June 2, 2000
Unilateral Move Is Unwise
Negotiated arms control is only way to maintain weapons balance
By Samuel R. Berger
The United States has made serious progress in reducing the nuclear-weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union and the U.S. through mutual reductions.
Over the past decade, more than 8,000 deployed nuclear weapons already have been taken out of commission. Having a common path for cutting U.S. and Russian stockpiles is important to continuing these reductions.
We are now pursuing a START III treaty with Russia that in combination with START I and II would reduce both nations’ nuclear forces by 80% from their Cold War heights little more than a decade ago.
Negotiated arms-control treaties may take time, but doing so ensures that each side has an understanding of the other side’s intentions and capabilities, and helps build the confidence that is necessary for nations to reduce their stockpiles in a way that is transparent and irreversible. Arms-control treaties help prioritize reductions so that we can focus on getting rid of the most dangerous kinds of weapons, such as land-based multiple warhead missiles. They give our military planners greater predictability regarding Russia’s nuclear capabilities. And the treaties include strict verification and inspection provisions to guard against cheating, so both sides have the confidence to go to lower levels.
As President Reagan often said, we should be able to "trust but verify." That is made possible through agreed reductions. In the mid-1990s, it was the START I treaty and the non-proliferation treaty that formed the legal structure for taking Soviet nuclear weapons out of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Without these treaties, we would have had three new nuclear-weapons states together with more than 3,000 nuclear weapons.
As we consider a limited national missile defense aimed at the emerging ballistic-missile threat, we are far more likely to avoid tensions with Russia and enhance our security if we seek to preserve the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and continue the process of negotiated arms control.
Abandoning this process and unilaterally reducing nuclear forces while building up a Star Wars-like, full-fledged missile defense sounds tempting, but it’s destabilizing. It risks reigniting the arms race and reversing 20 years of arms-control gains.
Samuel R. Berger is national security adviser.