III negotiation. Although important, this is only a first step. Efforts to begin transforming U.S. and Russian nuclear operations also should begin and need not await agreement on further force reductions. There are certainly links between reductions and changes in operations, but progress in one is not dependent on progress in the other. There should also be considerable flexibility in the transition from one stage of reductions to another, and the possibility of eliminating the dividing lines between stages should not be excluded. The committee has prescribed no time period in which each or all of the stages should be completed, since decisions on these matters depend on specific political and technological choices that cannot be foreseen now. The most important point is that the overall process should be structured to make it possible to proceed expeditiously to significantly lower levels of nuclear weapons, with dramatic changes in nuclear operations well in train.
A continuing high-priority effort is also needed to improve the protection of nuclear weapons and fissile materials in Russia. Joint U.S.-Russian work along these lines, which has been going on since 1991 under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, complements and strengthens arms reductions and other changes in nuclear policies. (Because this committee and other NRC committees have recently offered detailed analysis and recommendations on this subject in other reports, the issue is not treated in detail here.)1
At their March 1997 summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the next step after START II, with its level of 3,000 to 3,500 deployed strategic warheads, enters into force should be negotiation of a follow-on START III agreement reducing the number of deployed strategic warheads to 2,000 to 2,500 on each side. The committee believes that serious discussions of START III should begin immediately as part of the effort to encourage the Russian Duma's ratification of START II and also to reduce the Duma's current leverage over the arms control process. Formal negotiations were begun on START II and in that case led to a successful conclusion even though final ratification of START I had not been completed.
To move as quickly as possible to this reduced ceiling, the new agreements should operate within the existing technical frameworks of START I and START II. This will necessitate deferring for a brief time the introduction of certain key concepts that are critical to still deeper reductions, such as including all nondeployed and nonstrategic nuclear warheads in the overall verification and accountability of nuclear warheads. Reductions to the 2,000 level should be easily accommodated within the existing and anticipated strategic force structures of both sides without creating any operational or survivability problems and would more than adequately fulfill the core deterrent function for both sides.