In his valedictory press conference Friday after eight years as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe, Gen. Bernard Rogers again voiced his concern about the ``slippery slope of denuclearization'' that he sees in the Euromissile arms control deal shaping up between the United States and the Soviet Union. More positively, General Rogers judged that the improvements that have been made in NATO's conventional defense in the past eight years, while still inadequate, have at least lengthened the number of days during which NATO could repel any Soviet invasion before being forced to resort to nuclear weapons.
He also revealed that the number of nuclear weapons NATO has in Europe has already gone under the unilateral reduction target of maximum 4,600 systems set for 1988.
Sidestepping a question inviting him to respond to Secretary of State George Shultz's charge that Rogers' view was ``ridiculous'' and that the general was overstepping proper bounds in issuing his public warnings, Rogers made clear his distaste for the Euromissile deal. Such a deal, he asserted, ``will reduce the credibility of our deterrent'' and will also diverge from the principle of equal sharing of risk by putting a disproportionate risk ``on the back of the Western Europeans'' as distinct from the Americans.
Rogers did not buy the argument of some Western strategists that aircraft with air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) and sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), even though not able to hit ``time-urgent'' targets that the Pershing 2 can with its 10-minute flight time, could still fill the gap in terms of holding Soviet territory at risk.
SLCMS have command-and-control problems, he contended. And commenting on ALCMs, he said he did not see much point in stationing B-52s with ALCMs forward in Britain, where they might be vulnerable to a Soviet strike, when they can perform the same job from their present US bases.
At this point, since the West has already promised to trade off ``the one weapons system most feared by the Soviets,'' the Pershing 2, for the Soviet SS-20s missiles, Rogers would at least like to see the West postpone the last portion of dismantling of Pershing 2s, cruises, and SS-20s, until there is less of a Soviet superiority in conventional forces.
On the shorter-range Euromissiles (between 500 and 1,000 kilometers), he also indicated his preference for ``pocketing'' Moscow's offer of last February to eliminate the 42 Soviet SS 12/22s and -23s deployed in East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
In comparison with the Western interpretation of the ``double zero'' deal now being negotiated (zero Euromissiles both in the 1,000-to-5,500 km and in the 500-to-1,000 km categories), this would change nothing at all in the current Western forces, since NATO holds that West Germany's 72 720-km range Pershing IAs, the only Western missiles in this category, are excluded from the superpower negotiations in any case. This alternative arrangement for the 500-to-1000 km range category would open the possibility, however - as Rogers explicitly wants to do - of the US ``eliminating'' its Pershing IIs by simply removing one rocket stage and downgrading them to Pershing IBs, to be left them in West Germany with a range able to cover targets in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and western Poland.
The Soviets have shown no inclination to go back to their February proposal, presumably because even if they argued that retention of the 72 West German Pershing 1-As should entitle them to keep 80 SS-12/22s and -23s, they would not like to lend NATO any legitimacy in upgrading the German Pershing 1-As to 1-Bs.
In his press conference, Rogers urged just such a modernization of the West German Pershing 1-As, as well as implementation of NATO's decisions on nuclear modernization at Montbello in 1983, including extension of the range of Lance missiles from 115 km to 250 km, development and procurement of an air-to-surface standoff missile of about 400-km range, deployment of improved warheads for nuclear artillery, and improvement of conventional forces.