THE United States needs to take urgent action to help four former Soviet republics dismantle their nuclear weapons, according to Sens. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana.
In an appearance last week in Cambridge, Mass., along with foreign-policy experts from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the two senators called on both President Bush and President-elect Clinton to cooperate on the issue during the next 60 days.
Senator Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "This is a unique and unprecedented moment in history. It's a moment of great opportunity. For the first time in history, we have countries who want to get rid of [their] nuclear weapons." He then added: "But they may not have this view in six months, so this is a unique time."
The two senators recently returned from a trip to the former Soviet Union where they visited a total of seven countries. They traveled to all four of the countries of the former Soviet Union that have strategic nuclear weapons deployed on their lands: Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. Three of these countries want to get rid of their weapons, while Russia wants to reduce them.
Senator Nunn said the US cannot afford to take a recess on this issue during the presidential transition. The US needs to act during the next 60-day period because the Ukraine parliament will be making decisions about the US-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and the nonproliferation treaty within the next two weeks. In addition, Kazakhstan and Belarus may also be making decisions on these issues in the near future, he said.
"What these countries do [in respect to nuclear weapons] is important not only in terms of their own future," Nunn said. It "will set a tremendous precedent - one way or the other, for better or for worse - for other nations in the world."
Nunn and Senator Lugar recommend that a coordinator be appointed to oversee the dismantling effort. Their joint proposal also includes a plan to buy the enriched uranium that becomes available after the dismantling of the nuclear arms.
"This highly enriched uranium now has possibilities in terms of an agreement with the United States and Russia for a sale by Russia of as much as 500 tons over 20 years to the United States," said Lugar, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
ASHTON CARTER, director of the Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School, is project leader of an extensive study on the issue. He says that the more than 30,000 nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union pose a unique kind of nuclear danger the US has never before faced.
"We had faced the possibility of nuclear war between two superpowers," Mr. Carter said. "We had never, ever faced before the social, economic disintegration of a nuclear superpower." The two senators are planning to speak with Mr. Bush on the issue Wednesday. Nunn is also trying to arrange for the two to meet with Mr. Clinton.