U. S., Russia Sign Treaty Cutting Deployed Nuclear Forces

By Bleek, Philipp C. | Arms Control Today, June 2002 | Go to article overview

U. S., Russia Sign Treaty Cutting Deployed Nuclear Forces


Bleek, Philipp C., Arms Control Today


AT THEIR MAY 24 summit meeting in Moscow, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed a treaty under which the United States and Russia will cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces to 1,700-- 2,200 warheads each-approximately a two-thirds reduction from current levels.

The agreement, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, is the first strategic reductions pact signed by the two countries in almost a decade. It requires reductions in deployed forces substantially below the level of the START I agreement, and it effectively supersedes the START II accord, which never entered into force.

At a press conference following the signing ceremony, Bush said that the agreement "liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility" between the United States and Russia. Putin was more reserved in his assessment, characterizing the accord as a "serious move ahead" but also noting that the two sides have agreed to continue their work toward resolving remaining differences.

The treaty marks the conclusion of a process begun November 13, when Bush announced that the United States would unilaterally reduce its "operationally deployed" strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700-- 2,200 and Putin said Russia would "try to respond in kind." (See ACT, December 2001.) Bush initially expressed skepticism about formalizing the reductions in a binding agreement. But Moscow insisted on such a pact, and in February Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the United States had agreed to codify the reductions. (See ACT, March 2002.)

Composed of fewer than 500 words-- a sharp contrast to START I's several hundred pages-the agreement does not define which strategic warheads it covers (deployed, reserve, or both), nor does it define how warheads are to be counted. However, the document references previous statements by Bush and Putin, including the November 13 announcement in which Bush said he intended to reduce the number of "operationally deployed" strategic weapons, suggesting the treaty covers only those warheads that are mated to their delivery vehicles and ready for launch.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has explicitly rejected that interpretation, noting in a May 22 statement that the treaty does not include the term "operationally deployed warheads" and that the treaty's implementation will be "tackled" in the Bilateral Implementation Commission called for by the treaty.

In the weeks prior to the summit, negotiations between the two sides had appeared to bog down as they wrangled over how much flexibility the treaty should allow. Russia had sought a START I-style approach that would have counted the maximum number of warheads that deployed missiles and bombers can carry, while the United States had insisted on counting only those warheads ready for immediate use. The U.S. approach provides considerably more leeway because warheads removed from multiple-warhead missiles and bomber-based weapons removed from operational storage bunkers can be counted as reductions even though they can be quickly redeployed.

The related issue of whether each side would have to destroy warheads and delivery vehicles removed from service was also contentious, with Russia publicly calling for the verifiable destruction of both warheads and delivery systems and the United States wanting to retain the option to store warheads removed from deployment.

The treaty makes no mention of the issue, effectively supporting the U.S. position. As Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, pointed out in a May 28 op-ed, "The treaty does not require the actual destruction of a single missile or warhead," a point other critics have also highlighted.

Although START I and START II did not call for warhead destruction, they did require the verifiable destruction of most delivery systems removed from service. And in 1997 Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to pursue a START III pact that would include "measures relating. …

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