|SPLITTING THE ATOM|
Nuclear Bombs, Non-Proliferation and Test Bans
November 18, 1996
The Nuclear Weapons
Other Forum Topics
Recent efforts to pass a nuclear test ban
What are the benefits of the nuclear test ban treaty to the U.S.?
How are countries making it difficult to obtain nuclear material?
What is the situation in the former Soviet Union?
What type of control of nuclear weapons is there in other countries?
Can the world's nuclear arsenal really be dismantled?
A question from Nicole Mosbleck of London, UK
With all the current turmoil in the former Soviet Union, who is looking out for the security of the nuclear bombs and the nuclear bomb production sites? Whose finger is on the button? Yeltsin's? Even in the Ukraine? Just how many points of origin are there? Is a finger on a button still the right depiction of how a nuclear bomb gets launched?
Kenneth Luongo of the Department of Energy responds:
The launch of nuclear weapons requires far more than the "press of a button." In Russia, initiation of the complex command and control sequence resulting in release of nuclear weapons is ultimately the responsibility of the President. The weapons are currently located in Russia and Belarus, with Russian command and control extending to all weapons. Responsibilities for nuclear materials, weapon components, and the production and safeguarding of assembled weapons are shared by the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Atomic Energy, Ministry of Interior, and others.
Leonard Spector of the Carnegie Endowment responds:
Command and control over Russia's nuclear weapons has been a source of concern in recent years, as there have been reports of Russia's deteriorating military, in particular of the government's inability to pay military personnel on a timely basis. Russia has, however, placed a high priority on maintaining stringent levels of security over its nuclear weapons and has retained its system of safeguards against unauthorized or accidental launches.
In Russia, President Boris Yeltsin is responsible for making any decision to use nuclear weapons and a military officer is always near him carrying "the button," which is, in fact, a briefcase carrying a set of launch codes. Should Yeltsin decide to launch nuclear weapons, he would transmit these codes to senior military commanders who, in turn, would send coded orders to the appropriate launch facilities.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons were deployed in four former Soviet states: Belarus, Kazakstan, Russia, and Ukraine. Kazakstan and Ukraine have transferred all nuclear warheads on their territory to Russia and Belarus has 16 long-range missiles (each with one nuclear warhead) remaining on its soil, which are under Russian control. Belarus, Kazakstan, and Ukraine have joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, giving up the right to possess or manufacture nuclear weapons and accepting international inspections to verify their non-possession.
Don Gross of the ACDA responds:
The safety and security of Russian nuclear weapons is obviously a matter of the highest national securty interest to the United States and to the Clinton Administration. That is why President Clinton has given priority to the Nunn/Lugar program, under which we assist Russia in the dismantlement of nuclear weapons systems and the safeguarding of nuclear warheads and the protection and control of nuclear materials.
Today, there are no Russian missiles pointed at America, and no American missiles pointed at Russia due to agreements reached between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin. Through the START treaties we are cutting our nuclear arsenals by two-thirds.
All nuclear weapons have been removed from the territories of Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. We expect all nuclear weapons will be removed from Belarus by the end of this year.