Senate Endorses Nuclear Reductions Treaty; Duma Delays

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THE U.S. SENATE unanimously approved ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) March 6, paving the way for U.S. participation in the pact with Russia to slash nuclear arsenals by roughly two-thirds over the next decade. Meanwhile, citing disagreement with the U.S. decision to enter into war with Iraq, the Russian Duma postponed consideration of the treaty March 18.

Under the treaty, signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in May 2002, each side will reduce its deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,700-2,200 by 2012-cutting the present deployment of 6,000 warheads in each country.

Several Democratic senators strongly criticized the treaty's provisions during the floor debate, alleging that the pact contained serious flaws. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) called SORT "as flimsy a treaty as the Senate has ever considered." Senators also highlighted recent Bush administration nuclear policy changes that, according to Richard Durbin (D-IL), "threaten to make nuclear weapons appear to be useful, legitimate, offensive first-strike weapons." Even the opponents, however, concurred with Senator Joseph Biden's (D-DE) assessment: "The arms reductions in [SORT] do not go far enough...but they are better than nothing." The Senate voted 95-0 to recommend the treaty's ratification.

Senate critics noted that SORT forgoes several important provisions contained in prior nuclear arms control agreements. The treaty contains no additional means of verifying the reductions that each side promises to make and does not include a schedule for achieving the reductions by the December 31, 2012, end date. SORT also does not require dismantlement or elimination of warheads or delivery systems, whereas prior treaties mandated delivery vehicle destruction. The Bush administration has indicated that it will take weapons off operational deployment temporarily or put them in storage in order to meet the treaty's conditions.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, praised SORT, saying it is "simple, straight-forward, and gives each party maximum flexibility." The agreement demonstrates the improved relations between Washington and Moscow after the Cold War, Lugar said, adding, "This treaty utilizes confidence-building measures based on trust and friendship.... It is a signal that the hostility of the Cold War has been buried and forgotten."

Several Democratic senators introduced amendments to help remedy some of SORT'S perceived shortcomings. …