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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

US Talks Up Prospects for START III in Run-up to March Summit

The build-up to the 19-20 March Helsinki summit between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin has seen much talk from US officials accentuating the positive in the US-Russia nuclear arms control relationship. In particular, much confidence has been expressed about the prospects, once Russia ratifies START II, for a START III Treaty containing further deep cuts in strategic arsenals.

On 22 January, incoming Defense Secretary William Cohen told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "developing with Russia a statement of principles [in START III] is one of the measures under consideration" as a possible summit initiative. Cohen stated: "[We both] have too many nuclear weapons in our inventories... there have to be significant reductions in the future."

On 23 January, an unnamed Department of Defense official was quoted as saying:

"As [former Defense] Secretary Perry said during his trip to Moscow last fall, the US is prepared to begin negotiations on further reductions once START II enters into force... We are clearly in the process of re-examining reductions that could be made under an agreement to follow START II..."

The following day, Department of Defense spokesperson Kenneth Bacon observed:

"Everybody would like to find strategic stability at lower levels of armaments. We've said it and the Russians have said it as well. What we are doing internally is looking at what...possibilities might exist for us. ... We have also made it clear for some time that we are willing to move quickly to begin negotiations on a START III agreement after START II is ratified. That would presumably lead to [a] fairly significant further reduction in...arms levels..."

On 7 February, following a meeting in Washington of the US-Russia Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation (the 'Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission'), Vice-President Al Gore commented:

"Our focus is to bring START II into force and get on quickly with further reductions in START III... We have started discussions about the possibility that we could together create guidelines for what START III could accomplish..."

Speaking at the same press conference, Russia's Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, cautioned that the issue of START III "cannot be addressed now solely in the context of the issue of START II" - presumably a reference primarily to plans to expand NATO.

Earlier (23 January), Vladimir Ilukhin, the Chair of the Security Committee in Russia's Parliament (the Duma), noted:

"Of course, we must reduce the level of armaments. But the United States should allow Russia to decide by itself the systems it will reduce... We can't allow a one-sided disarmament of Russia, especially...[if] NATO expands to the east."

The same day, the Communist Chair of the Duma Subcommittee on Intelligence, Alexei Podberoskin, stated bluntly:

"In principle, it's a good thing to throw away START II and go right to START III, but START III should be added with America fulfilling different conditions. To begin with, we need to see exactly what the Americans are proposing in START III negotiations..."

Editor's note: on 21 February, the US Committee on Nuclear Policy, an independent organisation composed of arms control analysts and former military officials, encouraged the Clinton Administration to pursue the deepest possible cuts as a matter of urgency. In the words of Committee member Morton Halperin, a member of President Nixon's National Security Council and now at the Council on Foreign Relations:

"Today's [nuclear] policy is a last gasp of a policy that makes no sense today... [T] his 'fire first or a quick second' posture actually promotes the danger of accidental use of nuclear weapons... Our policy won't change until the President confronts the major issue: what are nuclear weapons good for today?"

Committee member Bruce Blair, of the Brookings Institute, emphasised the benefits of one step that could be taken immediately:

"Removing all forces now on hair-trigger alert will eliminate much of the danger...posed by the collapse of Russian control systems... We must urge the systematic de-alerting of both our nuclear forces."

Blair may have been encouraged by the comment of Defense Secretary Cohen on 22 January that it is "very much in our interest, as well as the Russian interest, to try to move off this alert status."

Reports: US works on nuclear deal with Russia, Reuter News Reports, 23 January; US studying deep nuclear cuts under START-3, Reuter News Reports, 23 January; Russian deputies back new arms cuts, oppose START, Reuter News Reports, 23 January; US ready to make 'significant' further arms cuts if START II ratified, Agence France-Presse International News, 23 January; Pentagon studies deeper cuts in nuclear weapons, Agence France-Presse International News, 23 January; Cohen supports further reductions in nuclear arms, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 23 January; Additional nuclear reductions expected after START II ratification, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 24 January; US offers to open discussions on new START III arms treaty, Agence France-Presse International News, 7 February; Reducing nukes - core of US-Russia security relations, BMD Monitor, 21 February; New group urges nuke reductions, warns of control issues, BMD Monitor, 21 February.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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