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The nuclear threat


THE HARASSED men trying to harness the hurricane of change in Moscow have gone to some pains to reassure a worried global village about who's minding Soviet nuclear buttons. But they are in no position to seize the opportunity that the second Russian revolution provides to sharply reduce the entire planet's risk of nuclear war for generations to come.

Only leadership from President Bush can do that, and he needs to get busy. Soft words aren't enough.

A top science adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev has urged "the international community" to help safeguard Soviet nuclear capability against the chance of political chaos. From the Ukraine comes a plea for United Nations control of Soviet weapons. Before the coup, Soviet generals had suggested periodic get-togethers with U.S. counterparts to talk about nuclear arms safety.

So far, Bush seems to have registered these clear signals fuzzily and responded in the same way. Indeed, in Tennessee, U.S. arms-makers thronged a hearing to praise plans for a vast new plant at Oak Ridge to build 21st century nuclear weapons.

Now is no time to be planning another century's worth of warheads. It's time to move fast and hard, while we can, to liberate the planet from its most hideous fear. A full-court international press, begun now, could eliminate most of the old warheads.

Success could land George Bush and his America in the history books as the heroes who put plans for new nuclear arms factories on hold forever. We are morally obligated to try -- quickly, and with all our hearts.

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