Keep Cutting Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

FOUR recent cases in Germany of attempted diversion of explosive nuclear material from Russia are only the most visible aspects of a much larger problem. Against the background of Russia's political and economic instability, the Russian nuclear arsenal, with 30,000 warheads and hundreds of tons of fissile explosives, is the world's greatest source of nuclear dangers and may be so for decades.

Cutting back the Russian arsenal through further cuts in Russian and US weapons is the most effective way of dealing with these dangers. It is far preferable to the risks and costs of maintaining large US nuclear forces to deal with Russian contingencies. More urgent are new measures to stem the current leakage of fissile material from Russia before it becomes uncontrollable. Dangers include transporting nuclear-weapons capability to unstable areas south of Russia and undermining the nonproliferation regime. The approaching April 1995 conference to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also confronts the Clinton administration. The White House must articulate for the first time its concept of the long-term future of nuclear weapons. Many non-nuclear nations want to know what the US will do with its nuclear weapons before they commit to never owning them.

President Clinton's United Nations speech on Sept. 26 and his meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin Sept. 27 will provide valuable opportunities to address these issues. Mr. Clinton can have great impact on controlling the Russian arsenal in the coming crucial months and play a decisive role in assuring continuation of the NPT.

To meet these urgent requirements, the president should emphasize "far-reaching and irreversible nuclear disarmament" as the theme of his UN speech and of his talks with Mr. Yeltsin. The two presidents agreed in January that reduction of nuclear weapons should be made irreversible. They established a joint group to make this practical. It is time to further these efforts.

Far-reaching and irreversible disarmament can best be achieved through three measures:

* Further deep cuts. The US should propose a protocol to the START II treaty to reduce the level of US and Russian strategic warheads significantly below START II levels and, once this supplementary agreement is concluded, pursue negotiations among all five nuclear-weapons states to reduce their forces to minimum deterrent levels.

* Making nuclear-arms reductions permanent. The US and Russia should agree that arms reductions under the START treaties and subsequent agreements will be made irreversible by dismantling all nuclear warheads withdrawn from operational deployment. …