WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney predicted yesterday that the Soviet economy would continue to collapse in the coming year and that internal unrest and the rise of military rule could pose new threats to the United States.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Cheney also expressed pessimism about the progress of arms control talks, questioned Soviet trustworthiness in observing a treaty to reduce non-nuclear forces and contended that Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev had failed to institute any meaningful economic reform.
"The economic situation in the Soviet Union today is as bleak as it has been perhaps in the last 50 years," he said. "And in spite of all the grief that the Soviet people are currently being subjected to because of the failures of their government to undertake meaningful reform, we still see that the Soviet military is insisting upon retaining an excessive claim to Soviet resources and insisting upon continuing to modernize and upgrade their forces."
Mr. Cheney's decidedly downbeat assessment came as the Bush administration formally began selling its $1.45 trillion budget for the coming fiscal year to Congress.
Although the administration has requested $285.6 billion to fund the Pentagon's budget needs -- an $18 billion drop from the current year's level that does not factor in the cost of the Persian Gulf war -- Mr. Cheney painted a grim picture of the future of superpower relations, arguing that the United States should not lower its guard.
"The Warsaw Pact is dead," he said of the Soviet-led defense bloc that faced NATO for a generation. But Mr. Cheney warned of new threats posed by the possible disintegration of the Soviet Union itself.
"Civil war in the Soviet Union means that the greatest threat to the neighbors of the Soviet Union in the future may well come from the Soviet inability to control events inside the Soviet Union than it will from any conscious policy of seeking to expand their influence by military means," he said.