The US and Russia have now pledged that they will carry out
perhaps the deepest warhead cuts of the atomic age. But pledged is
not the same as done, and details left unresolved after Russian
President Vladimir Putin's White House visit might loom large in the
months and years to come.
Just look at the tough messages Putin slipped into his generally
warm remarks at his joint press conference with President George
We like the idea of massive weapons reductions, said Putin. But
we like written treaties, too. In particular, we still like the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - the very pact that for months
President Bush has been calling a dead letter.
The bottom line: The US sees the nuclear future as paperless,
with two friendly nations no longer needing treaties to bind them.
Russia still wants the assurance of an overall nuclear-treaty
regime. Whatever the agreement on weapon numbers, the disagreement
on this important point needs to be resolved if the relationship
between the two nations is to match the rhetoric of their leaders.
"This [warhead] agreement [raises] a host of questions - if you
can call it an agreement," says Christopher Paine, a research
associate in nuclear issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council
It's possible that the final word on Putin's near-term intentions
has not been written. Perhaps the two presidents will now announce a
further dramatic breakthrough on missile defenses and related
nuclear issues at the dramatic locale of Bush's ranch in Crawford,
Furthermore, the nuclear accomplishments of Putin's US visit are
The two sides pledged to reduce their respective nuclear
stockpiles by approximately two-thirds over the next decade. For the
US, that would mean a range of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads, said Bush.
That's similar to the range of warhead levels discussed by
President Bill Clinton and Russia President Boris Yeltsin in 1997
talks about a notional Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) III.
It goes well beyond the 3,000 to 3,500 limits set by the START II
pact, which was signed by President George H. W. Bush and Mr.
Yeltsin in 1993.
Indeed, the lower end of Bush's announced range is well below the
warhead levels that Adm. Richard Mies, head of US Strategic Command,
said during a congressional appearance earlier this year were
necessary to ensure US security.
START II has never gone into effect, since political difficulties
in both Russia and the US clogged up the legislative ratification
process. And that's the beauty part of the unilateral cuts
envisioned by Bush, say US officials. They won't get derailed by
peripheral issues. They'll be clean and simple. No large negotiating
delegations will live in plush neutral cities like Geneva and take
months arguing over minute points of Subsection C, Protocol 14. …