US Nuclear Game Plan Needs Soviet Cooperation

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Bush's address outlining changes in United States nuclear policy is a welcome development. It recognizes the growing obsolescence of nuclear weapons, advances a vision of the nuclear future, and proposes new means for achieving quick reductions in weapons stockpiles. The plan is a good first step, but much work remains to be done.

The plan calls for: (1) removing thousands of ground- and sea-based theater nuclear weapons; (2) banning hundreds of long-range missiles with multiple warheads useful in a surprise attack; (3) deploying missile defenses in cooperation with the Soviets to protect both countries; (4) a joint effort to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands; and (5) canceling new military programs and moving away from the nuclear hair-trigger by taking weapons off alert.

The administration's proposal is important for four reasons. It calms fears about Soviet "loose nukes." It recognizes international events - the end of the cold war and the advent of highly effective conventional weapons - which obviate the need for large nuclear stockpiles. It establishes a new agenda designed to drastically reduce numbers of nuclear weapons and the risks of miscalculated, accidental, or unauthorized nuclear use. And, finally, some of its ideas are unilateral initiatives designed to elicit a quick Soviet response, a departure from more traditional, lengthy treaty negotiations.

The plan is a good start, but only a first step toward defining a post-cold-war nuclear policy.

*Withdraw and dismantle theater nuclear weapons. This bold unilateral initiative, designed to encourage the Soviets to do the same, acknowledges an already shrinking US nuclear stockpile, the result of easing tensions in Europe where most of these weapons are deployed, and doubts about their military utility.

However, the Bush plan merely delays the debate over whether theater nuclear weapons should play a role in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defenses. The US continues to maintain a small number of air-delivered, nuclear weapons on the continent as a sign of its commitment to Europe. But the trends which prompted the Bush initiative may propel Germany to push for removing all nuclear weapons from its soil. Alternatives are available - the weapons could be consolidated in other countries or returned to the US.

*Phase out multiple-warhead, land-based missiles. The administration's plan would achieve only modest reductions and enhance stability at the Soviets' expense. The proposed ban on multiple-warhead, land-based missiles would erase a Soviet strength and ignore concerns about accurate US weapons on submarines and bombers. And while the US has proposed accelerating retirement of land-based missiles following START ratification, political unrest and technical difficulties may prevent a similar Soviet move.

An equitable solution would be to reduce numbers of long-range weapons on land, submarines, and bombers. Such limits would achieve deeper reductions in strategic weapons and increase the stability of the nuclear balance. The US could offer technical assistance in deactivating Soviet missile silos and submarines or relief from START's strict rules for dismantling these weapons. …

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