It's time to take a timeout on nuclear arms- control treaties.
They are too slow and too timid. For instance, we started
negotiating the START II Treaty in 1991, and it is not yet even
ratified. Besides, new treaties are simply not needed to get where
we need to go.
On the US side, President Bush has indicated a desire to reduce
our nuclear weapons unilaterally, with or without Russian
agreement. On the Russian's side, the nuclear arsenal is inexorably
declining because they can't afford to replace aging weapons. The
best forecast is that before the end of this decade they will be
below 1,000 warheads deliverable on the United States.
Our focus, then, should be on ensuring that reductions do take
place on both sides, and rapidly enough to assert US leadership in
the anti-proliferation movement. Just announcing that we have
signed a treaty, or even that we have unilaterally decided to cut
the number of our weapons, is virtually meaningless in this
context. It takes years to remove and disassemble nuclear warheads,
and we have more than 12,000 in our inventory today.
The alternative is to remove warheads to strategic escrow, which
means putting them in storage at least 300 miles from their
launchers. It also means inviting Russia to place observers on
those storage sites to note what goes in and whether anything comes
In a matter of three or four years, we could cut the number of
ready nuclear warheads in the US to less than 1,000. Since the
Russians are going in that direction anyway, they would almost have
to follow our lead by creating an escrow on their side.
Once we had the process of strategic escrow moving, we would want
to open treaty negotiations with the other six nuclear powers. The
objective would be an agreement to reduce to something like 200
warheads each, with all of those in escrow under international
observation. This would move the world to a very stable position
where no nuclear warheads would be ready for immediate use, but
warheads and delivery vehicles could be reassembled if some rogue
state acquired nuclear weapons and began threatening with them.
One major impediment to this process is the prospect that the US
will build national missile defenses over the opposition of many of
our allies and of our principal rivals, Russia and China. Until we
resolve this issue, we will be involved in time-consuming bickering
over whether, when, and how we will proceed with national missile