LETTER : Time to start thinking about Start 3

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From Dr Stephen Pullinger

Sir: The time may be fast approaching when Britain will be required to uphold its commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue disarmament negotiations ("Trident could be bargained away to save arms treaty", 28 February). Start 3 would provide the opportunity for all five nuclear weapon powers to participate in limiting strategic nuclear warheads.

Even after Start 2 has been fully implemented (in 2003), Russia and the US will each still have 3,000 to 3,500 strategic warheads compared to the few hundred held by Britain, France and China. But this disparity is no justification for continuing to exclude the smaller nuclear powers' weapons from the disarmament process.

Exactly how they become involved is more problematic. Trying to equate all five nuclear arsenals would not be possible, because the Americans and Russians are not ready to reduce to the much lower levels of the other three.

Nor would it make sense to offer ceilings to the smaller powers that are set higher than their present holdings. The best approach may be to allow the big two to continue to reduce their forces in balance while applying a "cap" to the present arsenals of the other three.

The lesser nuclear states would then be required to make proposals as to how their arsenals could be actually reduced or to justify that they were already maintaining genuinely minimum nuclear deterrents. Britain, for example, would have to explain why its strategic deterrent apparently now requires twice as many warheads as were thought adequate during the Cold War.

If one is to maintain a credible deterrent, there is a measure of capability below which one cannot fall. Once this has been identified and accepted, it would represent a floor on any reduction process. The stage beyond Start 3 would probably be complete nuclear weapon abolition.

Yours faithfully,


Executive Director

ISIS: International Security

Information Service

London WC2

28 February