Arms Issues Divide U.S. and Russia

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Arms Issues Divide U.S. and Russia


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


Russian President Vladimir Putin's midsummer visit to President George W. Bush's seaside family retreat in Maine netted one fish and little else.

To be sure, the two governments took some bilateral nuclear cooperation steps but failed to settle sharp disagreements on U.S. antimissile plans and a European conventional arms pact. Indeed, Putin subsequently charged Washington with ignoring Russian proposals on missile defenses and announced a possible suspension starting in December of Russia's participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Putin also authorized the resumption of long-range Russian strategic bomber patrols.

Bush acknowledged that the July 1-2 visit did not leave the two leaders seeing exactly eye to eye. "Do I like everything he says? No. And I suspect he doesn't like everything I say," Bush told reporters July 2. Still, Bush claimed that he and Putin "made great strides in setting a foundation" for future nuclear security relations.

The Nuclear Agenda

The White House July 3 issued a U.S.-Russian declaration reaffirming the two governments' commitments to promote nuclear energy expansion worldwide while limiting the spread of nuclear technologies that could be exploited to build nuclear weapons. Underlying this effort are evolving U.S. and Russian projects to provide nuclear fuel and other services to countries to entice them to forgo development of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities, which can be used to produce reactor fuel or bombs. The two countries also declared their willingness to provide or facilitate financial assistance, infrastructure support, and regulatory and technical training for those countries looking to benefit from nuclear power programs.

Washington's aim is to prevent additional countries from acquiring capabilities to pursue nuclear weapons illicitly under the guise of nuclear energy programs, something it asserts Iran is doing. Tehran denies the allegation.

Briefing reporters July 3, Robert Joseph, U.S. special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation, noted that Iran and North Korea would not be able to participate in the projects, saying, "cooperation, of course, would be with countries with good nonproliferation credentials." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak, however, quickly added that if those two countries cleared up suspicions about their nuclear programs, "they will be as eligible as anybody else."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration two weeks later blessed the idea of nuclear-armed India's construction of a new reprocessing facility. Washington is courting New Delhi as an ally, and part of that effort has included negotiation of a bilateral nuclear cooperation accord, known as a 123 agreement after the section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 that requires codifying the terms of U.S. nuclear trade with foreign governments (see page 22).

In the U.S.-Russian July 3 declaration, the two governments noted that they also had initialed their own 123 agreement. Bush and Putin endorsed negotiating the part a year earlier to diminish bureaucratic obstacles to nuclear cooperation and perhaps pave the way for Russia to import U.S. -origin spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing, which is controversial in the United States. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Also on July 3, the United States and Russia pledged to continue to reduce their strategic nuclear forces "to the lowest possible level consistent with their national security requirements and alliance commitments." The two sides are legally bound by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) to deploy no more than 2,200 operational strategic warheads each by Dec. 31, 2012. That cap expires that same day, freeing both countries to deploy more warheads.

The Kremlin wants a new lower ceiling of reportedly 1,500 warheads or fewer, as well as delivery vehicle limits. It has made these proposals as part of talks with Washington on a successor arrangement to the START accord, which is scheduled to expire Dec. …

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