Bush plan hews to idea that arms cuts should go beyond START

September 28, 1991|By Charles W. Corddry | Charles W. Corddry,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- With his new nuclear arms-cutting proposals, President Bush broadly responded last night to a spreading conviction that Washington and Moscow should go far beyond the treaty they signed with much fanfare July 31.

In Congress and among the think tanks and arms control advocacy groups here, it is argued that multibillion-dollar annual savings can be realized by radically reducing the arsenals of thermonuclear weapons and the vehicles that deliver them.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would bring about substantial cuts but still would leave superpower nuclear stocks at the levels of 1982, when treaty talks started.

Proposals have been put forth for cutting nuclear warheads by about 90 percent and also negotiating limits on the much smaller arsenals of other nuclear powers, notably Britain, France and China.

"The Soviet Union has changed drastically in recent months, most importantly in its attitudes and its willingness to work with the United States on issues of foreign policy," the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

"In view of these developments, it seems incongruous that both countries continue to aim huge numbers of the most destructive weapons ever invented at each other."

The CBO described several possibilities for "post-START" reductions, the most ambitious of which would cut nuclear warheads on either side to 1,000 and would save the United States an estimated $17 billion a year over the next 15 years.

Similar proposals have come from the National Academy of Sciences, which suggested an interim reduction to 3,000 to 4,000 warheads and a further cut to 1,000 to 2,000 as conditions permit.

Four scientists who have won Nobel Prizes, acting for the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote Mr. Bush last week advocating that the U.S.-Soviet nuclear stocks -- together totaling about 50,000 warheads -- be reduced to no more than 4,000 by the turn of the century.

Proposals differ in their details -- in what numbers and types of missiles and bombers they would cut -- but all seem to agree on 1,000 to 2,000 warheads as a feasible goal.

If that is acceptable to Moscow -- and the Union of Concerned Scientists says it is -- the argument runs that such stocks would be adequate to deter war while greatly reducing the risks of war inherent in the vastly larger current arsenals.

Most proposals outside the executive branch, including those of the CBO, would cancel the B-2 bomber program and thus run afoul of the White House and the Pentagon.

In this and previous administrations, bombers have been viewed as slow-moving vehicles, suitable for retaliation but not for surprise attacks, which are the province of missiles.

The CBO has estimated that START would lead to savings of only a "few hundred million dollars a year" because it calls for little more cutting than was already planned.

Three days after the treaty was signed, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., said it would "serve our security but not our pocketbooks unless we capitalize on the opportunity to move forward toward truly deep cuts." Mr. Biden is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must pass judgment on the treaty.

In its 1,000-warhead option, the CBO put forward a plan for such deep cuts, in both nuclear warheads and defense spending.

But the agency recognized that the cuts might be beyond what the administration would put up with, so it offered more modest options that would retain more missiles and bombers and reduce stocks to 5,000 or 10,000 warheads.

It said the latter options would save $9.3 billion to $14.3 billion a year over the next 15 years.

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