnoyarsk on our side and Iceland and Great Britain radars on the American side could be singled out, then they could probably be discussed separately. I heard there was . . . a kind of discussion of the trade, of the exchange between these radars. . . . I think if this particular question could be considered separately, everything could be settled. But I see the tendency always [on the part of Washington] to keep something which could be used as an excuse for massive efforts toward ABM and SDI [the Strategic Defense Initiative, President Reagan's research program into space-based defense].
Garwin: I think Krasnoyarsk was a stupid error on the part of the Soviet Union. It will clearly be a violation of the ABM treaty [which bans comprehensive radar coverage in the interior of either superpower, of a kind that could be used for area defense against missiles] when it is ready for operation. It is not militarily significant, but it is very significant that the Soviet Union decided to build a thing which is a clear violation. So certainly if construction on Krasnoyarsk stopped, I would say that the Soviet Union's record of compliance with these agreements has really been very good.
Very little noted is that the Soviets have destroyed hundreds of missiles in order to remain within the [SALT II] agreement. And this very large degree of compliance is of much greater importance to US security than even the violation of Krasnoyarsk.
Monitor: What about the question of defining more clearly the limits of the ABM treaty? How essential is this for progress in arms control?
Sagdeev: I think there is a more or less good consensus on the spirit, on the interpretation, of the ABM treaty. As a mimumum we need to comply with ABM treaty, but it is not enough. We need to close the loopholes which were left in 1972, loopholes with potential testing and deployment of ASATs [antisatellite weapons] in space. . . . Another loophole is interpretation of the role of exotic new technologies, but this type of approach, analysis, and final regulation of new treaties or amendments should be done not through undermining the existing ABM treaty.
Monitor: A statement by the Soviet news agency Tass yesterday said that Moscow would take matching steps if Washington in fact stops observing SALT II. What kinds of countermeasures would that mean?
Sagdeev: It's a very important statement, and I have to read it carefully, first of all.
But, you know, my first reaction was that it is such a risky step on Reagan's side, because if the other side would use the same reciprocal approach and would feel free from any kind of limitations, then we could enter into absolutely unpredictable world.