John Holum
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA)
Congressional Research Service
seminar on arms control
January 9, 1997

I see arms control as a hard-headed national security mission.... Today we have important unfinished strategic arms control business with Russia -- the one country, remember, that could inflict overwhelming nuclear devastation on the United States.

We are only beginning to reap the START treaties' benefits by actually removing thousands of weapons systems. START I's entry into force required Ukraine, Kazakstan and Belarus to formally give up the nuclear option and the weapons left on their territory when the Soviet Union collapsed. They did at the end of 1994 -- and the last weapons left the last of them, Belarus, just last month. But we still have six more years of hard work ahead to implement START I -- verifying that missiles are sliced apart and silos are filled in, and negotiating over treaty interpretation and compliance.

START II -- completing a two-thirds reduction in arsenals, and eliminating the last of those SS-18 missiles -- still has to be ratified in Russia. Quite a few Duma members complain that the Treaty will require Russia to eliminate multiple warhead missiles, and then build new single warhead missiles in order to maintain parity with us.

But they need to consider Russia's realistic options. Without START II, the United States will maintain START I force levels of 6,000 weapons, which Russia could match only at ruinous expense -- and there would be virtually no prospect for negotiating deeper cuts. With START II, they will have actual parity at 3,000 to 3,500 warheads, and -- as President Clinton has said -- we would begin promptly to negotiate further limits and cuts, which could avoid the build-up problem. As we've been making clear to the Russians, START II is the door to START III, and there's no way around it.

At the same time our arms control agenda with Russia has broadened to include the so-called "loose nukes" problem. Remember that the tallest obstacle to someone who wants to make a nuclear weapon is not the technology, but the material -- the highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

Now those critical materials, and related brainpower, are coming out of Russia's weapons program, perhaps to leak through porous borders into the wrong places. The answer obviously is not to stop reductions -- leaving those materials in weapons mounted on missiles that could reach the United States -- but rather to use all the necessary diplomatic, technical, law enforcement and other resources to make sure the experts are otherwise occupied and the materials are safeguarded until they can be used up or rendered useless.

Meanwhile these U.S.-Russia issues are being overshadowed by a danger no less ominous: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical, and biological -- and the missiles to deliver them, to rogue regimes and terrorists around the world.

-- More than 40 countries now would have the technical and material ability to develop nuclear weapons, if they decided to do so.

-- More than 15 nations have at least short-range ballistic missiles -- and many of these are pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

-- Some 20 countries -- many hostile to us -- have chemical weapons programs; another 15 have the capability and motivation. And chemical weapons have been used, most recently in war by Iraq and by terrorists in Tokyo's subway.

-- The case of Iraq reminds us that biological weapons are also attractive to outlaw governments and groups.

-- And recalling the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, we must ponder how even more awful the suffering would be if even primitive nuclear, chemical or biological weapons ever fell into the wrong hands.

Our main tool against the spread of nuclear weapons is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, under which Non-Nuclear Weapon States forego nuclear weapons entirely, and confirm it by putting their peaceful nuclear programs under international safeguards. The NPT was the basis for possible international actions against North Korea's unexplained nuclear program -- and for continued on-site verification that it remains frozen, as agreed.

In 1995, the world succeeded in making the NPT permanent. It is also moving up on universality -- now with 184 member states, and only six remaining outside. Now a major immediate priority, which we want to complete in March, is to further strengthen its safeguards -- adding new technologies and access, such as environmental monitoring away from declared facilities, to make sure that nuclear weapons programs aren't being concealed from inspectors.

The name of the program to do that, "93 plus 2," reveals that we're behind schedule. The decision to strengthen safeguards was made in 1993, after Iraq's clandestine nuclear program was revealed. And "plus 2" meant it was to be completed in 1995. We're continuing to press hard, mainly now against resistance from some of our allies, who seem to be having trouble striking the right balance between the dangers of rogue state nuclear weapons and possible inconvenience to their nuclear plants.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, completed last year and soon to be submitted to the Senate, will add a further barrier to the spread of nuclear weapons.

The United States has conducted well over 1,000 nuclear tests -- hundreds more than any other country. Any tiny increment in knowledge we might gain from more tests is worth very little compared to the value of preventing tests by others, including rogue states who could derive quantum leaps of capability from even a few explosions. To the extent we can lock all nations in place on the nuclear weapons learning curve, we are more secure.

As a further barrier, President Clinton has directed that we intensify our efforts this year to negotiate a cut-off in the production of fissile material for weapons. The fissile cutoff is our best hope of capping the nuclear weapon potential of countries outside the NPT, including India and Pakistan.

Another immediate priority against proliferation is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which awaits Senate ratification, and its implementing legislation, which needs approval by both houses.

Now the clock is ticking -- it must be ratified by April 29, if the United States is to be an original party and influence its vigorous implementation.

Consider why we need this treaty. At least 20 countries -- many hostile to us -- have or seek chemical weapons. They are also attractive to terrorists, as we saw in the Tokyo subway. The Chemical Weapons Convention will give us more information about these threats -- not least by short notice inspections of suspect sites, public or private -- and it will make the information actionable, because even possession of chemical weapons will be illegal, whereas it is entirely permissible now.

The U.S. chemical industry, which will bear the greatest burden of routine declarations and inspections, strongly favors the Treaty. Our military leaders do too, knowing we'll be less likely to face chemical weapons in war. Our law enforcement agencies want its new tools against terrorists, whether here or abroad. And it does not significantly limit our own military options, because we are already carrying out a 10-year-old law which requires unilateral elimination of our chemical weapon stockpiles. So the real question is whether we oblige the rest of the world to do what we are doing already.

The CWC is...a valuable tool. And when we live in a world full of dangerous neighborhoods, we should not deprive ourselves of any reasonable means of protection. Indeed, if the United States, which led in negotiating this Treaty, were to abandon it now, we would not only lose its benefits, but give rogue states cover and undercut our leadership against the spread of all weapons of mass destruction -- just when it is needed most.

That leadership is needed, for example, on biological weapons. These are customarily grouped with chemical weapons. Measured by the potential impact on human lives, a better comparison is with nuclear arms. Chemical weapons become less lethal as they're dispersed. But biological organisms are living things; in the right environment they can multiply. They can also mutate, and resist treatment.

The Biological Weapons Convention dates to 1972. But it has an important defect -- it is virtually toothless in terms of ensuring compliance. So we are now negotiating in Geneva to exploit advances in technology and in arms control techniques, to make this treaty, too, into an effective instrument. President Clinton has set that as another leading arms control priority.

Even though they are aimed mainly against countries, these treaties -- and especially their implementing legislation -- can have important anti-terrorist effects. In 1995, for example, a member of a hate group in Ohio fraudulently ordered the bubonic plague bacillus by mail from a specialized supplier in Rockville (Maryland). The order was filled. But the supplier also notified law enforcement officials, who in turn searched the would-be terrorist's home, and stymied whatever foul plans he was brewing. That happened in part because of a law -- the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act -- that is required to be on the books because of the Biological Weapons Convention.

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The world still bristles with Cold War overarmaments. We cannot hope to isolate ourselves from the easier potential access to increasingly powerful weapons -- through which the belligerent leaders of rogue regimes can hope to place this country, our interests and our people at risk.

For as far as we can see into the future, that will require American defenses second to none. And for the very same reasons, it will require assiduous and creative efforts to control arms. For we have demonstrated in one hard-won agreement after another that when we control arms we control our fat, buttress our freedom (and) enhance our security and our prosperity.

No less than at any time in the past, arms control must be a central element in the kind of unified foreign policy that befits a great power in a perilous world.