US Nuclear Game Plan Needs Soviet Cooperation

By , Joel S. Wit is an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

PRESIDENT Bush's address outlining changes in United States nuclear policy is a welcome development. It recognizes the growing obsolescence of nuclear weapons, advances a vision of the nuclear future, and proposes new means for achieving quick reductions in weapons stockpiles. The plan is a good first step, but much work remains to be done.The plan calls for: (1) removing thousands of ground- and sea-based theater nuclear weapons; (2) banning hundreds of long-range missiles with multiple warheads useful in a surprise attack; (3) deploying missile defenses in cooperation with the Soviets to protect both countries; (4) a joint effort to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands; and (5) canceling new military programs and moving away from the nuclear hair-trigger by taking weapons off alert. The administration's proposal is important for four reasons. It calms fears about Soviet "loose nukes." It recognizes international events - the end of the cold war and the advent of highly effective conventional weapons - which obviate the need for large nuclear stockpiles. It establishes a new agenda designed to drastically reduce numbers of nuclear weapons and the risks of miscalculated, accidental, or unauthorized nuclear use. And, finally, some of its ideas are unilateral initiatives designed to eli cit a quick Soviet response, a departure from more traditional, lengthy treaty negotiations. The plan is a good start, but only a first step toward defining a post-cold-war nuclear policy. * Withdraw and dismantle theater nuclear weapons. This bold unilateral initiative, designed to encourage the Soviets to do the same, acknowledges an already shrinking US nuclear stockpile, the result of easing tensions in Europe where most of these weapons are deployed, and doubts about their military utility. However, the Bush plan merely delays the debate over whether theater nuclear weapons should play a role in North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defenses. The US continues to maintain a small number of air-delivered, nuclear weapons on the continent as a sign of its commitment to Europe. But the trends which prompted the Bush initiative may propel Germany to push for removing all nuclear weapons from its soil. Alternatives are available - the weapons could be consolidated in other countries or return ed to the US. * Phase out multiple-warhead, land-based missiles. The administration's plan would achieve only modest reductions and enhance stability at the Soviets' expense. The proposed ban on multiple-warhead, land-based missiles would erase a Soviet strength and ignore concerns about accurate US weapons on submarines and bombers. And while the US has proposed accelerating retirement of land-based missiles following START ratification, political unrest and technical difficulties may prevent a similar Soviet move. An equitable solution would be to reduce numbers of long-range weapons on land, submarines, and bombers. Such limits would achieve deeper reductions in strategic weapons and increase the stability of the nuclear balance. The US could offer technical assistance in deactivating Soviet missile silos and submarines or relief from START's strict rules for dismantling these weapons. * Joint deployment of missile defenses. The Soviets must be convinced that the US is interested in cooperation, not in achieving superiority, if this proposal is to succeed. Yet, if cooperation is the goal, the current US plan, Global Protection Against Limited Strike (GPALS), is ill-conceived. Its thousands of interceptors would threaten deterrence, cost too much for the Soviets, and require advanced technologies the US is unlikely to share. Cooperation must start on the ground floor. The two countries should arrive at a joint assessment of the threat posed by other country's missiles through sharing intelligence. Then a game plan should be devised, including diplomatic efforts to bolster missile nonproliferation. As part of this plan, the two countries should design the proper strategic defense strategy, build mutual confidence through measures such as regular visits to strategic defense facilities, and identify areas for technology coopera tion. * Control of nuclear weapons. Joint programs for warhead dismantlement, upgrading warhead safety and security, and improving command and control are new proposals. Technical cooperation is possible because of improving US-Soviet relations, and it is urgent because of concerns about the accidental or unauthorized use of Soviet nuclear weapons. But the problem of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons is a global issue. Participation of other nuclear powers should be sought - China in particular, since it may be the next one to suffer a political meltdown. Other proposals should also be considered, including exchanges of information on nuclear stockpiles, reciprocal visits to nuclear production facilities, and joint efforts to clean up plants before shutting them down. * Slowing nuclear modernization. Over the past year, the diminishing Soviet threat led to cutbacks in strategic spending and to measures designed to back away from the nuclear hair-trigger. The president's initiative - cancellation of missile and bomber-delivered weapons and removing aircraft from alert - continues this trend. While these measures are symbolically important, savings will be small since building and maintaining nuclear weapons does not cost a great deal of money. To strengthen the proposal, the numbers and explosive yields of US nuclear tests should be lowered, either unilaterally or through negotiations, to prevent warhead modernization. Also, since the danger of a surprise attack has become remote, the US should remove all intercontinental land-based ballistic missiles from alert status. The Bush administration, by establishing a new game plan for rapid, drastic reductions of nuclear weapons and alleviating concerns that they will be used, envisions a post-cold-war world in which these weapons will play a much diminished role. Reversing the results of 40 years of nuclear arms racing will be difficult. But just as the arms race was the result of US-Soviet competition, racing in the opposite direction may be possible with US-Soviet cooperation.

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