ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF UNILATERAL ARMS CONTROL POLICY
Unilateral action in the arms control arena can have beneficial effects, especially by accelerating reductions. This “accelerator effect” was in fact one of the core rationales for the 1991/92 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives: they enabled tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons to be removed quickly from a status of operational readiness. Thus, at a time of crisis, when the Soviet Union was breaking apart rapidly, these unilateral initiatives conducted in parallel between the United States and Russia addressed wide-ranging concerns about accidental or unauthorized use of these weapons.
The beneficial effects of unilateral actions are not unvarnished, however. Difficulties come in the implementation of unilateral arms reductions, because there is no agreement about how they will be conducted, or indeed about what will be included in the reduction process. In the implementation of the 1991/92 declarations, for example, Russia and the United States ended up with two quite different approaches to the reductions. For budgetary reasons, the United States ceased training and operational activities to support non-strategic nuclear warheads on the vast majority of its naval surface platforms once the weapons had been removed from deployment.
Russia, in contrast, continued to train and conduct operational activities even after the weapons were removed. According to Russian naval officers, unless there is a legally-binding arms control agreement, Russian law and naval procedure forbids them from changing their practices—in other words, the ships continue to operate as if nuclear weapons were