NOTHING could be more central to our national security than making sure that nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them do not fall into the hands of hostile states or terrorist groups. With thousands of nuclear weapons and hundreds of tons of weapons-usable materials built up over four decades of cold-war bomb building, the United States and Russia bear a special responsibility for solving this global problem. At their September summit, President Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin agreed on new steps in five areas.
First, we are dismantling nuclear arsenals. The US has cut its strategic nuclear forces by 50 percent and its tactical nuclear forces by 90 percent. We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help states of the former Soviet Union blow up missile silos, dismantle nuclear submarines, and ship warheads back to the dismantlement sites. Some 360 nuclear warheads have been shipped from Ukraine to Russia for dismantlement - much faster than the agreed rate. The two presidents agreed to begin taking warheads off the missiles limited by the START II treaty as soon as the treaty is ratified, and to discuss deeper reductions.
Second, we are securing nuclear materials. Last month, the first joint US-Russian assessment of security for weapons-usable materials was conducted at a massive plutonium storage facility in Siberia. That effort, which follows a Russian visit to a comparable US plutonium storage site, will initiate a program to cooperate with Russia in finding and addressing whatever urgent security problems exist in our nuclear complexes. We also initiated a lab-to-lab program. Scientists who once designed bombs to target against each other are working shoulder-to-shoulder to ensure control of nuclear materials. By February, new safeguard systems will be in place at Russia's first nuclear-weapons laboratory and at its largest independent nuclear institute. The US, Russia, and other countries are also working to stop the deadly traffic in nuclear materials - expanding cooperation in law enforcement, intelligence, customs, and export controls.