ENHANCING NUCLEAR SECURITY (Senate - September 21, 1998)

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Mr. DASCHLE. Madam President, over the course of the past several months, I have come to the Senate floor on three occasions to discuss what I believe is the most important national security challenge we face today--reducing the risks associated with the spread and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. The depth and urgency of this challenge were dramatically illustrated in a recent article from Scientific American by Drs. Bruce Blair, Harold Feiveson, and Frank von Hippl. I am quoting from that article:

[M]ilitary technicians at a handful of radar stations across northern Russia saw a troubling blip suddenly appear on their screens. A rocket, launched from somewhere off the coast of Norway, was rising rapidly through the night sky. Well aware that a single missile from a U.S. submarine plying those waters could scatter eight nuclear bombs over Moscow within 15 minutes, the radar operators immediately alerted their superiors. The message passed swiftly from Russian military authorities to the Russian President, who holding the electronic case that could order the firing of nuclear missiles in response, hurriedly conferred by telephone with his top advisors. For the first time ever, that nuclear briefcase was activated for emergency use.

For a few tense minutes, the trajectory of the mysterious rocket remained unknown to the worried Russian officials. Anxiety mounted when the separation of multiple rocket stages created an impression of a possible attack by several missiles. But the radar crews continued to track their targets, and just a few minutes short of the procedural deadline to respond to an impending nuclear attack, senior military officers determined that the rocket was headed far out to sea and posed no threat to Russia.

As I noted, this chilling excerpt was not taken from Tom Clancy's latest techno-thriller. It happened. The event described did not occur during the heart of the Cold War. It happened January 25, 1995. It was not an isolated incident. According to public sources, Russian nuclear missiles have automatically switched to launch mode several times.

A look at the record since the January 25, 1995 incident demonstrates that, if anything, our concerns about Russia's early warning system, command and control system, and the morale of the people assigned to operate these systems, have only grown. That record is clear. No longer should anyone believe Russia's nuclear forces are exempt from the neglect and disarray that has been experienced by her conventional forces. A leading member of the Russian parliament, Lev Rokhlin, best summed up this deterioration: `[Russia's] strategic nuclear forces are headed for extinction. There are no means to maintain the forces.' The dramatic economic downturn in Russia's economic circumstances will only exacerbate this situation. Some may be tempted to take joy in this situation. They should not. As the event of January 25, 1995 reminds us, U.S. security is dependent on the reliability of Russia's strategic warning and launch control systems.

Reasonable people can only ask the obvious question: with the Soviet Union dissolved and the cold war over for nearly seven years, how can the United States and Russia continue to be one bad call away from a nuclear disaster?

It is precisely for this reason that last September I sent a letter to the Congressional Budget Office asking them to assess the budget and security consequences of a series of measures designed to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and the likelihood that they will ever be used. On Friday I received preliminary results from CBO on one means to accomplish this objective--improving Russia's confidence that it is not under attack by providing it with a global awareness of missile launches.

CBO reaches several conclusions in its report. First, there are a number of deficiencies in Russia's ground- and satellite-based early-warning systems. According to CBO, `Russia's early warning radars will not detect all missile attacks, especially missiles launched on shallow trajectories from submarines.' The situation is similar with respect to Russia's space-based platforms. Quoting CBO, `Russia's satellite-based early-warning system also has shortcomings . . . CBO has estimated that its [satellite] fleet currently provides coverage of the U.S. missile fields for less than 17 hours a day. Thus, Russia cannot depend on its fleet to detect a U.S. missile launch.' Second, CBO states that, `shortcomings in Russia's early-warning system can have a direct effect on the security of the United States.' Nothing demonstrates this reality better than the Norwegian missile launch. Third, there are a variety of options available to the United States and Russia to address deficiencies in Russia's early warning system. Although CBO rightly asserts that further study is required to ensure that U.S. security is enhanced, not compromised, CBO lays out 5 options for U.S. policymakers. I ask that all of my colleagues take a look at this excellent study.

It must be noted at this point that during the recently concluded U.S.-Russia summit, just days before CBO released its analysis to me, the Administration and the Russians reached agreement to implement the first of CBO's 5 options--sharing early warning information on the launch of ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles. I commend the Administration for this initiative. I believe it is a small but useful step. However, it does not fully address the underlying weaknesses in Russia's early warning systems. The proposal will give the Russians access to some of our early warning data but does nothing to improve Russia's own ability to collect and assess this same information.

Therefore, much more needs to be done, not only in the area of early warning but elsewhere, if we are to reduce the risk of the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction to an acceptable level. As I stand here today--nearly 8 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War--the United States and Russia still possess nearly 14,000 strategic nuclear weapons and tens of thousands of tactical nuclear weapons. Even more alarming, both sides keep the vast majority of their strategic weapons on a high level of alert, greatly increasing the likelihood of an unauthorized or accidental launch.

Russia's current economic and fiscal woes only add to my sense of concern. Numerous press accounts point out that Russia's early warning sensors are aging and incomplete, its command and control system is deteriorating, and the morale of the personnel operating these systems is suffering as a result of lack of pay and difficult working conditions. The Washington Post ran an article just yesterday that illustrates how increasingly dire economic circumstances in Russia affect U.S. security. According to the Post, street protests are popping up all over Russia, including a town called Snezhinsk, home of a nuclear weapons laboratory where workers said they have not been paid for 5 months.

I believe reducing the risks posed by weapons of mass destruction in Russia and elsewhere must be our number one national security objective in the post-Cold War era. In this regard, there are 3 initiatives the United States could take immediately that begin to address these risks: de-alerting a portion of the U.S. and Russian strategic and nuclear weapons, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and pushing for much deeper reductions in nuclear weapons than currently contemplated in START II.

However, these measures alone are not enough. We must vigorously pursue other possible avenues, many of which may lie outside the traditional arms control process. Therefore, I have asked the Congressional Budget Office to explore the budgetary and security implications of numerous other `non-traditional' proposals. I understand this work is nearing completion and hope to report back to the Senate on CBO's findings before we adjourn. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration in the next session of Congress to fully explore these proposals.

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