Time to address details of nuclear arms treaty

March 15, 2002|By Karl F. Inderfurth and Thomas Graham Jr.

WASHINGTON -- Questions are being raised about whether the Pentagon's secret "nuclear posture review" seeks major changes in U.S. nuclear doctrine to include more scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used and the development of new nuclear arms.

The Bush administration will need to address these concerns as fully as possible to put the Pentagon report "in context and in perspective," as Secretary of State Colin Powell has said.

More positively, the document reportedly acknowledges that further changes in the U.S. nuclear posture toward Russia are now possible because of vastly improved relations with Moscow.

This is certainly in line with the stated intentions of Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin to make major reductions in U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear arms.

Unfortunately, the high-level meeting in February between U.S. and Russian officials did not yield much progress in nailing down a formal agreement on reductions.

With the next summit between the two leaders in May, both sides will have to redouble their efforts if Mr. Bush's goal of eliminating "Cold War relics" is to be realized.

The possibility of achieving major nuclear arms reductions got a boost during the visit this week of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Mr. Bush said he now agreed with Mr. Putin that the United States and Russia should sign a legally binding agreement. "There needs to be a document that outlives both of us," he said.

Mr. Bush had suggested earlier that trust and a handshake would do. Mr. Putin wanted it in writing.

Now the task is to turn from form to content.

Consideration of what to include in a new agreement between the United States and Russia should start with successful elements from earlier strategic arms agreements.

The carefully negotiated verification and monitoring provisions in the START I treaty did an excellent job of ensuring the successful implementation of the pact in December.

That treaty, which required both sides to eliminate thousands of long-range nuclear weapons and reach a common ceiling of no more than 6,000, was accomplished under the eyes of U.S. and Russian monitoring teams. START I worked because each side had confidence the other was complying with its provisions.

The START II provision that banned multiple warhead missiles (or MIRVs) is another element that must be considered. Unfortunately, START II will probably never be ratified. And deploying MIRVs on its new ICBM may be attractive to Russia in the context of U.S. national missile defense.

Provisions for dealing with warheads that will be removed from operational deployment and the fissile material from dismantled warheads, a topic not dealt with in earlier agreements, must also be on the table. This issue will be especially important in coming years because nearly 10,000 warheads will be made surplus when the promised cuts are fully implemented.

Mr. Putin stated that any agreement "must have a legally binding, irreversible and verifiable character." The Bush administration has been vague regarding what will happen with warheads removed from the active force, with Assistant Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch stating: "Some weapons will move off and stay in the responsive capability ... others will be earmarked for destruction ... and others will remain in the inactive stockpile."

This fuzzy language has raised questions about Mr. Bush's declared intention to reduce the U.S. strategic nuclear force to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads.

There are also other issues that have not been dealt with in earlier agreements but pose a clear threat to the United States and Russia. The fate of excess tactical nuclear weapons tops the list.

In 1991 and 1992, a set of agreed parallel, presidential nuclear initiatives resulted in the withdrawal and reduction of many of these weapons. It marked a significant step forward. But these initiatives were unilateral. There were no formal agreements or any understandings on verification and monitoring. Today, the United States has about 1,670 tactical nuclear weapons, but we have no clue of the Russian total. Estimates range as high as 20,000. More conservative estimates are in the range of 4,000 to 5,000.

These small tactical weapons are just the ones terrorists or "rogue" states would most like to acquire, as a recent Time report about the possibility of an attack against New York underscored. The time has come to deal with tactical nuclear weapons to ensure they do not fall into the wrong hands.

A legally binding agreement on reducing offensive nuclear weapons -- one that would include strong provisions to verify and monitor these reductions -- would complete one important step in creating the new strategic framework called for by Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin.

Karl F. Inderfurth is senior adviser to the Nuclear Threat Reduction Campaign and professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Thomas Graham Jr., former special representative of the president for arms control, is president of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

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