Nuclear-Policy Nucleus

EVIDENCE is growing that the Clinton administration is giving nuclear-security issues the high priority they deserve in foreign-policy planning.

The evidence is welcome, because the issue continues to grow more critical. Economic instability within and shaky relations among Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, which all hold parts of the former Soviet arsenal, plus the large-scale dismantling of warheads called for in two strategic-arms reduction treaties, could lead to the spread of weapons-grade material to countries that mistakenly view the possession of nuclear weapons as a sign of power or security.

Much of the evidence at the moment is organizational: In realigning Pentagon activities, Defense Secretary Les Aspin has asked Frank Wisner, who played a lead role at the State Department on proliferation policy under President Bush, to take the role of undersecretary of defense for policy. Mr. Aspin has set up the post of assistant secretary for nuclear security and counterproliferation and has nominated Harvard's Ashton Carter to head it. In addition, Aspin has asked Graham Allison, also of Harvard, to

be assistant secretary for plans and policy. Both men have been strong voices in the arms-control and security debates of the 1980s. Dr. Carter also led a team that produced a recent report on international cooperation in denuclearizing arsenals.

Also in need of leadership is the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which could play a coordinating role on nuclear-security issues. Meanwhile, in Congress, six pieces of legislation have been introduced that try to address proliferation.

The lurking danger in these otherwise positive signs is that of turf battles. Mr. Clinton and his national-security team should strive to avoid the infighting that at times dominated arms-control efforts in the 1980s. With much of the nation's attention rightly focused on the economy, it would be too easy - and unwise - for policy development to be held hostage to interagency squabbles.

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