Yeltsin Offers (Confusing) Detargeting' Pledge

During the May 27 signing ceremony of the "Founding Act" in Paris (see p. 21), Russian President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly announced that Moscow would remove the "warheads" from strategic nuclear missiles targeted against NATO member states. His aides quickly corrected the apparent "mistranslation" to say that Russia would no longer target its strategic missiles against NATO countries¾a less ambitious measure.

Yeltsin's initiative builds on the January 14, 1994, "Moscow Declaration," in which the United States and Russia agreed to "detarget" their strategic nuclear missiles by May 30, 1994. Subsequently, on February 15, 1994, Britain and Russia also agreed to detarget their strategic missiles by the same date.

The U.S.Russian detargeting agreement has been controversial. Some critics argue that the agreement cannot be verified and has no practical military significance because U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear missiles can be retargeted in a short period of time. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that the agreement has important symbolic value because it demonstrates the improvement in U.S.Russian relations since the end of the Cold War. They also contend that the agreement has some militarily significance because, in the highly unlikely event of an accidental U.S. or Russian nuclear launch, the missile will not reach a strategic target. However, Bruce Blair, a command and control specialist at the Brookings Institution, disputes this point claiming that in the event of an accidental Russian nuclear launch, the missiles would automatically revert to their previous targets.