Critics Take Aim at Yeltsin Proposal for Arms Control Failure of Commonwealth to Agree on Armed Forces Seen as Peril

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON and Moscow will take up an old topic for discussion when US Secretary of State James Baker III arrives in Moscow Monday - arms control.

The air is filled these days with rhetoric about old enemies becoming allies. Russian President Boris Yeltsin caught the attention of many when he suggested, in his debut speech on arms control delivered Jan. 29, that the US and Russia collaborate in a global system of defense as a replacement for the United States's Star Wars program. He grabbed headlines by announcing that Russian missiles would no longer be aimed at North America.

But critics here say the Yeltsin arms-control policy is a seriously flawed and contradictory combination of old-style Soviet arms- control and untested radical ideas. The entire arms-control process has been put in jeopardy by the continuing inability of the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the loose confederation that has replaced the Soviet Union, to agree on the future status of the former Soviet armed forces.

Some Russian arms control experts and officials speak confidently about moving quickly to a new relationship. A joint program to develop defenses against missile attacks, intended to deal with the growing danger that countries such as Iraq or Iran could obtain long-range missiles armed with nuclear warheads, will change the way the two countries see each other, says Sergei Blagovolin, head of the independent Institute for National Security and Strategic Studies.

"If we were involved in such a large-scale military project, it will allow us - once and for all - to eliminate the mutual military threat, to reconcile our military doctrines, to form a military division of labor," Mr. Blagovolin says.

The Yeltsin arms control declaration offered a number of unilateral steps and proposals for mutual cuts in nuclear weapons designed to bring the total level of warheads well below the number allowed under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed last year with what was then the Soviet Union (but not yet ratified). The Russian proposals followed a speech along similar lines by President Bush in mid-January. Mr. Bush and Mr. Yeltsin met in New York and Washington earlier this month and Secretary Baker's Feb. 17-18 visit in Moscow is intended as a more concrete followup to those talks.

"There is a great deal of room for compromise between the American position and our position," says Andrei Kokoshin, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute and an arms-control specialist who serves as an advisor to Yeltsin. "We have a chance to move quickly - not through long, boring negotiations as we did with START but through an agreement in principle without all those details, combined with parallel, unilateral steps."

Georgi Arbatov, longtime arms control advisor to Soviet leaders and head of the USA-Canada Institute, has seriously questioned the new Yeltsin policy. According to a summary of his remarks published in Izvestia on Feb. 8, Mr. …