When Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign their
nuclear treaty tomorrow, it appears that they will be limiting US
and Russian arsenals for just one day, technically speaking.
The pact holds that by Dec. 31, 2012, the number of operational
warheads for long-range missiles and bombers should be no greater
than 2,200 per side. But before that day, there are no deadlines to
meet, and afterward, the treaty expires.
Furthermore, the agreement has little in the way of fine print at
all. Past arms pacts contained complicated sublimits meant to cap
the most threatening kind of warheads.
There's nothing like that here. For all the US cares, Moscow
could mount all its permitted warheads on heavy SS-18s - a missile
once so feared by the Pentagon that its NATO designation was
START III, it isn't. Call it fast-track arms control. In its
unstructured nature, the Bush-Putin Pact of 2002 has, if nothing
else, pioneered a new approach for a new age to the military
relationship of old rivals.
To critics, that is its primary defect. Its restraint is
insubstantial, they say, a fragile thing that could be undone by the
merest change in geopolitical winds.
To the administration, it is an agreement that makes the deepest
reductions of the nuclear age - and didn't require the sort of
lengthy negotiations that enriched Geneva's hoteliers during the
"This is not virtual arms control," said a senior administration
official at a recent briefing for reporters.
* * *
Administration officials agree that the impending treaty, in its
simplicity, will be legally binding for but a blink of time. But
they claim that to focus on this is to miss the agreement's point.
It's not about numbers, they say. It's about codifying the tone
of a new, friendlier US-Russian relationship. The new treaty isn't
as complicated as past ones because it doesn't have to be.
"Instead of a negotiation which took multiple years and consumed
multiple forests worth of paper, what we have is a negotiation
that's ... produced a treaty which when fully prepared, will be
about three pages long," said the senior official.
In any case, the fact that the treaty mandates only a reduction
endpoint does not mean each side won't be checking up on the other
as they go along. The treaty does call for implementation of some
consultation procedures similar to those used in past arms pacts.
That means that in the years ahead, US delegations will be
trooping to Russia to peer into silos and count warheads - and
Russian delegations will be coming to the US to do the same. If
either side appears to be falling behind dismantlement commitments,
the other party will presumably get to register its displeasure.
"A bilateral implementation committee will be created," said the
senior official. "And that commission will pursue enhancing
transparency and predictability."
The bottom line, from the administration's point of view: The US
nuclear arsenal is now delinked from its Russian counterpart. This
means that the size, makeup, and deployment of American nuclear
weapons should no longer reflect a computer-straining calculation of
how many of them would survive a surprise Russian first strike.
After all, friends don't target friends with hundreds of megatons
"So I hope this is the last arms-control agreement with Russia,
and that we go from here to dealing with Russia the way we deal with
the United Kingdom, or Brazil," said Richard Perle, an American
Enterprise Institute fellow and adviser to the administration on
defense issues, at a press briefing on the Bush-Putin summit.
* * *
However US-Russian relations develop in the future, there are
aspects of the new Bush-Putin accord that critics find troubling.
Primary among these is the flexibility it allows both sides to
eventually build their forces right back up, if they so wish. …