IN a deadpan declaration, apparently devoid of the emotions of
the historic moment, the three Slavic republics of Russia,
Byelorussia, and the Ukraine wiped away the Soviet Union on Sunday.
"We ... state that the USSR is ceasing its existence as a
subject of international law and a geopolitical reality," the
leaders of the three states declared.
But the disappearance of the Soviet Union does not mean the end
to its most powerful attribute as a superpower - the tens of
thousands of nuclear warheads mounted on missiles, on artillery
shells, and on aircraft across the vast territory of the former
Union. Those nuclear weapons are now deployed on the territory of
the three Slavic republics and the republic of Kazakhstan.
For both the leaders of the former Soviet Union and the world,
the breakup of the country stirs terrifying visions of the
emergence of multiple nuclear-armed states, and even potential use
of those weapons in conflicts among them.
In Washington, US officials said that one of their main concerns
regarding the new Slavic commonwealth was stable control of the
former USSR's nuclear arsenal.
"We really do run the risk of seeing a situation created there
not unlike what we've seen in Yugoslavia, with nukes - with nuclear
weapons thrown in," US Secretary of State James Baker III said in a
Sunday television interview. "That could be an extraordinarily
dangerous situation for Europe and for the rest of the world and
indeed for the United States," he added.
Thus Mr. Baker, when he travels to the former Soviet Union next
Sunday, will urge that all Soviet nuclear arms be withdrawn to
Russian soil for safekeeping. Many Soviet nuclear arms are to be
dismantled under arms control agreements already signed with the
US, and under the unilateral proposals exchanged by President Bush
and Mikhail Gorbachev earlier this year. Baker is expected to urge
breakaway Soviet republics to pledge adherence to all arms pacts
reached by the former central government.
Both the Ukraine and Kazakhstan have stated their intention to
become non-nuclear states. But both have also balked at the
suggestion from Russia that nuclear weapons be sent back to their
territory, arguing that the weapons should remain and be destroyed
only on their own territory.
The joint declaration pledges that the members of the new
"Commonwealth of Independent States" will "respect each other's
desire to attain the status of a nuclear-free zone and a neutral
state. They have decided to preserve the joint command over the
common military-strategic space and the single nuclear arms
controlling body. …