THE Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty raises serious questions for many Soviet citizens. Their concerns in some respects run deeper than those voiced by Americans. In waves of letter writing generated by glasnost, Soviet citizens have written to the Supreme Soviet, the nominal parliament, and to various ``public'' organizations such as the Committee of Soviet Women. Kremlin diplomats and military experts have had to respond to these concerns in testimony before the Supreme Soviet's Foreign Affairs Commission as it deliberated INF ratification. Soviet citizens put awkward questions: ``Why are we giving up more weapons than the United States?'' ``Why did we have more weapons in the first place?'' ``Why do we permit Britain and France to keep all their missiles?'' ``Are there loopholes in this treaty that may help Washington to circumvent its obligations?'' Beyond questions about the military consequences of the treaty, Soviet citizens want to know about its ecological impact and what will happen to the jobs of military personnel whose weapons have been disarmed.
Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, head of the Soviet general staff, and other military experts reply that the treaty will not harm Soviet security. The treaty is not so lopsided as it appears, Marshal Akhromeyev declares. The Soviet Union must ``liquidate'' more ``nuclear instruments'' (he prefers not to say ``missiles'') than the US, but many of the Soviet ``instruments'' are quite old. Moreover, none can reach the United States, while all US Pershing 2s ``could reach the Moscow district in 10 minutes or even less.'' The bottom line for modern missiles, he says, is that ``we will destroy 650, the US 689.''
Akhromeyev does not mention the far greater disparity in nuclear warheads removed. Since most of Moscow's modern (SS-20) missiles carry three warheads, the USSR is withdrawing (not destroying) several times more warheads than the US. Nor does Akhromeyev admit the absolute asymmetry in shorter-range missiles removed. He grants that the USSR is eliminating more shorter-range missiles than the US is; he fails to point out that the Americans have no such weapons, except for a few score transferred to Germany.
Soviet negotiators have struggled for decades to get British and French nuclear forces on the negotiating table - along with America's forward-based aircraft - Akhromeyev says. But Moscow's opponents have found various pretexts for refusing. In the next stage of disarmament such weapons must be included.
Why has Moscow agreed also to eliminate its missiles in the Far East? Because political conditions there have improved recently - an apparent reference to China. And because the Americans have not recently increased their Asian-Pacific nuclear forces close to Soviet borders.
Chief INF negotiator Yuli Vorontsov, deputy foreign minister, steps in to stress that the INF negotiations were long and difficult. Stereotypes had to be removed and emotions calmed. It was necessary to apply Mikhail Gorbachev's ``new political thinking'' to the situation. It was necessary to go beyond ``arithmetical calculations'' about the military balance to activate the movement toward disarmament. The INF Treaty is ``one of the first really palpable results of our new political thinking.''
The chairman of the hearings, Georgi Kornienko, notes that Westerners are debating whether, by removing the middle rungs of the escalation ladder, there may be more danger that war, if begun, would leap quickly from tactical to strategic nuclear arms. Akhromeyev does not respond directly, but says that the USSR is ready to complete a strategic arms treaty this summer.
Mr. Kornienko then summarizes: The treaty will reduce the chances of nuclear war; the USSR has deployed more missiles than the US because the USSR faces more threats; not all missiles have the same importance; British and French weapons must be dealt with later.
Kornienko turns next to another broad concern voiced by Soviet citizens: NATO's plans to ``compensate'' for the missiles eliminated by deploying other nuclear and conventional weapons in Europe. Mr. Vorontsov says that, in dealing with the US, one must ``trust but verify'' (the same proverb much quoted by President Reagan). The Soviet delegation attempted to inject in the treaty a strong commitment not to circumvent its obligations in any way, including the transfer to any other party of ``missiles or components of such missiles, launchers of such missiles,'' or technical documentation about them. The Americans rejected this clause but agreed to Article XIV, promising not to ``assume any international obligations or undertakings which would conflict with [the treaty's] provisions.''
To think of ``compensation,'' said Vorontsov, is ``blasphemy.'' To follow up disarmament with additional armament is like removing one problem only to add another.
Article XIV is important because it prevents anyone from dreaming that it is possible to evade the disarmament obligations of this treaty.
Akhromeyev adds that the Soviet military is unhappy because Western talk about compensation is making it difficult to agree to a mandate for negotiations to reduce tactical nuclear and conventional forces in Europe. NATO wants to keep open its right to retain and modernize its short-range nuclear and dual-capable (nuclear-conventional) arms. Nothing in the INF Treaty prohibits such compensation, but in seven years of negotiations the Americans never raised the issue.
Are there loopholes in the treaty? Vorontsov says no, for it was negotiated carefully. The USSR pushed for more extensive and intensive on-site inspection, which the Americans refused. But the existing provisions for verification - coupled with ``national verification means'' (satellites) - are sufficient.
What are the environmental consequences of destroying the INF missiles? Vorontsov says that the USSR will explode its missiles after removing the warheads; the US prefers to burn the fuel, releasing more poisons than the Soviet method does. But both procedures are safe.
A member of the Soviet Committee for Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War asks if a guarantee could be negotiated to bar conventional arms from hitting nuclear power stations. Akhromeyev grants that modern conventional war would be almost as destructive as nuclear, for chemical plants as well as power stations could be blown up with accurate conventional arms. But he sees no way to enforce a ban on such warfare.
A woman from the Soviet Peace Fund inquires what steps are being taken to find employment for workers displaced by this treaty. A trade union representative asks about plans for conversion from military to peacetime industry. A representative from the Committee of Soviet Women asks about families of officers who may be released as a result of the treaty.
Akhromeyev and others say that the government is taking steps to provide for those workers, officers, and their families displaced by the treaty; all aspects of the transition to a peace economy are being studied.
A Defense Ministry spokesman calculates that about 1,000 machines used for transporting missiles can now be adapted for civilian purposes - a value of about 50 million rubles or about $10 million at the market rate. Guidance systems taken from the liquidated missiles are valued at 150 million rubles. Destruction of the missiles and launchers will cost about 25 million rubles, an extremely low estimate by US standards.
At least two questioners want more democracy and glasnost. G.A. Borovik asks that representatives of public organizations be given a more substantive role in future negotiations: ``From time to time it is necessary to inform the public on the difficulties, complexities, and directions of the negotiations so that the public can provide its own initiatives and implement methods of people's diplomacy.'' That writer calls also for giving the public a role in the missile destruction process so as to monitor its environmental safety. To all this, Vorontsov says that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ``is willing and will always be willing'' to meet with, brief, and consult with representatives of social organizations.
Another questioner, V.M. Mishin, asks when Soviet military authorities will publish hard data on the military balance - ``our'' version of data released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. To this challenge Akhromeyev replies in the old style: Such data are ``also a weapon in the hands of those with whom we afterward must negotiate. ... The IISS is not an official organ. We are ready to publish such data if the NATO bloc, in its turn, publishes its own.''
The Supreme Soviet Foreign Affairs Commission also heard from foreign communists endorsing the INF Treaty as a serious step toward peace. The commission recommended that the Supreme Soviet ratify the treaty, a move it will probably take when all signs point to treaty approval by the US Senate.
IS the Supreme Soviet still a rubber stamp for decisions taken by the communist elite? Probably the answer is yes, for the INF hearings were completely stacked to favor the Gorbachev line.
Some hard questions were asked by individuals with little clout and little access to relevant information. They were easily answered by Kremlin heavyweights who could pick and choose how to reply with little fear of tough follow-on probes.
There were none of the technical questions that emerged in the US hearings: Does the treaty ban drones? exotic weapons? US assistance to British or other foreign forces? Can we make do without intermediate-range missiles that carry conventional warheads?
There is no prospect that the Supreme Soviet will turn down the treaty or add killer amendments. Still, the hearings show that the Soviet government and many citizens are thinking hard about the treaty and its implications for the economy. The hearings promise movement toward democratiya as well as arms control.
Portions of the hearings have been published in Vestnik [Herald] of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in Tass releases.
Walter C. Clemens Jr. is a professor of political science at Boston University and an adjunct research fellow at Harvard Center for Science and International Affairs.