REVISING OUR NUCLEAR STRATEGY AND FORCE POSTURE (Senate - March 27, 1998)

[Page: S2699]

Mr. DASCHLE. Mr. President, over the course of the last several months, I have come to the Senate floor 3 times now to discuss this nation's nuclear strategy and forces in the post-cold-war era. In each of those previous statements, I made the central point that I perceive a growing mismatch between our strategy and forces and the real world considerations they were designed to address. I also used these opportunities to indicate several practical steps I thought we could take immediately to correct this growing imbalance.

I come to the floor today, not to amend my previous observations, but rather to provide new, more compelling evidence to buttress my earlier conclusions.

Let me reiterate the context of this debate.

First, despite the end of the cold war nearly 7 years ago, the United States and Russia together still field roughly 14,000 strategic nuclear weapons--each with a destructive power tens or hundreds of times greater than the nuclear devices that brought World War II to a close. The closest rival, friend or foe, has less than 500 strategic weapons.

Second, both the United States and Russia continue to keep roughly 5,000 of their strategic nuclear weapons on a high level of alert, ready to be launched at a moment's notice.

Third, the United States and Russia continue to adhere to an overall strategic concept known as mutual assured deterrence or MAD. In addition, each side follows operational concepts that permit the first use of nuclear weapons and allow for the launch of weapons after receiving warning of attack but before the incoming warheads detonate.

This set of facts is disconcerting to say the least. It has led the National Academy of Sciences, in an excellent report entitled `The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,' to conclude that:

[Page: S2700]

The basic structure of plans for using nuclear weapons appears largely unchanged from the situation during the Cold War, with both sides apparently continuing to emphasize early and large counterforce strikes . . . As a result, the dangers of initiation of nuclear war by error or by accident remain unacceptably high.

This same set of circumstances moved General Lee Butler, who just 4 years ago as a former commander of the Strategic Command was responsible for setting U.S. policy for deterring a nuclear war and, if deterrence failed, fighting such a war, to observe that, `our present policies, plans and postures governing nuclear weapons make us prisoners still to an age of intolerable danger.'

Mr. President, I agree with the National Academy of Sciences and General Lee Butler. Our strategic nuclear forces are too large for the post-cold-war period, and our operational procedures carry an unacceptable level of risk.

What are the practical ramifications of this assessment? I have concluded that the United States should seek an agreement to dramatically cut these forces and change the way they are operated. Mutually agreed upon and significant reductions in the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons are in the best interests of the United States. Mutually agreed upon changes in how we operate our forces and systems will increase trust and reduce pressure to launch nuclear weapons on a moment's notice.

As I noted earlier, I have held these views for some time and have seen nothing to convince me otherwise. To the contrary, recent events have only served to strengthen my convictions.

In particular, I am referring to an excellent two-part series from last week's Washington Post entitled, `Shattered Shield: The Decline of Russia's Nuclear Forces,' and a study released last Friday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The main conclusion reached in the Washington Post series is that Russia's nuclear forces and its early warning and command and control systems suffer from a lack of resources that jeopardizes their very existence.

According to these articles, knowledgeable experts in the United States and Russia have concluded that, `regardless of whether the United States and Russia move ahead on bilateral arms-control treaties, a decade from now Russia's forces will be less than one-tenth the size they were at the peak of Soviet power.' Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal is expected to decline from a cold war high of nearly 11,000 weapons in 1990 to a low of roughly 1,000 by 2007--less than 10 years from now. As evidence, experts point to growing number of Russia's nuclear-powered submarines piled up in port unfit for patrol, her strategic bombers incapable of combat, and a steady deterioration of her land-based missile force.

In addition, they note that Russia is dedicating few resources to address this decline by developing new strategic systems.

In short, Russia's strategic triad could cease to exist within the next 10 years.

If forecasts about this decline are correct, as I and most experts believe, this turn of events presents an opportunity for U.S. and Russian policymakers to immediately push for much deeper joint reductions than currently contemplated under START II or even the START III framework. If the Russians are headed downward, now is the time to lock them in on significantly lower levels.

If we fail to reach an agreement with the Russians on lower levels, future Russian governments will be free to act unencumbered by strict and verifiable limits. Fewer Russian nuclear weapons will reduce the threat this nation faces from intentional, accidental or unauthorized launch. Fewer U.S. nuclear weapons will still allow us to effectively deter any adversary and makes sense in the post-cold-war environment.

In addition, this Post series highlighted a troubling development. Russia's systems designed to give it warning of an attack and command and control of its nuclear forces are facing the same precipitous decline as its nuclear forces for the same reason--lack of resources.

Russia has lost access to many radar sites located on the territory of newly independent states while its system of satellites for detecting missile launches is slowly being depleted. According to one former Russian air defense officer, `Russia is partially blind.' And the situation is no better with respect to its command and control structure. About a year ago, then Defense Minister Igor Rodionov observed, `no one today can guarantee the reliability of our control systems. . . . Russia might soon reach the threshold beyond which its rockets and nuclear systems cannot be controlled.'

These developments should not cause anyone in this country to rejoice. Russian problems with their early warning and command and control systems can very quickly become our problem. Russian inability to correctly assess whether a missile has been launched or to properly control all of its nuclear weapons puts our national security at risk. All of this is compounded by the fact that both sides continue to maintain excessively large numbers of nuclear weapons at excessively high levels of alert.

It is in our interest to reduce Russia's dependence on these aging systems. This can best be done by changing the way the U.S. and Russia operate their forces. Each country should lower the number of weapons on hair-trigger alert, and the United States should consider sharing early warning intelligence with the Russians.

A final piece of evidence to back up my conclusions surfaced late last week. The Congressional Budget Office, in a study carried out at my request, concluded that the Pentagon spends between $20 and $30 billion annually to maintain and operate our current level of nuclear weapons--roughly 7,000 deployed strategic weapons and between 500 and 1,000 tactical weapons.

Moreover, if my colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to reject the advice of many outside experts and prevent us from even reducing to the Senate-ratified START II level of 3,500 strategic weapons, CBO estimates this shortsightedness will cost the Pentagon nearly $1 billion a year in constant 1998 dollars.

If the Pentagon is forced to stay at these excessive nuclear weapons levels, the Defense Department must dump a billion dollars a year on unneeded systems, thereby depriving much more worthy Defense Department programs of much needed resources.

If the Pentagon were allowed to follow a more rational course, this funding could be used to enhance the housing of our military personnel, to improve their quality of life, to increase their readiness and to arm them with the most sophisticated conventional weaponry available. If we are forced to stay on our current track, we will do none of these.

Incidentally, CBO noted that if we were to reduce down to the level the Russians are expected to reach shortly, roughly 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons, the savings could reach as high as $2.5 billion annually.

In summary, Mr. President, I stand by the conclusions I stated in my previous statements on this subject. Our current strategic nuclear policy and force posture is outmoded and in need of major and immediate reassessment. The only change in the intervening period since my first address on this subject is the emergence of new information that has strengthened my case and heightened the sense of urgency on this issue.

As the Washington Post series points out, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to act quickly to change both our policy and our forces.

The decline in Russian nuclear forces provides an ideal opportunity for us to make significant progress on the arms reduction front. The deterioration of Russia's early warning and command and control systems compels us to seek ways to reduce the unnecessary level of risk brought about by how we operate our forces. Finally, CBO's study demonstrates there is a financial cost from inaction as well. Our current defense posture forces the Pentagon to divert billions of dollars of scarce resources from more needed and important defense programs.

Mr. President, now is the time to step into the future. We must dramatically reduce the levels of nuclear weapons and the associated risk levels.

If we act in this manner, we will greatly reduce the risks of nuclear war, enhance our conventional force capabilities, and improve our own national security.

Mr. President, acknowledging the presence of the distinguished Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, I yield the floor.

[Page: S2701]

Mr. DOMENICI addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Mexico.

END