The Disarmament President

December 29, 1992

George Bush will not be remembered in history as th !B "education president" or the "environment" president," but he is staking a claim on the title of "disarmament president." American and Russian negotiators are wrapping up details on a new

strategic arms reduction treaty that is likely to be signed at a Black Sea summit meeting next week with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

If the new pact (known as START II) materializes, Mr. Bush will have succeeded in putting the deadly nuclear arms race on a downward trajectory that will reduce current arsenals by two-thirds during the coming decade. His major mistake came early in his term when he delayed President Reagan's initiative for a one-third reduction until the Soviet Union was on the verge of breaking up.

President-elect Bill Clinton is a direct beneficiary of the sudden push for a last-minute Bush-Yeltsin accord, and almost assuredly supports it. Last June, Congress overwhelmingly ratified the START I pact signed by Mr. Bush and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that will reduce strategic weaponry by one-third. There is no reason to suspect the next Congress would quibble at a follow-on treaty doubling this cutback that would be signed by a Republican president and embraced by a Democratic president. START II will have bipartisan backing and will save the Clinton administration the burden of reinventing a treaty whose main thrust is already widely accepted.

An even greater beneficiary is Mr. Yeltsin, whose tenuous hold on power allows him little time to dither over details when he is within reach of a pact opposed by military hard-liners. Russian and American arms-controllers have found common cause in pushing for agreements that might induce Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, spin-off republics of the former Soviet Union, to scrap or turn over to Russia their own considerable nuclear arsenals. If the spread of nuclear weapons is ever to be stopped, the world can ill-afford to have three more nations join the nuclear club.

We believe START II would materially enhance U.S. and world security. It would demonstrate more convincingly than ever before that the dominant nuclear powers are determined to combat proliferation of such weapons to other countries by setting a good example at last. And it would establish the principle that this country, as the only remaining superpower, is entitled to a nuclear arsenal marginally superior to Russia's -- not to coerce its old enemy but to provide the means for enforcing a "new world order" on rogue regimes or terrorist organizations threatening a nuclear nightmare.

So let George Bush be known as "the disarmament president." His achievements here stand taller than his military initiatives in Panama or Iraq or, certainly, anything in his domestic record.

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