The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2002 Volume 23 Issue 2
In a summit that was said to “end a long chapter of confrontation,” Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and George W. Bush of the United States met in Moscow on May 24, 2002, where they signed the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions. Hailed as the beginning of a new relationship between the former Cold War foes, the Treaty calls for each state to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear weapons to approximately one third of the current level.
On December 13, 2001 the US announced its intention to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to pursue development of a limited ballistic missile defence program. Russian opposition to this action was addressed with US offers of weapons reductions. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty is the product of several meetings between the two states over the past year – beginning with Bush’s offer in Crawford, Texas of unilateral reductions.
Russia insisted that any reductions be codified with a formal treaty, pushing for verification measures and irreversibility. The US agreed to work jointly with Russia to make the reductions legal and permanent.
The resulting three-page agreement consists of five articles outlining a plan for the reduction of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. Specifically, the countries agree to reduce their arsenals to between 1,700-2,200 weapons each, by December 31, 2012. The Treaty does not outline or limit the final composition of each state’s arsenal, so long as the aggregate number of weapons does not exceed the total number prescribed.
Verification of the proposed reductions is also undefined. American press material states: “START’s [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] comprehensive verification regime will provide the foundation for transparency and predictability regarding implementation of the new bilateral Treaty.” But, although the treaty calls for maintenance of the START process, it does not explicitly state that the detailed reduction strategy of the START treaties will be the basis for verification of these new reductions. It does state that implementation will be monitored with bi-annual meetings of a Bilateral Implementation Commission.
Nor does the Treaty insist upon the irreversibility of the cuts. The text states: “Each Party shall reduce and limit strategic nuclear warheads,” but there is no mention of destroying retired weapons. The US has already indicated that it plans to maintain the majority of the cut warheads in storage as a hedge force, meaning, in effect, that the new treaty is more a de-alerting measure than a disarmament measure. The minimalist Treaty allows for flexible interpretation of the reduction plan, without affecting other elements of the nuclear programs, including missile defence, tactical nuclear weapons arsenals, testing, and stockpile management.
Before the Treaty enters into force, it requires ratification by the US Senate and both the State Duma and Federal Assembly of Russia. Its term will end on December 31, 2012, but either country can withdraw from the agreement before that date with three months’ written notice of its intentions.
This instrument takes significant steps to reduce the number of nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the US, many of which are on high-alert at launch-on-warning status. However, its limited scope hardly fulfills President Bush’s assertion that the Treaty “liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our countries.” With up to 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear weapons and thousands in storage, in addition to thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, the arsenals of Russia and the US will still be formidable in 2012.