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US Experts Applaud Weapons Deal with Russia - 2002-05-16

American experts are applauding the recently-announced nuclear weapons cuts from Washington and Moscow, but warn they do not mean that the nuclear threat from Russia is over. Speaking in Washington recently, two U.S. analysts say that following the end of the Cold War, Russia's own interests may be producing a different kind of threat - the threat of nuclear proliferation driven by economic pressures.

Richard Perle, chairman of a civilian group that advises the Pentagon on security issues, says the arms cuts announced earlier this week reflect the fact that the United States and Russia are no longer Cold War adversaries. "The point is the size, character, disposition of our nuclear arsenal should no longer bear any significant relationship to the size, character and disposition of the Russian nuclear arsenal, because we are no longer in that relationship where we have to calculate how many of our weapons would survive a first strike - that vocabulary of the past should be firmly in the past," he said. Mr. Perle also is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy and served as an assistant U.S. defense secretary for international security affairs in the Reagan administration. He says one major contentious issue is Washington's accusation that Russia is selling nuclear materials to countries like Iran. "So, I think we need to say clearly and unambiguously that this is threat to us," he said. "Whether you regard it as a threat to you or not, we want to talk about ways that we can bring it to a halt."

As a response to this problem, Mr. Perle suggested that the two countries discuss compensation to Russia for income lost because of its restraint on arms sales. "Define your interests and let's talk about how those interests can be accommodated to ours," said Richard Perle. "And as I was suggesting earlier, I would not rule out sharing the financial burden that results from forgoing a market that, for them is just a market, but for us is potentially very dangerous."

Lawyer Mark Medish, former senior director of Russian, Ukranian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, agrees with Mr. Perle. But Mr. Medish says one incentive could be relieving Russia of Soviet-era debt. "It is a burden on the new Russian economy," he said. "It is a legacy of the Soviet period. And there may be creative ways to link debt relief to other policy objectives, including cooperative threat reduction, that is containing the nuclear threat, the risk coming from fissile material in Russia."

Both experts applauded the Bush administration for its current policy toward Russia. Mr. Medish says President Bush has shifted his administration's stance for the better, using the metaphor of a university student who gets a chance to improve his examination score. "He's [Bush] been allowed to re-take the exam, and he's going to get a pass or even a high-pass depending on how things go this year," he said. "One concrete example, it looks like we will get an arms control treaty. This was the president who basically said, "read my lips, no new treaties." So, he's studied."

Following summit meetings in Washington and at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas last November, President Bush heads to Russia next week - for meetings with Mr. Putin in Moscow and in the Russian president's hometown, St. Petersburg.