Eliminating Nuclear Arms Will Take New Resolve

National Catholic Reporter, October 14, 1994 | Go to article overview

Eliminating Nuclear Arms Will Take New Resolve


Russian President Boris Yeltsin made a surprise proposal for sweeping new cuts in strategic arms by all the world's nuclear powers when he addressed the United Nations during his visit to the United States late last month.

In Washington, it sank like a dead weight.

This is unfortunate because the second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remains inadequate, and there is little momentum toward implementing it.

Last month, President Clinton decided he would not push for further cuts until START II, which calls for strategic reductions by Russia and the United States to the 3,500 level, is well under way. The treaty has yet to be ratified by either the Russian Parliament or the U.S. Senate.

It now appears Washington has little desire to push for more serious strategic nuclear weapons cuts -- even though the climate is healthy for such steps.

The world keeps strategic nuclear weapons at its great peril. Lack of an apparent immediate arms crisis should not lull us into forgetting this fact. Proliferation continues.

According to CIA testimony, the "nuclear club" is three-tiered: the five nuclear powers are the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China; the undeclared powers are Pakistan, India and Israel; the developing powers include North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Algeria.

The United States, as the last superpower, is attempting disarmament without committing itself to total nuclear disarmament. Short of such a commitment, however, other aspiring nuclear powers will not enter the conversation.

In his U.N. address, Yeltsin proposed a new "disarmament and strategic stability treaty." The plan would require further cuts of missiles and warheads, a new international agreement to curb the production of enriched material used in nuclear weapons and a ban on nuclear testing.

"This treaty would help break the biggest link in the nuclear chain and guarantee irreversible and predictable movements by all nuclear nations toward nuclear disarmament," the Russian proposal said.

President Clinton, a few hours earlier, in his own address, far more modestly called for a phaseout of the production of plutonium by the year 2000, and U.S. funding for secure storage facilities for missile materials and for buying up Russian stocks of weaponsgrade fuel.

Yeltsin, by contrast, stole the show with his sweeping initiative. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, due to be renegotiated in 1995, should be extended, Yeltsin said, joining Clinton in suggesting that the proposed new treaty should also ban the military reuse of nuclear material extracted from decommissioned atomic weapons.

The Russian proposal followed a decision last month by Clinton to back away from further strategic arms cuts and stick to the targets of some 3,500 nuclear warheads on each side, defined by START II.

What is required? As a starter, the U.S. Senate should ratify START II, though some senators appear eager to dodge the issue as long as they can lest, somehow, they be viewed as being "soft" on defense issues.

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