U.S.-Russian Nuclear Rivalry Lingers

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News ANALYSIS

In signing an arms control treaty with Russia two years ago, President George W. Bush said the simple, less than 500-words document reflected a new spirit of cooperation and trust between the two former foes based upon the recognition that they were no longer enemies.

"This treaty liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our countries," Bush said at the May 24, 2002 signing of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in Moscow.

Yet, it appears that when it comes to nuclear weapons, old habits die hard. In closing the deal on SORT, the two countries also agreed to establish a new forum to discuss matters related to their nuclear forces. But competing agendas blocked talks in this forum over the past year.

There "hasn't been a lot of energy in this process," a U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Dec. 8, because neither side is happy with what the other wants to talk about.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin-harkening back to the days of its superpower competition with the United States-is boasting about its development of new offensive strategic capabilities designed to render ineffective anti-missile systems such as those being developed by Washington.

The Rush administration touts the SORT agreement as one of its major disarmament achievements. The accord requires Washington and Moscow to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to less than 2,200 apiece by the end of 2012. But it does not require the destruction of any weapons, establish a schedule for the reductions, or include verification measures to ensure each side is following through on the agreement. Because of the absence of verification provisions, the U.S. intelligence community has informed the Bush administration that it would be unable to verify with high confidence Russia's compliance with the treaty, according to a Dec. 20, 2004 Knight Ridder report.

The United States possesses almost 6,000 deployed strategic warheads-roughly 1,000 more than Russia. Both countries also store thousands of nondeployed strategic warheads that are not limited by SORT or other previous bilateral treaties.

In conjunction with SORT, the two sides established the Consultative Group for Strategic security (CGSS) as the "principal mechanism through which the sides strengthen mutual confidence, expand transparency, share information and plans, and discuss strategic issues of mutual interest." In short, the group, which is chaired by the two countries' foreign and defense ministers, is responsible for working out nuclear weapons issues that SORT does not address. The two governments later formed separate CGSS working groups on missile defense cooperation and offensive transparency.

These working groups met several times in 2003, but the offensive transparency working group did not meet in 2004. A meeting of this group might occur in late January, according to U.S. government officials. Washington would like to use the talks to win Moscow's support for increasing personnel exchanges, tours, and briefings in the event a matter of concern arises.

The United States is also seeking greater information on Russia's tactical nuclear warheads, which are those designed for battlefield use. Neither SORT nor previous U.S.-Russian/Soviet arms control agreements limit tactical nuclear warhead stockpiles. Russia is estimated to possess thousands in undisclosed locations, and the United States stations 480 in six European states. (see ACT, November 2004.)

Moscow has shown little interest in the U.S. proposals, according to the U.S. official interviewed Dec. 8. Instead, Russia wants to discuss issues that it raised regularly during the Cold War, such as heavy bomber deployments, submarine operations, and sealaunched cruise missile limits. …