BITS Policy Note 97.1
March 1997

Next START by CART: Breaking the disarmament deadlock

Oliver Meier, senior analyst at BITS, and
Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS.

Only four years after the START II treaty was signed in January 1993 and six years after several far-reaching reciprocal unilateral steps reducing levels of tactical nuclear weapons were taken by the United States and Russia, the post-Cold War process of nuclear disarmament has arrived at a cross-roads. 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 have been made legally binding.

Has the post-Cold War nuclear drawdown come to a halt? Did we witness quite natural nuclear force cuts from "wartime postures" to "peacetime postures," consisting of rationalised smaller arsenals? 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 very good. Further steps have become hostage to overriding strategic interests in both the United States and Russia. The United States is preoccupied with NATO enlargement - the second term Clinton administration’s main foreign policy project. Moscow strongly opposes this process. Russia wants to be treated as a power equal to the United States, in a "strategic partnership" as former US President Bush 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 enlargement, linking it to the future of nuclear arms control and conventional disarmament.

However, recent discussions in the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission indicate that some further disarmament might be possible. An agreement was reached that during a March 1997 summit in Helsinki, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin will discuss the possibility of a framework agreement on START III. Rumours are out that initial bilateral talks on tactical nuclear weapons are secretly underway. Nevertheless, this flexibility should not be motivated solely by a desire to justify NATO expansion, thus threatening future disarmament.

This article argues in favour of pursuing existing options for bilateral US-Russian disarmament talks within a multilateral, multi-step, mid- to long-term process of nuclear disarmament. This might help separate these discussions from the US-Russian debate about NATO enlargement. 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. In particular, 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 Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The CART Concept

Discussions on a CART Treaty with the participation of all five official nuclear weapon states (NWS) would have the goal of significantly reducing the nuclear weapons arsenals of these states. CART would accomplish this goal in several steps, imposing reductions on the nuclear powers at different times, but within one framework. Negotiating a CART agreement should start as soon as possible; discussions on a possible START III agreement should be integrated into this larger process. The only major precondition for such negotiations would be a binding commitment by all five NWS neither to develop or deploy new nuclear weapons and not to increase the size of their nuclear arsenals.

During the first phase the objective would be to reduce bilaterally the number of American and Russian strategic weapons to less than a thousand warheads each. This could happen in one or several steps; nevertheless reductions should immediately follow the cuts imposed by START II and be completed by the year 2005 or 2007. US-Russian reductions and especially interim upper limits for future holdings could be agreed in a bilateral working group, informing or consulting the other three NWS in quintolateral talks. 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 stability. 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 disarmament steps for all NWS' arsenals would also be taken. These would include quintolateral discussions about the concepts of "minimum" and "existential deterrence" as well as on the question what would constitute "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 the second step, the nuclear arsenals of all five declared NWS would be reduced in parallel or first in succession and then in parallel. This would begin to fulfill the commitment on the part of the nuclear "haves" under Article VI of the NPT and other international agreements. Based on their discussions about existential deterrence, all NWS would agree on limits for their future nuclear posture and a schedule for accomplishing reductions. The second phase should at least constitute a clear step by all NWS towards minimum deterrence, making nuclear war-fighting scenarios impossible. Ideally at the end of the second phase each country would possess less than 100 warheads.

The scope of CART should not be limited to strategic weapons. Only by including tactical weapons can inequalities between the big two nuclear powers and the other three NWS 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 13,000. France and China possess 80 and 150 tactical warheads respectively. By the end of 1998, when the UK Trident takes on a sub-strategic function, the UK will possess no other tactical warheads. Excluding these weapons from future nuclear arms reduction talks would allow the smaller nuclear powers to continue to argue that the superpowers still maintain far larger arsenals. In the first phase of CART, the number of tactical weapons each country is allowed to keep would be less than 100. Under the second phase, these weapons would either be totally eliminated or be counted against the total ceiling for each country. The possession of tactical weapons is unnecessary, however, if the doctrine of "existential deterrence" is accepted.

National Positions on Nuclear Arms Reductions

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

In Russia, START II ratification is highly controversial. First, START II is perceived as disadvantageous, since it requires Russia to restructure its nuclear triad, building new single-warhead missiles, while the US can comply without restructuring. Russia says it cannot financially afford to do this. Second, START II is perceived as disadvantageous because it allows the US to increase its nuclear arsenal far more quickly and easily if it were to withdraw from the treaty. Third, Russia cites geostrategic/technological problems. Without a coherent and effective ballistic missile early warning system or an effective air defense system, Russia is coming into a position of geostrategic inferiority. Even worse, in Russia’s view, political forces in the US are seeking to withdraw from or change the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Most importantly, however, Russia links START II with NATO enlargement. In an enlarged alliance, NATO could forward-base tactical aircraft with precision-guided conventional munitions or, in crisis or war, deploy tactical nuclear weapons, thus threatening a larger share of Russia’s strategic weapons.

On the whole, however, the Russian government is sympathetic to the idea of further strategic arms reductions, since it could in this way avoid several of the perceived disadvantages in START II. A CART process could overcome most of Russia’s objections to START II ratification by moving to lower force levels and giving the signatories flexibility in the deployment modes of the weapons they want to retain. Under CART, Russia could avoid having to buy hundreds of new land-based strategic weapons, alleviating concerns about the costs of restructuring. CART would contain a proviso against uploading weapons to carry more warheads and would significantly reduce the importance of strategic air defences to the survivability of Russia’s 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 number of nuclear weapons a country possesses. Finally, since all nuclear weapon states would move towards lower numbers, the risk of being blackmailed would decrease. Some Russian military analysts have argued that 900-1,000 warheads would be sufficient to guarantee Russia's security.

In the United States, opposition to 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. However, the US has now agreed to talks about a new framework agreement for further strategic arms reductions. The US Department of Defense is evaluating further reductions of up to 1,500 warheads on each side. 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, Habiger also argues for a more comprehensive approach in follow-on negotiations, including tactical and inactive warheads. A CART agreement would incorporate such proposals by including tactical weapons and active as well as inactive stockpiles. All warheads not dismantled would count against limits in the treaty, and the treaty would include procedures for verification of warhead destruction.

There is a danger, however, that the Clinton administration might compromise with Russia in order 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. As long as both countries' motives are dominated by their respective positions towards NATO enlargement, they will increase rather than diminish distrust; both will add to the likelihood of new division-lines through Europe. Following zero-sum game strategies might very well create new hurdles for future steps in nuclear disarmament.

France and the United Kingdom are still not taking part in negotiations on nuclear arms reductions. French and British arsenals are not limited by any 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 have similarly vague positions about participating in future nuclear arms reductions. The subject is avoided in almost all government speeches and papers.

The French debate about nuclear arms control has changed remarkably since the end of the Cold War. Now, there is a general willingness to participate in multilateral arms control in general. However, there is still substantial reluctance to negotiate on strategic arms reductions, even though the possibility is not totally ruled out. On this issue, the French position remains in essence unchanged since 1983, when President Mitterand stated, as a precondition, that "the arsenals of the superpowers would have to be reduced to a level comparable to those of the French forces".

The French government argues that it needs a "sufficient" number of nuclear weapons for "minimal deterrence" purposes. Current planning calls for a force level of around 400 warheads, however, the French prime minister, Alain Juppé, stated recently that there is no fixed number of nuclear weapons that constitutes "minimal deterrence". This position should allow France to join CART negotiations.

The United Kingdom argues that it needs to maintain a "minimum deterrent" of up to 300 warheads, deployed on Trident submarines. However, the UK Ministry of Defence’s only explanation for the 300 number is that, "When you field the minimum deterrent it is very difficult to do anything to make it any less minimum." Up until 1995, the position on entering the strategic nuclear arms reductions was completely vague: "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." That position changed, however, at the 1995 NPT Conference, when British foreign minister Douglas Hurd stated "a world in which US and Russian nuclear forces were counted in hundreds, rather than thousands, would be one in which Britain would respond to the challenge of multilateral talks on the global reduction of nuclear arms." However, British elections will take place on 1 May, and the likely Labour party victory may result in a British government more favorably inclined toward multilateral arms control.

Even if France and Great Britain were not willing to agree to 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 long-standing claims that this is the basis of their nuclear posture.

Little is known about the discussions inside the Chinese government about strategic nuclear issues. Rhetorically, China has long been the most vocal nuclear weapon state on disarmament, calling for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Thus, involving China in CART should be relatively simple, unless China reverses its long-standing policy. It might well be in China’s interest 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 undertaking deep cuts while China comes into the process later and with much more moderate reductions.


Starting negotiations on Comprehensive nuclear Arms Reductions will be in the interest of all participating parties. CART could support and parallel the establishment of an ad hoc committee on nuclear disarmament proposed for the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD). CART could also, however, serve as an alternative to this highly contentious proposal. By providing reports back to the CD, participants in the CART talks could fulfill the desire from non-nuclear weapons states for progress on nuclear disarmament.

The CART process would 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.


1 Berliner Zeitung, February 10, 1997.

2 Figures on limits to future postures are given as examples; they could be replaced by other numbers without damage to the general argument.

3 Freedom of choice about basing modes would have three advantages. First, future disputes about quotas for ICBMs, SLBMs or air-launched weapons as witnessed under START II will become unlikely, since countries made their choice. Second, strategic stability would be fostered, since each side would be allowed to possess the posture it perceives to be 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. In summary, the freedom to mix idea will be a stabilizing element in a minimum deterrent approach.

4 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.

5 However an exception could be made for China, since China owns only very few true strategic weapons.

6 Paul Mann: "Stalled Treaty Jeopardises Major Nuclear Arms Cuts", in: Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 2, 1996, pp. 70-73.

7 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.

8 Washington Post, January 23, 1997.

9 Jeff Erlich: "Safety in Nuclear Numbers? US STRATCOM Officials Resist Cutting America's Strategic Arsenal", Defense News, February 3-9, 1997.

10 British American Security Information Council: "French Nuclear Policy Since the Fall of the Wall", London/ Washington: BASIC Report 93.1, 1996, p. 5.

11 "Rede von Premierminister Alain Juppé am Institut des Hautes Études de Defense Nationale", dokumentiert in: Frankreich-Info, Nr. 27, 11. September 1995, p.8.

12 House of Commons: Progress of the Trident Programme, Defence Committee, Eighth Report, Session 1994-95, p. 6.

13 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.

14 Statement of the Rt Hon Douglas Hurd CBE MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and

Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 18 April 1995.

This policy note was originally prepared as a Background Paper for the Pugwash Workshop "Problems in Achieving a Nuclear Weapons Free World", London, October 25-27, 1997 and the BITS Workshop "The Future Role of Nuclear Weapons in European Security", December 7-8, 1996. It was written by:

Oliver Meier, senior analyst at BITS, and

Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS.

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. PENN has been set up:

to monitor official discussions about the future of nuclear weapons in Europe and to help making them more transparent

to publish analysis of and political commentaries on these developments

to create political hurdles against developments, which might lead to a nuclear armed European Union

to raise important political questions and to point out problems such as the NPT compatibility of creating an Independent European Nuclear Force and to highlight risks associated

to promote further steps of nuclear disarmament in Europe and the European Union finally becoming a non-nuclear member to the NPT.