"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance

June 2017

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: February 2019

Over the past four decades, American and Soviet/Russian leaders have used a progression of bilateral agreements and other measures to limit and reduce their substantial nuclear warhead and strategic missile and bomber arsenals. The following is a brief summary.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements


Begun in November 1969, by May 1972, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had produced both the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited strategic missile defenses to 200 (later 100) interceptors each, and the Interim Agreement, an executive agreement that capped U.S. and Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) forces. Under the Interim Agreement, both sides pledged not to construct new ICBM silos, not to increase the size of existing ICBM silos “significantly,” and capped the number of SLBM launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines. The agreement ignored strategic bombers and did not address warhead numbers, leaving both sides free to enlarge their forces by deploying multiple warheads (MIRVs) onto their ICBMs and SLBMs and increasing their bomber-based forces. The agreement limited the United States to 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes. The Soviet Union was limited to 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes. In June 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty.


In November 1972, Washington and Moscow agreed to pursue a follow-on treaty to SALT I. SALT II, signed in June 1979, limited U.S. and Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and strategic bomber-based nuclear forces to 2,250 delivery vehicles (defined as an ICBM silo, a SLBM launch tube, or a heavy bomber) and placed a variety of other restrictions on deployed strategic nuclear forces. The agreement would have required the Soviets to reduce their forces by roughly 270 delivery vehicles, but U.S. forces were below the limits and could actually have been increased. However, President Jimmy Carter asked the Senate not to consider SALT II for its advice and consent after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, and the treaty was not taken up again. Both Washington and Moscow subsequently pledged to adhere to the agreement’s terms despite its failure to enter into force. However, on May 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said that future decisions on strategic nuclear forces would be based on the threat posed by Soviet forces and not on "a flawed SALT II Treaty.”


The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), first proposed in the early 1980s by President Ronald Reagan and finally signed in July 1991, required the United States and the Soviet Union to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles, carrying no more than 6,000 warheads as counted using the agreement’s rules. The agreement required the destruction of excess delivery vehicles which was verified using an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, the regular exchange of information, including telemetry, and the use of national technical means (i.e., satellites). The agreement’s entry into force was delayed for several years because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing efforts to denuclearize Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus by returning their nuclear weapons to Russia and making them parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and START I agreements. START I reductions were completed in December 2001 and the treaty expired on Dec. 5, 2009.


In June 1992, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin agreed to pursue a follow-on accord to START I. START II, signed in January 1993, called for reducing deployed strategic arsenals to 3,000-3,500 warheads and banned the deployment of destabilizing multiple-warhead land-based missiles. START II would have counted warheads in roughly the same fashion as START I and, also like its predecessor, would have required the destruction of delivery vehicles but not warheads. The agreement's original implementation deadline was January 2003, ten years after signature, but a 1997 protocol moved this deadline to December 2007 because of the extended delay in ratification. Both the Senate and the Duma approved START II, but the treaty did not take effect because the Senate did not ratify the 1997 protocol and several ABM Treaty amendments, whose passage the Duma established as a condition for START II’s entry into force. START II was effectively shelved as a result of the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

START III Framework

In March 1997, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed to a framework for START III negotiations that included a reduction in deployed strategic warheads to 2,000-2,500. Significantly, in addition to requiring the destruction of delivery vehicles, START III negotiations were to address “the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads…to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions including prevention of a rapid increase in the number of warheads.” Negotiations were supposed to begin after START II entered into force, which never happened.

SORT (Moscow Treaty)

On May 24, 2002, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty) under which the United States and Russia reduced their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The warhead limit took effect and expired on the same day, Dec. 31, 2012. Although the two sides did not agree on specific counting rules, the Bush administration asserted that the United States would reduce only warheads deployed on strategic delivery vehicles in active service, i.e., “operationally deployed” warheads, and would not count warheads removed from service and placed in storage or warheads on delivery vehicles undergoing overhaul or repair. The agreement’s limits are similar to those envisioned for START III, but the treaty did not require the destruction of delivery vehicles, as START I and II did, or the destruction of warheads, as had been envisioned for START III. The treaty was approved by the Senate and Duma and entered into force on June 1, 2003. SORT was replaced by New START on February 5, 2011.


On April 8, 2010, the United States and Russia signed New START, a legally binding, verifiable agreement that limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 strategic delivery systems (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers), and limits deployed and nondeployed launchers to 800. The treaty-accountable warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 upper limit of SORT, and the delivery vehicle limit is 50 percent lower than the 1,600 allowed in START I. The treaty has a verification regime that combines elements of START I with new elements tailored to New START. Measures under the treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. The treaty also provides for the continued exchange of telemetry (missile flight-test data on up to five tests per year) and does not meaningfully limit missile defenses or long-range conventional strike capabilities. The U.S. Senate approved New START on Dec. 22, 2010. The approval process of the Russian parliament (passage by both the State Duma and Federation Council) was completed Jan. 26, 2011. The treaty entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and will expire in 2021, though both parties may agree to extend the treaty for a period of up to five years. Both parties met the treaty’s central limits by the Feb. 4, 2018 deadline for implementation.

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements

Strategic Nuclear Arms Control Agreements


StatusExpiredNever Entered Into ForceIn Force*ExpiredNever Entered Into ForceNever NegotiatedReplaced by New STARTIn Force
Deployed Warhead LimitN/AN/AN/A6,0003,000-3,5002,000-2,5001,700-2,2001,550
Deployed Delivery Vehicle LimitUS: 1,710 ICBMs & SLBMs
USSR: 2,347
2,250Prohibits ground-based missiles of 500-5,500 km range1,600N/AN/AN/A700
Date SignedMay 26, 1972June 18, 1979Dec. 8, 1987July 31, 1991Jan. 3, 1993N/AMay 24, 2002April 8, 2010
Date Ratifed, U.S.Aug. 3, 1972N/AMay 28, 1988Oct. 1, 1992Jan. 26, 1996N/AMarch 6, 2003Dec. 22, 2010
Ratification Vote, U.S.88-2N/A93-693-687-4N/A95-071-26
Date Entered Into ForceOct. 3, 1972N/AJune 1, 1988Dec. 5, 1994N/AN/AJune 1, 2003Feb. 5, 2011
Implementation DeadlineN/AN/AJune 1, 1991Dec. 5, 2001N/AN/AN/AFeb. 5, 2018
Expiration DateOct. 3, 1977N/Aunlimited durationDec. 5, 2009N/AN/AFeb. 5, 2011Feb. 5, 2021**

*On Feb. 2, 2019, both the United States and Russia announced they were suspending their obligations to the treaty.

**New START allows for the option to extend the treaty beyond 2021 for a period of up to five years.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Arms Control Measures

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Signed Dec. 8, 1987, the INF Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to verifiably eliminate all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Distinguished by its unprecedented, intrusive inspection regime, including on-site inspections, the INF Treaty laid the groundwork for verification of the subsequent START I. The INF Treaty entered into force June 1, 1988, and the two sides completed their reductions by June 1, 1991, destroying a total of 2,692 missiles. The agreement was multilateralized after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and current active participants in the agreement include the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also parties to the agreement but do not participate in treaty meetings or on-site inspections. The ban on intermediate-range missiles is of unlimited duration.

Both the United States and Russia have raised concerns about the other side’s compliance with the INF Treaty. The United States first publicly charged Russia with developing and testing a ground-launched cruise with a range that meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km in 2014.

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow is charging that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and is making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. On Oct. 20, 2018 President Donald Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the agreement citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s missiles, and on Dec. 4, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia in “material breach” of the treaty. The Trump administration provided official notice to the other treaty states-parties on Feb. 2, that it would both suspend its obligations to the treaty and withdraw from the agreement in six months—per the treaty's terms—and "terminate" the agreement. The administration has stated that it may reverse the withdrawal if Russia returns to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missile, which the United States alleges is the noncompliant missile which can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty. 

Presidential Nuclear Initiatives 

On Sept. 27, 1991, President George H. W. Bush announced that the United States would remove almost all U.S. tactical (nonstrategic) nuclear forces from deployment so that Russia could undertake similar actions, reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation as the Soviet Union dissolved. Specifically, Bush said the United States would eliminate all its nuclear artillery shells and short-range nuclear ballistic missile warheads and remove all nonstrategic nuclear warheads from surface ships, attack submarines, and land-based naval aircraft. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated on Oct. 5, pledging to eliminate all nuclear artillery munitions, nuclear warheads for tactical missiles, and nuclear landmines. He also pledged to withdraw all Soviet tactical naval nuclear weapons from deployment. Under these initiatives, the United States and Russia reduced their deployed nonstrategic stockpiles by an estimated 5,000 and 13,000 warheads, respectively. However, significant questions remain about Russian implementation of its pledges, and there is considerable uncertainty about the current state of Russia’s tactical nuclear forces. The Defense Department estimates that Russia possess roughly 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons and the numbers are expanding. The United States maintains several hundred nonstrategic B61 gravity bombs for delivery by short-range fighter aircraft. 

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Brief Chronology of START II

April 2014

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: March 2019

Nearly a decade of efforts to bring the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II into force ended in June 2002, a month after the United States and Russia concluded negotiations on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which stipulates a 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warhead ceiling for both countries' nuclear arsenals. The SORT limit effectively supersedes START II's cap of 3,000-3,500 warheads for each side. For more detailed information on the START II agreement, please see START II and its Extension Protocol at a Glance.

Presidents George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin signing START II in Moscow on 3 January 1993. (Photo: Susan Biddle/National Archives)


January 3, 1993: Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin sign START II in Moscow.

January 15, 1993: President Bush submits START II to the Senate for advice and consent.

June 22, 1995: President Yeltsin submits START II to the Duma for ratification.

January 26, 1996: The Senate overwhelmingly approves START II by a vote of 87-4.

March 20-21, 1997: Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin address a number of arms control issues during their summit meeting in Helsinki. In a "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces," the presidents agree to extend the deadline for SNDV elimination under START II by five years and to immediately begin negotiations on a START III treaty once START II enters into force (subsequently modified to occur once START II is ratified). They also agree that START III negotiations will include four basic components: (1) a limit of 2,000-2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each side by the end of 2007, (2) measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and to the destruction of strategic warheads, (3) extension of the current START agreements to unlimited duration, and (4) deactivation of all SNDVs to be eliminated under START II by the end of 2003.

September 26, 1997: Codifying commitments made at Helsinki, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov sign a protocol in New York extending the deadline for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs) under START II from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2007. In an exchange of letters, Albright and Primakov also agree that once START II enters into force, the United States and Russia will deactivate all SNDVs to be eliminated under the treaty by December 31, 2003, "by removing their nuclear reentry vehicles or taking other jointly agreed steps." Primakov's letter also states that Russia expects that START III will "be achieved" and enter into force "well in advance" of the START II deactivation deadline.

April 13, 1998: President Yeltsin submits the START II extension protocol to the Duma.

December 25, 1998: In response to the December 16-19 U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq, the Duma postpones a scheduled vote on START II ratification.

April 2, 1999: The Duma postpones a scheduled vote on START II ratification to protest NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which started March 24 after Serbia refused to halt military actions against Kosovar Albanians seeking autonomy. (Moscow has historically allied itself with Serbia.)

April 14, 2000: The Russian Duma (lower house of parliament) overwhelmingly approves the START II ratification legislation 288-131 with four abstentions.

May 4, 2000: Putin signs the resolution of ratification for START II and its extension protocol. The legislation makes exchange of the instruments of ratification (required to bring the treaty into force) contingent on U.S. ratification of the 1997 extension protocol and ABM-related agreements.

December 13, 2001: U.S. President George W. Bush issues a six-month notice to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, stating, "I have concluded the ABM Treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks."

May 24, 2002: Russia and the United States sign SORT, which calls for each country to deploy no more than 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads.

June 13, 2002: U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty takes effect.

June 14, 2002: Russian President Vladimir Putin declares that Russia is no longer bound by its signature of START II, ending his country's efforts to bring the treaty into force.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

START II and Its Extension Protocol at a Glance

March 2019

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: March 2019 

START II's ratification process began after U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the agreement on January 3, 1993. The United States ratified the original START II agreement in January 1996, but never ratified a 1997 protocol extending the treaty's implementation deadline or the concurrently negotiated ABM Treaty succession, demarcation, and confidence-building agreements.[1] On May 4, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the resolution of ratification for START II, its extension protocol, and the 1997 ABM-related agreements. Russia's ratification legislation made the exchange of START II's instruments of ratification (required to bring it into force) contingent on U.S. approval of the extension protocol and the ABM agreements; Congress never voted to ratify the entire package.

Russia announced on June 14, 2002, that it would no longer be bound by its Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) II commitments, ending almost a decade of U.S.-Russian efforts to bring the 1993 treaty into force. Moscow's statement came a day after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and a few weeks after the two countries concluded a new nuclear arms accord (SORT) on May 24. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which requires the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads apiece by December 31, 2012, effectively superseded START II's requirement for each country to deploy no more than 3,000-3,500 warheads by December 2007. Yet other key START II provisions, such as the prohibition against deploying multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), were not addressed in the SORT agreement.

Basic Terms[2]:

  • Deployment of no more than 3,000 to 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads on ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy (long-range) bombers by December 31, 2007.
  • "Deactivation" of all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles slated for elimination under the treaty by removing their nuclear reentry vehicles (warheads), or taking other jointly-agreed steps, by December 31, 2003.[3]

Additional Limits:

  • No multiple warheads (MIRVs) on ICBMs.
  • All SS-18 "heavy" Russian ICBMs must be destroyed.
  • No more than 1,700 to 1,750 warheads may be deployed on SLBMs.
  • Reductions in strategic nuclear warheads, as well as de-MIRVing ICBMs by "downloading" (permanently removing) warheads from missiles.


1. The START II extension protocol shifted the deadline for completion of START II reductions from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007. The succession agreement formalized the former Soviet republics' status as parties to the 1972 ABM Treaty. The demarcation agreements clarified the demarcation line between strategic and theater ballistic missile (TBM) defenses. On September 26, 1997, the extension protocol was signed by the United States and Russia and the ABM-related agreements were signed by the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

2. START I definitions, limits, procedures, and counting rules applied to START II, except where explicitly modified. Unlike START I, which substantially undercounts weapons deployed on bombers, the number of weapons counted for bombers would be the number they are actually equipped to carry. Provided they were never equipped for long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, up to 100 heavy bombers could be "reoriented" to conventional roles without physical conversion, which would not count against the overall limits. The reoriented bombers could be returned to a nuclear role, but thereafter could not be reoriented and exempted from limits.

3. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov codified the deactivation agreement through an exchange of letters in September 1997. Primakov's letter also contained a unilateral declaration that Russia expected START III would be "achieved" and would enter into force "well in advance" of the START II deactivation deadline.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Russia Declares Itself No Longer Bound by START II

July/August 2002

By Wade Boese

Responding to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the previous day, Russia declared June 14 that it would no longer be bound by the START II nuclear arms reduction agreement.

Moscow’s announcement was more symbolic than substantive because START II had never taken effect and was unlikely to do so after Russia tied its fate to that of the ABM Treaty two years ago. In addition, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed a new strategic reductions treaty May 24 that effectively superseded START II.

International law requires countries not to undermine the object of treaties they have signed, even if those treaties have not entered into force. However, in its June 14 statement Russia declared it no longer considered itself legally obligated to refrain from actions forbidden by START II because it believed the treaty was dead.

Russia’s action did not surprise the Bush administration. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters June 17, “We knew they were going to do this, and they’ve now done so.”

If it had entered into force, START II would have required the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 3,500 warheads apiece. START II also banned multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) on ICBMs. In 1992, President George H. W. Bush described MIRVs as “the most destabilizing strategic weapons.”

According to a U.S. official, the collapse of START II has not upset the Bush administration because the United States and Russia have already “moved beyond” the accord with the May 24 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. The new treaty, if it enters into force, will commit each country to limit its deployed strategic nuclear forces to fewer than 2,200 warheads by the end of 2012. (See ACT, June 2002.)
Previously viewed as a major accomplishment of START II, the MIRV ban is not part of the new agreement, but the Bush administration appears indifferent. Boucher described the president as “not terribly concerned” about how Russia deploys its warheads.

Russia is now free to extend the service life of some of its aging MIRVed missiles, such as the SS-18, which would make it easier and less costly for Russia to maintain the force level permitted by the new treaty. Moscow has talked about putting multiple warheads on its newest ICBM, the Topol-M (SS-27). But Russia would need to slightly modify the Topol-M and declare it as a new type of missile for the action to be legal under START, which is in force until December 2009. Russia began fielding small numbers of single-warhead Topol-Ms in 1998.

Russia had long complained that START II was unfair because Moscow deploys a greater proportion of its strategic warheads on MIRVed ICBMs than the United States. To maintain parity with U.S. forces under START II, Moscow would have needed to build a substantial number of expensive, new single-warhead ICBMs after eliminating its MIRVs.

Although many Russian politicians disliked START II, they eventually saw it as possible leverage to preserve the ABM Treaty, which Moscow perceived as increasingly threatened by U.S. missile defense plans.

When Russia finally ratified START II in May 2000—seven years after the treaty was signed and four years after the Senate approved the accord—it conditioned the treaty’s entry into force on U.S. approval of a 1997 package of several arms control agreements, including measures to clarify the terms of the ABM Treaty. Moscow also stated that U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would be grounds for Russia to pull out of START II.

The U.S. official said June 18 that these past Russian linkages “made it impossible for START II to enter into force.”


Responding to the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the previous day, Russia declared it would no longer be bound by START II.

Fuzzy Nuclear Math

Daryl G. Kimball

At November’s Washington-Crawford summit, President George W. Bush announced his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces from today’s 6,000 deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads within 10 years. The proposal, along with the Texas-style hospitality extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was intended to signify Bush’s desire to move beyond the Cold War. By the administration’s strategic calculation, the United States and Russia are now “friends,” who should size and orient their respective strategic offensive and defensive arsenals to meet the threats of the future, not one another.

Unfortunately, the president’s numbers do not add up to his commendable rhetoric. The size of the deployed U.S. arsenal 10 years from now would be only 300 fewer than the 2,000-2,500 START III framework ceiling approved by the U.S. Strategic Command in 1997. The vast majority of these weapons would still be assigned to striking Russia’s nuclear arsenal and industrial infrastructure. In other words, under Bush’s plan, friends would target friends with nuclear weapons.

The administration’s proposal fails to factor in other key variables, including the presence of the already large and growing stockpile of nondeployed “hedge” warheads. This reserve of some 4,500-5,000 strategic and tactical warheads was once mostly intended to provide the United States with the capability to quickly reverse reductions of its deployed arsenal to guard against a Russian buildup. Now, the presence of the hedge creates a strong disincentive for Russia to implement cost-saving nuclear reductions.

In addition, Bush has apparently rejected ideas contained in the START III framework that would make reductions irreversible through the verifiable dismantlement and destruction of delivery systems and warheads. As a result, Bush’s formula would simply lead to the reassignment of warheads from the deployed to the nondeployed side of the ledger. Bush’s handshake-brand of unilateral, voluntary arms restraint would not only make nuclear stockpiles more opaque, it would also do little to decrease their overall size.

President Putin welcomed Bush’s proposal and reiterated Russia’s offer to cut both sides’ strategic deployed forces to 1,500 warheads through a verifiable treaty. But the Bush administration has—so far—turned down the opportunity to codify U.S. and Russian reductions, arguing that negotiations and treaties are tedious, time-consuming, and unnecessary. Citing his father’s 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives with Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush suggests that meaningful reductions can be achieved more quickly through unilateral reciprocal action.

The unilateral withdrawal and consolidation of tactical nuclear forces was a bold and clearly necessary tactic, especially in the midst of the Soviet Union’s collapse. If Bush sought to jump-START the arms control process through an immediate stand-down of a substantial number of U.S. strategic deployed nuclear forces, an informal rather than a formal approach might make sense. Instead, Bush proposes a drawn-out 10-year implementation period for U.S. reductions—time enough for negotiation and ratification of a firm agreement to make the cuts irreversible and verifiable.

Bush’s plan should nevertheless provide some renewed momentum for the arms reduction process. It will likely force congressional Republicans to allow the removal of a 1998 law prohibiting U.S. reductions prior to START II’s entry into force. However, Bush and Putin’s failure to reach an understanding on strategic missile defenses leaves open the possibility of unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Absent reasonable constraints on national missile defense, Russia will be tempted to maintain higher levels of strategic nuclear weapons to overcome a future U.S. missile shield. Although its nuclear forces are headed for lower levels, Russia is capable of maintaining a sizable deployed arsenal—as many as 3,800 warheads—including destabilizing multiple-warhead missiles, many on hair-trigger alert.

Some anti-treaty ideologues at the Pentagon have tried—and will try again—to convince President Bush that he must withdraw from the treaty to allow more robust missile defense testing. This argument simply does not stand up, given the fact that several more years of treaty-compliant developmental testing is necessary before beginning the operational tests required to demonstrate real-world effectiveness. In seeking an agreement with Putin on future U.S. missile defense testing and strategic offensive reductions, Bush would be wise to maintain the basic framework of the ABM Treaty.

Given the long history of adversarial relations and persistence of Cold War-era strategic thinking, it is unlikely that a gentleman’s agreement between two leaders can last beyond their terms in office. As a result, President Bush’s unwillingness to lock in reductions on all strategic weapons through a formal, verifiable agreement unnecessarily perpetuates vestigial Cold War-era nuclear dangers. Those who believe nuclear arms control has no place in the post-Cold War context should think again.

At November’s Washington-Crawford summit, President George W. Bush announced his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces from today’s 6,000 deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads within 10 years. The proposal, along with the Texas-style hospitality extended to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was intended to signify Bush’s desire to move beyond the Cold War. By the administration’s strategic calculation, the United States and Russia are now “friends,” who should size and orient their respective strategic offensive and defensive arsenals to meet the threats of the future, not one another. (Continue)

What If the New Strategic Framework Goes Bad?

Joseph Cirincione and Jon B. Wolfsthal

Events since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington could fundamentally change the U.S.-Russian relationship. A sustained military and diplomatic campaign against terrorism will necessitate a broad international coalition and the close cooperation of nations bordering terrorist operational bases. Russian support and intelligence could prove vital to the success of allied air and ground operations against camps in Afghanistan. In return for such aid, Russia appears to expect that the United States will reciprocate in some fashion, perhaps by compromising on security issues that have recently stressed the relationship.

However, Russian expectations for this new relationship may outpace the willingness of the Bush administration to adapt its positions on key issues. For example, although Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov continues to maintain that Moscow’s strategic partnership with Washington “must be based on strengthening the architecture of treaties,” it is unclear whether President George W. Bush agrees.1 Bush argued during a October 11 press conference that deployment of missile defenses is an urgent issue but said, “We’re restricted from doing that because of an ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty that was signed during a totally different era.... The case is more strong today than it was on September 10th that the ABM is outmoded, outdated, reflects a different time.”

How the United States and Russia work out these delicate issues may well determine if the new warmth in U.S.-Russian relations is truly a sea change or merely a brief lull in ongoing tensions. If the relationship returns to a mixture of cooperation on some issues but antagonism on others, Russia might respond to U.S. deployment of missile defenses—or other provocative actions, such as NATO expansion—more confrontationally than it might have without the current increase in expectations. Even if an adverse reaction is not seen right away, it is important to recognize that Putin has already moved out ahead of Russian military and security thinking by aligning so closely with the anti-terrorism coalition. If his high expectations of the benefits of his new pro-Western policies are not met, there could be a backlash in Moscow over the next few years. For the United States to understand fully the risks of its policies, it is important to detail Russia’s options.

In the run-up to the Washington-Crawford summit meeting in November, the Bush administration will make tough decisions on a host of issues that will affect the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship, including the future of offensive arms reductions and missile defenses. It appears that top officials, including the president, are basing their decisions and their approach to the summit on a series of best-case assumptions on how Russia will react to ABM Treaty withdrawal and unilateral offensive reductions. However, the president would be well served to consider also some worst-case scenarios that, among other things, might result in Russia maintaining larger nuclear forces than would otherwise exist, keeping or expanding the use of multiple warheads on its missiles, operating these forces at a dangerous high-alert status, and perhaps curtailing cooperation in vital non-proliferation matters.

A New Strategic Framework?

Administration officials believe that U.S. nuclear security can be enhanced by adopting a new framework for U.S.-Russian relations that would replace formal, tedious arms control agreements with informal or political understandings. Negotiations would be replaced by consultations and buttressed by economic incentives. Obsolete treaties would be discarded and only vital treaties would remain intact. Not only would such steps enhance U.S. security in the near to midterm, they would also allow ties between Washington and Moscow to grow unfettered by Cold War-type interaction.

Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, argues, “The arms control treaties of the 1970s and 1980s came out of a peculiar, abnormal relationship between the United States and Russia…. [Today] Russia is not a strategic adversary of the United States. We are not enemies. So the process can look different.”2 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explains, “You negotiate a treaty to try to control hostility between two parties…. We don’t have negotiations like that for treaties to not be hostile with Mexico or Canada or France or England”3 Or, more succinctly, “Arms control treaties are not for friends.”4

Pursuit of this less formal strategy, it is argued, would enable the administration to take steps on offenses and defenses that would bolster U.S. security in ways not allowed by the current web of agreements.

First, the administration could withdraw from the ABM Treaty and deploy missile defenses—ostensibly without provoking Russia. Not only would this permit the United States to develop a defense against rogue-state ballistic missiles, it would also cleanse the “balance of terror” from the U.S.-Russian relationship. The administration maintains that, by codifying a relationship of mutual assured destruction between the United States and Russia, the ABM Treaty perpetuates an enmity that hinders the improvement of relations.

Second, the administration believes that it no longer needs to size its offensive nuclear forces against Russia’s and that the formal START negotiation process is simply impeding further strategic reductions. The Bush administration would prefer to reduce dramatically the number of U.S. nuclear weapons to levels based on its own strategic assessments. Although no targets for these reductions have been announced, forces could be reduced below the START III level of 2,500 deployed warheads, depending on the new strategic guidance developed by President Bush for the Strategic Command. The scale of the reductions and the process to be followed could be announced as early as the Bush-Putin meeting in Crawford.

The Bush administration further maintains that negotiated reductions are no longer needed because in the coming decades Russia will rapidly decrease its number of strategic offensive weapons for its own strategic and financial reasons. Current projections estimate that the Russian deployed strategic arsenal will consist of fewer than 1,100 warheads by 2010. (See Table 2.) U.S. officials have even signaled that they would not object to Russia maintaining (and expanding the future deployment of) multiple warheads on its land-based intercontinental missiles as assurance that the Russian force could overwhelm any U.S. defensive systems.

The U.S. announcement of deep reductions, it is believed, should demonstrate to Russia and the world the U.S. commitment to decreasing its reliance on nuclear weapons and should help advance non-proliferation goals. Free of treaty constraints, the United States will be able to adjust its nuclear forces upward, should the need arise, without accusations of breaking treaties.5 Moreover, this flexibility to go up as well as down should deter others, particularly China, from challenging U.S. dominance or seeking strategic parity.

Thus, by reaching agreement with Russia on the elimination of the ABM Treaty and the unilaterally implemented (but bilaterally arranged) reduction of offensive nuclear forces, the United States and Russia would actually accelerate the arms reduction process beyond that envisioned by the START agreements. Although both sides would retain robust nuclear capabilities—Russia’s would be sufficient to overwhelm envisioned U.S. defenses—the nature of the relationship would prevent any concerns about nuclear build-ups, breakout, or strategic instability.

Going beyond purely bilateral aspects, other benefits could accrue from this approach. By the administration’s rationale, beginning deployment of defensive systems, however imperfect at first, will also deter potential rogue state challengers by reducing the attractiveness of ballistic missiles and increasing the perceived likelihood of U.S. response to regional crises, even if the regional powers have weapons of mass destruction. Thus, defense will strengthen, not replace, nuclear deterrence. Within this new, assertive security policy, U.S. allies should, so the argument goes, be reassured that the United States will remain engaged and will not be deterred from its regional security commitments. Far from being an isolationist policy, these measures will ensure continued U.S. military strength and global engagement for decades to come.

In short, the best case is that, by clearing the underbrush of extraneous and counter-productive treaties and negotiations, the United States will be better positioned to construct a new strategic paradigm over the coming years that will preserve its security and allow U.S.-Russian relations to truly move beyond the Cold War.

A Worst-Case Analysis

Of course, things rarely work out as planned. Unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and deployment of missile defenses by the United States could lead to a deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship and could lead Russia to take unilateral steps of its own to ensure its ability to overwhelm any such system or future systems.

Obvious steps include deploying countermeasures and maintaining as many warheads on active platforms as possible. Moreover, Russia could withdraw from those arms control treaties that place constraints on its deployed nuclear arsenal, including START I and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Although Russia could not rebuild its forces to Cold War levels, it could greatly increase the number of weapons it otherwise would likely deploy at the end of the decade. Russia could also slow or end its cooperation with U.S. threat reduction programs and hinder U.S. non-proliferation efforts.

Expanding the Arsenal

Current projections show Russia’s deployed strategic arsenal declining to just over 1,000 weapons by the end of the decade. However, through a variety of means, Russia could maintain a deployed arsenal almost four times larger than actually planned, with a variety of associated concerns for security and strategic stability. Russia could accomplish this by accelerating production of new MIRVed missiles, slowing the pace of dismantlement of current systems, and implementing extraordinary measures to extend the operational life of these systems.

By the end of 2010, given current conditions, Russia’s ICBM force would likely consist of about 230 SS-27s if production immediately increased to 20 missiles per year from 2001 through 2010 (fewer if production stayed at the current 10 per year). Under current conditions, Russia would not field any SS-18s in 2007 and only 72 SS-19s, with only one warhead on each.

However, ABM Treaty withdrawal by the United States would end any chance that START II, which bans the deployment of ICBMs with multiple warheads, would come into force. Without the constraints of START II, Russia could MIRV its growing number of SS-27 missiles, expand production to 50 per year (the limits of current facilities), and—in the extreme—take extraordinary measures to extend the service life of the SS-18 (with 10 warheads each) and the SS-19 (with 6 warheads each). It is therefore possible that, by the end of 2010, Russia could field 440 SS-27s with 1,320 warheads;6 72 SS-19s with 432 warheads; and perhaps as many as 90 SS-18s with 900 warheads (this would require cannibalizing parts from other SS-18s slated for destruction). This is not a prediction of the future force, merely a description of the physically possible force, given sufficient finances.

The obvious question is, so what? Why should the United States care how many warheads Russia deploys, or vice versa? Does it matter if somehow Russia manages to deploy 3,850 rather than 1,000 warheads? The Bush administration argues that the nuclear arsenals of each state have little if any bearing on the deployments of the other and that, because the United States and Russia are not enemies, the United States should deploy those nuclear forces it deems necessary without consideration of the Russian arsenal.

In reality, however, the nuclear arsenals of both countries do affect one another. The reluctance of the U.S. Strategic Command to agree to a deployed nuclear arsenal much below the proposed START III level of 2,500 deployed strategic warheads is based primarily on its nuclear exchange calculations vis-à-vis Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its requirement to hold Russia’s nuclear and military targets at risk.7 Likewise, Russia, even in a cooperative environment with the United States, will continue to view U.S. deployments (offensive and defensive) as the primary factor in sizing its future force.

There are real dangers associated with large, deployed forces. Missiles with multiple warheads are considered high-value targets. In order to protect these assets, military commands in both countries keep such missiles on high alert, ready to launch within minutes. Given the poor and degrading state of the Russian early-warning system, the continued deployment of MIRVed ICBMs poses a major risk of accidental launch or launch-in-error, even during periods of strategic stability. Such risk could rise exponentially if U.S.-Russian relations deteriorate.

The United States has offered to assist Russia with enhancing its early-warning capabilities—and may offer again. But progress to date in this area has been poor, and security, bureaucratic, and political obstacles to major progress remain. It is unlikely that Russia’s early-warning network is likely to improve in the near to midterm. Reductions in the number of Russian missiles, maintaining the START II ban on MIRVed land-based missiles, and encouraging the de-alerting of the majority of the forces would substantially decrease serious, existing nuclear threats to the United States.

In addition, there are serious concerns about the physical security of Russia’s nuclear weapons. Currently, deployed weapons are guarded by elite troops and considered highly secure, but the same cannot be said of nuclear materials in storage, despite U.S. cooperative threat reduction efforts. A larger deployed Russian arsenal requires Moscow to maintain larger numbers of reserve warheads and nuclear materials, with security concerns growing in direct proportion to the size of those assets. The storage of warheads, assembled plutonium “pits” for warheads, and supplies of nuclear materials outside of weapons continue to pose a major security risk. Only dismantling the weapons and permanently disposing of the materials will eliminate this threat.

The End of Threat Reduction?

This threat from a large, inadequately secured Russian arsenal would be significantly compounded if the deterioration in strategic U.S.-Russian relations led Moscow to slow or even stop its participation in cooperative threat reduction programs.

The dramatic reductions in the Russian arsenal under the START I agreement have been carried out, in large part, through the successful implementation of U.S. cooperative threat reduction programs, which provide financing and equipment for Russia and other former Soviet states to fulfill their arms reduction obligations and dismantle unwanted weapons. As of mid-2001, these programs had resulted in the elimination of 423 ballistic missiles, 383 ballistic missile launchers, 85 bombers, 483 long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, 352 submarine missile launchers, 209 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and 19 strategic missile submarines. (See Table 3.)

But a significant amount of work remains, and a slide in the relationship might lead Russia to rethink its participation in these programs—particularly those that directly reduce the size and flexibility of the Russian nuclear arsenal, such as ICBM, SLBM, and bomber elimination. Although Russia could extend the service lives of some systems, such as the SS-18, to some extent now, they could extend them further by cannibalizing parts from some missiles to sustain others. However, this could not be done if missile systems were eliminated, as is now planned under cooperative threat reduction. The same is true of the schedules to decommission strategic submarine launchers, which could remain active—in port if needed.

Even if Russia wanted to continue cooperation with the threat reduction programs, continued U.S. funding would be highly questionable because Russia would be expending resources deploying up to 50 new missiles per year. Political support within the United States for these programs would likely dry up if such a confrontational and uncooperative relationship were to develop. Already skeptical of U.S. funds for cooperative threat reduction programs, key members of Congress would have an effective new argument to constrain cooperative efforts.

Beyond assistance to eliminate specific weapons systems, this loss of support would hamper other nuclear security matters covered by cooperative threat reduction. Besides the warheads and delivery systems themselves, hundreds of tons of Russian nuclear weapons-usable materials are at risk of being stolen or diverted. The immense task of disposing of excess nuclear materials has been a mixed success. More than 100 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) have been diluted and sold to the United States as part of the “HEU Purchase Agreement,” but an agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 tons each of weapons-grade plutonium is in great peril due to lack of funds and waning political support in Washington. Another potential threat lies with the tens of thousands of Russian workers who have knowledge in the production of, or potential access to, nuclear weapons and who are demoralized, underemployed, and underpaid.

International Implications

Beyond the immediate U.S.-Russian context, the maintenance of larger nuclear arsenals has other implications. The size of the Russian and U.S. arsenals directly and indirectly affect the size of nuclear arsenals in China, India, Pakistan, and potential nuclear weapons states, as well as nuclear weapons research and development programs and pressures to resume nuclear testing. Hard-liners in China will argue that the combined reality of U.S. missile defense deployments and still large U.S. and Russian deployed forces requires a dramatic expansion of China’s nuclear modernization programs. This will then have serious implications for India, which in turn will affect Pakistan, as well as Japan, the Koreas, and Iran.9

This cascading effect would undoubtedly weaken the already strained international non-proliferation regime. Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires all states to “negotiate in good faith” efforts toward nuclear disarmament. It can (and probably will) be argued that the United States’ refusal to negotiate with Russia on further arms reductions is a material breech of the NPT, a treaty the Bush administration supports. Some already believe the United States has reneged on its obligations under the NPT and the agreements reached at the 1995 and 2000 review conferences—for example, through the Senate’s rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999. U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, followed by Russian withdrawal from the START and INF agreements, could seriously undermine confidence in and compliance with international arms control and restraints.

Proliferating Countermeasures

Russia also has the ability to complicate the potential effect of U.S. missile defense deployment in other ways. As an advanced nuclear-weapon state, Russia has developed significant expertise in the area of missile defense countermeasures. From systems as simple as wire “chaff” or reflective balloons to more complex designs, such as maneuverable or simulated warheads, Russia could deploy a wide variety of effective countermeasures to any U.S. system currently contemplated.

More serious for U.S. planners, Russia could decide to sell such systems to other missile-possessing states. It could also provide technical expertise to advise such nations on likely U.S. defensive systems and techniques for overcoming these defenses. Such a development could further complicate relations between the United States and Russia and have a direct negative effect on the utility of any U.S. missile defense system. Thus, in the worst case, Russia could thwart the effectiveness of a U.S. missile defense system not just against its own warheads but also against missiles fielded by other countries.

More Missile Sales

The United States has long been concerned that Russia has not adequately prevented its missile technology from benefiting states developing missile capabilities. The Russian government does not officially condone the transfer of ballistic missile technology and material to states such as Iran or North Korea, but the United States has imposed sanctions against Russian institutes and companies for allegedly engaging in just these sort of activities with Iran.

It is possible that Russia, in seeking to further complicate U.S. efforts to deploy an effective missile defense against such systems, might be even less inclined to enforce effective export controls on missile technology. Although unlikely, Russia might even adopt a more aggressive policy of expanding its direct involvement in missile programs in India, Iran, and other countries, possibly using the guise of aiding their development of space-launch vehicles.

U.S. appeals to Russian officials to constrain this sort of activity, now only marginally effective, could become even less so. Moreover, the United States is less likely to gain allied support for its overall export-control efforts in the ballistic missile field if it has unilaterally pursued a missile defense system at the expense of its relationship with Russia.

Increased Nuclear Reliance

By increasing Russia’s general sense of strategic unease, the U.S. decision to pursue missile defenses unilaterally could also further convince Russia of the need to increase its reliance on nuclear weapons for its current and future security. In part, this process may be inevitable in the near future. The decline of Russia’s conventional forces, as demonstrated in Chechnya, has led to an increased rhetorical reliance on the role of tactical nuclear weapons. This official position also reflects Russian concern over the eastward expansion of NATO, another round of which now appears likely.

What is not yet determined is how far this reliance on nuclear weapons will go. There are elements in Russia (as there are in the United States) that are pushing for the development, testing, and deployment of smaller nuclear weapons, often referred to as “mini-nukes.” There is nothing new about low-yield nuclear weapons; they have been developed and were even deployed widely in the 1950s and 1960s by both the United States and Russia. The possible return to such systems (now mated to precision-guided munitions) raises numerous concerns including the implications of resuming nuclear tests in Russia, the wider deployment of nuclear weapons and associated command and control issues, and possible threats to use—or the actual use of—nuclear weapons in battlefield situations.

Let’s Make a Deal

One cannot deny that it may be possible for the United States to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and contain the damage. It is possible that, as a Russian official recently said, the U.S.-Russian relationship could continue to improve and grow while both hold strongly differing positions on the value of the treaty or even in the treaty’s absence. It is also possible that after withdrawal missile defenses might remain constrained by technological challenges, serious operational difficulties, weak public and military demand, low threat, and high costs. Defenses may be deployed in very low numbers; deployed and then retired (as in the 1970s); or deployed only in specific theaters, not globally.

But there is no need to run the risks that withdrawal and related policies would bring. The worst-case scenario is completely avoidable. The United States and Russia could, while preserving the ABM Treaty, agree at Crawford to permit extensive testing of missile defense systems, leaving the question of large deployments a decade or more in the future. Russian officials and experts have indicated over the past few months that Russia could accept substantial modifications to the ABM Treaty along these lines.9

The outlines of a possible deal are simple. First, Russia and the United States could quickly negotiate a binding agreement for deep reductions to between 1,500 and 2,000 deployed weapons, relying on a modified set of START verification procedures. This likely could be accomplished in weeks, not years. There should be no need for long, drawn-out negotiations, given the history and knowledge both states have of verification measures. A new agreement would, in essence, replace the existing START I limit of 6,000 deployed strategic warheads with a new, lower target. Transparency and verification procedures (possibly streamlined) established by the treaty would continue, including exchange of nuclear force data and mutual inspections. A variety of associated issues could be quickly resolved.

Second, the ABM Treaty constraints on testing could be just as easily settled. The two sides could quickly agree to modify the ABM Treaty to permit expanded testing of land- and sea-based systems (such as the proposed tests of Aegis radars) needed to validate the feasibility of future missile defenses. Future decisions on the deployment of such systems can be safely deferred. With such an agreement, there is little that the Bush administration would like to do over the next five years that it cannot do within the ABM treaty.

Before September 11, President Bush had one major foreign policy priority: withdraw from the ABM Treaty and deploy missile defenses. After the attacks, the war on terrorism and the need to maintain an international anti-terrorism coalition are now at the top of the agenda. By pursuing an agreement with Russia that allows testing but preserves the ABM Treaty’s ban on wide-scale deployment of defenses, President Bush can pursue both priorities. Both nations can rightfully declare a diplomatic success. This course of action will also allow U.S.-Russian strategic reductions to proceed cooperatively and enhance prospects for further threat reduction initiatives


Table 1

Deployed Russian Strategic Weapons, 2001


SS-24 (silo)
SS-24 (rail)
SS-27 (silo)
Tu-96 (ALCM)
Tu-95 (Non-ALCM)

As 2001 draws to a close, Russia remains a major nuclear power, deploying some 5,800 strategic nuclear warheads on almost 1,200 delivery vehicles. The arsenal is well below its Cold War peak of more than 12,000 deployed strategic warheads and has been in decline since 1989. Further substantial reductions in the size of the arsenal are to be expected, given the life expectancy of those systems now deployed and financial and other constraints. The pace and severity of this decline, however, will depend on a number of factors—not the least of which is the overall strategic and political relationship with the United States.

Russia’s nuclear arsenal is deployed in a triad of weapons systems: land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and long-range bombers. All but one of the currently deployed systems (the land based SS-27), however, are older systems that are slowly being retired. Given current projections and adequate funding for weapons dismantlement, Russia’s arsenal could drop to less than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads by the end of the decade. However, although the number of delivery systems will decline, a large number of the warheads themselves (and the nuclear materials within them) will remain in storage. In addition, Russia is currently thought to possess more than 8,000 tactical warheads, and it is not clear how many such warheads Russia plans to maintain in the near future.

Table 2

Projection of Russian Nuclear Forces, 2010
Current Projections for 2010 Deployed Warheads
Upper Limits for 2010 Deployed Warheads

Table 3

Cooperative Threat Reductions:
2001 and Planned
Planned Total
Warheads Deactivated
ICBMs Destroyed
ICBM Silos Eliminated
Mobile ICBM Launchers Destroyed
Bombers Eliminated
Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missiles Destroyed
SLBM Launchers Eliminated
SLBMs Eliminated
SSBNs Eliminated
Nuclear Test Tunnels Sealed

Source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency

1. Andrew Higgins, “Russia Watchers Ponder Whether Shift Toward West Is for Long Haul,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2001.
2. Interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, July 29, 2001.
3. Interview on PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, August 16, 2001.
4. Interview on Fox News’ Fox Special Report with Brit Hume, August 10, 2001.
5. For further discussion of this freedom of action, see “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control,” National Institute for Public Policy, January 2001.
6. Assumes the current force is 30 missiles and that the production rate increases to 20 per year in 2002, 40 in 2003, and reaches its maximum of 50 annually from 2004 through 2010.
7. See testimony of Admiral Richard W. Meis, commander-in-chief of U.S. Strategic Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, July 11, 2001.
8. For a more detailed discussion, see Joseph Cirincione, “The Asian Nuclear Reaction Chain,” Foreign Policy, Winter 1999.
9. Interviews with the authors.

Joseph Cirincione is senior associate and director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Jon B. Wolfsthal is an associate at the Non-Proliferation Project.


Events since the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington could fundamentally change the U.S.-Russian relationship. A sustained military and diplomatic campaign against terrorism will necessitate a broad international coalition and the close cooperation of nations bordering terrorist operational bases. Russian support and intelligence could prove vital to the success of allied air and ground operations against camps in Afghanistan. In return for such aid, Russia appears to expect that the United States will reciprocate in some fashion, perhaps by compromising on security issues that have recently stressed the relationship. (Continue)

Moscow Seeks Five-Way ‘Strategic Stability’ Talks

During a July 1-3 summit in Russia with French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested holding multilateral “strategic stability” talks, at which further U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warhead cuts could be discussed.

A Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman clarified July 6 that Putin was calling for “a permanently operating consulting process on the problems of strategic stability” in which the five legally recognized nuclear-weapon states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, and France—would participate.

The spokesman also said that Russia hoped the five countries would discuss “drastic reductions” in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, going down to or below 1,500 deployed strategic warheads. The reductions would be implemented by 2008 “under the strict control provided by the agreements START I and START II.” Russia hopes the other three countries “also will continue to show restraint in the nuclear field,” the spokesman added.

By December, the United States and Russia each will have reduced their deployed arsenals to 6,000 strategic warheads under START I, but the diplomatic process for pursuing further cuts has stalled. Both states have ratified START II, requiring them to cap their arsenals at 3,500 deployed warheads, but a Russian legislative requirement linking the accord to disputed missile defense issues has prevented the treaty from entering into force. Also, START III negotiations, which the two sides agreed in 1997 would cap warhead limits at 2,500 deployed warheads, have failed to start, and the Bush administration appears reluctant to conclude a formal treaty on nuclear cuts.

With this proposal, it appears that Putin is trying to marshal international support for both deep, negotiated reductions—which could conceivably involve other countries once the United States and Russia had reached extremely low levels—and maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

When asked about the proposal during a July 13 press briefing, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that President George W. Bush is already considering unilaterally reducing U.S. nuclear weapons and that the administration is not interested in seeking a “one-to-one match with the Russians.” Moscow and Washington subsequently agreed to and have held bilateral consultations on offensive reductions and defensive systems. (See U.S.-Russian Differences Remain On Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty.)

During a July 1-3 summit in Russia with French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested holding multilateral “strategic stability” talks, at which further U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warhead cuts could be discussed. (Continue)

U.S.-Russian Differences Remain On Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

Despite a flurry of summer meetings between top U.S. and Russian officials on offensive and defensive strategic forces, Moscow remains unconvinced by U.S. arguments to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles.

U.S. officials have tried unsuccessfully since May to sell Russia on the idea of developing a new bilateral strategic framework that would involve, among other things, scrapping the 1972 ABM Treaty, building strategic missile defenses, and lowering offensive nuclear force levels. President George W. Bush first articulated the proposal in a May 1 speech and discussed it with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in June. But Moscow has continued to support maintaining the ABM Treaty, though over the past few months it has hinted that it would consider amending the accord.

Meeting July 22 in Genoa, Italy, on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Bush again lobbied Putin to back his new strategic framework. Putin demurred, but the presidents issued a joint statement saying their countries would “begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems.” At a post-meeting press conference, Putin said the two matters would be discussed as a “set,” and Bush said, “The two go hand-in-hand.”

Nonetheless, there was confusion about what had been agreed. Later that day, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice insisted that the presidents had not agreed to link the issues of offense and defense formally and that Washington would go it alone if Russia refused to work with the United States.

Rice traveled to Moscow a few days later to craft a timetable for continuing the talks and to discuss the strategic framework proposal further with the Kremlin. Although she left Russia with a schedule for consultations, Rice made no headway in getting Russian leaders to accept the U.S. proposal. “We did not hear from Mrs. Rice any new arguments to cause us to review our fundamental approach to the 1972 treaty,” a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said July 27.

An August 13 visit to Moscow by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld yielded similar results. When asked whether Rumsfeld had persuaded him that the ABM Treaty had outlived its usefulness, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov answered, “I’m afraid not.” Later that day, Ivanov stated, “We feel no compunction to leave one or any other treaty or accord which we currently have signed.”

Throughout these high-level talks and after August meetings of government experts in Washington and Moscow, Russia repeatedly said that it had not received enough detailed information about U.S. plans. Putin, who also met with Rumsfeld August 13, said Moscow wants to be told of the “military and technical parameters of the [missile defense] proposals” and to know how low the United States would be willing to reduce its nuclear forces, along what timeframe, and how such reductions would be verified.

Washington says that it cannot yet answer these questions, asserting that future missile defense deployments will be based on what technologies pan out during research and testing and that the Pentagon is still conducting a review of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Rumsfeld, however, told various Moscow audiences that he should know the future size of U.S. nuclear forces within the next couple of months.

Russia and the United States are currently implementing START I, which caps each country’s arsenal at 6,000 deployed strategic warheads. START II, which has not yet entered into force, would lower this cap to 3,500 warheads. Although the two countries agreed in March 1997 to pursue an additional follow-on treaty, START III, that would reduce their arsenals to no more than 2,500 strategic warheads each, Russia has since proposed going down to 1,500 warheads. The Bush administration, however, has not yet indicated whether it would go as low as or below the proposed START III numbers.

Russia appears to favor codifying in a formal document any agreements it reaches with the United States. On August 13, Ivanov declared a need for “a system of controllable restraints” and “a series of limits.” But Washington has said it is not seeking a formal agreement on offenses or defenses. A senior defense official explained August 10 to reporters, “We are not seeking a Cold War-style arms control negotiation or treaty in these talks.”

Part of the administration’s rationale is that it does not have time for such an approach because its ballistic missile defense testing program will “bump up against” the ABM Treaty within months. Pentagon plans call for starting construction in April 2002 on a new Alaskan missile defense test site, which officials also claim will be available for operational use in an emergency. “Time is of the essence,” Bush emphasized July 23.

Claiming it does not want to violate the treaty or slow its testing program, the Bush administration states it would like to reach an agreement soon with Russia to mutually withdraw from the treaty, but failing that outcome, Washington warns it will withdraw unilaterally. Six months’ notice is required to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

Responding August 22 to news stories that the United States had set out a November deadline for concluding the talks—six months before the April construction date—at the Moscow meeting of experts, a State Department spokesperson stated, “There is no deadline.” The next day, Bush also denied any deadlines had been set but left no doubt about U.S. plans, declaring, “We will withdraw from the ABM Treaty on our timetable at a time convenient to America.” He added that Putin is “aware of [U.S.] desires to move beyond the ABM Treaty and we will.”

Russian officials are skeptical of Washington’s abbreviated timeframe. “I don’t see any possible way that we can take something that complicated and do it only in a couple of months,” Ivanov said after meeting with Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell are expected to meet with their Russian counterparts again in September to continue the talks. The two presidents will also meet in October in Shanghai, China, and again in November at Bush’s Texas ranch. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, who led the U.S. expert group in Moscow, said August 21 that he believed “the two presidents would be disappointed in us if we didn’t have something for them to consider when they get together in Texas.”

Despite a flurry of summer meetings between top U.S. and Russian officials on offensive and defensive strategic forces, Moscow remains unconvinced by U.S. arguments to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. (Continue)

Offense, Defense, and Unilateralism in Strategic Arms Control

Rose Gottemoeller

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both spoken out in the last year on the idea of unilateral reductions in strategic nuclear forces. During his election campaign, Bush let it be known that he preferred to move quickly to reduce nuclear weapons, not waiting, as he put it, for “years and years of detailed arms control negotiations.”1 Bush reaffirmed this view in his May 1, 2001 speech on strategic issues, when he said, “My goal is to move quickly to reduce nuclear forces. The United States will lead by example to achieve our interests and the interests for peace in the world.” Putin, for his part, announced in November 2000 that he was ready to pursue strategic nuclear arms reductions “together or in parallel”—this, even before it was clear that Bush would be entering the White House.2 Putin stressed that Russia was ready to reduce its arsenal to 1,500 deployed strategic warheads or even lower, going below the 2,000-2,500 warheads that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had agreed to at Helsinki as targets for START III.

In short, the United States and Russia apparently share an interest in accelerated reductions in strategic offensive nuclear forces. Moreover, they both seem willing to conduct those reductions in a unilateral manner, due in part to a deadlock in the START process over the past few years. The approach, although undertaken independently, is essentially cooperative. It could include coordinated announcements of strategic nuclear reductions in a summit context, transparency measures during the process of implementation, or bilateral consent to use some existing regime measures—such as the verification provisions of START I—to facilitate and build confidence in the reductions. Although it may seem paradoxical, this strategy could be called “cooperative unilateralism.”

The strategic defense case, however, is much more troubled. From the outset, the Bush administration has stressed a preference to pursue unilateral measures to deploy missile defenses, while emphasizing that they would not be designed to counter the Russian offensive arsenal, but rather a more limited “rogue state” threat. The Russians, for their part, have tended to disbelieve these arguments. They stress that the wide-ranging research and development program that the Bush administration is pursuing conveys the impression that a much more ambitious national missile defense system is in the cards, one that would decisively threaten Russian strategic offensive capabilities in future years.

The rhetoric on this matter heated up in the summer of 2001, when a briefing that had been provided to U.S. allies became public. It emphasized that the U.S. missile defense testing program would be “bumping up” against the constraints of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in “months not years.” On that basis, the briefing implied, the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty within a year, with the required six months’ notification perhaps being given before the end of 2001.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton seemed to expand on this theme when he visited Moscow in August. He hinted publicly that November was the United States’ informal deadline for convincing the Russians to join in abrogating the ABM Treaty and proceeding to a new arrangement on missile defenses.3 Although Washington backed away from talk of a deadline after Bolton’s comments, President Bush clearly continued to support unilateral action should the discussions with the Russians fail to bear fruit. The United States will withdraw from the ABM Treaty, the president said, “at time convenient to America.”4

Thus, discussions on strategic defenses have been flavored by a sense of U.S. ultimatum that has hampered chances for progress—this despite considerable U.S.-Russian consonance of views on strategic offenses. In essence, a situation has emerged in which both the United States and Russia appear to recognize the benefits of unilateral action to further reduce strategic offensive arms, but hold widely different views on applying unilateralism to the strategic defense case. Cooperative unilateralism may be possible in speeding offensive reductions, but not, it seems, in easing differences on defenses.

This article examines the essential differences between these two cases. It considers the rationales that the two countries have developed for unilateral measures, both currently and in the past, and the successes and failures that they have encountered. Based on these lessons, it explores how unilateralism might be used to better advantage in the current U.S.-Russian environment, in particular suggesting ways forward for the difficult strategic defense case.

The Arguments for Unilateralism

In recent years, the most important argument that has emerged on the U.S. side in support of unilateral measures is that they permit more flexibility than legally binding arms control treaties that have been ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Duma, the Russian parliament. The United States, in this view, may need to adjust or increase its nuclear force posture in response to future threats, taking advantage of technological changes that would not be permitted by an arms control treaty. Unilateral measures are seen as inherently less constraining on future U.S. strategic force planning.5 Unilateral measures are equally less constraining on the Russian force posture, of course, but U.S. proponents of unilateralism argue that Russian economic problems will preclude a rapid and unpredictable buildup of Russian nuclear weapons.

This argument emphasizes the notion that technology is of greater service to U.S. national security than international law. Newt Gingrich put it succinctly when he said, “It’s the difference between those who would rely on lawyers to defend America and those who would rely on engineers and scientists.”6

In earlier days, the emphasis was less on flexibility for U.S. forces than on establishing intent at the negotiating table. An early example of U.S. unilateralism was President Eisenhower’s announcement of a moratorium on nuclear testing at the beginning of the 1958 negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—a move that was opposed at the time by the U.S. military. Eisenhower’s move led to a parallel declaration by the Soviet Communist Party general secretary, Nikita Khrushchev. Although the negotiations did not end in agreement, the parallel moratoria established the serious intent of the negotiators and started a four-decade-long process that advanced through a series of more ambitious test ban treaties, beginning with the atmospheric test ban and moving to the threshold test ban. Eventually, this process led to completion of a CTBT.

Thus, in the past an important rationale for unilateralism has been that it establishes the intent of the parties at the beginning of a diplomatic process and therefore spurs eventual success. This approach has been especially valuable when no regime existed to provide a foundation for negotiations and the parties were developing new concepts from scratch. The unilateral action essentially launched the negotiations and shaped the environment in which they went forward. As confidence in the process grew, negotiated arrangements were completed, but sometimes these too did not become legally binding (i.e., ratified treaties) for many years. Instead, they may have been implemented on an agreed basis, either partially or completely, for some period of time. This was the case with the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which was signed in 1974 but did not enter into force until 1990. In short, unilateral measures have historically been the rootstock from which new arms control agreements have grown and developed in a kind of evolutionary process.

The current U.S. administration, however, has tended to discount the symbiotic relationship that can exist between unilateral measures and negotiated regimes, insisting instead that unilateral measures should replace negotiated efforts. In this view, the rationale for unilateral measures is that they produce results faster than lengthy, complex negotiations in some international watering hole. Bolton expressed the idea clearly in congressional testimony: “…these are not going to be traditional arms control negotiations with small armies of negotiators inhabiting the best hotels in Geneva for months and years at a time…while we hope, expect, are optimistic for cooperation with the Russians, the president is determined to have an effective missile defense system. If we can do it together, that would be great. But if we can’t, we will do it ourselves.”7

For the Russians’ part, unilateralism in arms control has a long history. Some Soviet leaders embraced it for ulterior motives. In the 1950s, for example, the Soviet political leadership tried to use unilateralism as a way to escape serious verification of arms reductions. As Khrushchev told Harold Stassen in his characteristically colorful way, “Perhaps there is no need to reach formal agreement and sign documents. Supposing we take unilateral decision and disarm a million men, would there be no response from your side to such a gesture? We want to do it, but we are not ready to have controllers in our bedrooms.”8

The Soviet military, in contrast, looked suspiciously on unilateral arms control measures, not least because of the pain that Khrushchev’s unilateral troop cuts had imposed on the armed forces in the late 1950s and early 1960s. General Dmitry Volkogonov, then deputy chief of the main political administration in the Ministry of Defense, expressed it well in 1987 when he wrote, “Just as it is impossible to applaud with one hand, so it is impossible to create a nuclear free world with only unilateral efforts.”9 He went on to say in a later article, “An adequate way to survival lies through compromises, negotiations and mutual concessions, but only provided these are based on equal security.”10 “Equal security” was a code phrase for the military’s insistence that Soviet defense requirements still depended strongly on the posture and capabilities of likely Soviet adversaries, especially the United States and its NATO allies. According to this argument, even when there was a low probability of conflict—such as at the end of the Cold War—the Soviet Union could not afford to unilaterally disarm.

Today, similar arguments are heard in Moscow about the need for caution in unilateral arms reductions. Many older analysts, perhaps bearing the scars of the earlier debates, mention the problem of equal security and argue for continued emphasis on the negotiating table. At the same time, the strand of enthusiasm for unilateral action continues among the political leadership, but with a different twist. Instead of trying to avoid verification, the current Russian leadership emphasizes that unilateral measures should stress verification, monitoring, and transparency in order to be able to understand the degree to which each side has accomplished changes in its force structures. Thus, despite the continuing undercurrent of debate in the Russian arms control community, Putin has seemed genuinely interested in pursuing an agenda of reductions in strategic offensive nuclear forces, either together or in parallel.

Today’s Debate: The Offense Case

The benefits of proceeding with offenses unilaterally but cooperatively are strong. In particular, unilateral action could accelerate the U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction process that has been stymied in recent years by difficulties at bringing arms control treaties into force. START II, for example, although it was signed in 1993 and has been ratified in both capitals, has been hung up on a legislative requirement put in place by the Russian Duma. The legislation requires that a set of agreements signed in New York in 1997 be ratified by both parties before START II can be brought into force. Since some of the so-called New York protocols deal with ABM Treaty issues that have been unpalatable to many in the U.S. Congress, START II entry into force has effectively been on hold.

Indeed, it seems unlikely that START II will enter into force in the foreseeable future. The Bush administration has indicated no interest in seeking Senate approval of the New York protocols, and the Putin administration has indicated no interest in amending the Russian legislation. Moreover, START III, the follow-on agreement to reduce strategic offensive weapons to 2,000-2,500 deployed warheads on each side, fell victim to similar linkage. Mapped out by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin at Helsinki in May 1997, the START III proposal had been the subject of intense discussions between Moscow and Washington over the last three years. However, progress on these offensive arms reductions became linked to bilateral accommodation on ABM issues. The Clinton administration wished to amend the ABM Treaty to permit limited defense deployments in Alaska, but Yeltsin, and later Putin, resisted these efforts, stalling progress on both offense and defense.

A cooperative unilateral approach to strategic offensive force reductions would effectively “blast through” these constraints and enable the United States and Russia to make rapid progress where none has seemed possible. Differences would still have to be resolved before the two countries could proceed in this manner. For example, the two sides currently have different notions of how low the reductions might go. President Putin has stressed since November 2000 that he is not only reiterating the Russian offer to reduce strategic nuclear forces to 1,500 deployed weapons on each side but that he is also offering to go lower. Some have speculated that he may be willing to propose a number as low as 1,000 weapons. Meanwhile, President Bush has made it clear that he would like to sharply reduce U.S. nuclear forces, but he has been awaiting the outcome of the U.S. nuclear posture review, due to be completed by the end of the year. It became clear in July 2001, however, that some senior figures in the U.S. military establishment are not keen to go lower than the level of 2,000-2,500 warheads already agreed to with the Russians as the target for START III.11

Another difference is that while the Russians have expressed a clear preference for a “catch-up agreement” to follow and reinforce any unilateral strategic force reductions, the Bush administration continues to express a preference to avoid the negotiating table. For their part, the Russians argue strongly that unless there is a legally binding document to underpin implementation of the reductions, particularly monitoring and verification measures, each side will lose confidence in its understanding of the other’s strategic nuclear force posture.

This problem exists not only for Russia, but also for the United States. Threat assessment and force planning in both countries benefit from predictability in the relationship. The more the United States knows about what is going on with Russia’s nuclear force posture, the easier it is to determine how to counter it. The extension of arms control monitoring in START I beyond national technical means of verification, such as satellites, to on-site inspections and other cooperative measures has done much to ease threat assessment and force planning for both Russia and the United States. Reverting to dependence on national technical means alone would be a step backward.

Another argument that the Russians make is that legally binding agreements are the only mechanisms that actually spur legal, regulatory, and procedural change in the Russian system. This argument has arisen in the context of the so-called Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) agreed to by Bush and Gorbachev, and later Yeltsin, in 1991 and 1992. The PNIs called for the removal of most U.S. and Soviet non-strategic nuclear weapons from operational deployment by certain dates for storage and eventual destruction.12 They were announced in summit joint statements, but did not include any agreed measures to monitor or verify that the steps were being implemented.

As a result, the United States and Russia implemented the PNIs differently. Whereas budget pressures in the wake of the PNIs led the United States to essentially denuclearize the non-strategic elements of its navy, the Russians retained nuclear training and operational practice. They argued that they could not make changes in Russian military procedures for training nuclear-certified troops and handling and maintaining weapons except in response to a legally binding treaty. Russian naval captains, for example, are required by regulation to continue training their troops to handle nuclear weapons, even though (the Russians claim) no nuclear weapons are carried aboard non-strategic naval platforms on a day-to-day basis. They acknowledge that this continuation of nuclear practice makes it difficult to discern from the outside that nuclear deployments have ended. They argue, however, that without a legally binding agreement, they are prevented by Russian law from making changes in that practice. As one naval officer commented, “Presidents come and go, presidential summit statements come and go. In our navy, unless there is a legal government-to-government agreement, the procedures and requirements stay the same.”13

Having had their own difficulties with lengthy, expensive negotiations in Geneva, the Russians have not insisted on a major new strategic arms reduction treaty. Putin said as much in his November 13, 2000 statement: “We share the opinion which is also expressed in the U.S. that in order to reach such an accord protracted negotiations or starting from scratch will not be necessary. We have significant experience, there are legal mechanisms within START I and START II.” In other words, even in advance of Bush’s arrival in the White House, Putin spoke favorably of adapting or building on the foundation of existing regimes to effect implementation of further reductions.

The Bush administration has not yet openly expressed a view on the idea of adapting or building on existing START measures to ensure smooth monitoring of further reductions. Clearly it would prefer to see those reductions conducted “in parallel” rather than as part of a negotiated regime, but its view of maintaining existing START verification measures to implement unilateral reductions is uncertain.

However, from its earliest days, the administration has been confronted with some of the difficulties that emerge from reliance on unilateral measures alone. In January 2001, just as President Bush was preparing to take office, the U.S. press reported that Russia was reversing PNI reductions by re-deploying tactical nuclear weapons in the Kaliningrad enclave. U.S. public concern was followed shortly by outcry in countries neighboring Kaliningrad, especially Poland. The Polish government called for international inspections of the Kaliningrad sites, only to hear from the U.S. State Department, “We do not inspect nuclear storage facilities except as agreed to under relevant arms-control agreements.”14 Thus, while the PNIs are an excellent example of the speed with which unilateral action can have an impact, questions about their long-term efficacy may be one reason the administration would consider retaining verification and monitoring measures from previous agreements.

A new “agreement” to proceed with cooperative unilateral reductions in strategic offensive forces might be a short, straightforward, presidential summit statement. It would state the intended level of force reductions for each country, and it would reference the monitoring and verification measures of the START I Verification Protocol as the way in which each side would implement the reductions. In essence, the existing “legally binding” umbrella of the START I Verification Protocol would be extended to new, cooperative, but essentially unilateral, reductions.

Trouble Over Defense

While the cooperative unilateral approach seems possible in the case of strategic offensive forces, proceeding cooperatively on strategic defense is problematic. The United States and Russia have thus far disagreed decisively on the future of the ABM Treaty. The Russians have publicly insisted on maintaining the ABM Treaty, although they have implied that some amendments might be possible to accommodate the U.S. testing program. For its part, Bush’s team has insisted that the ABM Treaty is a Cold War treaty that cannot be adapted to new circumstances and instead has suggested a new type of document. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “We need an understanding, an agreement, a treaty, something that allows us to move forward with our missile defense programs….”15 This document would also underpin a new framework for strategic cooperation, as President Bush urged in his May 2001 speech. However, up to this point the Russians have remained cautious about this notion.

If neither amendment of the ABM Treaty nor a new agreement is possible at the moment, then a third option might be for the two sides to agree to a process for building confidence concerning ongoing missile defense developments. A perfect parallel to the approach on the offensive side would be for each side to proceed unilaterally with development, testing, and deployment of missile defenses, but in a cooperative and open manner. However, a true cooperative unilateral approach, with similar elements present in each country, is currently not possible. For one thing, the Russians have shown no interest thus far in reinvigorating missile defense as an element of their national strategy. For another, they are unlikely to spend their scarce budget resources on a new missile defense program.

Thus, instead of a cooperative unilateral approach on the defense side, the most feasible option would be a unilateral U.S. effort in which the Russians would acquire over time sufficient transparency to develop confidence in what the United States was doing. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld seemed to be describing just such an arrangement during his August 2001 trip to Moscow. He argued that it may take five or 10 years for the United States and Russia to begin to trust each other fully in a new post-Cold War environment, but said, “What we have to do is find ways through interchanges, consultations, transparency, verification, monitoring—whatever it takes to demystify what we’re doing. To the extent suspicion, even misplaced, persists, then we ought to be able to find ways to demystify that and to reduce those suspicions.”16

Rumsfeld’s words convey some interesting possibilities. Assuming that a limited U.S. ballistic missile defense system is in the cards, the high level of interaction that Rumsfeld is suggesting could give the Russians a greater understanding of U.S. developments than the ABM Treaty alone would provide. For example, Russian involvement in cooperative projects to develop defense technologies would potentially give them transparency into the U.S. program and early warning of any effort to develop a capability against Russian strategic offensive forces. As their confidence develops, the Russians might, over time, be willing to move from cooperation on defense technologies into a new agreement or arrangement on missile defense deployment—a follow-on to the ABM Treaty. This would be the final, logical step in the “demystification” of U.S. strategic defense policy.

A key question, of course, is whether the ABM Treaty would remain in place while this process unfolds. Although the Bush administration would clearly like to move quickly to replace it with a new arrangement, a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement,” the Putin administration would prefer that the treaty remain in place as a transitional mechanism for the process.

Two Cases, Two Models

For both the strategic offense and defense cases, the conclusion can be drawn that unilateralism makes best sense if it is connected—at least eventually—to a cooperative regime that is already in place and being implemented by the parties. The existence of a successful START I regime, for example, is one reason why the United States and Russia might agree to carry out unilateral reductions in strategic offensive forces on an accelerated basis. Thanks to START I, each party understands well what goes on in the other’s strategic offensive arsenal. What is more, they both are likely to want to continue with that level of understanding and so might be willing to extend the provisions of START I verification and monitoring to a unilateral reduction process. This would be a clear example of cooperative unilateralism.

Of course, the willingness of the United States and Russia to cooperate in this regard will depend on a positive outcome to their current disagreement about missile defenses and the ABM Treaty. Although this article has separated the offense and defense cases for the purposes of analysis, the two are closely related—a reality reflected in the recent presidential summit statement at Genoa. If Washington and Moscow are unable to reach agreement on defensive issues, the result in the offensive realm and elsewhere will likely be highly confrontational. If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the ABM Treaty, for example, Russia may decide to make good on its threats to withdraw from START, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and other international arms control agreements. Unilateralism in this case would take on a destructive edge, far removed from the concept of cooperative action conducted in parallel.

In fact, such cooperation is more difficult if the unilateral process is kept at arm’s length from existing bilateral regimes that may provide a foundation for it, but that is evidently the Bush administration’s preference with regard to missile defense. The White House would like to engage Russia in a new process of building understanding about unilateral U.S. aspirations and developments concerning missile defense, but it would like to do so without making use of the ABM Treaty.

In effect, the Bush team seems to be embarking on a process akin to the one that the Eisenhower administration began in the 1950s, when it launched a unilateral moratorium in advance of test ban negotiations. The Eisenhower administration was attempting to establish its intent and build confidence on the Soviet side that it was operating in good faith in a new policy arena. Its action, in turn, drew forth a unilateral moratorium declaration from Khrushchev, and the two sides were embarked on a process that led eventually to a series of nuclear test ban treaties.

In a similar manner, Secretary Rumsfeld has described an extensive effort to establish U.S. intent and build confidence with the Russians that U.S. missile defenses will not pose a threat to the Russian strategic offensive deterrent. A new process is clearly what the Bush administration is aiming for in the missile defense case. While the United States would continue with unilateral actions to develop its limited missile defense system, it would also conduct vigorous efforts to build transparency with Russia and demystify the U.S. program. Eventually, these efforts would lead to a new agreed arrangement: ideally, in the administration’s view, a gentlemen’s agreement that would also serve as a basis for the new framework for strategic cooperation that President Bush has proposed.

A key question, however, is whether such an arrangement would ever pass the threshold to treaty status in international law. From its outset in the Eisenhower years, the process to constrain nuclear testing combined unilateral measures with aspirations to negotiate increasingly more ambitious test ban treaties. The Bush administration has clearly expressed distaste for negotiations, and in several cases has rejected the efficacy of international treaties—the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty being one prominent example.

Another important question is how fast the Bush administration would try to push the new process. Secretary Rumsfeld described a “demystification” effort of five or 10 years in his August remarks in Moscow. However, that timeframe contrasts sharply with the frequent emphasis on speed and deadlines in the administration’s approach to missile defenses. There therefore seems to be a significant contradiction between the slow course that the Bush administration has described to develop new confidence and transparency with the Russians, and its policy aspirations with regard to rapid deployment of missile defenses.

The president would find this contradiction eased if he would reconsider using the foundation of an existing regime to underpin unilateral action and achieve accelerated results with Russia. This model ideally would involve working with the Russians to adapt the ABM Treaty to the needs of the U.S. missile defense testing program, combining that process with new technology cooperation and transparency and confidence-building measures, as Rumsfeld has proposed. If that course were pursued, the administration would likely find that testing and early deployment of missile defenses could occur in a relatively straightforward manner, with a minimum of political and diplomatic heavy lifting required both with the Russians and with U.S. allies.

However, the model in its purest form is probably not possible to pursue with this administration, given its thorough criticism of the ABM Treaty as a “relic of the Cold War.” This being the case, several variants to the model might be considered, one of which might be acceptable to the Bush team. One option, for example, might be a “timed transition” in which an adapted ABM Treaty would operate within a strictly defined period of time, perhaps keyed to a certain number of events in the testing schedule. By the end of the timed transition, a new agreement or arrangement would have to be in place. Another option might be to mine the ABM Treaty for the parts that are particularly relevant and amend or adapt them to form a limited development and testing protocol. This limited protocol, in turn, would provide the transitional environment in which a new, more comprehensive arrangement could be negotiated.

If the Bush administration chooses not to make some use of the existing regime but depends wholly on a new process with the Russians, then it is likely to have difficulty moving quickly to a new strategic arrangement. The process that the administration has described is attractive in some regards. If it offers extensive transparency and confidence-building, for example, it would give Russia more opportunities to understand the nature of the new U.S. missile defense system than would the ABM Treaty alone. As the process gathers momentum, it could contribute in important ways to the goal of finally moving beyond the Cold War, as President Bush has stressed. Nevertheless, the administration should consider whether its goal could be achieved more quickly by making use of the ABM Treaty rather than taking immediate steps to discard it.

1. George W. Bush, “New Leadership on National Security,” Washington, D.C., May 23, 2000.
2. “The Statement of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin,” November 13, 2000.
3. Patrick E. Tyler, “U.S. Sets Deadline for Settlement of ABM Argument,” The New York Times, August 22, 2001; Peter Baker, “Envoy Gives Russia Target on ABM Pact,” The Washington Post, August 22, 2001.
4. David E. Sanger, “Bush Flatly States U.S. Will Pull Out of Missile Treaty,” The New York Times, August 24, 2001. For commentary playing down the “deadline” theme, see Peter Baker, “U.S. Fails to Sway Russia on ABM Pact,” The Washington Post, August 23, 2001; Michael Wines, “U.S. Envoy Says Russia Has Time in Missile Talks,” The New York Times, August 23, 2001.
5. The argument against “legal rigidity” is well laid out in Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control, Volume I, Executive Report, National Institute for Public Policy, January 2001.
6. Quoted in Stephen Fidler, “Conservatives Determined to Carry Torch for US Missile Defense,” The Financial Times, July 12, 2001.
7. Testimony of Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Panel 1: Missile Defense and the ABM Treaty, July 24, 2001.
8. Quoted in Janet Morgan, ed., The Backbench Diaries of Richard Crossman (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981), p. 492.
9. Krasnaya zvezda, May 22, 1987.
10. Asia and Africa Today (Moscow, in English), January 1988.
11. Walter Pincus, “Nuclear Arms Chief Questions Cut in Warheads,” The Washington Post, July 15, 2001.
12. For an interesting compendium on this topic, Jeffrey A. Larsen and Kurt J. Klingenberger, eds., Controlling Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Obstacles and Opportunities, (Colorado Springs, CO: USAF Institute for National Security Studies, 2001).
13. For more on this Russian view, see Rose Gottemoeller, “Lopsided Arms Control,” The Washington Post, December 7, 2000.
14. Quoted in “Russia Places Tactical Nukes in Kaliningrad, Worries NATO,” Editorial Information Network, Week of January 8, 2001. The article that first reported the transfer is Bill Gertz, “Russia Transfers Nuclear Arms to Baltics,” The Washington Times, January 3, 2001.
15. Steve Mufson and Alan Sipress, “Powell Says U.S. Will Seek Arms Accord With Russia,” The Washington Post, July 14, 2001.
16. “Remarks by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a Roundtable with Russian Political Scientists,” Itar-Tass, August 13, 2001, distributed by the Federal News Service.

Rose Gottemoeller, who served as assistant secretary of energy for non-proliferation and national security during the Clinton administration, is a senior associate with the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both spoken out in the last year on the idea of unilateral reductions in strategic nuclear forces. During his election campaign, Bush let it be known that he preferred to move quickly to reduce nuclear weapons, not waiting, as he put it, for “years and years of detailed arms control negotiations.” Bush reaffirmed this view in his May 1, 2001 speech on strategic issues, when he said, “My goal is to move quickly to reduce nuclear forces. The United States will lead by example to achieve our interests and the interests for peace in the world.” Putin, for his part, announced in November 2000 that he was ready to pursue strategic nuclear arms reductions “together or in parallel”—this, even before it was clear that Bush would be entering the White House. Putin stressed that Russia was ready to reduce its arsenal to 1,500 deployed strategic warheads or even lower, going below the 2,000-2,500 warheads that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin had agreed to at Helsinki as targets for START III. (Continue)

The Rogue Elephant

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.”

The administration’s actions following the apparently successful personal interaction between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June and July underscore that the administration’s pursuit of national missile defense has become an irrational obsession and not simply a misguided policy. A steady stream of senior U.S. officials has descended on Moscow and reciprocal visits have been encouraged. Great care has been taken, however, to emphasize that these are not negotiations or even discussions, but simply “exchanges of information” intended to persuade Russia that it has nothing to fear from U.S. NMD plans.

The administration is brashly proposing that Russia should join in repudiating the ABM Treaty, which Moscow strongly supports as the foundation of strategic stability. Putin and other senior Russian officials complain that they have received no information on the extent of the U.S. NMD program or future strategic offensive force levels, which U.S. officials say must await the current nuclear policy review. In addition, U.S. representatives have not made clear what, if any, formal agreement might replace the ABM Treaty. Russian officials, including Putin, have stated they are not interested in signing a “blank check” and see no possibility of resolving such a complex issue in time to celebrate agreement at the November summit at Bush’s Texas ranch. Whether the U.S. approach represents the irrational expectations of true believers or is simply a ploy to create an excuse for unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty remains to be seen. But unilateral U.S. withdrawal has garnered no international support, including from close U.S. NATO allies, who have been treated to similar condescending briefings.

While tied to its obsessive NMD craving, the administration’s desire to eliminate the ABM Treaty also reflects its fundamental opposition to all formal arms control treaties. The administration sees such agreements as constraining U.S. flexibility to use its superior technology and economic resources to achieve unchallenged military superiority. Confident of substantial U.S. advantage, it has no interest in constraining the forces of potential adversaries. In this spirit, the administration has dismissed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and is not concerned by Putin’s assertion that U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty would force Russia to withdraw from START II and even START I. This would eliminate the basis for verifying strategic reductions and allow Russia to retain its land-based MIRVs, including the 10-warhead SS-18 and SS-24 missiles, as well as future replacement MIRVed missiles. This rejection of formal treaties in general and particular disdain for the ABM Treaty because it is a “30-year-old Cold War relic” seems odd for an administration that wants to expand the Cold War NATO alliance to the borders of its new friend.

The administration now plans to unleash the same officials to persuade China that the U.S. NMD would not be a threat. If these briefings are anything like those given to Congress, U.S. allies, and Russia, setting forth a technological buffet from which the United States will construct a multi-layer defense, China will hardly be persuaded that such an undertaking, costing a few hundred billion dollars, is really directed at North Korea. To sweeten this bitter pill, the administration leaked that China would be informed that the United States was prepared to accept modernization of Chinese nuclear forces and would not object if China resumed nuclear testing, which the United States might also find necessary. When this proposal was widely greeted with shocked incredulity, it was denied by another senior official—in the cacophony of contradictory statements that have characterized exposition of U.S. foreign policy.

Having predictably failed to intimidate Russia to join in a crash program to dismantle the ABM Treaty and having found absolutely no international support, President Bush should re-evaluate the wisdom of this approach. Recalling the metamorphoses of Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan to support arms control during their presidencies, influential Republican leaders should come to the aid of the Grand Old Party and persuade President Bush to adopt a less confrontational posture and avoid branding his presidency and his party as a Rogue Elephant.

To much of the world, the United States is emerging as an irrational rogue state that is increasingly out of step with the rest of the international community. The starkest example of a growing U.S. unilateralism and undisguised contempt for the views of others is the administration’s approach to national missile defense (NMD) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. In order to facilitate its pursuit of an NMD, the United States has by now made it clear that it intends to eliminate the ABM Treaty, whatever the consequences. Promised discussions with Russia, China, and U.S. allies have turned out to be simply briefings on U.S. testing plans, which the administration claims will conflict with the ABM Treaty “in months.” (Continue)


Subscribe to RSS - START II