April 3, 1990

START Treaty Will impose First Numerical Limits on Warheads

The START treaty now in the final stages of negotiation improves on previous arms agreements because it directly constrains the number of nuclear warheads on each side, something long regarded as an important measure of the risk of nuclear war, according to senior Bush administration officials.

"Since the early 1970s, there has been a fourfold increase in Soviet offensive nuclear weapons and a twofold increase in American nuclear weapons," said chief U.S. strategic arms negotiator Richard Burt last December.

"Earlier arms control agreements like [the 1972] SALT I and [the 1979] SALT 11 actually permitted both sides to build up their arms," he said.

"So 1 wouldn't underestimate the contribution of a strategic arms reduction agreement which for the first time does what it says it's going to do," Burt added.

However, the accord is likely to have different effects on different weapons, and deployment of some systems probably will increase. U.S. and Soviet officials have recently agreed the accord will not limit spare warheads, except for those atop mobile, land-based missiles.

START also will not limit nuclear warhead production, and the agreement is unlikely to bar eventual warhead recycling. While imposing a cut of about 35 percent in U.S. ballistic missile warheads and a 50 percent cut in Soviet ballistic missile warheads, the accord will allow substantial growth in warheads carried by strategic bombers or sea-launched cruise missiles.

Due to deliberate undercounting of bomber weapons, the treaty will allow planned U.S. production of 1,633 new short-range attack missiles, 1,200 to 1,460 advanced, air-launched, cruise missiles, and thousands of new B-83 and B-63 "gravity bombs." These will be added to the existing Strategic Air Command arsenal of 1,584 air-launched cruise missiles, 1,061 short-range attack missiles, and gravity bombs.

B-1 and B-52 bombers can carry up to 24 of these weapons; the B-2 can carry 20. But the United States has agreed not to put more than 20 weapons on the B-52--a commitment subject to Soviet inspection in peacetime.

Because weapons production and stock piling will be virtually unconstrained, the real limits will be imposed by U.S. and Soviet spending plans. Actual warhead deployments aboard B-1 and B-2 strategic bombers will also be constrained by the Air Force's limited ability to refuel extremely heavy planes en route to Soviet targets.

Mobile missile spares will be limited and monitored on the grounds that they could be prepared for launch during a crisis leading to conflict. However, nothing in the accord blocks the U.S. practice of stockpiling bomber and submarine weapons at secret locations for use in the second wave of a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.

These so-called nuclear weapon "reserves" are typically 10 to 15 percent of deployed nuclear weapons, amounting to a small but significant, uncounted arsenal, according to various U.S. officials. To prepare for its potential use, the Navy practices reloading its submarines from various civilian ports, and the Pentagon has prepared a secret plan, known as "Operation Buggywhip," to reload its strategic bombers.

U.S. and Soviet officials also agreed in the START accord to count two submarine-launched ballistic missiles--the Soviet SS-N-23 and the U.S. D-5 as carrying fewer than the maximum number of warheads with which they have been tested. Peacetime inspections will be allowed to verify that extra or "reserve" warheads are not covertly installed on these missiles.

R. Jeffrey Smith