Soviets reviewing nuclear system

September 14, 1991|By Michael Parks and Doyle McManus | Michael Parks and Doyle McManus,Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, alarmed by the rebels' control of the Soviet nuclear arsenal during last month's conservative coup, has ordered a review of the country's strategic command system and new safeguards against another takeover of the weapons, Soviet officials said yesterday.

A state commission, made up of top Soviet scientists, political leaders and senior military officers who remained loyal during the putsch, has begun examining whether the conspirators, who allegedly included Mr. Gorbachev's vice president and defense minister, could have evaded existing controls and launched a nuclear attack.

The commission's second task, Gorbachev aides said, is developing a new system to strengthen the chain of command for using the arsenal of more than 30,000 nuclear weapons.

"Essentially, we relied on the men who had been put in charge of the weapons," one of Mr. Gorbachev's science advisers and a commission member said. "The men at the top proved to be traitors; fortunately, the loyalty of the officers further down the ranks was not tested by an order from above to launch."

Another fear, which the commission is also assessing, is the possible paralysis of the country's defense capability, if the president were truly incapacitated and a rigid chain of command blocked a retaliatory strike in case of attack.

In the chaos of the coup, the Soviet Union "for those three days had no retaliatory capability," said Igor Maleshenko, a Gorbachev aide.

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