Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Little Fine Print, and Lots of Loopholes ; the Treaty That Bush and Putin Are Signing Tomorrow Pioneers the New Approach of 'Fast-Track Arms Control.'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Little Fine Print, and Lots of Loopholes ; the Treaty That Bush and Putin Are Signing Tomorrow Pioneers the New Approach of 'Fast-Track Arms Control.'

Article excerpt

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 "Satan."

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 cold war.

"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 of explosives.

"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. …

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