INESAP Information Bulletin
No. 12/1997

 Next START by CART:
Breaking the disarmament deadlock

 von Oliver Meier & Otfried Nassauer




Only four years after the START-II treaty was signed in January 1993 and only six years after several far-reaching unilateral reciprocal steps on disarming tactical nuclear weapons were taken by both the United States and Russia the post-Cold War process of nuclear disarmament has arrived at a cross-road. Moscow still has not ratified START-II, and prospects that it will do so in the near future are dim. None of the unilateral disarmament steps has been made legally binding.

Has the post-Cold War nuclear drawdown come to a halt? Did we simply witness quite natural nuclear force cuts into "wartime postures", which were reduced to normal "peacetime postures", consisting of rationalised smaller capabilities and driven by economy to force ratios? Or is there still some chance for a protracted, mid- to long-term process of sustainable nuclear disarmament?

At first sight, prospects for nuclear disarmament do not seem to be very good. Further steps have become hostage to overriding strategic interests in both the United States and Russia. While the United States is preoccupied with NATO enlargement, the Clinton administration’s second term main foreign policy project. Moscow is strongly opposing such a development. Russia wants to be treated as a power equal to the United States, in a "strategic partnership" as former U.S. President Bush had promised in 1991. The Kremlin wants to develop a future European Security Architecture first and have NATO-Russia relations settled before any decision about new NATO-members is taken. It has carefully orchestrated its opposition to NATO-extension, linking it to the future of nuclear arms control and conventional disarmament.

However recent discussions in the Gore-Tschernomyrdin Commission indicate the possibility that both, the U.S. and Russia, might add some flexibility to their positions. An agreement was reached, that during March, 1997 summit in Helsinki Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin will discuss the possibility of a framework agreement on START-III negotiations2. Rumours are out, that initial bilateral talks on tactical nuclear weapons are secretly underway. Nevertheless, political motives for such renewed flexibility could from the outset damage the longer-term prospects for nuclear disarmament.

The Clinton administration might intend to compromise with Russia to make NATO enlargement more acceptable to the Kremlin, while the Yeltsin government, knowing that it does not possess the means to prohibit NATO-expansion, might seek the highest political prize for tolerating a larger Western alliance. Thus, there is no true common interest in nuclear disarmament. If the outcome of this approach is a new political division line in Europe, this might very well create new hurdles for future steps in nuclear disarmament.

This article argues, in favour of binding the existing options for bilateral U.S.-Russian disarmament talks into a multi-step, mid- to long-term process of nuclear disarmament, separated from discussions about NATO-extension. This would sharply increase the prospects for and benefits of sustainable nuclear disarmament. We argue that the START-process should be followed by a Comprehensive nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (CART)-process, involving all five declared nuclear weapon states. Widening the agenda of the nuclear arms control process and increasing the number of participants involved, provides an opportunity to hold preliminary discussions about the option for all nuclear powers to live up to their commitments for nuclear disarmament under Art. VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The CART-concept

Discussions on a CART Treaty with the participation of all five official nuclear weapon states (NWS) would have the mid-term goal of significantly reducing the nuclear weapons arsenals these states. CART would accomplish this goal in several steps, imposing actual reductions onto the nuclear powers at different times, but within one framework. Negotiating a CART-agreement should start as soon as possible, integrating a possible START-III agreement. The major prerequisite for such negotiations would be a binding commitment of all five NWS to neither develop nor deploy new nuclear weapons and not to increase the size of their nuclear arsenals.

During a first phase the objective would be to bilaterally reduce the number of American and Russian strategic weapons to less than a thousand3 warheads each. This might happen in one or several steps; nevertheless reductions should immediately follow the cuts imposed by START-II be completed by the year 2005 or 2007. These reductions and especially the interim upper limits for future holdings could be agreed in a bilateral working-group, informing or consulting the other three NWS, as well as within a quintolateral context. The mix of remaining weapons would be left up to the country possessing them: They could decide which mode of deployment they consider the safest and most economic. The ban of MIRVed ICBMs (already agreed to under START II) would stay in place in order maintain strategic stability4. All parties to CART would, however, have to declare how they are deploying their nuclear weapons in order to make verification possible.

During the first phase preparations for future steps to include reductions to all NWS' arsenals would also be taken. These would include quintolateral discussions about the concepts of "minimum" or "existential deterrence" as well as on the question "what would constitute an unacceptable damage to each of these nations?" The main purpose for such discussions would be to develop a common understanding about the nuclear force postures believed to be necessary in different political environments. A positive side-effect could be, that such discussions well might evolve into a substantial confidence building measure, which would be of invaluable help for the next phases.

In a second step, the nuclear arsenals of all five declared NWS would be reduced in parallel or first subsequently and then in parallel. This would signal a commitment on the part of the nuclear "haves" to be willing to work towards their Art. VI commitments under the NPT. Based on their discussions about existential deterrence, all NWS would agree on an upper limit for their future nuclear posture and a schedule for accomplishing reductions. Phase 2 should at least constitute a clear step by all NWS towards minimum deterrence, making nuclear war-fighting scenarios impossible. Ideally at the end of Phase 2 each country would possess less than 100 strategic warheads only.2

The scope of CART should not be limited to strategic weapons. Only by including tactical weapons, inequalities between the big two nuclear powers and the other three NWS can be eliminated. The United States still possesses some 950 active tactical warheads and it could reactivate many more. The number of active Russian tactical warheads is unknown but the total still serviceable is estimated to be between 6,000 and 13,0005. The UK, France and China possess none6, 80 and 150 tactical warheads respectively. Excluding these weapons from future nuclear arms reduction talks would give the smaller nuclear powers an opportunity to argue that the superpowers still own many more than they do. In the first phase of CART, the number of tactical weapons each country is allowed to keep would be less than 100. Under Phase 2, these weapons would be either totally eliminated or be counted against the total ceiling for each country. The possession of tactical weapons is unnecessary, however, if "existential deterrence" is to be implemented.

National Positions on Nuclear Arms Reductions

Currently each of the five declared nuclear weapon states names specific reasons for opposing reductions in nuclear arms.

In Russia, START-II-ratification is most controversial. Firstly, START-II is perceived as disadvantageous, since it imposes a burden on Russia to restructure its nuclear triad, while the U.S. can comply without restructuring. Russia says it is unable to pay for the financial costs associated with this type of nuclear disarmament. Secondly, START-II is perceived as disadvantageous because it the U.S. is still able ways to increase its nuclear arsenal quickly and easily, if the U.S. should withdraw from the treaty. Thirdly, Russia mentions geostrategic problems. While Russia no longer owns a coherent and effective ballistic missile early warning system nor an effective air defense system, she is coming into a position of geostrategic inferiority. Fourth, Russia points to political forces in the U.S. intending to withdraw from or change the ABM-treaty. And most importantly Russia links START-II to the risks associated with NATO-extension. This would allow NATO to forward base tactical aircraft with PGMs or tactical nuclear weapons and thus threaten a much larger portion of the Russian strategic weapons. However, the Russian government is sympathetic to the idea of further strategic arms reductions, since thus it could avoid several of the perceived disadvantages7.

A CART-treaty could overcome most of the obstacles to START II-ratification in Russia by moving to lower force levels and giving the signatories the freedom to choose the mode of basing that they consider "best" under these new circumstances. Under CART Russia could avoid to buy hundreds of new land-based strategic weapons, thus alleviating concerns about the costs of restructuring the Russian triad. CART would contain proviso against uploading options and significantly reduce the importance of strategic air defences for the survivability of the Russian second-strike capability. Moreover, CART would not affect Russia's role as a nuclear power. The symbolic value of nuclear weapons does not depend on the numbers of nuclear weapons a country possesses. Finally, since all nuclear weapon states would move towards lower numbers, the danger of being blackmailed would decrease. Some Russian military analysts have argued that a number of 900-1,000 warheads is sufficient to guarantee Russia's security8.

In the United States’ opposition against a START-II follow on agreement seems to be fading. Until recently, the Clinton administration made Russian START-II ratification a precondition for new negotiations. Meanwhile, the U.S. has agreed to talks on a new framework agreement for strategic arms reductions. The US Department of Defense is evaluating further reductions of up to 1,500 warheads on each side9. However, there is still opposition to a START-III agreement. The Commander of the Strategic Command, General Eugene Habiger, for example argues that further reductions would endanger deterrence: "When you start going below START II level, you no longer are deterring superpowers but then again, who are the superpowers?" Interestingly at the same time, Habiger argues for a more comprehensive approach to follow-on-negotiations, including tactical and inactive warheads in a new agreement10. A CART agreement would incorporate such proposals.

France and the United Kingdom are still not taking part in negotiations on nuclear arms reductions. French and British arsenals are not limited by international treaty. Thus, unilateral reductions made could (within technical limits) be reversed any time. Moreover, both countries continue to modernise their nuclear weapons. Most strikingly they practically do not have a detailed position on participating in future nuclear arms reductions. The subject is avoided in almost all government speeches and papers.

The French debate about nuclear disarmament has changed remarkably since the end of the Cold War. In contrast to the Cold War days, there is a general willingness to participate in multilateral arms control. However, there is still a big reluctance to negotiate on strategic arms reductions, even though the possibility is not totally ruled out. Basically the French position remains unchanged since 1983, when President Mitterand argued that beforehand "the arsenals of the superpowers would have to be reduced to a level comparable to those of the French forces"11.

This position is inconsistent. The French government argues, that it needs a "sufficient" number of nuclear weapons for "minimal deterrence"-purposes. It wants to keep more than 400 warheads. Surprisingly the French defense minister Alain Juppé admitted recently, that there is no fixed number of nuclear weapons that constitutes such a "minimal deterrence"12. Thus, there is no good reason, why France should not join CART-negotiations.

The British debate, too, has been as inconsistant. The United Kingdom argues that it needs to maintain a "minimum deterrent" of up to 300 warheads, deployed on Trident submarines. However, in a recent hearing, no calculated justification for the 300 number was given by the government "When you field the minimum deterrent it is very difficult to do anything to make it any less minimum,13" was the governments only explanation. The British position on entering the strategic nuclear arms reductions is vague. While there is no out-of-hand refusal to negotiate, when and under what conditions this may occur, remains an open question: "HMG have set up no specific trigger point or criterion for entering UK strategic weapons into future strategic arms reduction negotiation. We shall keep the case for doing so under regular review, having regard to the progress on implementation of the START Treaties and other developments in the strategic environment.14" No explanation was given on what these criteria are.

Even if France and Great Britain were not willing to agree early reductions in their nuclear arsenals, they could join a CART-process. The main purpose of French and British participation in the first phase would be to engage in multilateral discussions on minimum deterrence. Both should be in a good position to make substantial contributions given their claims, that their nuclear posture is based on "minimum deterrence".

Little is known about the discussions inside the Chinese government about strategic nuclear issues. For decades, Beijing has called for disarmament steps by the nuclear superpowers. Thus involving China into CART should be relatively simple, unless China is up to contradict itself. Furthermore, it might be in the interest of China to participate. The Chinese arsenal is comparatively small and technologically as well as militarily less capable. China might gain substantial advantages from the CART-process, with the US and Russia having to accomplish deep cuts and China to come into the process rather late as well and at moderate costs and cuts.


Starting negotiations on Comprehensive nuclear Arms Reductions will be in the interest of all participating parties. CART could support and parallel the establishment of the much disputed "Special Committee" on nuclear disarmament to be set up at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament.

The CART-process could also serve to build confidence among its' participants and strengthen the NPT-regime. For the first time, all five NWS would seriously sit down to talk about nuclear deterrence, and the possibility and/or desirability of achieving a nuclear weapon-free world. This fact in itself will de-emphasise the role of nuclear weapons.


Otfried Nassauer is the director of the Berlin Information -center on Transatlantic Security (BITS), where Oliver Meier is a Senior Analyst. BITS is co-ordinating the "Project on European Nuclear Non-Proliferation" (PENN), an international network of organisations and individuals working on European nuclear weapons. PENN is supported by the W. Alton Jones Foundation.


1 A longer version of this paper was prepared for the Pughwash Workshop "Problems in Achieving a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World", held at London on October 25-27, 1996 and the International Workshop "The Future of Nuclear Weapons in European Security", Berlin, December 7th and 8th.
2 Berliner Zeitung, February 10, 1997.
3 Figures on limits to future postures are given for demonstrational purposes; they could be replaced by other numbers without rendering the argument invaluable.
4 Freedom of choice with regard to basing modes would have three advantages. Firstly, future disputes about quotas for ICBMs, SLBMs or air-launched weapons as witnessed under START II will become unlikely, since countries made their choice. Secondly, strategic stability would be fostered, since each side would be allowed to possess the posture it perceives most survivable. Upper limits agreed and prohibitions on modernisation would prohibit a quantitative as well as a qualitative arms race. Finally, such agreements opens up incentives to choose the most cost-effective solution in light of additional future cuts to be envisaged in the foreseeable future.
5 Monterey Institute of International Studies: "Nuclear Successor States of the Soviet Union", Monterey: Nuclear Weapons and Sensitive Export Status Report, No.4: May 1996, p. 17.
6 Once WE-177 free-falling bombs have been put out of service in 1998, Trident is taking over sub-strategic functions.
7 Paul Mann: "Stalled Treaty Jeopardises Major Nuclear Arms Cuts", in: Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 2, 1996, pp. 70-73.
8 E.V. Miasnikov: The Future of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces: Discussions and Arguments. Moscow: Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, 1996, p. 9.
9 Washington Post, January 23, 1997.
10 Jeff Erlich: "Safety in Nuclear Numbers? U.S. STRATCOM Officials Resist Cutting America's Strategic Arsenal", Defense News, February 3-9, 1997.
11British American Security Information Council: "French Nuclear Policy Since the Fall of the Wall", London/ Washington: BASIC Report 93.1, 1996, p. 5.
12 "Rede von Premierminister Alain Juppé am Institut des Hautes Études de Defense Nationale", dokumentiert in: Frankreich-Info, Nr. 27, 11. September 1995, p.8.
13 House of Commons: Progress of the Trident Programme, Defence Committee, Eighth Report, Session 1994-95, p. 6.
14 House of Commons: UK Policy on Weapons Proliferation and Arms Control in the Post-Cold War Era, Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report, Session 1994-95, p. 8.