Boris and the Big Five : Interesting if vague ideas on nuclear weapons control

"Creative and intriguing" was the way Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, summed up Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's proposal for a treaty among the five big nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals and more tightly control fissionable material. Yes, but what about practical?

At first glance it's hard to imagine circumstances under which China, Britain and France, the other members of the club, would agree to scrap any significant portion of their nuclear arsenals. If nothing else, a stockpile of such weapons is regarded as affirming a country's claim to be a major player in global affairs and so as something to be jealously guarded. But first glances seldom provide a full picture. Maybe as the missing details of Yeltsin's idea are filled in it will begin to look more feasible.

The more immediately appealing parts of Yeltsin's proposal, made in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, have to do with halting the production of material for nuclear weapons and banning the recycling of warhead material from dismantled missiles. These at least partially address growing concerns over weapons-grade nuclear products being dispersed to countries with secret agendas for becoming nuclear powers. Again, Yeltsin offered no specifics. But here certainly is an area where the five major nuclear powers should try quickly to seek accord, in the interest of a safer world for all of them.

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