U.S., Russia Agree to Codify Nuclear Reductions

By Bleek, Philip C. | Arms Control Today, March 2002 | Go to article overview

U.S., Russia Agree to Codify Nuclear Reductions


Bleek, Philip C., Arms Control Today


U.S. AND RUSSIAN officials announced in February that they have agreed to work toward a formal agreement codifying strategic nuclear cuts that will be subject to approval by their respective legislatures, and they provided more details on the possible terms of such an accord.

Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States and Russia are working to reach a "legally binding" agreement on strategic nuclear cuts. Indicating that the specific form of the agreement remains undecided, Powell said, "It can be an executive agreement that both houses of Congress might wish to speak on, or it might be a treaty."

The secretary's comments marked the first time the administration has said it would codify the nuclear reductions first announced by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in November. (See ACT, December 2001.) Previously, administration officials, including Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had repeatedly voiced an aversion to what they characterized as Cold War-style arms control treaties.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alexander Yakovenko echoed Powell's remarks in a February 27 statement, saying that the "treaty" on strategic arms reductions would have "a legally binding character" and would be submitted "for the consideration of [both countries] legislative bodies."

In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing February 28, Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asked Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who had just returned from Moscow, about Yakovenko's reference to a "treaty." Feith replied that negotiators had agreed to a "legally binding" arrangement but had yet to decide whether it would be a treaty or an "executive-legislative agreement." The latter has the status of a treaty in international law but must be approved by a majority vote in both houses of Congress rather than by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, the approval mechanism for a treaty.

In a statement to the committee two weeks earlier, Feith had testified that U.S. officials are "perfectly open, if we can achieve an agreement that warrants it, to have it be a treaty," but he had also said that "we see no reason to try to dictate the size and composition of Russia's strategic forces by legal means." Feith further indicated that because "new dangers" are likely to emerge, "we do not believe it is prudent to set in stone the level and type of U.S. nuclear capabilities.

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