UNDER pressure to find an agreement enabling President Clinton to hold a three-way summit in Moscow that included Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, American, Russian, and Ukrainian negotiators put together a deal under which Ukraine would surrender its remaining nuclear weapons. In exchange for giving up the missiles and bombs left behind by the collapsing Soviet Union, Ukraine is to receive cash, reactor fuel, and security guarantees. But the deal started to unravel even before it was signed on Jan. 14.
Agreeing on a disarmament treaty was the easiest step; President Kravchuk has frequently agreed to accept nonnuclear status for Ukraine. The problem lies with the Ukrainian parliament, many of whose members see nuclear weapons as guarantors of Ukrainian sovereignty and validation of Ukraine's position as an emerging power in Europe.
Kravchuk promised the Bush administration in the May 1992 Lisbon Protocol that Ukraine would ratify the START I strategic arms reduction treaty and become a nonnuclear weapon state. His position was undercut in November 1993, when the parliament ratified START with unacceptable conditions attached. Until Ukraine accepts START, the most sweeping nuclear arms-control treaty yet signed cannot legally enter into force, because the United States and all four nuclear-armed republics of the former USSR (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine) must first ratify it. Every country concerned except Ukraine has done so.
START does not, however, have to remain stalled, even if the newest accord fails. If the Clinton administration adopts a ``START First'' policy, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the US could agree, as a confidence-building measure, to adhere to the treaty's most useful provisos even without Ukrainian assent. Indeed, reducing the rhetoric directed at Ukraine's nuclear forces might diminish their importance in Ukrainian eyes and the leverage Ukraine might feel it has over Western policy.
To begin the START First initiative, the four countries could invite ``baseline inspections'' to verify the accuracy of the missile and warhead inventories disclosed at the time the treaty was signed. Next, they could hold what the treaty calls ``technical characteristics exhibitions'' and ``distinguishability exhibitions'' where missiles and bombers are displayed so that each side can check their specifications. Since Ukraine has the same types of missiles and bombers as are found elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, its lack of participation will not diminish the utility of these exhibits.
Other cooperative measures to begin verification and long-term monitoring can be started without Ukraine. These include the installation of monitoring instruments around missile factories and on-site inspections of missiles to ensure that the declared numbers of warheads are carried by each type of rocket. All of these steps are required once the treaty enters into force and are not unexpected intrusions on the sovereignty of the four nations.
Finally, the US and Russia can begin implementing the essential part of the treaty - destroying nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. START contains three target dates for scrapping weapons: The first stage of reduction must be complete three years after the treaty enters into force, at which time neither side may retrain more than 9,150 strategic warheads carried on more than 2,100 missiles and aircraft. The second and third stages must be finished after five and seven years, respectively.
According to the treaty's data base, the US now has 10,563 strategic nuclear weapons carried by 2,246 delivery vehicles; and the former Soviet Union (including Ukraine) has 10,271 weapons on 2,500 vehicles. Russia and the US can make the first-stage reductions with no loss in security, even if Ukraine keeps all of its remaining nuclear arms, and even if Ukrainian weapons are counted against the Russian total. Reaching the second stage of reductions after five years, to 7,950 weapons on no more than 1,900 vehicles, is also possible even without the cooperation of Ukraine. The US and Russia would still retain sufficient nuclear firepower to deter one another as well as Ukraine.
Politically, Russia might have difficulty dismantling enough weapons to reach the final START I levels if Ukrainian weapons are still pointed at it, but it is at least technically possible without affecting strategic stability and deterrence. The US would have equal difficulty justifying the elimination of all the weapons required by the treaty until Ukraine becomes a full participant. However, public pressures generated by US and Russian adherence to an incompletely ratified agreement might persuade Kiev to ratify if the implementation of START were not presented as anti-Ukraine.
Even without Ukrainian participation, START I should be effective as an unratified confidence-building measure. There is precedent: Ronald Reagan, who disliked the Carter administration's SALT II treaty, nevertheless refused to undercut its provisions for almost six years. SALT II was a useful accord; START I, with the promise of very steep reductions under the follow-on START II, is crucial for arms control and the establishment of mutual trust between former adversaries. START First; Ukrainian denuclearization second. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.