Summit Briefing Paper 97.2
July 3, 1997

Berlin Information-centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS)

British American Security Information Council (BASIC)

Centre for European Security and Disarmament (CESD)

Centro de Investigación para la Paz (CIP)

A Fresh Start for START - NATO Summit Faces Options for Change

NATO heads of State and Government, meeting in Madrid from 8 - 9 July, have a major opportunity to re-launch the nuclear arms control process. Following the declarations of the 1997 Helsinki Summit and the agreement of the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, NATO leaders should now agree on an outline proposal for future nuclear arms control to be presented to Russia during the first meeting of the NATO-Russia Joint Permanent Council.

NATO leaders should support a proposal for START III talks between the US and Russia. Negotiations on START III should:

  • start immediately, independent of Russian ratification of START II.

  • seek an upper limit of 1,500-2,500 nuclear warheads each for the treaty.

  • include tactical nuclear warheads and inactive warheads in this limit.

  • reduce the alert status of all remaining nuclear warheads and implement separate storage for warheads and delivery systems.

An outline agreement of this nature would fulfill both Russian and NATO interests and is urgently needed to re-energize the nuclear arms control process. It would also present a substantial opportunity to implement the cooperative approach to European and global security envisaged in the " Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation". The three smaller nuclear-weapon states could associate themselves with the negotiations, paving the way for negotiations between all five declared nuclear powers on future nuclear arms reductions.

1. Starting negotiations immediately

The first step should be "to encourage the Russian Duma's ratification of START II by beginning now to discuss a START III agreement." Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin recognized during the Helsinki summit that quick reductions to lower nuclear arms levels is possible without endangering strategic stability. A START III treaty could seek mutually satisfactory solutions for areas in which Russia is perceived to be at a disadvantage under START II and thus ease Russian ratification of START II.

2. Lowering limits for warhead numbers

START II follow-on negotiations "should lay out a trajectory to reduce total U.S. and Russian holdings drastically from their current levels of many thousands to between 1,500 and 2,500 on each side." START III could address Russia's concern that she would have to procure hundreds of new land-based strategic weapons in order to restructure its nuclear forces to meet START II limits. START III could contain a proviso against uploading weapons to carry more warheads and would significantly reduce the importance of strategic air defenses. Substantial reductions in nuclear warhead numbers are clearly feasible from a technical and military view point and would not necessitate radical changes in nuclear doctrines.

3. Including tactical and inactive warheads

For both NATO and Russia there are substantial incentives to include tactical nuclear weapons in the next phase of nuclear arms control. NATO is very concerned about high numbers of tactical nuclear weapons remaining on Russian soil because these weapons pose a constant danger of theft or accident. The "loose nukes" problem remains high on the Western political agenda. The recent Russian renouncement of its no-first use policy indicates a willingness to consider tactical nuclear weapons to make up for NATO's conventional superiority.

Meanwhile Russia has made clear its concerns, about the remaining US tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, during the negotiations on the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Up to 200 US tactical nuclear weapons remain in Europe. The number of active Russian tactical warheads is unknown but the total still serviceable is estimated to be between 6,000 and 13,000. If tactical nuclear weapons become part of the agenda for START III negotiations, these weapons can be withdrawn to the territory of the owner countries, reduced and dismantled under verification. The principal goal of including tactical weapons in a START III agreement was recognized by Clinton and Yeltsin in Helsinki when both sides agreed to "explore (...) possible measures relating to (...) tactical nuclear systems".

Inclusion of inactive stockpiles in a START III treaty is sensible because concerns about potential uploading of these warheads have been part of both the American and Russian strategic debates. Inclusion of inactive stockpiles would have the positive effect of making these weapons subject to verification measures, creating more transparency. Under START II, both sides are currently planning to retain several thousand deactivated strategic nuclear warheads. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin opened the door for inclusion of inactive warheads in future arms control agreements when they stated at the Helsinki summit that measures "to promote irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads" should be part of START III.

4. Reducing Nuclear Alert Status

Dealerting nuclear forces is essential to enhance stability and lessen the dangers of an accidental nuclear launch or an accident involving nuclear weapons and should therefore be included in START III negotiations. The NATO-Russia Joint Council should, therefore, also address this question as a priority.

Reducing the alert status of nuclear forces goes further than simply changing the targets of nuclear missiles because most nuclear missiles can be reprogrammed in a matter of seconds. Dealerting measures include steps such as separation of warheads and other measures to physically prevent a nuclear missile from being launched.

The problem of retaining nuclear forces on high levels of alert has recently moved up the disarmament agenda. President Yeltsin, during the signing ceremony for the NATO-Russia Founding Act caused confusion by announcing that "all those weapons [aimed at NATO countries] are going to have their warheads removed". Yeltsin was later reported to have told French President Chirac that Russia, as a first step, would detarget its nuclear weapons which were aimed at NATO members. The second step would be separation of warheads from

delivery vehicles. In a final step, Russia would be willing to dismantle nuclear warheads".

The importance of dealerting has been widely recognized in the US as well. The recent National Academy of Sciences study states that "reducing alert rates, decreasing capacities to use nuclear weapons quickly and with little warning, abandoning plans for the rapid use of nuclear weapon, and deploying cooperative measures to assure states that forces are being readied for attack" should be an integral part of nuclear arms reduction. Sam Nunn and Bruce Blair have also suggested, as a first step, immediate removal of warheads from all but a couple of hundred nuclear weapons as a measure to prove the feasibility of the approach.

A START III agreement modeled on these ideas would create ideal preconditions for moving to P5 talks, involving all declared nuclear-weapon states as the next step. The NATO-Russia Founding Act provides an opportunity for discussions on nuclear posture and doctrine. Thus a minimum of three - and if France opts to participate all but one declared nuclear power - should be joining discussions about the roles of and doctrines for their nuclear arsenals. This dialogue could easily evolve into P5 negotiations on nuclear arms reductions.


1 National Academy of Sciences, "The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy", National Academy Press, 1997, p.6.

2 "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces", Helsinki Summit, 21 March 1997.

3 Ashton B Carter, John M Deutch, "No Nukes? Not Yet", Wall Street Journal, 4 March 1997.

4 Gregory L Schulte, "Dispelling Myths About NATO’s Nuclear Posture", The Euro-Atlantic Foundation, 21 February 1997.

5 Adam Tanner, "Russia doesn't rule out first-strike use of nukes", Washington Times, 10 May, 1997.

6 Otfried Nassauer, Oliver Meier, Nicola Butler, Stephen Young, "U.S. Nuclear NATO Arsenals 1996-97", Berliner Informationszentrum für Transatlantische Sicherheit/British American Security Information Counil (BASIC BITS Research Note 97.1), February 1997.

7 "Nuclear Successor States of the Soviet Union", Monterey: Nuclear Weapons and Sensitive Export Status Report, No 4, Monterey Institute of International Studies, May 1996, p.17.

8 "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces", Helsinki Summit, 21 March, 1997.

9 Even though the exact numbers are still unclear, it is estimated that Russia wants to retain at least 5,500 and the US some 3,000 strategic warheads in reserve. Thomas B Cochran, Robert S Norris, Christopher E Paine, "Progress in Nuclear Weapons Elimination", Paper prepared for Pugwash Meeting No. 221, October 1996; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 1995, p.69-71.

10 op cit.

11 NATO Speech, Remarks by President Clinton, 27 May 1997.

12 "Moskau begann mit der Beendigung atomarer Bedrohung Europas", DPA, 28 May 1997.

13 National Academy of Sciences, "The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy", National Academy Press, 1997, p. 5.

14 Sam Nunn, Bruce Blair, "From Nuclear Deterrence to Mutual Safety", Washington Post, 22 June 1997.

15 For a detailled description of a Comprehensive Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (CART) see Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS), "Next START by CART: Breaking the disarmament deadlock", (BITS Policy Note 97.1), March 1997.


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