On-Site Arms Control Verification Proceeds US, Soviet Activities Continue under Terms of START, INF, and Forces in Europe Agreements

By Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 25, 1991 | Go to article overview

On-Site Arms Control Verification Proceeds US, Soviet Activities Continue under Terms of START, INF, and Forces in Europe Agreements


Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


AS the Soviet threat fades and budget cuts bite deep, the armed forces of the United States appear to be facing a reduced role in the future. But in today's new world order there is at least one Pentagon activity still planning for major growth: arms-control verification.

The three-year-old On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA) is the US military's "point man" for enforcing arms treaties. Founded in response to the Reagan-era intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF) pact, OSIA's workload will expand soon, when the new strategic nuclear (START) treaty and Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) limits take effect.

At OSIA's suburban Washington headquarters there's a palpable sense of being on the cutting edge of superpower security relations. "It's an exciting process," says Navy Capt. John Williams, chief of the OSIA inspection division.

Ten years ago the idea of a Pentagon agency devoted to on-site inspection of arms agreements seemed improbable at best. A suspicious, closed Soviet government resisted disclosing information of any sort to outsiders. Spy satellites were the only means of verifying adherence to treaty provisions. Sudden Soviet change

Mikhail Gorbachev and the INF treaty changed all that. The suddenness with which the Soviets embraced openness can be seen in the fact that much US equipment for on-site inspectors had to be developed on a crash basis as implementation of the intermediate-range pact became imminent in the late 1980s.

Since July 1988, OSIA teams have conducted more than 400 INF inspections on Soviet or former Warsaw Pact territory, watching, among other things, the dumping of almost 1,500 missiles into the Baltic after they had been crushed or otherwise destroyed. The OSIA teams have acted as hosts for some 200 Soviet inspections in the US.

Under the terms of the INF pact, US inspectors have kept up a permanent watch outside a Soviet missile assembly factory at Votkinsk, 600 miles east of Moscow. The Soviets maintain similar "portal monitoring" near a plant in Magna, Utah.

OSIA's interaction with the Soviet military has by now become routine. During the uncertain times of the coup attempt in Moscow and its aftermath, "all scheduled arms control activities happened," says Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Parker, OSIA director. That included a rotation of the Soviet inspection team in Utah.

The disintegration of Soviet central authority and the secession of the Baltics could well have some effect on arms control inspections. But it isn't yet clear what that will be, insist a number of US officials. The Soviet military, for its part, says it has every intention of proceeding to implement the START and CFE pacts. …

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