START Could End US-Soviet Arms Talks Soviet Reformers Say Emphasis May Shift to Joint Action, While Hard-Liners Aim to Block Ratification of Treaty

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NEXT week Presidents Bush and Gorbachev will stand in an ornate Kremlin room and put their pens to what some here believe will be the last Soviet-American arms control treaty.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) culminates more than nine years of negotiations. But taking the failed SALT II pact into account, the two superpowers have been trying to reach an agreement on strategic nuclear weapons since 1974. While both sides have spoken of a follow-up treaty, most Soviet analysts discount this as an unrealistic proposition.

"It is clear that the two countries are exhausted by the current START negotiations," comments Sergei Blagovolin, who heads military studies at the prestigious Institute of World Economy and International Relations. "I don't think another treaty negotiation now is really very important for the future of our relations."

Instead, liberals like Mr. Blagovolin envision a shift away from the cold war preoccupation with preserving a balance of power to joint action, even including military cooperation.

"The main idea," the expert predicts, "will be establishing a real cooperative security structure between the Soviet Union and the West." The two sides will focus more on threats to their mutual security from other sources, including "the dramatic rise of new threats from the south," as well as instability in Europe, as seen in Yugoslavia, he explains.

Such Soviet policymakers want to extend the kind of initial steps away from the cold war taken during the Gulf war when the Soviet Union gave tacit support to the Western war against Iraq. The new agenda, says Vladik Zubok, an expert on United States-Soviet relations at the USA-Canada Institute, includes cooperating to limit arms transfers to third-world nations, barring the proliferation of nuclear weapons and conversion of defense industries to civilian use.

"It's too early to bury arms-control summits," Mr. Zubok believes. But these discussions will no longer be a purely US-Soviet affair. Broader meetings such as the one in London last week between the Group of Seven Western leaders and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will gradually replace bilateral summits, he asserts.

This does not mean military issues will disappear from the table. From the post-cold-war point of view, the two sides might begin a discussion of a "mutually acceptable restructuring of military forces," suggests Blagovolin. Such talks could even extend to creating a future military division of labor between the NATO alliance and the Soviet Union, he adds.

Such ideas are by no means confined to Soviet think tanks. Concrete proposals along these lines were contained within the detailed annex which Mr. Gorbachev attached to the letter he dispatched to the London summit. The annex provided detailed proposals for cooperation in a number of fields, of which first place was given to defense conversion.

Alongside proposals for Western firms to develop civilian aircraft and other commercial products, Gorbachev suggests a number of joint military projects, all of a carefully "defensive" nature. The most striking is the idea of joint development of early warning systems "to prevent unauthorized or terrorist operated launches of ballistic missiles." The proposal is aimed at potential nuclear powers such as Iraq and echoes the idea, proposed by Blagovolin and others, of joint development of Star Wars-type space-based warning systems. …