Administration weighs big cuts of long-range MIRV missiles


WASHINGTON -- In preparation for President Bush's State of the Union address next week, the White House and the Pentagon are considering plans to sharply reduce or eliminate long-range nuclear missiles with more than one warhead, administration officials said yesterday.

Some of the cuts, most likely to be in U.S. land-based multiple-warhead missiles, would be made without conditions, while others would hinge on the response of the four former Soviet republics with long-range nuclear weapons. These republics, which operate under a unified command, are Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Several senior administration officials said that the plan to be presented was still being refined but that it was expected that Mr. Bush would be able to announce the broad proposal in the State of the Union speech, which he is to deliver Tuesday. The White House refused to comment yesterday.

Multiple-warhead missiles, introduced in the 1970s, have been the core of both the U.S. and Soviet long-range nuclear forces, and at the time they were introduced, they were considered the greatest obstacle to arms reduction.

Thus, their elimination or reduction now would be a significant step in controlling the growth of nuclear arsenals. It is made possible by the recent collapse of the Soviet Union and its military power.

These missiles carry as many as 10 warheads each. The weapons, known as Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles, or by the acronym MIRVs, were extremely difficult to keep track of with normal surveillance techniques.

The multiple warheads were placed on missiles in underground silos or on missiles carried aboard nuclear-powered submarines. They could hit as many targets as there were warheads, and were considered extremely threatening because an all-out first strike using such weapons could, in theory, destroy or severely damage all or most of a country's land-based missiles.

Among the proposals now under consideration are removing some or all long-range ground-based missiles with multiple warheads, by either eliminating them or replacing them with single-warhead missiles.

In addition, the administration for the first time is considering cuts in the number of warheads on submarine-based missiles, which have been considered untouchable, and constraints on the Navy's advanced D-5 missiles.

The officials said that arms-control specialists at the Pentagon were fine-tuning the details on the plan this week before sending it to the White House for approval.

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