Storing Instead of Destroying Warhead
Will Spur Proliferation
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, spoke with
NPQ in Moscow. Gorbachev is now president of Green Cross International,
a global environmental organization.
NPQ | (US President George W.) Bush and (Russian
President Vladimir) Putin signed an agreement recently to radically reduce
their nuclear warheads. Is this what you envisioned back in Reykjavik
during the waning days of the Cold War when you proposed drastic reductions
to (President Ronald) Reagan?
MIKHAIL GORBACHEV | Well, it is even more than what we discussed
in Reykjavik, of course, because the old structures and inertia of enmity
are now gone.
In spite of its shortcomings-namely, the storage instead of destruction
of warheads-this agreement is a highly positive step. It establishes a
binding legal requirement on reductions for a period of time, and the
terms of the agreement refer to the treaty obligations of SALT II already
in place. In other words, it locks in reductions and all the verification
The No. 1 consequence of the Bush-Putin summit, however, was not the agreement
itself, but rather a rebirth of the atmosphere of trust between Russia
and the United States that had existed in the immediate wake of the Cold
War, but then soured.
NPQ | Then Putin went to Rome to celebrate Russia's significant
new role in NATO. Has Russia at last found its proper role in Europe?
GORBACHEV | The creation of the so-called NATO "20" and
the agreement with Russia in Rome were also steps in the right direction,
though it is not yet the achievement of an integrated European security
space that we sought at the end of the Cold War. In time, I feel certain,
that will come.
NPQ | Are you no longer concerned over the unilateral abrogation of
the ABM Treaty by the US that makes way for a national missile shield?
Putin called the US action "a big mistake."
GORBACHEV | I am still very concerned. Indeed, I remain far from thinking
that we are at the final destination along the route of resolving this
disagreement over the missile shield or the final disposition of the warheads
that are stored and not destroyed.
Recently, I had a meeting with Henry Kissinger. We both agreed it would
be better if the warheads were destroyed. Putin will make sure this issue
is addressed in the future. Perhaps when it becomes practically clear
to the Americans that these stored warheads have no function as any kind
of deterrent-their only possible purpose-they will be seen as redundant
and unnecessary to keep.
But it is a mark of the mature level of trust between the two presidents
that when problems remain unresolvable at the moment, they are able, without
dramatization, to postpone the solution of that problem for future meetings.
This is a new moment in the relations between the US and Russia since
neither side overdramatizes the existence of differences. Political elites
in both countries should follow this example of emphasizing what is common
rather than our differences.
NPQ | Do you share the concern that not only may these weapons be
stored insecurely but that Russia's stock of enriched uranium and plutonium
may leak out to terrorists? It is estimated Russia has enough nuclear
material to make 70,000 weapons. And it has 6,000 scientists, largely
underemployed, who can make bombs if somebody wants to hire them.
Gorbachev | It is very improbable that the stored warheads or enriched
uranium could be stolen. Despite some misperceptions, the security is
very strict. The question of all those scientists who can make bombs is
a more serious issue, though I doubt many can be tempted to build bombs
for other countries. As the former leader of the Soviet Union, I know
what I'm talking about: It requires a great deal of effort and capability
for any country to develop nuclear warheads and their means of delivery.
The best way to stop this from happening is to give universal focus to
strict implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
For me, a far bigger issue is the reaction of other members of the nuclear
club to storage instead of destruction of warheads. They are likely to
think that the big two nuclear powers, Russia and America, are trying
to outsmart them, asking them to forgo or get rid of nuclear weapons while
hiding their own or putting them in storage. So rather than restrain themselves,
they will build up.
That is why the most powerful countries of the nuclear club, the US and
Russia, must pave the way to a less vulnerable world by irreversibly cutting
down the size of their nuclear arsenals.
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