US Faces More-Complex Arms Control Talks
Discussions on chemical weapons and nuclear proliferation involve many nations
THE long-range START pact focused on readily defined large weapons, and was negotiated between two parties. The next US arms control concerns - chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, third-world weapons sales - involve multination talks and inherently concealable technologies."We're getting into the hard part of arms control now," says a United States official. "The big bilaterals were duck soup compared to the multilateral chemical negotiations, for instance." Traditional arms talks between the US and the Soviet Union will likely continue in the near future. President Bush and Soviet President Gorbachev issued a statement saying as much after their June 1990 summit. But they will also probably coast for some time, as both sides recuperate from the long START negotiations. "Once we've signed the treaty we sit down and talk about having talks. My sense is we will not immediately jump into START 2," says the official. Few dispute the historic nature of the START pact. It is the first agreement that would result in the actual destruction of some long-range weapons, instead of just capping future growth. It is expected to pass muster with the US Senate relatively easily, despite some criticism from Sen. Jesse Helms (R) and other conservatives. Some liberal proponents of arms control, while they support the treaty, complain it doesn't go far enough. They point out that reductions in long-range warheads would total about 30 percent of US and Soviet stockpiles, rather than the 50 percent advertised as the treaty's original goal. Modernization of nuclear weapon systems would continue. The START treaty is "a relic of the cold war," judges a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis, "an overly complex and technical approach to arms control."Skip to next paragraph
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Cutting stockpiles START will reduce superpower nuclear weapons down to an estimated combined total of about 16,000 warheads. Many private arms control analysts would like to see much deeper reductions, plus constraints on such threatening weapons as mobile multiwarhead missiles, or perhaps antisatellite weapons. "The foundation START sets for future arms control agreements is very worthwhile," says Dr. Joseph Lyou, director of the private START-Watch Project. But in the US State Department the exhaustion over nuclear arms talks is palpable. The START treaty was almost complete a year ago, when Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev met in Washington. Wrapping up the final details was a painful 12-month process involving many late-night negotiations and much pointed prodding by senior officials. Officials say there is a body of opinion in the US government that thinks START will be the last big superpower arms agreement, at least for a number of years, and that in any case arms negotiations are no longer central to the US-USSR relationship. That would shift the focus of arms control to multilateral talks, where progress will be even tougher. Consider the "Open Skies" talks on aerial inspections of NATO and former Warsaw Pact nations, which opened last year to much optimism that an accord could be quickly reached. Instead, the talks have bogged down over such details as what type of sensors overflying aircraft will be allowed to carry.
Chemical weapons talks With 22 nations participating, the Open Skies talks are a cozy chat compared with the negotiations for a global ban on chemical weapons. Held in Geneva under the auspices of the UN Conference on Disarmament, the chemical talks involve participants from 39 nations and observers from 34 more. With a crowd this big, the talks are having a very difficult time dealing with how a treaty oversight council would be structured, and who would pay for treaty implementation, among other obstacles. Progress has been made in recent months - largely through the US dropping positions that were widely resisted, such as one that would have allowed the US to maintain a small stockpile of chemical weapons after a treaty went into effect to deter nonsig-natory nations. But hardly anyone involved believes a treaty will be wrapped up this year, as President Bush has long said he wants.