The signing of Start 2 may force a review of Britain's Trident programme. Sir Nicholas Bonsor, the Conservative chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said there must be no question of Britain giving up its independent nuclear weapon, but it was possible 'that Trident may have to be reviewed over the next couple of years'.
That would not rule out limits on the number of warheads to be carried in the new submarines. They may be limited to a figure much nearer the 192 currently deployed in Polaris than the 512 independently targetable warheads Trident submarines can carry.
If signed before 20 January, the treaty will provide George Bush with the climax of his presidency's arms control policy, enabling him to back up his claim of having freed future generations from the 'nuclear nightmare'.
The summit, expected to be held in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, could take place as early as this weekend. The Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, said that pending approval of the text by the two presidents, 'the chances for a summit in Sochi on 2 or 3 January are good'.
The US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, announced the agreement after two days of talks in Geneva with the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev. 'We've made progress. It's now up to the presidents to look at the document and decide if we've made sufficient progress to sign an agreement.'
The treaty, which would require both sides to reduce the present level of about 10,000 strategic warheads each to 3,000- 3,500 by 2003, would also eliminate the most deadly category of Cold War weapons - land-based missiles with multiple warheads. The Start 1 treaty, which provided for cuts of about a third in the nuclear arsenals of the US and the Soviet Union, did not cover these missiles.
The new treaty, while eliminating Russia's 154 giant SS18 missiles, will not require the scrapping of their silos.
Arms control experts pointed out that the cuts envisaged were a long way from being implemented, given that Start 1 has not been implemented. That accord requires the three non-Russian nuclear republics - Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus - to give up their strategic nuclear weapons, but only Russia and Kazakhstan have ratified it.
Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, described Start 2 as a 'second mortgage'. 'We can't start collecting on it until the non-Russian republics agree to Start 1. The Russians aren't going to start cutting by 50 per cent with nuclear weapons left in three outlying republics.'
Dmytro Pavlychko, head of the Ukraine parliament's foreign affairs commission, said yesterday that ratification of Start 1 would not take place until February or March. Ukraine has 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles, with 1,200 warheads, and says it needs pounds 1bn to dismantle them. Ukraine also wants compensation for the valuable nuclear materials in the warheads, and guarantees from the international community on its security.
Labour's defence spokesman, David Clark, said Britain should announce immediately 'that we will not go ahead and deploy all 500 warheads on Trident submarines'. The Start agreement made 'a complete mockery' of the plans to raise the numbers.
Dr Clark said that 'in the short term' Britain needed to retain an independent nuclear weapon 'because we live in a very unstable world'. Labour's policy of putting Britain's weapons into any multilateral negotiations remained, although that would be done only after consultation with Nato and European allies.
Sir Nicholas said it would be foolish to 'write out' putting Trident on the negotiating table at some point, but that Britain's independent weapon must still be guaranteed in some form.
One less problem for Clinton, page 7
Leading article, page 18Reuse content