U.S., Soviets to Reappraise `Star Wars' Cost Effectiveness

Article excerpt

DURHAM, N.C. - The potential economic costs of building a space-based missile defense system are playing a critical role in the evolution of the arms negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

After the weekend talks with President Reagan in Iceland, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, said in a broadcast that the Americans were making ""two serious mistakes.''

- The first, he said, was tactical: a belief that the Soviet Union would ""reconcile itself to the rebirth, or the attempt of the rebirth, of the American military dictatorship.''

- The second mistake, he said, was strategic: ""The United States wants to economically tire the Soviet Union, to exhaust the Soviet Union economically, by encouraging the arms race.''

He accused the Americans of wanting to undermine Soviet plans ""in the sphere of social life'' and to create ""dissatisfaction among the people with their leadership.'' And he accused Washington ofbeing unwilling to spend time ""analyzing in a serious way what is happening in our country - the reforms, the changes that are happening,'' and of indulging in ""wishful thinking'' - presumably that the Soviet economy would buckle if pressed hard enough by an American military buildup.

Is this accusation warranted? A Pentagon spokesman, Comdr. William Prucha, said in a telephone interview that no American leader had ever said, like Nikita S. Khrushchev, ""We will bury you.'' But he acknowledged that the economic pressure that would be put on Moscow by the American military buildup and strategic defense initiative, or ""star wars,'' was a big factor in bringing the Russians to the bargaining table.

He quoted from a joint study by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency stating that Gorbachev's plans for accelerating the growth of the Soviet economy call for ""massive replacement of obsolete plant and equipment and an emphasis on high-technology industries.'' This would require record growth in the machinery and metal-working sector.

Within a few years, the report said, competition between the military and the civilian economy for scarce resources, such as high-quality steel, microprocessors and skilled labor, would intensify. ""The real test'' for Soviet economic and military programs will come in two or three years, the report concluded, with renewed demands for expansion and the need to renovate the defense industries and to build ""new generations of weapons.''

All this helps explain the Soviet stress on arms control. …