President Bush proposed Monday a 20 percent cut in U.S. combat troops in Western Europe and a joint reduction in American and Soviet troop levels to 275,000 each by 1993 under an accelerated conventional arms agreement.
Seeking to seize the initiative in East-West relations, Bush detailed his proposal Monday at the opening of a two-day NATO summit designed to promote the unity of the alliance but divided over the issue of short-range nuclear missiles in Europe.Afterward, at a news conference carried live by the American television networks, Bush told reporters that his proposals would require the Soviet Union to withdraw 325,000 troops from Eastern Europe.
The Soviets currently have more than 600,000 troops assigned to the East-bloc Warsaw Pact, according to some Western estimates, while U.S. troop strength ranges between 305,000 and 325,000.
As part of what he called "a revolutionary conventional arms control agreement," Bush also proposed locking in Soviet acceptance of proposed Western ceilings on each side's arsenals of tanks and armored troop carriers and said a similar ceiling on artillery would be sought.
He also proposed reducing the number of helicopters and land-based combat aircraft as part of the agreement, which he said could be reached within six months and carried out by 1992 or 1993.
Bush called his proposals "a fair offer" that "signals a willingness on our part to really put Mr. Gorbachev to the test."
Bush's proposals were touted in advance by White House officials as dramatic new ideas to counter Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's recent offers of unilateral troop and weapons reductions.
"Now if the Soviet Union accepts this fair offer, the results would dramatically increase stability on the continent and transform the military map of Europe," Bush said. "We can and must begin now to set out a new vision for Europe at the end of this century."
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a central figure in the NATO dispute over proposals to modernize the Western alliance's short-range missiles, immediately hailed Bush's "great initiative for rapidly reducing conventional arms."
Said Kohl: "President Bush has today paved the way for further success of our alliance. I congratulate him on this far-sighted step, with which he has once more impressively affirmed the U.S. leadership."
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Bush's plan had "transformed the summit" but she warned that "the interim period will be a time of vulnerability and risk" that requires maintaining a sufficiency of short-range nuclear missiles on the continent.