West Keeps Eye on Nuclear Weapons in Former Soviet Union

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 1992 | Go to article overview

West Keeps Eye on Nuclear Weapons in Former Soviet Union


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


With relations between Russia and Ukraine strained and the economies of the commonwealth states collapsing, officials in the West appear more interested than ever in who controls the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union.

Four commonwealth states - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan - possess nuclear weapons. Some Western officials have warned that as the commonwealth's economic situation worsens, the four states may try to earn precious hard currency by selling nuclear arms to the highest bidder, possibly a maverick third-world nation such as Libya. But experts in the commonwealth downplay such a scenario, saying a potential "brain drain" of nuclear scientists and technicians poses a far greater threat.

French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, here on a five-day fact-finding trip on nuclear security, is the latest Western official to visit. His trip follows similar missions by British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and US Undersecretary of State Reginald Bartholomew, who discussed ways to prevent nuclear arms proliferation. Mr. Hurd said on Monday he was "reasonably encouraged" by his discussions with commonwealth officials. "There are problems that will take time to resolve," he said, referring to the nuclear question. "But the will to resolve them exists."

Under the so-called Minsk and Alma-Ata treaties, commonwealth states pledged to maintain unified command of strategic nuclear weapons. All four commonwealth nuclear powers also have indicated they are ready to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In addition, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan say they want to get rid of nuclear weapons on their territory.

But some Western officials are worried the documents and oral declarations of commonwealth leaders will not be fulfilled. Many say the United States, Britain, and France should play an active role in diminishing a potential nuclear threat by helping the commonwealth states destroy their warheads.

Hurd said the West is trying to identify how best it could help with the demolition of the former Soviet Union's estimated 27,000 strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, many of which are slated for destruction under disarmament treaties. …

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