Won’t Launch 1st Strike, 4 States Pledge
The four republics that hold the Soviet Union’s strategic nuclear arms declared their intention Saturday to place the weapons under joint control and pledged that they will not launch a first strike.
But they still must agree on who will have the authority to order the weapons’ use in the event of war.
Russian Federation President Boris N. Yeltsin, under terms of the agreement signed with leaders of Ukraine and Belarus, will apparently assume the right to decide whether to use the nuclear weapons held by those three republics. However, the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, while signing the basic agreement, appeared unprepared to hand control of the strategic arms on its territory over to Russia.
“The question of our strategic weapons will be settled by a separate agreement,” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev told reporters.
Air Marshal Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov, the Soviet defense minister, said: “What satisfies me most is that strategic forces will remain under united control. This will calm both the Soviet people and world public.”
The decision favoring joint control of nuclear weapons was announced in Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakhstan, after the leaders of eight of the old Soviet Union’s republics agreed to join the Commonwealth of Independent States proclaimed earlier this month by the big-three Slavic states of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
The 11 leaders also announced that temporary command of their armed forces will be assumed by Shaposhnikov.
The agreement did not specify who would control the “nuclear button"--the authority to launch a nuclear strike--during the temporary period, but the nature of the accord reached in Alma-Ata on Saturday indicated that Yeltsin will take that authority for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has held the authority up to now, but the 11 leaders sent Gorbachev a message, telling him he was out of a job. Gorbachev’s spokesman here could not be reached for comment.
The republic leaders were unable to agree on joint control of all armed forces because the leaders of Ukraine and the southern republic of Azerbaijan have both assumed the title of commander in chief of all but the strategic forces on their territories.
So, a decision on the fate of 3.7-million-member Soviet armed forces, the world’s largest, will be postponed until Dec. 30, when the 11 leaders are scheduled to meet again in Minsk, the capital of Belarus and designated headquarters of the new commonwealth.
But Shaposhnikov was optimistic that an accord on command of conventional weapons would be reached.
“I think that we are on the right path,” Shaposhnikov told the official Russian Information Agency.
Saturday’s agreement stressed that the republics of Belarus and Ukraine, both of which have strategic nuclear weapons on their soil, are determined to become non-nuclear states and have promised to sign adherence to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Ukrainian President Leonid M. Kravchuk told Secretary of State James A. Baker III last week that his nation intends to be free of nuclear weapons by the end of the decade.
In the meantime, however, Ukraine and Belarus appeared to sign over responsibility for the use of weapons on their soil to Russia.
“Until the complete elimination of nuclear weapons on the territories of Belarus and Ukraine, the decision on the necessity of their use will be taken by the president of the Russian Federation after consulting the leaders of the member states of this agreement and based on procedures elaborated jointly,” the agreement states.
Kazakhstan, which holds 6% of the Soviet Union’s warheads, according to Western estimates, was not willing to make a similar commitment immediately.
While Baker was visiting Alma-Ata last week, Nazarbayev called for the total elimination of nuclear weapons but stressed that his republic would not give up all of its strategic arms as long as there are nuclear weapons in Russia.
Later in Brussels, Baker said that Nazarbayev told him privately that Kazakhstan would join Ukraine and Belarus in signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear power as soon as his country becomes “a sovereign nation and is regarded (by the rest of the world) as such.”
The four republics agreed that the still-unratified Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the United States would be submitted for ratification to each of their legislatures. Under the treaty, signed here July 31 by Gorbachev and President Bush, the total number of strategic warheads held by the United States and the Soviet Union would be cut by about 30% to 6,000 each.
The status of other nuclear reduction proposals was not specified among Saturday’s decisions. Gorbachev and Bush declared their intention this autumn to withdraw and destroy all ground-based tactical nuclear weapons, devices such as missiles and artillery shells.
Although these intentions were not directly addressed by the four republics, Yeltsin, Kravchuk and the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus each gave Baker strong assurances that they plan to aggressively pursue arms reductions. Echoing this, their agreement declared their intention to “destroy all nuclear arms” in the name of “international stability.”
In attempt to assuage the fears of the world, the republics also pledged not to give anyone else nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices or the technology to develop them.