Reducing the Nuclear Threat

During President Clinton's first term, the administration took great strides to reduce the danger of nuclear war. Russian missiles are no longer targeted on American cities; the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was extended indefinitely; President Clinton was the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; the Senate ratified the START II Treaty; Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed to give up their nuclear weapons; and North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program. In addition, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 1996, President Clinton made clear his determination to move forward with efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

In his second term, the President can do even more to eliminate the threat of nuclear war, thereby assuring his place in history as a great peacemaker. In moving such an historic program forward, the President would have the support both of many senior serving and retired military officers and of the American people, who have shown their enthusiasm for the actions taken thus far.

Further progress in reducing the Russian and American nuclear arsenals is also critical to maintaining progress in improving relations between the two nations, in preventing nuclear proliferation, and reducing expenditures on U.S. nuclear forces.

A critical first step is for the President to state clearly his intention to continue U.S. leadership in reducing the risk of nuclear war and to direct a fundamental White House-led review, involving all relevant agencies as well as outside experts, in order to develop a full range of options on key nuclear policy issues for his consideration.

The Defense Department's 1993 Nuclear Posture Review focused on force structure and made some important recommendations in that area. However, in the words of then SAC Commander General George Lee Butler, the Review accepted a nuclear posture "completely out of keeping with the profound transformation we have witnessed in world affairs." The new Pentagon nuclear posture review, expected to be a part of the Quadrennial Defense Review, is unlikely to produce a different result. This is because profound changes in nuclear policy require presidential leadership from the outset, as General Colin Powell has explained in describing the major changes in nuclear posture instituted by the Bush administration, including the withdrawal of most U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from overseas bases.

The attached memorandum discusses in greater detail what issues require examination and includes a draft terms of reference for the proposed study. The key issues that need to be addressed include:

1. Is the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons to deter the use of such weapons by other states? If so, should the United States affirm that its objective is the abolition of nuclear weapons? Or, should the United States continue to rely on nuclear weapons to deter some conventional, biological and chemical threats and threats from rogue states and, hence, oppose additional reductions of nuclear forces?

2. In designing and deploying U.S. nuclear forces and seeking to negotiate agreements with the other nuclear weapons states, what balance should be struck between the need to deter deliberate nuclear attacks whether from Russia or China or a rogue state and the need to prevent accidental or inadvertent nuclear strikes? What role, if any, will strategic defenses play, and how will that role be combined to best effect with these other elements?

3. What combination of additional arms control agreements including reductions in nuclear forces, cutoff of fissile materials production, assurances by the international community to defend states if they suffer nuclear threats, and promises by the nuclear weapons states not to use nuclear weapons will most contribute to reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation?

4. Based on the answers to the first three questions: what additional reductions in nuclear warheads should the United States be prepared to accept in a follow-on agreement with Russia? What targets should U.S. nuclear forces be ready to destroy? Should the U.S. move more of its forces off alert and separate at least some of the warheads from their delivery systems, and seek agreements on no first use? What cooperative measures to account for and dispose of excess nuclear materials should the U.S. negotiate?

Once the study is completed, the President would be in a position to make decisions and to announce a major initiative of his second term: to set the world on the path to the elimination of nuclear weapons.