Beyond START

THE Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) is an important step forward for arms control. It will produce: 10 percent to 30 percent reductions in long-range nuclear arms and deeper cuts in some of the most threatening systems.

Exchange of substantial information on each side's nuclear forces.

Procedures to ensure verification of its provisions, including on-site inspections.

An impetus to end the superpower arms race.

Despite these achievements, START I will leave both sides with more weapons than they had in 1982 when the START negotiations began. Moreover, some key issues have been left unresolved, including the fate of sea-launched cruise missiles and mobile land-based missiles with multiple warheads.

Once ratification of START is completed - probably not before mid-1991 - the United States and the Soviet Union will face a choice among three fundamentally different options:

1. Use the START I framework to produce additional reductions in START II.

2. Move on to other kinds of arms-control treaties, dealing with specific weapons systems or issue areas.

3. Seek much deeper, unilateral reductions.

Under Option 1, the START II negotiations would begin where START I left off. For example, the overall limit of some 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads could be lowered by mutual consent to 3,000 for each side. The new negotiations could eliminate the many exceptions and bizarre counting rules in START I that enable each side to deploy thousands more than the advertised 6,000 nuclear weapons.

In addition, the two countries could conclude agreements on difficult issues skirted in START I. For example, a START II agreement could place firmer limits - or preferably an outright ban - on nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles. This second round could also eliminate mobile land missiles with multiple warheads. The agreement could deal with qualitative limits avoided in START I, including prohibiting maneuverable reentry vehicles and missiles with a ``depressed'' or low flight trajectory that reduces flight time to targets. Such steps would greatly enhance nuclear stability by slowing the march of technology.

However, rather than work toward a comprehensive START II agreement, which is likely to take many years, the US and Soviets could negotiate series of separate, more limited agreements. Some of the elements discussed in Option 1 could be dealt with in separate agreements. Other potential treaties include:

A comprehensive test ban to end all nuclear testing.

Limits or a ban on antisatellite weapons.

Elimination of nuclear weapons on all surface naval vessels.

Elimination of nuclear weapons in Europe.

Tightened limits on space defenses.

Significant reductions in conventional weapons.

A ban on depressed-trajectory missiles.

Limits on the sale and transfer of conventional weapons and ballistic-missile technology.

Strengthened nuclear nonproliferation accords.

This approach could enable the two sides to concentrate on limiting technological advances rather than focusing on numbers and counting rules. It could be a more effective brake on the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons. More limited treaties would also be easier to verify than comprehensive treaties.

Yet many argue that it is time to move beyond the limited agreements produced in laborious bilateral negotiations. The end of the cold war could make deep, unilateral reductions in both nuclear weapons and military spending politically possible.

One approach would be to cut US strategic nuclear weapons to a level of 1,000 or fewer. This level would be sufficient to deter any nuclear attack on the US, while leaving behind the sterile, expensive, and dangerous nuclear arms policies of the past. The Soviet Union might or might not match the US level; any imbalance of numbers would be irrelevant. However, given their financial problems, the Soviets would probably begin their own unilateral nuclear reductions - as they already have in the conventional-weapons sphere.

Another approach would be to cut the $300 billion US military budget in half, by the end of the decade or sooner. This option is particularly attractive considering that some 40 percent to 60 percent of the US military budget has been allocated to preparing a defense against a large-scale Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

The rapidly changing international climate and the breakup of the Warsaw Pact mean that the US should move promptly to one of the options outlined above - or a combination of options - immediately after START I is ratified. Events and budgetary pressures demand no less.

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