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
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. …