Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Move to Corral Soviet Nuclear Weapons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Move to Corral Soviet Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

AFTER the initial euphoria over last month's failed Soviet coup, the world is belatedly facing the vital question of who controls the 27,000 nuclear warheads in what used to be the Soviet Union.

Last week, French President Francois Mitterrand injected a much-needed note of urgency into the debate by calling for an immediate meeting of Europe's nuclear powers - including the United States - to "ensure the security of the continent."

President Bush can seize this opportunity to put forward a bold and innovative proposal that could greatly reduce the nuclear risk to Europe, the Soviet Union, and the US, while satisfying political leaders in both Moscow and the former Soviet republics.

Unfortunately, until now the Bush administration has demonstrated a marked lack of creativity in addressing the Soviet nuclear question. Secretary of State James Baker III has called only for a continuation of the status quo - weapons continuing to be controlled by a central authority in Moscow. But Mr. Baker's proposal has two main drawbacks:

First, it presupposes the continued existence of a Soviet "center," by no means a certainty. Under the Baker proposal, if central authority breaks down sometime in the future, control over thousands of warheads could be lost. Second, even if central authority is maintained, Baker's proposal would permit nuclear weapons to remain in the outlying republics, where they could be vulnerable to unauthorized use or seizure by terrorists or local military forces.

From a nonproliferation standpoint, the ideal resolution would be for all the weapons to be concentrated under unified control in a single republic, most logically Russia, where 80 percent of the weapons already are located.

Baker avoided explicitly calling for such a solution - entailing the return of nuclear weapons from the outlying republics to Russia - most likely out of concern the republics would regard it as an infringement on their sovereignty. While many of the republics have disavowed nuclear weapons, they well might resist a call to return the weapons to their giant Russian neighbor.

The worst outcome would be for each republic to take control of the strategic and tactical nuclear weapons on its soil. …

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