THROUGH air-raid drills, "Dr. Strangelove," the SALT talks, Tom
Clancy thrillers, and myriad other manifestations, the nuclear arms
race has been part of American life for over four decades. Now,
with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the arms race as we have
known it is going to disappear.
No longer will the specter of Soviet weapons drive the US to
pile up more and more long-range warheads of increasing
sophistication. Security in today's new world will require a new
sort of US atomic arsenal, say experts: one smaller and more
flexible than the peculiar logic of nuclear deterrence called for
in the past.
Debate over the details of this new arsenal has already begun in
Washington. On Capitol Hill, in think tanks, and the halls of the
Pentagon, the very tenets of nuclear theology are being reexamined.
"What's the relevance of deterrence theory today?" asked one US
military theorist during a recent discussion of the nuclear issue.
"What is it we're trying to deter?"
Of course, the size of the US nuclear stockpile was shrinking
even before the final disintegration of the Soviet Union. The START
long-range nuclear treaty wrapped up last year saw to that: its
provisions call for a cut in the US strategic arsenal of about 25
percent, to around 9,000 actual weapons.
Talks in new republics
US officials are concerned that the ex-Soviet republics with
long-range weapons on their soil make good on assurances that
they'll live up to their end of the START bargain. A State
Department team is visiting the republics concerned - Russia,
Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan - this week, for talks on START
and general nuclear safety.
Pentagon officials also say that strategic cuts beyond START
will be on the agenda. President Bush, for instance, has proposed
eliminating multiple-warhead land-based missiles. "We've already
started to discuss this with the republics," said Pentagon
spokesman Pete Williams last week.
The still-open question is how far these inevitable nuclear cuts
will go. Bidding starts at around 5,000 warheads. For instance, an
advisory panel of experts convened by the commander in chief of US
strategic forces, Air Force Gen. Lee Butler, has drawn up a report
recommending a 50 percent stockpile reduction (around 4,500
A National Academy of Sciences report released last fall called
for a quick reduction to 3,000 or 4,000 warheads, aiming at an
ultimate stockpile of around 1,000. Some experts would go farther.
"I wouldn't see any problem in cutting our force level to a couple
hundred weapons," says George Rathjens, a professor in the Defense
and Arms Control Program at MIT. …