A Slow Journey From Swords to Plowshares

While this summer's strategic arms agreement between Presidents Bush and Yeltsin has been praised as a "giant step" away from nuclear weapons, some have raised concerns that the reductions fall short of what should be done and will take much longer than necessary to accomplish.

"In some ways, this is a public relations gimmick," Gene LaRocque, director of the Center for Defense Information, told Sojourners. While LaRocque praised the accord as "moving in the right direction," the retired rear admiral said, "If they were serious, they could begin immediate demilitarization of nuclear weapons" and accomplish the reductions within two to three years instead of taking until the year 2003 as planned.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has said his country could move no faster to dismantle its vast strategic arsenal because of the high cost involved. But LaRocque's colleague at CDI, retired Adm. Eugene Carroll, explained that the missiles could be rendered inoperative quickly and cheaply if the political will were present. "They could remove the guidance system and pour lead or radioactive material into the [re-entry vehicle] compartment," Carroll said. "The missiles would become just inert junk. The expensive part - the dismantling and storage - could be done later."

Before the Bush-Yeltsin summit, Russian negotiators had called for a limit of 2,000 strategic warheads for each country, while the U.S. team proposed that each country be allowed to keep 4,700 weapons. The final agreement, a "down-the-middle" compromise of 3,000 to 3,500 warheads each, was questioned by Carroll. "In what sense is it in our interest to negotiate the Russians up?" he said. "Why are we safer with 3,000 Russian warheads than with 2,000?"

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