A Beginning, Not an End

By Kimball, Daryl G. | Arms Control Today, June 2002 | Go to article overview

A Beginning, Not an End


Kimball, Daryl G., Arms Control Today


The May 24 signing of the new Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin is a welcome, though incomplete, step toward reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear dangers. In their zealous pursuit to maintain strategic nuclear flexibility well into the next decade, U.S. negotiators have spurned a historic opportunity to verifiably eliminate excess nuclear weaponry, leaving behind numerous dangers that demand further action.

The new agreement is short. It requires each side to reduce its number of deployed strategic warheads to no more than 2,200 by 2012. It places no restrictions on strategic missiles and bombers and allows each side to determine the composition of its deployed nuclear forces. The treaty does not spell out what is to be done with warheads removed from service.

The White House asserts that this formulation suits the more amicable U.S.-Russian relationship. But the treaty's limited scope and lack of detail reflect the fact that negotiators simply could not agree on core issues, including how to count deployed warheads. On the whole, the new treaty does not significantly alter the number of existing nuclear delivery systems and therefore only marginally affects the residual nuclear potential of the United States and Russia. The allowance for storage of thousands of reserve warheads undercuts the treaty's verifiability and makes it more difficult to forecast future force levels. The agreement's emphasis on flexibility detracts from its predictability, lessening its value in building a more stable and secure U.S.-Russian relationship.

As the Senate reviews the treaty in the coming weeks, it will surely applaud the treaty's mandate for deployed nuclear force reductions. But the Senate should also press the administration to explain the gaps left in the treaty text and seek action from Bush on a more comprehensive and effective nuclear risk reduction strategy vis-a-vis Russia.

First, the Senate should examine why the old premises of Cold War nuclear targeting continue to dictate the size of the U.S. arsenal. Clearly, the United States and Russia are no longer enemies and have no reason to go to war, but the Bush administration's proposed nuclear force size and posture are still very much based on deterring and defeating Russia's nuclear and conventional military forces. As a result, the condition of mutual assured destruction persists. Absent such requirements, there is no plausible threat scenario that requires the deployment of more than a few hundred nuclear warheads, let alone 2,200, with thousands more available for rapid redeployment. …

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