Jump-START: Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers

Arms Control Today, January/February 1999 | Go to article overview

Jump-START: Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers


On February 25, the Committee on Nuclear Policy released a report, entitled Jump-START. Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers, to address the current impasse in strategic nuclear arms control exemplified by Russia's delay in ratifying START II. Nuclear dangers inside Russia are expanding too quickly to be addressed by the formal treaty negotiation process alone, argues the committee. To supplement treaties such as START II, it calls for parallel, reciprocal actions by the United States and Russia in three areas: force levels, alert status, and fissile material and warhead controls.

The committee's specific recommendations include: reduction to 1,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each side within a decade (with a later goal of 1,000 total nuclear weapons on each side); cradle-to-grave transparency on all U.S. and Russian warheads and fissile materials; elimination of the launch-on-warning option and massive attack options from nuclear war plans; and consolidation of Russia's weapons-usable materials into the smallest possible number of locations.

The Committee on Nuclear Policy was formed in 1997 by project directors of several independent non-governmental organizations dealing with nuclear weapon policy issues. Its members include scholars, scientists and researchers, as well as retired military leaders and national lawmakers. (See page 19 for a list of committee members.)

Introduction

The Berlin Wall fell a decade ago. The Cold War ended almost nine years ago. The old nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union has been transformed. Nevertheless, the nuclear arsenals and attitudes of the United States and Russia still reflect Cold War postures. Worse still, terrifying new nuclear dangers have emerged as these postures are maintained in the face of Russia's on-going economic collapse.

If the notion of either side launching a deliberate, massive nuclear attack against the other is wildly unrealistic, why have the nuclear doctrines of the United States and Russia not changed? Why are thousands of nuclear weapons on both sides still on hair-trigger alert even though they no longer target each other's territory? If Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev could agree that a nuclear war could not be won, and must not be fought, why have the United States and Russia not moved faster in the post-Cold War period to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange precipitated by a breakdown of authority or miscalculation?

One answer may be that the formal treaty negotiation process, used by the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation to manage their Cold War nuclear rivalry, has not dealt effectively with new post-Cold War realities. The START II Treaty, signed in 1993, aims at force levels (3,000-3,500 deployed strategic warheads) that are no longer appropriate for today, let alone for the 21st century. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has stated publicly that Russia is likely to have no more than 500 deployed strategic warheads by 2012 for economic reasons. Yet, START II still has not gone into force because of opposition in the Russian Duma, where it has languished for the past six years. Moreover, formal negotiations for a follow-on START III pact (with further reductions to levels between 2,000 and 2,500) are likely to be time-consuming and, according to the Clinton administration, cannot begin until START II is formally approved by the Duma.

Treaties have served U.S. national interests well, but the pace of this process simply has not kept up with the expansion of nuclear dangers inside Russia. Senior Russian officials have publicly acknowledged that 70 percent of Russia's early warning satellites are either past their designed operational life or in serious disrepair. Senior Russian military officials also have acknowledged that 58 percent of Russia's ballistic missiles are well past their operational life span. …

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