President Bush, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and leaders of the 20 other members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact met ceremoniously in Paris last Nov. 19 and signed the most sweeping arms control treaty in history.
The agreement mandated drastic cuts in tanks, artillery pieces, armored cars and other conventional weapons in Europe between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. It was widely hailed as marking the end of the Cold War."What a long way the world has come," Gorbachev exclaimed.
What a long way the world has gone back in the three months since the hopeful gathering that was supposed to open a new era in East-West relations.
Thanks to major cheating by Gorbachev or whoever is running things in Moscow these days, it is unlikely that the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) will take effect.
Also jeopardized by the Kremlin's old-style duplicity are two important follow-on accords: one to limit the number of troops in Europe and another to slash the most dangerous weapons of all, long-range nuclear missiles and bombers.
Basically, CFE was to make NATO and the Warsaw Pact equal in heavy weapons: 20,000 tanks, 20,000 artillery tubes and 30,000 armored vehicles. Because the Soviet bloc had more of them, it was required to destroy more arms than the Western allies.
Even before the signing, the treaty ran into trouble. In a massive transfer, Moscow moved about 60,000 weapons east of the Urals so they were out of the covered area and would not have to be destroyed.
That did not violate the agreement. But it struck the allies as exploiting a loophole, and they sought guarantees that the weapons would not return westward. So far such assurance is lacking.
The Kremlin's second ploy was to provide data on its forces that undercounted them. This is a violation.
Most disturbing was the sudden redesignation of three motorized infantry divisions as "naval forces." Since navies are outside the treaty, Moscow claims the divisions' 3,500 heavy weapons are exempt from the ceilings.
None of the 21 other nations that were at Paris agrees with the Soviets that their maneuver is legal. And they decline to negotiate new disarmament agreements as long as the Kremlin breaches CFE.
Wisely, Secretary of State James Baker has recommended against sending the treaty to the Senate for ratification. There is no chance it could win approval with even the dovish State Department convinced that cheating is under way.
This raises the question of what Moscow is up to. The most likely answer is that Red Army marshals are making foreign policy and that the increasingly unpopular Gorbachev cannot rein them in.
The deep arms cuts were negotiated by then Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who resigned under fierce attack by military and political hard-liners. One must fear that his realistic world view departed with him.
Even so, the marshals have to know that the collapsing Soviet economy cannot support all the weapons they have stashed away, much less pay for a new arms race. So what are they after?
The accord calls for the most meticulous inspection and verification ever negotiated. If it is never ratified, the brass will not have foreign monitors poking around their arms factories and military bases.
And if that is their treaty-killing motive, the world is a less safe place than it seemed on Nov. 19.