REDUCING THE RISK OF UNAUTHORIZED OR ACCIDENTAL LAUNCH OF BALLISTIC MISSILES (Senate - November 09, 1997)

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Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, as hard as it is for me to believe, it was 8 years ago this month that the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Who among us can forget the stirring pictures of that moment? The entire world watched as jubilant Germans, separated for 38 years by a man-made scar running the length of their country, breached this once impregnable barrier. In so doing, they not only united Germany, they brought together a continent.

The dismantlement of the wall dramatically symbolized to all that democracy had at last triumphed over totalitarianism. The fall of the wall set in motion a series of incredible events. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first democratically elected Russian President. Two months later Yeltsin disbanded the Communist Party. By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist. And the Warsaw Pact, the once fearsome military alliance established to counter and defeat NATO, was officially dissolved.

After five decades of tension, the loss of thousands of lives, and the expenditure of several trillion dollars, the cold war was over. However, as the euphoria of this historic occasion began to melt away, leaders in the United States, Europe, and Russia began to realize that the national security paradigms they had used for nearly half a century no longer applied. They would be required to think anew--a task that presented both challenges and opportunities.

President George Bush took the first steps toward aligning our national security posture with the emerging post-cold war realities in September 1991.

Acting on the advice of Gen. George Butler, the commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, President Bush ordered the U.S. Air Force to stand-down the portion of our strategic bomber force it had kept ready to fly at a moment's notice for most of the cold war. Shortly thereafter, the nuclear weapons on-board these planes were removed and placed in storage. President Bush would also take off alert status those strategic missiles earmarked for elimination under the START I Treaty.

President Clinton has also contributed to solving our post-cold war security concerns. Under his leadership, the Senate ratified the START II Treaty, which limits the United States and Russia to no more than 3,500 strategic weapons. President Clinton completed negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention and secured the Senate's approval this past April. The CWC treaty would eliminate the scourge of chemical weapons from the face of the Earth. And finally, just 1 month ago, President Clinton submitted to the Senate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. If enacted, this treaty would be a useful tool in our efforts to stem proliferation. I hope the Senate will be allowed to act on this treaty when we return.

While we have made some progress in realigning our national security policies to more fully reflect the realities of the post-cold war world, we still have much more to accomplish. Perhaps the most startling and dramatic indicator of how far we have to go is the fact that, as I stand here today--8 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall--the United States and Russia still possess roughly 14,000 strategic nuclear weapons and tens of thousands more tactical nuclear weapons. And even more alarming, both sides keep the vast majority of their strategic weapons on a high level of alert.

In a recent editorial, former Senator Sam Nunn and Dr. Bruce Blair assert that each nuclear superpower maintains roughly 3,000 strategic nuclear warheads ready to launch at a moment's notice. According to Nunn and Blair, while this practice may have been necessary during the cold war, `today [it] constitutes a dangerous anachronism.'

Mr. President, I believe we can and must do much more to address the threat posed by nuclear weapons. On September 17, I sent a letter to the Congressional Budget Office asking them to assess the budgetary and security consequences of a series of measures designed to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and the likelihood they would ever be used.

I expect to receive preliminary results from this inquiry by early next year. In addition, I conducted a meeting earlier this week to explore one particular means of reducing the risk of unauthorized or accidental use of nuclear weapons--removing from alert status some fraction of the strategic ballistic missile force.

As a result of this meeting and a series of discussions with Senator Nunn, Dr. Blair, and General Butler, I am convinced that it is time to seriously consider de-alerting at least a portion of our strategic ballistic missile. I say this for several reasons. First, the likelihood of a surprise, bolt-out-of-the-blue attack of our strategic nuclear forces is unimaginable if not impossible in today's world.

Keeping large numbers of weapons on high alert status fails to recognize this reality.

Second, concerns are growing about the reliability and condition of the Russian early warning and command and control systems. United States security depends on the Russians' ability to accurately assess the status of United States forces and to control their own forces. Public reports indicate their early warning sensors are aging and incomplete, their command and control system is deteriorating, and the morale of the personnel operating these systems is suffering as a result of the lack of pay and difficult working conditions.

It is in our interest to have Russian missiles taken off alert and Russian leaders given more time to interpret and respond to events.

Third, de-alerting a portion of our strategic missile force now could strengthen the hand of those in the Russian Duma who support START II and other United States-Russian security measures. De-alerting some United States strategic missiles could send an important signal at a crucial stage in Russia's consideration of the START II Treaty. In addition, when President Bush took unilateral action to de-alert a portion of our strategic forces, President Gorbachev reciprocated by removing from alert a number of Russian land- and sea-based missiles.

Finally, de-alerting a portion of our strategic missile force would not sacrifice U.S. security. The United States has already indicated a willingness to reduce its total strategic force to as few as 2,000 weapons. Even if we were to de-alert the entire MX force, the United States would retain roughly 2,500 weapons on alert status, and several thousand more could be made ready to launch. Moreover, should circumstances warrant, the United States could reverse any de-alerting measures it may take.

Mr. President, despite the fact that the Soviet Union dissolved and the cold war ended, the risks posed by nuclear weapons persist and evolve.

I plan to do what I can to explore options for reducing these risks. I believe de-alerting a portion of our missile force merits further study in this regard. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the administration in the next session of Congress to fully explore this measure as well as any other that could lessen the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Mr. ROCKEFELLER addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from West Virginia.

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