Deeper Nuclear Cuts Unlikely for Now

Article excerpt

A senior Bush administration official has labeled recent Russian statements on additional nuclear arms talks between the two sides as illtimed and insincere, suggesting that prospects are slim for any new agreement on U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpile cuts during President George W. Bush's second term.

Russian officials in May reiterated Moscow's long-standing interest in cutting its strategic nuclear arsenal down to 1,500 warheads or fewer. The United States currently deploys nearly 6,000 such warheads, while Russia fields less than 4,800.

Assistant secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker told Arms Control Today June 3 that it is "premature" to hold negotiations on lowering U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warhead levels further than currently planned because the two sides are still implementing an agreement concluded just three years ago. The May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty commits Washington and Moscow to operationally deploying less than 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads apiece by the end of 2012. (see ACT, June 2002.)

Rademaker also said that talks on tactical nuclear weapons between the two former Cold War foes were also improbable. Although Washington is interested in engaging Moscow on these types of weapons, the assistant secretary said Russia has "very little interest in talking to us." Tactical nuclear weapons are those designed for battlefield use, such as atomic artillery shells and nuclear gravity bombs for combat aircraft delivery, as opposed to strategic nuclear warheads, which are deployed on long-range bombers, ICBMs, and submarines.

In June, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying, "We are prepared to start talks about tactical nuclear weapons only when all countries possessing them store them in their territories." The United States stations some 400 nuclear gravity bombs on the territories of six of its European fellow NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Rademaker described Ivanov's proposal as nothing new and a "stalling tactic...designed to make sure there are no negotiations on the issue." He further stated, "[I]t is a very convenient position for the Russians to take because they can withdraw their tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad...and say that they have withdrawn [their arms] to national territory and why doesn't the United States do the same. …