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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
START III

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

SALT I

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.

SALT II

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.”

START I

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.

START II

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.

New START

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
 SALT  I SALT IIINF TreatySTART ISTART IISTART IIISORT

New START

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

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The START III Framework at a Glance

January 2003

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

Updated: January 2003

After the signing of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), it seemed unlikely that a START III agreement would be negotiated. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed SORT on May 24, 2002. The treaty calls for each country to deploy no more than 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads, effectively matching the limit of 2,000-2,500 warheads proposed for START III.1 SORT does not, however, address strategic nuclear warhead destruction or tactical nuclear weapons limits, both ground-breaking arms control measures that were suggested for inclusion in START III. Negotiations on START III were ultimately not successful and the treaty was never signed.

START III's Origins:

  • During their March 1997 summit meeting in Helsinki, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed on a framework for START III negotiations. At the Moscow Summit in September 1998, Clinton and Yeltsin reiterated their commitment to begin formal negotiations on START III as soon as Russia ratified START II.

Basic Elements:

  • By December 31, 2007, coterminous with START II, the United States and Russia would each deploy no more than 2,000 to 2,500 strategic nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers. Russian officials stated that they were willing to consider negotiated levels as low as 1,500 strategic nuclear warheads within the context of a START III agreement.
  • The United States and Russia would negotiate measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads, as well as other jointly agreed technical and organizational measures to promote the irreversibility of deep reductions.
  • The United States and Russia would resolve issues related to the goal of making the current START treaties unlimited in duration.2

Other Issues:

  • The United States and Russia agreed that in the context of START III negotiations, their experts would explore (as separate issues) possible measures related to nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missiles and tactical nuclear systems, including appropriate confidence-building and transparency measures.
  • The United States and Russia would also consider issues related to transparency in nuclear materials.

NOTES

1. The Bush administration maintained that SORT specifies limits on "operationally deployed" strategic nuclear forces, a term that does not include warheads on bombers and submarines under refurbishment. Since those warheads were included under START counting rules, the ceiling specified in SORT and that proposed for START III were similar.

2. START I, which entered into force December 1994, runs for 15 years, but the treaty specifies that it can be extended for successive five-year periods if it has not been superseded by another arms control agreement. If it entered into force, START II would have remained in force as long as START I is in force.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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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
ICBMs
Launchers
Warheads

SS-18

166
1,660
SS-19
150
900
SS-24 (silo)
6
60
SS-24 (rail)
36
360
SS-25
360
360
SS-27 (silo)
24
24
SLBMs
Launchers
Warheads
SS-N-8
36
36
SS-N-18
128
384
SS-N-20
100
1,000
SS-N-23
112
448
Bombers
Launchers
Warheads
Tu-96 (ALCM)
63
504
Tu-95 (Non-ALCM)
2
2
Tu-160
15
120
Totals
1,198
5,858

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
Systems
Current Projections for 2010 Deployed Warheads
Upper Limits for 2010 Deployed Warheads
ICBMs
230
2,652
SLBMs
616
616
Bombers
240
582
Totals
1,086
3,850

Table 3

Cooperative Threat Reductions:
2001 and Planned
Systems
2001
Planned Total
Warheads Deactivated
5,366
9,881
ICBMs Destroyed
423
1,037
ICBM Silos Eliminated
383
565
Mobile ICBM Launchers Destroyed
0
250
Bombers Eliminated
85
93
Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missiles Destroyed
483
487
SLBM Launchers Eliminated
352
612
SLBMs Eliminated
209
661
SSBNs Eliminated
19
41
Nuclear Test Tunnels Sealed
194
194

Source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency


NOTES
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)

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)

Bush Pushes New Strategic Framework, Missile Defenses

Wade Boese

In a May 1 speech at National Defense University, President George W. Bush said that the United States “must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty” and replace it with a “new framework.” Bush offered few details about what such a strategic framework would look like, but he reaffirmed his intention to deploy ballistic missile defenses and further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Arguing that, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world today is “vastly different” than when the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was signed in 1972, Bush said U.S. security needs to be “based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us.” Negotiated by President Richard Nixon with the Soviet Union, the ABM Treaty proscribed nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles and barred the development, testing, and deployment of sea-, air-, space- and mobile land-based ABM systems or components. Without nationwide defenses, both countries had confidence that the other would not risk a nuclear attack, knowing that it would be vulnerable to a retaliatory strike.

In addition to barring the United States from “exploring all [missile defense] options,” Bush charged in his speech that the ABM Treaty “perpetuates a relationship [with Russia] based on distrust and mutual vulnerability” and therefore must be replaced. The president did not detail what should replace the treaty, except to say that the resulting relationship with Russia should be “reassuring, rather than threatening.”

The alternative to the ABM Treaty “might be a framework, might be another treaty,” Secretary of State Colin Powell ventured in a May 14 interview with CNN. “We’re not sure what it is yet. We are not foreclosing any option,” he said.

Bush did not repeat his campaign statement that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty if Russia refused to negotiate amendments to permit a U.S. strategic ballistic missile defense. Nevertheless, he and other administration officials have made it clear that they do not think the accord is useful to U.S. security.

Prior to Bush’s speech, a top State Department official told the Danish parliament on April 25, “We believe the ABM Treaty will have to be replaced, eliminated, or changed in a fundamental way.” When asked on May 11 whether the United States may in the end continue the treaty, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher answered, “I don’t think we have raised that possibility.” He later added, “We have come to the conclusion that this treaty is outdated and not important or relevant to the current strategic situation.”

A key characteristic of the current strategic situation, according to the administration, is that, unlike the Soviet Union, so-called rogue states seeking weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles, such as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, may not be deterred from attacking the United States by the prospect of U.S. nuclear retaliation.

Without missile defenses, the president argued, the United States and others could be susceptible to nuclear blackmail by rogue states. Citing Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the president said the international community would have “faced a very different situation” if Baghdad had possessed a nuclear weapon, implying that U.S. efforts to form a coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait would have been a much more difficult task or would have failed because of the significantly higher stakes of intervening.

To guard against these new post-Cold War threats, as well as to protect against accidental launches of strategic ballistic missiles, Bush said his administration, “working with Congress,” would deploy missile defenses. The president noted he had already charged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with exploring “all available technologies and basing modes” for effective missile defenses in order to protect the United States, its deployed forces, and U.S. friends and allies.

Bush briefly mentioned the prospect of land-, air-, and sea-based defenses and that the administration saw “substantial advantages” to intercepting missiles in the boost phase during the first few minutes of flight, when the rockets are still burning, the missile is moving relatively slowly, and no countermeasures have been deployed. But he admitted that there is still “more work to do to determine the final form the defenses might take.”

Bush did not mention space-based defenses, but Rumsfeld said the following day that, in addition to land-, air-, and sea-based defenses, space-based options “are all things that need to be considered.” Rumsfeld subsequently stated on May 8 that the Pentagon office overseeing missile defenses had identified “eight, 10, or 12 different things…that they think merit attention.”

Though the administration has not yet determined the specifics of its future missile defenses, it has been clear about what the system will not be. Appearing May 6 on NBC, Rumsfeld described as “unfortunate” that some people used the term “shield” in talking about missile defenses, claiming the word suggested greater capabilities than the administration envisions. Instead, Rumsfeld explained the proposed Bush defenses would only protect against “relatively small numbers of ballistic missiles.”

Speaking the day of Bush’s speech, Rumsfeld cautioned that early defenses would “certainly unlikely” be 100 percent perfect. In fact, the secretary noted, “Most systems are imperfect; that is to say for every offense, there’s a defense, and vice versa.”

Despite having declared the ABM Treaty irrelevant and having announced that the United States will deploy missile defenses, in his speech Bush assured other countries, including Russia, that he would not present the world with “unilateral decisions already made,” but consult with other capitals and seek their input on the “new strategic environment.” Prior to his speech, Bush talked by phone with the leaders of Germany, France, Canada, Britain, and Russia, as well as NATO Secretary-General George Robertson. The following week, senior administration officials departed on visits to nearly 20 countries to hold consultations on Bush’s vision of a new strategic framework. (See Missile Defense Consultations Abroad Yield Little Progress.)

Cutting the Arsenal

Although Bush’s May 1 speech focused on describing how the world has changed since 1972 and the need for missile defenses, Bush also said that his new strategic framework would include further cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, as well as non-proliferation and counter-proliferation activities.

“My goal is to move quickly to reduce nuclear forces,” Bush declared. These reductions are expected to be implemented unilaterally rather than through negotiations with Russia, though Bush would first need Congress to repeal legislation proscribing the president from unilaterally reducing U.S. strategic forces.
As with missile defense, Bush offered only a vague goal, saying that the United States will seek a “credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs.” An administration spokesperson interviewed May 17 said it is still “too early to talk about numbers.” The Pentagon is currently reviewing how many and what types of nuclear weapons will make up the future U.S. arsenal.

Russia and the United States agreed in March 1997 to begin START III negotiations to limit each of their arsenals to 2,000-2,500 deployed strategic warheads once START II, which imposes a ceiling of 3,500 deployed strategic warheads, enters into force. But those negotiations have not gotten underway because START II has yet to enter into force. During his campaign, Bush said it should be possible to go “significantly further” than the START II cap, but he did not indicate whether he would go as low as the proposed START III levels or Russia’s stated preference for cuts to 1,500 deployed strategic warheads.

In a May 1 speech at National Defense University, President George W. Bush said that the United States “must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty” and replace it with a “new framework.” Bush offered few details about what such a strategic framework would look like, but he reaffirmed his intention to deploy ballistic missile defenses and further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal. (Continue)

The First 100 Days

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

From an arms control perspective, the first 100 days of George W. Bush's presidency have been a disaster. President Bush has demonstrated that he believes, and intends to implement, his campaign rhetoric condemning past arms control accomplishments and even the concept of arms control itself. Unless he changes direction, Bush will have effectively demolished the arms control regime that has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years.

Bush's intentions became clear when he surrounded himself with advisers drawn almost exclusively from a small circle of individuals who share the belief that arms control is fundamentally contrary to U.S. interests because it places limits on U.S. development and deployment of weapons. Supremely confident of U.S. economic, technological, operational, and moral superiority, these advisers would prefer to forego constraints on the military programs of potential adversaries than to reduce U.S. military flexibility.

The principal target of this undisguised animosity toward arms control has been the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This treaty, negotiated by President Richard Nixon and overwhelmingly ratified in 1972, stands in the way of Bush's announced intention to move as quickly as possible to deploy a robust national missile defense (NMD) system. Such an NMD system would be antithetical both to the treaty's blanket prohibition on systems to defend the entire territory of either the United States or Russia and to practically every specific provision of the treaty.

Recognizing that the ABM Treaty cannot be amended to accommodate a robust defense, Bush has set the stage for withdrawal from the treaty. While this is within a president's constitutional powers, it is not a trivial act. In fact, there is no precedent for U.S. withdrawal from a formal ratified and deposited arms control treaty. President Ronald Reagan, despite his enthusiasm for a "Star Wars" defense, never proposed withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

Bush's distaste for treaties has not been limited only to the ABM Treaty, but has also extended to formal restrictions on strategic offensive weapons. He calls for unilateral reductions, claiming formal treaties take too long to negotiate. Were he willing to use his influence with Senator Jesse Helms, START II could be brought into force promptly and START III negotiations could be undertaken immediately. Vague promises of unilateral reductions reflect the desire to maintain maximum flexibility in structuring U.S. forces with no constraints on future deployments. Freedom of action is given higher priority than the START II provisions eliminating Russia's 150 remaining 10-warhead SS-18 ICBMs as well as MIRVed SS-24s and SS-19s, and banning deployment of future MIRVed Topol-M land-based ICBMs.

In rejecting formal treaties, Bush abandons agreed verification procedures that will become increasingly important at lower force levels, as will specific provisions to guard against rapid breakout changing the strategic balance. In charting the nuclear future, Bush has apparently forgotten the admonition of President Reagan: "Trust but verify."

True to campaign rhetoric, the Bush administration states it will not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the spurious grounds that testing is required for stockpile safety and reliability. The administration apparently wishes to be in a position to test new types of weapons for new missions, such as low-yield earth-penetrating weapons.

As further evidence of his disdain for arms control agreements, Bush chose not to continue the promising negotiations, inherited from the Clinton administration, aimed at eliminating North Korea's ballistic missile development program and its missile exports. His personal public rejection of even attempting a diplomatic solution to this important problem was widely seen as reflecting not only a lack of interest in arms control but also a desire to maintain North Korea as a threat to justify his costly missile defense plans, as opposed to eliminating the threat at little or no cost through diplomacy.

The proposed 2002 budget for the Department of Energy includes substantial cuts for programs to reduce the leakage of materials and personnel from the Russian nuclear program. Coming on the heels of an independent bipartisan commission's recommendation to increase substantially the funding for these programs, one wonders about the administration's commitment to meaningful unilateral actions.

To say the least, the first 100 days have not augured well for arms control. The promised light at the end of the tunnel is not a glimpse of a new post-Cold-War, laissez-faire military paradise where the United States can do whatever it pleases, but rather an oncoming locomotive portending a disastrous collision with reality. Surely, President Bush does not want to be remembered as the man who killed arms control and replaced it with an ineffective defense in a world of military anarchy.

From an arms control perspective, the first 100 days of George W. Bush's presidency have been a disaster. President Bush has demonstrated that he believes, and intends to implement, his campaign rhetoric condemning past arms control accomplishments and even the concept of arms control itself. Unless he changes direction, Bush will have effectively demolished the arms control regime that has been painstakingly built over the past 30 years. (Continue)

Joint Chiefs of Staff 'Uncomfortable' With Start III Reductions Below 2,000-2,500

Philipp C. Bleek

Further complicating the Clinton administration's already tenuous negotiating position at the June 3-5 Moscow summit, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) appeared to reject START III reductions below 2,000-2,500 deployed strategic warheads. The chiefs' testimony, presented at a May 23 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, represents their first public statement on the issue and appears to deprive the administration of one of its few bargaining chips to induce Russian agreement to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

In recent months, Russian officials have repeatedly called for START III cuts to 1,500 warheads, a level below the 2,000-2,500 warhead ceiling agreed to by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki in 1997. Due largely to fiscal constraints, the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal is declining—deeper negotiated reductions represent Russia's only chance at reducing anticipated disparities between the U.S. and Russian strategic arsenals. For its part, the administration is seeking Russian agreement to amend the 1972 ABM Treaty to facilitate deployment of a limited national missile defense, which Russia fears may threaten its nuclear deterrent.

Senator John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called the hearing in an apparent attempt to preempt administration agreement to deeper START III cuts at the Moscow summit. The JCS and the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Richard Mies, had discussed the issue of deeper reductions at a closed Pentagon meeting May 10 at which Mies reportedly rejected reductions below 2,000-2,500. Mies' comments were subsequently leaked to The Washington Times and printed in a May 11 story.

At the hearing, several members of the JCS expressed concern about prospective deeper reductions, particularly in the absence of a substantive review of the issue. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay Johnson stated that he was "quite uncomfortable going outside the Helsinki framework without the requisite analysis on a subject of such major strategic importance." The chiefs also emphasized that they had not yet been tasked with a comprehensive evaluation of reductions below the Helsinki levels, despite the fact that Russia has been calling for deeper START III reductions for several years.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton summed up the unanimous position of the chiefs when he said, "The chiefs favor additional negotiated reduction in the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States. The chiefs support…the START III framework adopted at Helsinki." The 2,000-2,500 level was approved by the chiefs in 1997 after thorough analysis.

Representing the administration at the Senate hearing, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe responded to the chiefs' comments by emphasizing the administration's support for the Helsinki levels and noting that before lower numbers were put on the table, "We would certainly do the analysis." Administration spokesmen have echoed Slocombe's comments in recent weeks.

Substantive analysis would take time to conduct. The 1994 nuclear posture review, for example, extended more than a year. Consequently, while the administration may still discuss deeper START III cuts with Russia, an agreement on 1,500 warheads seems unlikely before the end of Clinton's term.

Joint Chiefs of Staff 'Uncomfortable' With Start III Reductions Below 2,000-2,500

Russia Ratifies START II, Extension Protocol; ABM-Related Agreements Also Approved

May 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

More than seven years after signing the treaty, Russia ratified START II on May 4, also approving a package of agreements that extend the treaty's deadline and clarify issues concerning the 1972 ABM Treaty. The ratification puts additional pressure on the United States at a sensitive time for U.S.-Russian relations as Washington tries to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of a limited national missile defense. The ratification has also eased criticism of Russia at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference for the nuclear-weapon states' lack of progress on disarmament.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's outspoken support for the treaty and the more politically moderate composition of the newly elected Duma were decisive factors in the parliament's approval of the accord. The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed a resolution of ratification April 14 by a vote of 288-131 with four abstentions. The upper house of parliament followed suit April 19, voting 122-15 in favor of the resolution. On May 4, Putin signed the resolution, officially ratifying the treaty. (See the full text of the resolution.)

Following Duma approval of the treaty, which was widely heralded as a demonstration of the newly elected president's strength and apparent commitment to arms control, Putin said that "for Russia, the conclusion of the START II treaty opens the possibility to ensure its security on a parity basis with the U.S.A." In an April 15 telephone conversation with Putin, President Bill Clinton called the Duma's action "an important step towards the reduction of nuclear arms."

Signed in January 1993 by Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin, START II reduces the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals to 3,000-3,500 deployed warheads each, eliminates multiple warheads on land-based missiles, and limits warheads deployed on submarine- launched ballistic missiles. The deadline for treaty implementation was originally January 1, 2003.

Bush submitted the agreement to the Senate shortly after it was signed, and the Senate approved it in 1996. Yeltsin submitted the treaty to the Duma in 1995, but the original agreement was never brought to a vote due to insufficient support, based in part on the perception that Russia had made too many concessions in the treaty.

To encourage Russian ratification of the treaty, an agreement to update START II was reached at the U.S.-Russian summit held in Helsinki in March 1997. In September 1997, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a protocol to START II extending the deadline for completing reductions by five years, to December 31, 2007. Albright and Primakov also agreed that the United States would have more time to remove warheads from its Minuteman III ICBMs, as required by the treaty, and that both states would deactivate by December 31, 2003, all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II (the U.S. MX missile and the Russian SS-18 and SS-24).

At the same time, the United States and Russia, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) designating Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine as successor states to the Soviet Union for the purposes of the ABM Treaty. The five states also signed agreements clarifying the demarcation line between strategic missile defenses, which are limited by the treaty, and theater missile defenses, which are not.

Although the extension protocol was negotiated to facilitate Russian approval of START II, the Duma repeatedly postponed scheduled votes on the treaty. Two postponements followed the initiation of U.S. airstrikes—first against Iraq in December 1998, and then against Yugoslavia in March 1999—which undermined Russian support for the treaty.

 

Entry Into Force Unlikely Soon

The treaty's entry into force now technically depends on the U.S. Senate's approval of the 1997 START II protocol, but Russia has complicated the situation by linking the protocol to the 1997 ABM agreements. Article 9 of the Russian resolution of ratification specifically makes exchange of the instruments of ratification, the final step required to bring the treaty into force, contingent on Senate approval of all the 1997 agreements.

The Clinton administration has yet to submit the 1997 agreements to the Senate largely because Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated that the ABM-related agreements will be rejected. Helms, along with many other conservative Republicans, believes that the ABM Treaty inappropriately constrains U.S. missile defense development and deployment efforts and that it is no longer in effect without Senate approval of the MOU on succession.

The Duma's ratification legislation also reaffirms what Russian officials have repeatedly stated in recent months: if the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty to deploy a limited national missile defense, Russia retains the option to withdraw from START II. Putin emphasized this point in his speech to the Duma prior to the START II vote, stating that if "the United States decides to destroy the 1972 ABM Treaty…we will withdraw not only from the START II treaty but also the whole system of treaties on limitation and control of strategic and conventional weapons."

According to State Department spokesman James Rubin, the administration has not made a final decision on when to submit the 1997 package. In recent weeks, Rubin has repeatedly emphasized that the administration will continue to "consult with Congress" on the 1997 documents and related issues.

 

START III Negotiations Expected

The United States had been unwilling to pursue negotiations on START III until Russia ratified START II, agreeing only to hold "discussions" on the topic, but Russia's ratification has opened the door for formal talks on further strategic reductions. In his April 14 press briefing, Rubin said, "Now we can move in an accelerated way to negotiations on START III." In a statement following the Duma vote, Putin stated that "ratification of the START II treaty opens a way to the start of official talks on further reduction of strategic arsenals of Russia and the U.S.A. in the framework of a START III treaty."

Putin went on to call for reducing deployed nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads, instead of the 2,000-2,500 level agreed to by Clinton and Yeltsin in Helsinki. In response to repeated Russian calls for deeper cuts in recent months, U.S. officials have maintained that they are still only seeking reductions to 2,000-2,500 warheads, but some senior administration officials have indicated that the United States may be prepared to negotiate deeper cuts in exchange for Russian concessions on ABM Treaty modification. On April 25, after meeting with Clinton at the White House, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reiterated Russia's call for maintenance of the ABM Treaty but also said, "We are ready to listen to any suggestions."

During a joint briefing to journalists two days later, both Ivanov and Albright highlighted the upcoming summit meeting between Clinton and Putin, currently scheduled to take place June 4-5 in Moscow. According to David Stockwell, a spokesman for the National Security Council, the summit will allow the presidents "to have intensive conversations about and seize opportunities on arms control…and non-proliferation." White House spokesman Joe Lockhart emphasized at an April 28 press briefing that while a breakthrough is unlikely, issues relating to the ABM Treaty, missile defense, and the START process are "certainly high on the agenda."

Russia Ratifies START II, Extension Protocol; ABM-Related Agreements Also Approved

Little Progress Made at START/ABM Talks

Craig Cerniello

THE FIRST ROUND of U.S.-Russian "discussions" on START III and the ABM Treaty ended August 19 without any apparent progress, casting a shadow on the Clinton administration's plans to resolve treaty issues before June 2000, when it will decide whether to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) system. During the talks, which began August 17 in Moscow, Russia continued to argue that NMD deployment would upset strategic stability and spark a new arms race. The Russians did propose, however, that the sides deploy a maximum of 1,500 strategic warheads each under START III instead of the 2,000–2,500 limit agreed to by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin at the Helsinki summit in March 1997. Further consultations on these issues are planned for September in Moscow.

In an attempt to get their bruised relationship back on track after the Kosovo conflict, the United States and Russia had agreed at the June 18–20 Group of Eight summit in Cologne, Germany, to hold discussions on START III and the ABM Treaty this summer. (See ACT, June 1999.) Building on this progress, Vice President Al Gore and then-Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced at the conclusion of their July 27 meeting in Washington that discussions on these issues would begin in Moscow the following month. The consultations, which were conducted by John Holum, Clinton's nominee for undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, and his Russian counterpart, Grigory Berdennikov, took place despite the August 9 shake-up in the Russian government in which Yeltsin fired Stepashin, later replacing him with Vladimir Putin.

Although the United States did not propose specific amendments to the ABM Treaty during the talks, senior Russian officials made their position quite clear. "We do not see any variant which would allow the U.S. to deploy a [NMD] system and at the same time maintain the ABM Treaty. If this takes place, talks on a START III treaty will be ruined, as well as the existing START I and START II agreements," said Berdennikov on August 19. Furthermore, he warned that NMD deployment would compel Russia "to raise the effectiveness of its strategic nuclear armed forces and carry out several other military and political steps to guarantee its national security under new strategic conditions."

These views were echoed by Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's department for international military cooperation. "The ABM Treaty is the basis on which all subsequent arms control agreements have been built. To destroy this basis would be to destroy the entire process of nuclear arms control," he said August 20. Despite this rhetoric, the United States and Russia once again characterized the ABM Treaty as a "cornerstone of strategic stability" in an August 19 press release.

Concerning nuclear reductions, the United States and Russia "reaffirmed" their readiness to begin official negotiations on START III as soon as the Russian Duma ratifies START II. The sides also noted their strong commitment to the START II ratification process and the treaty's entry into force. Russia's proposal to lower START III levels stems from the concern that it will have to downsize its strategic forces over the next decade because of obsolescence and mounting economic problems. However, there is no indication that the United States is considering reductions below the 2,000–2,500 warhead level agreed to at Helsinki.

THE FIRST ROUND of U.S.-Russian "discussions" on START III and the ABM Treaty ended August 19 without any apparent progress, casting a shadow on the Clinton administration's plans to resolve treaty issues before June 2000, when it will decide whether to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) system. During the talks, which began August 17 in Moscow, Russia continued to argue that NMD deployment would upset strategic stability and spark a new arms race. The Russians did propose, however, that the sides deploy a maximum of 1,500 strategic warheads each under START III instead of the 2,000–2,500 limit agreed to by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin at the Helsinki summit in March 1997. Further consultations on these issues are planned for September in Moscow. (Continue)

U.S., Russia to Begin 'Discussions' on START III, ABM Treaty

Craig Cerniello

HOPING TO RESTART their interrupted strategic dialogue, the United States and Russia held face-to-face meetings in June at the Group of Eight summit in Cologne, Germany. During talks, both sides agreed to press for ratification of START II and to hold dual-track "discussions" later this summer on both START III and possible amendments to the ABM Treaty that would allow deployment of a limited national missile defense (NMD) system. The Clinton administration is expected to make an NMD architecture decision in the coming months so that it can determine what specific treaty amendments deployment would require. However, a decision on whether to deploy an NMD system will not be made until June 2000.

Although no major breakthroughs on arms control were achieved at the June 18-20 summit, the "Joint Statement Between the United States and the Russian Federation Concerning Strategic Offensive and Defensive Arms and Further Strengthening of Stability" (see document) is significant because it indicates that both nations are now prepared to resume an agenda that had been essentially frozen during the 78 days of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia.

In their June 20 statement, the United States and Russia reiterated their strong commitment to the START II ratification process. Although the Senate gave its advice and consent in January 1996, the Russian Duma has not yet approved the treaty. A long-awaited vote on START II had been scheduled for April 2, but it was quickly shelved after NATO began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia on March 24.

By late June, however, START II was showing new signs of life. On June 21, Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said the treaty would be on the agenda for the fall session, which begins in September. Two days later, the Duma approved legislation guaranteeing funding for Russian strategic nuclear forces through 2010. Previously, Roman Popkovich, chairman of the Duma's defense committee, had argued that this bill was a prerequisite to START II ratification.

The Cologne statement also reaffirms U.S. and Russian readiness to negotiate START III. At the March 1997 Helsinki summit, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin reached an agreed framework for such a treaty, under which the United States and Russia would deploy no more than 2,000-2,500 strategic warheads each by the end of 2007 and would adopt measures promoting the irreversibility of deep reductions. The United States has reiterated its willingness to begin formal negotiations on START III, which has already been the subject of expert-level discussions, as soon as the Duma ratifies START II.

ABM Discussions

With respect to strategic defenses, the United States and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to the ABM Treaty and noted their obligation under Article XIII "to consider possible changes in the strategic situation that have a bearing on the [treaty] and, as appropriate, possible proposals for further increasing [its] viability." In a June 20 White House briefing, National Security Adviser Samuel Berger said that the Cologne statement "is very significant because for the first time the Russians have agreed to discuss changes in the ABM Treaty that may be necessitated by a [NMD] system were we to decide to deploy one." However, agreement to hold discussions on the ABM Treaty does not mean that Russia has endorsed amendments allowing for NMD deployment. Consistent with earlier statements, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said June 23 that U.S. NMD plans are "dangerous" and have the potential to upset strategic stability.

The Cologne statement also emphasizes the importance of the September 1997 package of strategic agreements signed in New York. These agreements extend the START II implementation period by five years, clarify the demarcation line between strategic and theater missile defenses and identify the successor states to the former Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty. (See ACT, September 1997.) The Cologne statement notes that the United States and Russia "will facilitate the earliest possible ratification and entry into force of those agreements." In his briefing, Berger restated the administration's position that it would not submit the strategic package to the Senate until the Duma has ratified START II.

Other Developments

The joint statement also recognizes the importance of the September 1998 U.S.-Russian agreement to share early-warning information on the worldwide launches of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles. (See ACT, August/September 1998.) Efforts to implement this long-term sharing arrangement, as well as efforts to establish a temporary joint early-warning center in Colorado Springs to deal with the Year 2000 computer problem, have been on hold as a result of the NATO air strikes. Edward Warner, assistant secretary of defense for strategy and threat reduction, said June 28 that the United States hopes to "re-engage" Russia on these issues in the near future.

At Cologne, the sides also agreed to continue the dialogue under the Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, co-chaired by Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. The Gore-Stepashin Commission, which conducts business on a broad range of issues, including arms control, will meet July 27 in Washington. Gore and then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov were scheduled to meet in late March, but the meeting was postponed because of the Kosovo conflict.

HOPING TO RESTART their interrupted strategic dialogue, the United States and Russia held face-to-face meetings in June at the Group of Eight summit in Cologne, Germany. During talks, both sides agreed to press for ratification of START II and to hold dual-track "discussions" later this summer on both START III and possible amendments to the ABM Treaty that would allow deployment of a limited national missile defense (NMD) system. The Clinton administration is expected to make an NMD architecture decision in the coming months so that it can determine what specific treaty amendments deployment would require. However, a decision on whether to deploy an NMD system will not be made until June 2000. (Continue)

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