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January 19, 2011
U.S. Nuclear Weapons

Expounding Bush's Approach To U.S. Nuclear Security: An Interview With John R. Bolton

Arms Control Today met with John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, on February 11 to discuss the Bush administration’s strategic nuclear policy, its ongoing negotiations with Russia, and its approach to nonproliferation.

In the interview, Bolton acknowledged for the first time that the United States did not offer Russia amendments to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty before announcing its withdrawal December 13. Bolton also questioned the value of the negative security assurances the United States has offered non-nuclear-weapon states since 1978, but the State Department subsequently indicated that U.S. policy had not changed and that the Bush administration does support negative security assurances. (For more information, see U.S., Russia Agree to Codify Nuclear Reductions.)

Bolton was sworn in as undersecretary on May 11, 2001. Before joining the State Department, Bolton was senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington policy organization. A lawyer by training, Bolton was a partner in the law firm of Lerner, Reed, Bolton & McManus from 1983 to 1999. He has held several government positions, including assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs from 1989 to 1993 and assistant attorney general from 1985 to 1989.

During Bolton’s time as the nation’s top arms control official, the Bush administration has generated controversy by announcing the U.S. intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and by rejecting an internationally negotiated protocol intended to help strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. Currently, the most prominent arms control debate concerns how to implement President George W. Bush’s proposal to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads the United States operationally deploys to 1,700-2,200, as well as Russia’s offer to reduce its nuclear forces. Although the administration recently said it would codify the reductions in a legally binding arrangement with Russia—a commitment not clear in November when Presidents Bush and Vladimir Putin initially announced the cuts—the Pentagon has said that warheads removed from operational deployment will be stored in a reserve force rather than dismantled. This position has been criticized by Russian and American experts, as well as U.S. congressional leaders, who want to see the warheads and their delivery vehicles dismantled in order to make the reductions as difficult as possible to reverse.

J. Peter Scoblic, ACT’s editor, and Wade Boese, the Arms Control Association’s research director, met with Bolton in his office at the State Department. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

ACT: Secretary Powell said last week that he expects the United States and Russia to sign a legally binding accord to reduce the number of offensive strategic weapons that they deploy. In earlier months, the administration had suggested that it would prefer an informal agreement because Cold War-style treaties are unnecessary, given our new relationship with Russia. Why has the administration changed its mind?

Bolton: Well, I don’t think we have changed our mind. I think the point about not wanting Cold War-style treaties remains entirely valid, and the reason for that is that, in many respects, the way those treaties were negotiated reflected the geostrategic environment of the Cold War. That environment is now very much different, and our relationship with the Russian Federation is very much different. In those circumstances, you don’t want to be negotiating a kind of formal agreement that actually exacerbates diplomatic tensions as much as it might have the prospect of relieving them. So, the issue is looking for the right kind of agreement that reflects the new relationship, which could well take the form of a treaty or something other than a political declaration. We’re still in the process of deciding that. We’re having conversations with the Russians. We’ve told them for quite some time we’re open as to form. They have also said they’re open as to form. We’ll have to see how it works out.

ACT: What did Secretary Powell mean by “legally binding agreement”?

Bolton: Well, that would be something that could be a treaty, could be an executive agreement, might be something else that would embody the offensive weapons numbers.

ACT: Is there a preference for a treaty or an executive agreement on the U.S. side?

Bolton: At this point, we’re still open as to form. I’m sure as we get closer to May that decision will be made.

ACT: When we are speaking about a legally binding agreement, are we talking about the numbers of the warheads, are we talking about transparency, are we talking about verification? What exactly is the substance of this?

Bolton: Well, I think we’re still contemplating exactly what we mean by that—what the most appropriate format would be, how it would be structured, and that sort of thing. And I think that’s all part of the negotiating process.

ACT: The administration has indicated that it wants to reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200 and that it wants to place many of the downloaded warheads in a “responsive force” that could be reconstituted within weeks, months, or years. The Russians have indicated that they want to make these cuts irreversible by destroying the warheads. Is the United States considering a commitment to destroy the warheads it removes from deployment?

Bolton: Any agreement we reach with the Russians will be consistent with the nuclear posture review that was basically concluded, and what we do with the downloaded warheads would really be a matter for us to decide, and that would follow the same pattern that has obtained in prior strategic weapons agreements, which do not provide, one way or the other, for what happens to downloaded warheads or warheads above the limits of the treaty. We’ve discussed this with the Russians. Secretary Powell has discussed it with President Putin, and I think the fair thing to say is there are a number of different views within the government of Russia on that, and I think, as our discussions go forth, we’ll have a better sense of exactly what their position is.

Let me just say that a lot of these questions you are asking go to the negotiations that are underway now, and therefore there aren’t hard and fast answers to them. That’s the nature of being in this kind of negotiation. I don’t know when you plan to publish this, but if it’s another couple of months from now, it may be that those things have been resolved, that they’ve been announced publicly. It may be that they haven’t been resolved. I just don’t know. I’m just trying to let you know that, when you are in medias res like we are here, it’s just not possible to give necessarily definitive answers to some of these points.

ACT: As you stated, the START agreements did not call for the destruction of warheads, and the administration has said that a number of times. But those treaties called for the destruction of the missiles and the bombers. Is the administration planning on destroying the delivery vehicles that carried the warheads?

Bolton: Well, it’s already part of the Department of Defense’s plans, and it was discussed again in the nuclear posture review, for example, to download four Trident submarines and to phase the Peacekeeper missiles out of operation. What would happen over the course of the life of the nuclear posture review with respect to other platforms would depend on circumstances, but the key—and one of the main differences between this nuclear posture review and prior strategic frameworks—was the focus on operationally deployed warheads, and that’s why this review came to the conclusion it did at the level that it did.

ACT: When outlining the framework for START III in March 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed that the two sides would explore measures relating to “tactical nuclear systems.” Does the Bush administration intend to try and reach an agreement with Russia on tactical nukes?

Bolton: I think we’re certainly willing to discuss tactical nukes with them. It’s a different subject from the strategic subject, and I don’t anticipate that in the run-up to the May summit, we will be looking for an agreement on that issue. But we have raised this issue with them periodically over the past year, and I’m sure we’ll continue to discuss it with them.

ACT: Is it a high priority for this administration?

Bolton: Well, it’s a different circumstance. Our first priority is missile defense, which we have now resolved satisfactorily. The second priority is going to be discussions about the offensive warheads, which we are now engaged in. The next priority is the discussion of Russian proliferation behavior, which we have also raised with them. But the issue of tactical nuclear weapons is obviously still out there.

ACT: In the nuclear posture review, the administration said that we’re not sizing our nuclear force relative to the Russians’, but aside from a prompt counterforce strategy aimed at Russia, what contingency does the administration expect that could require 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warheads?

Bolton: I think there are a lot of contingencies that are inherent in the planning that underlies the nuclear posture review. I’m not going to get into specifics because that still remains classified, but the issue has never been one just of bean-counting—of how many warheads there are or whether they’re operationally deployed or in the response force. The overall question is whether we think we’ve got a deterrent capability that’s robust enough to prevent a first use against us and also that we’ve got an adequately sized force in the event there’s a need to use it.

ACT: I guess what confuses me is, if we’re not sizing our force specifically relative to the size of the Russian force, what could we possibly aim 1,700-2,200 warheads at?

Bolton: Well, I think it’s in the contingency that you would need to have that number of warheads for the targets that we think would be important. This is not a case where there’s just an abstract decision to pick a certain number, and a lot of planning went in to deciding what the range of operationally deployed warheads would be. That is obviously still very highly classified, and I think what we can say is that we think the numbers that were arrived at were adequate for our defensive purposes, consistent with the president’s stated objective of having the lowest number of warheads possible consistent with that objective.

ACT: Can you give a sense of what specific contingencies require us to keep a responsive force of several thousand warheads that could be reconstituted within weeks, months, or years?

Bolton: Uncertainty. Uncertainty about the world. Uncertainty about the geostrategic circumstances that we might face due to threats that we can’t foresee. I think central to this thinking in the nuclear posture review is the need—while we bring the operationally deployed numbers of warheads down—is the need to retain flexibility in the event that the international context that we live in changes. There is a whole series of other things in the nuclear posture review, in addition to warhead levels, that are also important, such as fixing the deteriorating nuclear infrastructure, making sure that we’ve got scientific and other capabilities to be able to test within a period of 18 months if there is a need to do so. We’re in a very different position from the Russians, who still have a huge nuclear infrastructure left over from the Cold War, and the need to have that kind of assurance is very real, especially if you come down to relatively low numbers of operationally deployed warheads.

ACT: Is one of the unforeseen possibilities—one of the geostrategic contingencies that we are preparing for—a resurgent Russia, a Russia with whom our relations are not as positive as they are now?

Bolton: It’s not a question of preparing for it. It’s a question of acknowledging that the world today is likely to be different from the world 10 years from now and that there are a whole range of uncertainties that are out there that you can’t even necessarily put a particular probability on. But the risk of renewed threat to us from countries that might have nuclear warheads is obviously one of those contingencies. Hopefully, as time goes by, we will see the theoretical size of the response force and even the range of operationally deployed warheads go down. But there’s nothing inevitable in life, and I think that’s what is inherent in the planning assumption.

ACT: There are some analysts who are concerned about a resurgent Russia that could even be overtly hostile to the United States in the future. Given that nothing is inevitable and that we don’t know what to expect from the future, doesn’t it make some sense to try to lock in progress in the U.S.-Russian relationship now by making cuts to our warhead levels as difficult to reverse as possible?

Bolton: I think that is exactly what we’re doing in terms of the president’s decision to take down our number of operationally deployed warheads. But you can’t lock in something if there’s a dramatic political change in another country. And I think it’s that degree of realism that informs our overall approach to the offensive weapons question.

ACT: Wouldn’t it be beneficial to lock in Russia at a lower number so—

Bolton: You’re not going to lock them in if there is a substantial political change. In other words, locking them in—in every one of these treaties there’s a supreme national interest clause that allows somebody to withdraw. We just invoked it to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. You don’t lock anybody in forever as long as there is a withdrawal clause. It is the flexibility to deal with something that we can’t contemplate now that we think is important.

ACT: In 1995—

Bolton: And you disagree with that? I’m just curious. The “lock in” notion seems to me to require treaties—under the theory as I understand what you are saying—to require treaties that don’t have withdrawal clauses. Otherwise, you are not locked in. And then, let me just say, if somebody violates the treaty, what are you going to do? You going to sue them? Let’s be clear about what “lock in” means, and I don’t think the treaty itself, even without a withdrawal clause, is going to lock them in because there is no court you can go to get specific performances.

ACT: I think the question was going to the idea that, if relations do sour and if there is a crisis situation, that a treaty—even if it is possible to withdraw from it within six months or whatever—provides a time frame and a period of stability that would help the United States and Russia, or whatever country, work out their differences before having to respond by building up their deployed warhead levels.

Bolton: I think if there were substantial change in the international environment that would cause us to be concerned about what our offensive warhead level was, it wouldn’t be something that could be worked out in six months. What we’re looking at are big changes over long periods of time. It could go in the other direction as well. It could result in substantially closer, warmer relations with a number of countries, where we could kind of play the operationally deployed number of warheads going down too. The point is not to be precluded, on our part, from relatively rapid change if our security circumstances warrant that kind of change.

ACT: In 1995, Secretary of State Warren Christopher reaffirmed U.S. negative security assurances, which—and I’m going to paraphrase here—say that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state unless that state attacks the United States or its allies in association with a nuclear-weapon state. Is that the policy of this administration as well?

Bolton: I don’t think we’re of the view that this kind of approach is necessarily the most productive. What we’ve tried to say is that we’re looking at changing the overall way we view strategic issues, and a large part of that is embodied in the outcome of the nuclear posture review. It’s certainly reflected in the ongoing strategic discussions that we’ve had with the Russians and reflected in the discussions we’ve had with a number of other countries as well. So, I just don’t think that our emphasis is on the rhetorical. Our emphasis is on the actual change in our military posture.

ACT: So, right now, the Bush administration would not make a commitment to non-nuclear-weapon states under the circumstances I outlined, that it would not use nuclear weapons—

Bolton: I don’t think we have any intention of using nuclear weapons in circumstances that I can foresee in the days ahead of us. The point is that the kind of rhetorical approach that you are describing doesn’t seem to me to be terribly helpful in analyzing what our security needs may be in the real world, and what we are doing instead of chitchatting is making changes in our force structures, that we’re making in a very transparent fashion. We’ve briefed the Russians, friends, and allies as well about the nuclear posture review, and we’ll let our actions speak.

ACT: Aren’t those commitments also codified in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT]?

Editor's Note:

In this exchange, ACT made a mistake, and Undersecretary Bolton correctly pointed out that in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) the nuclear-weapon states did not commit themselves to refrain from using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. However, as the follow-up question indicates, the United States made a pledge not to use nuclear weapons, known as a negative security assurance, in the context of the NPT in 1995—a pledge further formalized in UN Security Council Resolution 984.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance first articulated U.S. negative security assurances in 1978. The United States made a similar pledge in 1995, prior to the NPT review and extension conference, to shore up the non-nuclear-weapon states’ willingness to extend the treaty indefinitely. Secretary of State Christopher said, “The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons except in case of an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State towards which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

That pledge—and similar pledges made at the time by Britain, China, France, and Russia—were then noted in Security Council Resolution 984, which was approved in April 1995. In a 1998 speech to the Arms Control Association, Robert Bell, then-senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said that negative security assurances had been “codified” by the Security Council resolution, suggesting that the United States considered its pledge legally binding. Bell also said that the negative security assurances had been “reaffirmed” in 1997 by a presidential decision directive (PDD-60) on U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

Following the public release of this interview, the Bush administration reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to negative security assurances, saying that no change has been made in U.S. policy. For more information, see news article on p. 23.

Bolton: In the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? Suppose we can get the treaty out and look. What section did you have in mind?

ACT: That is a good question. I don’t have a particular section in mind.

Bolton: Being a lawyer, I like to read sections.

ACT: I can appreciate that.

Bolton: [Examining the treaty] This is about nonproliferation in the sense of technology transfers, and all that sort of thing. I’m not sure really where it goes to the question you’re raising about use.

ACT: Well, part of the 1995 extension and review conference—that was the context within which Secretary of State Christopher made his statement, or reiterated or reaffirmed the U.S. position. So, essentially, I think other members of the NPT look at that as an important commitment by the U.S. as far as the NPT is concerned. So, are you in a sense backing away from that? Does that suggest we are not taking our commitments to the NPT seriously?

Bolton: We take our obligations under the NPT very seriously. In terms of what was said at the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences, we’re reviewing all of that in the context of our preparation for the 2005 NPT review conference. And I think those statements, as I said before, were made in a very different geostrategic context, so I think it’s important for us to review them looking toward the 2005 review conference.

ACT: On a more theoretical level, what role do nuclear weapons play generally in preserving U.S. security in the post-Cold War world? Is it strictly a retaliatory deterrent capability, or do we also need a war-fighting capability?

Bolton: Well, I think the nuclear arsenal is central to our ongoing security needs. Hopefully, it will never be used in anything other than a deterrent capability. But in the God-awful circumstance where deterrence failed, where some regime is just not susceptible to deterrent theories, we would certainly want an arsenal that was capable of being used and being used with effectiveness. That has been, I think, the view of every administration since the development of nuclear weapons.

ACT: So the Bush administration’s nuclear doctrine is relatively similar to the doctrine of the administrations that have preceded it?

Bolton: Well, that is a big statement. The whole point of the nuclear posture review was to look at the changed circumstances in the world and come up with a new force structure, new levels of operationally deployed warheads, and new levels of looking at the role of the nuclear arsenal in our overall defense posture. And I think that’s what we have done. Obviously, circumstances change, the conditions under which the deterrent is kept up change, and that’s what we’re trying to implement.

ACT: What I’m getting at is, the administration has suggested that it has a new way of thinking about strategy and a new way of thinking about nuclear weapons. But a deployed level of 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads suggests a counterforce strategy, which is a strategy—as you say—that has been in place for decades now. So, I’m not quite clear what the difference is.

Bolton: Well, it’s a difference of going from just under 6,000 operationally deployed warheads to 1,700-2,200. I think that is a fairly dramatic reduction, which if we are able to achieve would be something, I think, overall very positive for the international environment.

ACT: Is that not still mutual assured destruction?

Bolton: To the extent that there’s a potential opponent that has its own large nuclear capability. The whole point of deterrence theory is not to get to the actual use of the weapons, and it may be that that’s what we will face; it may not be. I can assure you that in terms of the review, people were not sitting around having theoretical discussions. They were trying to determine what the lowest number of warheads would be consistent with our overall security. And this is where they came out.

ACT: You’re emphasizing “new,” you’re also emphasizing that we are going from 6,000 down to about 2,200 to 1,700. But back in 1997, there was a commitment by Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton to go down to about 2,000-2,500. What is radically new about going from 2,000-2,500 down to 1,700-2,200?

Bolton: I think the question is not simply a bean-counting exercise of how many numbers you are talking about. The nuclear posture review looks at a completely different role for nuclear weapons in our overall defensive posture, and, although the number of warheads sounds the same, I think it is actually different. I think operationally deployed is probably different from the kinds of counting rules they were talking about—it reflects a different approach to the nuclear triad and to the new triad that the nuclear posture review refers to.

ACT: Would the United States consider using nuclear weapons in retaliation for a chemical or biological attack?

Bolton: I think that’s a hypothetical question that really doesn’t serve much purpose in getting into. In the Persian Gulf crisis, the administration had already decided not to use nuclear weapons if Iraq in fact used chemical or biological weapons after the actual hostilities broke out. But it was decided not to tell [Iraqi Foreign Minister] Tariq Aziz that in Geneva—to let him worry about what the consequences might be. And I think there was a good reason to take that approach then. I think it’s a good reason to leave it like that now.

ACT: In an interview with Arms Control Today, published in September 2000, then-candidate George W. Bush declared that he would “offer Russia the necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty so as to make our deployment of effective missile defenses consistent with the treaty.” But Russian officials, including President Putin, claim the United States never offered amendments to the treaty before President Bush announced the U.S. intention to withdraw on December 13. Did the U.S. propose specific amendments to the ABM Treaty?

Bolton: We proposed a variety of different ways to deal with the threat of ballistic missiles held by rogue states and the possibility of accidental launch to see if there wasn’t some way that we could reach agreement with the Russians that would be mutually acceptable to move beyond the ABM Treaty as written. And we had extensive discussions with them. I think in the period after the first meeting between the two presidents at Ljubljana that Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov met something like 16 or 17 times, and God only knows how many telephone calls they had. We had many, many other meetings at many other levels. I went to Moscow seven times in the fall of 2001 to meet with a variety of Russian officials, and my counterparts at the Department of Defense did the same. The Russians came here. We had a very intense diplomatic effort to see if there wasn’t some mutually satisfactory way to get out of the constraints of the ABM Treaty and allow us to build a limited national missile defense, which is what candidate Bush had committed to. Ultimately, that didn’t work out satisfactorily, but we were as creative as we could be in trying to offer the Russians a whole different series of measures that we hoped we could have reached agreement on. As I say, unfortunately we were not able to do it, and we had to announce our withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which now allows us, frankly, to go on and focus on other issues like codifying our agreements on reduced offensive weapons.

ACT: So, you are saying that the United States never proposed actual amendments to the ABM Treaty?

Bolton: What we said was we’re not going to get into a line-in, line-out amendment of the ABM Treaty because, in fact, that would have been impossible. The treaty is very well written. It was intended to prevent the creation of a national missile defense system, and that’s exactly what it did and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. But we discussed a whole range of other possible approaches to the problem with the Russians that, for their own reasons—no doubt good and sufficient to them—they declined to follow.

ACT: Excuse me, sir. I don’t mean to press this, but I just want to make sure I’m perfectly clear. So, the answer is that we did not offer Russia specific amendments to the ABM Treaty, is that right?

Bolton: We didn’t do line-in, line-out amendments. We talked about ways possibly with a new treaty that would replace it, or other ways that would give us what we wanted in terms of freedom from the constraints of the ABM Treaty as written. And I think the Russians understood exactly what we were talking about. They have a very sophisticated knowledge of the subject and the treaty, and it was not something they were prepared to agree to—despite, I think, good-faith efforts on their part and on ours—to see if there wasn’t a mutually acceptable way to get beyond the ‘72 treaty.

ACT: Very briefly, could you describe some of those ways you discussed? There was a column, I believe by Jim Hoagland of The Washington Post, a couple of weeks ago where he mentioned that there was an offer to extend the treaty—extend the U.S. remaining within the treaty for a period of two years or so—but by what mechanism would we have done that? What kind of options were we discussing?

Bolton: Well, I think there were a whole range of options that we were discussing that extended over a six-month period. There were a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions looking—and the nature of those discussions is throwing out ideas and seeing who is responding to them. It’s not unusual in those kinds of consultations. So, there were a lot of things we wanted to do in terms of testing and development, perhaps ultimately deployment, of missile defense systems that were not fixed, land-based systems, which is the only provision in the—the only kind of ABM system that the treaty allows. So, it would have required giving us the freedom and flexibility to do that, and, as I say, ultimately the Russians decided that they couldn’t live with that.

ACT: The administration has said that it wants to pursue a limited missile defense designed against accidental launches and rogue states and terrorist ballistic missile attacks. Would the administration consider a new agreement with Russia that would codify limits on missile defenses?

Bolton: I don’t see, at this point, that there is any need or any prospect for an agreement on missile defenses. I think we’ve said from the beginning that we want to be free from the constraints of the ABM Treaty and be able to develop, across the range of possible architectures, a limited national missile defense system, and I think, now that we have given notice pursuant to the ABM Treaty of our withdrawal, that’s what we are going to do once the treaty ceases to exist.

ACT: Are we considering—within the broad framework or the strategic framework, are we considering transparency agreements and confidence-building measures with Russia on missile defenses?

Bolton: Sure. We are considering a lot of—we’ve had discussions. In fact, we are having more discussions next week in Moscow on the kinds of transparency and possibly even joint work that we can do with the Russians, whether bilaterally or in the context of Russia-NATO relations or others on missile defense, because one of the points we made to them is that, in many respects, we face the same threats from rogue states and that if anything, given the geographic proximity of some of these rogue states, it is the Russians who face the greater threat. So, our offer to work with them and to continue to tell them what our activities are, as I say, even to have them join in some of those activities, remains on the table.

ACT: Are we looking at options of cooperating with the Russians on missile defenses?

Bolton: Sure. I think in some respects, particularly with what used to be called theater missile defense, I think there are a number of areas where we can work with them productively. Those are being explored, and hopefully we will continue them. I think one of the useful outcomes of the discussions we’ve had so far is the prospect for greater military-to-military conversations, so that they can each get to know what the other does a little bit better and find joint projects that they might, on both sides, find useful to pursue.

ACT: In the past weeks and couple of months, the administration has made a point of what has been called “naming names”—pointing out instances of specific states that it feels are violating international norms and agreements, culminating obviously in President Bush’s statement in the State of the Union that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea constitute an “axis of evil.” Can you explain to me how naming names furthers U.S. security interests, and what comes next now that we have named names?

Bolton: I think the most important thing, politically, behind naming names is to focus people’s attention on noncompliance with existing agreements. If countries are willing to sign agreements and then lie about their performance, they’re perfectly willing, it seems to me, to sign other agreements and lie about their performance under those. So that by isolating and putting a spotlight on the countries that are clearly violating their existing obligations, I think it focuses people’s attention on what the real problem is. When you have a large multilateral agreement the overwhelming number of states are complying with but a small number are not, the problem is the noncompliers. The problem isn’t everybody else. This is not therefore an agreement really of equals. It’s an agreement that contains people who are abiding by their word and people who are not. And focusing on those who are not seems to me to be the correct thing to do for those who are in compliance with their word. What comes next depends on the behavior of the noncompliant states. Some of them may conclude that it is just not worth the cost to them politically, and perhaps economically, of lying about their international behavior, but part of the answer to the question depends on the noncompliant states. In effect, they have the key to their political jail cell in their hand.

ACT: In discussing noncompliance and naming names, the United States contends that a number of states are pursuing or possess chemical weapons capabilities, including at least one country that is a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC]. Why hasn’t the United States called for a challenge inspection under the Chemical Weapons Convention to help resolve its concerns?

Bolton: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] formally, which is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, is a very troubled organization for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its management. There are a whole host of issues raised by challenge inspections that require our attention and require also an effectively operating OPCW. We are thinking about the possibility of asking for challenge inspections, but our focus right now is on the management questions at the OPCW because, if those questions are not resolved, the organization itself will not be able to function effectively, and the whole CWC will not be able to function effectively. So, that’s what our focus is, and I think that until we resolve that—I don’t want to say this absolutely—but until we resolve these management issues, I think it would be risky to put a big burden on the OPCW, which it may fail.

ACT: How are we proposing to resolve these management issues?

Bolton: We are having ongoing diplomatic discussions, and I wouldn’t want to go any further than that at this point.

ACT: Coming back to countries that we feel are not in compliance with their obligations, Clinton administration officials have said that in December 2000 they were close to finalizing a deal with North Korea—

Bolton: It’s not a deal that we would have agreed to.

ACT: It’s not a deal you would have agreed to?

Bolton: And I don’t think they were close anyway.

ACT: Can you explain, assuming for a second that there was a deal to stem North Korea’s ballistic missile production and/or exports, can you explain why that wouldn’t have been a deal that the United States—

Bolton: It was grossly inadequate in its verification and compliance provisions, along the lines they were talking about. My reading of the record is they were still quite far away from agreement. I hope that’s true, because if they really thought they were close to agreement, as I say, in the absence of any kind of effective verification and compliance, it would have been an extraordinarily risky deal for the United States.

ACT: Other than a diplomatic effort like that one, what options do we have for getting rid of the North Korean ballistic missile threat, such as it is?

Bolton: Well, I think the ball is in North Korea’s court. The president said last summer that we were prepared to talk to them. They never picked up the phone. I’m not sure they have any inclination to pick up the phone. In any event, we’ve looked at their active biological weapons program, their violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This really is a state that, as the president said, is one of the most dangerous regimes on the planet, having some of the world’s most destructive weapons. The president said very clearly in the State of the Union that we weren’t going to sit by while this threat remains. He is going to South Korea next week and let’s just hope the North Koreans have read the State of the Union message and act accordingly.

Interviewed by J. Peter Scoblic and Wade Boese

Report Says U.S. Studying New Nuclear Capabilities

Philipp C. Bleek

A report to Congress on destroying hard and deeply buried targets (HDBTs) that was made public in late December does not explicitly call for new nuclear weapons development, as some analysts had expected, but clearly indicates that the Defense and Energy departments are actively studying developing new or modified nuclear weapon capabilities.

The fiscal year 2001 defense authorization act mandated the report, requiring the Energy and Defense departments to complete a study by July 1 “relating to the defeat of hardened and deeply buried targets.”

Submitted to Congress in October, the unclassified component of the report, dated July 2001, was made public by nongovernmental organizations. The report states that, although the United States currently has no programs to develop new or modified nuclear weapons to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets, the Defense Department (DOD) and Energy Department (DOE) are “investigating potential options and costs.”

The report lays out two possible justifications for developing new nuclear weapons capabilities. It says that, “with the current strategy and acquisition initiatives, the United States will not be able to hold all known or suspected HDBTs at risk for destruction, especially the deep underground facilities.” The report also notes, “Nuclear weapons have a unique ability to destroy both agent containers and [chemical and biological weapon] agents.”

The United States currently deploys at least one low-yield nuclear weapon designed to threaten hardened targets. The B61-11 tactical nuclear gravity bomb, first deployed in late 1996, can penetrate reinforced concrete or rock to a relatively shallow depth before detonating, thereby threatening bunkers and other hardened or deeply buried targets.

But the report faults the current nuclear weapons stockpile’s ability to deal with such targets. Although the stockpile possesses “some limited ground penetration capability and lower yield options,” it was not developed specifically to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets or destroy chemical and biological agents, the report says.

Both the Defense and Energy departments “have completed initial studies on how existing nuclear weapons can be modified to defeat those HDBTs that cannot be held at risk with conventional high-explosive weapons or current nuclear weapons,” the report says. But it notes that “comprehensive reviews of feasibility for suitable nuclear and conventional weapons…are still underway to support DOD and DOE budget decisions in the coming two years.”

The report also indicates that the Defense and Energy departments are already laying the groundwork for possible development of new or modified nuclear capabilities. “For destruction of more deeply buried facilities, DOD and DOE are studying the sensitivities and synergies of nuclear weapon yield, penetration, accuracy, and tactics.” The departments have formed a joint nuclear planning group “to define the appropriate scope and option selection criteria for a possible design feasibility and cost study.”

Congress would have to overturn a 1993 restriction on researching and developing low-yield nuclear weapons before the Pentagon could proceed with work on new nuclear weapons with yields under five kilotons. At a January 9 briefing on the administration’s recently completed nuclear posture review, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy J. D. Crouch said that the posture review contains no recommendations about developing new nuclear weapons. However, he said that the United States is “trying to look at a number of initiatives,” including modifying an existing nuclear weapon to develop a “greater capability” against hard targets and deeply buried targets.

Bush, Putin Pledge Nuclear Cuts; Implementation Unclear

Philipp C. Bleek

On November 13, President George W. Bush pledged to reduce the deployed U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads over the next 10 years, prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to say that Russia would try to “respond in kind.”

The cuts, announced at the beginning of a three-day U.S.-Russian summit held in Washington, D.C., and Crawford, Texas, would represent a substantial reduction in the deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, which currently consist of about 6,000 warheads each, as agreed under the START I accord.

Deploying only 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads would bring the U.S. arsenal below the proposed START III limit of 2,000-2,500 warheads, agreed to by Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997, and well below the 3,000-3,500 ceiling formalized in START II, which has not entered into force. Bush’s proposed level of strategic warheads also falls beneath the 2,000-2,500 range that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had previously suggested was the lowest level they could support.

The promised nuclear cuts would fulfill a key campaign pledge by the president. As a candidate, Bush promised to move beyond “Cold War nuclear targeting,” saying he would pursue “the lowest possible number [of warheads] consistent with our national security,” which he characterized as “significantly” below START II levels. (See ACT, September 2000.)

It is not yet clear what the United States will do with the thousands of warheads to be removed from service. In Crawford on November 15, Bush told a group of high school students, “We are talking about reducing and destroying the number of warheads to get down to specific levels.”

But national security adviser Condoleezza Rice subsequently indicated that the warheads might not actually be destroyed. “We will not have these warheads near the places at which they could be deployed,” she said, adding that specific disposition plans remain to be “worked out.” If they were not dismantled, the warheads could be placed in the United States’ “active reserve” stockpile, which currently contains about 2,500 warheads.

Also at issue is whether the reductions will be formalized in a treaty. Announcing the cuts from the White House, Bush indicated that the “endless hours of arms control discussions” that led to the START agreements were no longer needed because the United States and Russia have “a new relationship based on trust.”

But speaking at the Russian embassy later that day, Putin aired a different view, saying, “The world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust, unfortunately. That’s why it is so important today to rely on the existing foundation of treaties and agreements in the arms control and disarmament areas.”

Some observers had predicted that Washington might agree to formal strategic reductions with Russia in exchange for concessions to allow more robust missile defense testing under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which bans nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses. Putin has recently signaled a willingness to amend the ABM Treaty and has long called for a formal agreement on bilateral reductions to 1,500 deployed strategic warheads, but Bush administration officials continue to reiterate their desire to “move beyond” the treaty and have resisted negotiations on offensive reductions.

Nonetheless, Bush did show some willingness to formalize the cuts. “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll be glad to do that,” he said. Rice expanded on this point during a November 15 briefing, indicating that codifying the reductions in a less drawn-out manner than previous strategic arms agreements remained under discussion. She also suggested that “verification procedures out of former treaties” could “perhaps” be utilized.

On the Senate floor November 15, leading Democrats sharply criticized the administration’s reluctance to negotiate a treaty to formalize the nuclear cuts. Citing former President Ronald Reagan’s dictum, “Trust but verify,” Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, pointed out that “a simple handshake leaves many questions unanswered.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that “a new START III treaty would not be difficult to draft [and] would ensure not only rigorous verification but also proper respect for the constitutional role of the Senate regarding international agreements.”

Before the reductions can be implemented, Congress must overturn a law prohibiting the president from reducing U.S. nuclear forces below START I levels until START II enters into force. The language, first inserted in the 1998 defense authorization act by Republican lawmakers, prohibits spending funds on “retiring or dismantling” designated strategic delivery systems, which correspond to a START I-compliant force.

The Senate version of the fiscal year 2002 defense authorization bill would repeal this language, but the House version essentially maintains it. The bill is currently under discussion in a House-Senate conference committee, which is expected to adopt the Senate language.

The Unruly Hedge: Cold War Thinking at the Crawford Summit

Hans M. Kristensen

President George W. Bush’s announcement on November 13 that the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal will be reduced to 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads over the next 10 years raises important questions about the need for transparency of nuclear arsenals in the 21st century. No sooner had Bush said that the cuts involved “reducing and destroying the number of warheads to get down to specific levels” than national security adviser Condoleezza Rice corrected the record: “I believe that what the president was referring to is [that] we will not have these warheads near the places at which they could be deployed. In other words, they will truly not be deployable warheads. In that sense, their capability will not be accessible to the United States.”1

This glitch in the Bush administration’s first attempt to outline its new nuclear policy is no insignificant matter. It comes only a few weeks before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to announce the results of a review of nuclear forces and policy, and it indicates that the Bush administration will continue what is known as the “hedge,” a reserve of thousands of nuclear warheads permitted by arms control treaties that mandated the destruction of launchers but not warheads. The hedge is not included in the future “operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads” referred to by Bush, but it nonetheless makes up an increasing portion of the total stockpile.

This article presents new information about the hedge that has recently been declassified and released under the Freedom of Information Act. Newly available documents demonstrate that the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which is responsible for U.S. nuclear forces, repeatedly warned during the 1990s that increased transparency of the nuclear arms reduction process was more important after START II than new cuts, suggesting that Bush’s inclusion of only operationally deployed strategic warheads in the new round of cuts is unwise because it will contribute to the hedge and therefore the opacity of U.S. forces.

Although the details of Bush’s cuts will not become known until Rumsfeld completes the Nuclear Posture Review in December, the size of the remaining force also suggests that the reductions largely follow already established force structure analysis conducted by STRATCOM back in the early to mid-1990s. This means that President Bush’s “new strategic framework” is based on the old strategic assumptions about the triad, credible deterrence, and counterforce targeting that guided Cold War nuclear policy.

Origins of the Hedge

The hedge of thousands of active and inactive nuclear weapons that the United States maintains outside arms control agreements and public scrutiny was conceived in the late 1980s and formally approved by the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review. All of the warheads in the hedge, which are maintained at various levels of readiness, are retired warheads from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty and the 1991 START I accord, which required destruction of delivery vehicles (bombers and missiles) but not warheads.

The hedge—composed of an “active reserve” and an “inactive reserve”—has grown substantially as START I has been implemented, and it continues to grow as the United States makes other changes to its nuclear force posture. For example, the United States currently deploys 18 Trident nuclear submarines, each of which carries 24 Trident I or Trident II missiles with eight warheads per missile, for a total of 3,456 warheads. The Navy has finally begun to implement the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review by reducing the number of submarines to 14, and it plans to decrease the number of warheads per missile to five to stay below the START II limit of 1,700 SLBM warheads. Most of the surplus warheads will not be destroyed but rather will be moved to the hedge.

The warheads in the hedge are designed to serve several purposes. Some are designated as replacements for warheads destroyed each year in routine reliability and safety tests. More are intended to safeguard against catastrophic failure of operationally deployed weapons. For example, one force structure study published by Strategic Air Command in September 1991 described three ways that a leg of the U.S. nuclear triad could fail: a communications failure could force U.S. ICBMs to “ride out” a full attack; a breakthrough could make the ocean transparent to satellites, thus rendering submarines and their missiles vulnerable; or a design flaw in the Minuteman III or Trident II missiles or their associated warheads could render the systems inoperable.2 In any of these cases, reserve warheads from the hedge would be used to replace defective warheads or to compensate for the loss of a delivery system by increasing loadings on other launch platforms.

Most warheads in the hedge, however, are intended to provide the capability to increase the size of the operational arsenal quickly by “reconstituting” or “uploading” retired warheads onto nuclear missiles and bombers in case Russia returns to a hostile regime or some other threatening nuclear power appears on the horizon. Central to this concern has been the “breakout” potential that U.S. nuclear planners say Russia has because of its large warhead production capacity, which probably exceeds 1,000 warheads per year.3 The United States halted warhead production in 1992 (although small-scale reproduction was started in 1999) and has since determined that the service life of its modern warheads can be safely extended to maintain a reliable and enduring arsenal. Russian warheads, in contrast, were designed for a shorter life with less capability for extension, requiring a larger ongoing production capacity. Therefore, as Russia evolved from “the Evil Empire” to a partner and as arms control treaties dramatically reduced the size of deployed strategic nuclear forces, the United States saw the hedge as a prudent precaution against a dangerous and uncertain future.

However, no sooner had the Nuclear Posture Review endorsed the hedge than its contradiction with other U.S. policy goals became apparent. Following talks in 1994, President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin agreed in May 1995 to negotiate agreements aimed at increasing the “transparency and irreversibility” of nuclear arms reductions, a step that likely would entail subjecting each side’s nondeployed arsenals to international scrutiny and mandating that nondeployed warheads be destroyed so that a rapid reconstitution of nuclear forces would no longer be possible.4

This decision was made for several reasons. Partly it was due to concerns over the safety of Russian nuclear weapons and fissile material. The United States was anxious to learn what happened to the thousands of nuclear warheads Russia removed from operational status and to prevent dismantled nuclear weapons or fissile materials from being stolen or bought by “rogue” states, such as Iran, or terrorist organizations. The commitment to transparency and irreversibility was also prompted by increasing international pressure on the two superpowers to do more to fulfill their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Clinton and Yeltsin issued their statement only two days before the end of the critical NPT review and extension conference in New York, where the nuclear powers were eager to assemble enough support for the indefinite extension of the treaty.

However, at the same time as he was working to open Russia’s nuclear infrastructure to greater scrutiny, President Clinton had also issued Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 37, a secret document that established four “first principles” to guide arms control efforts for nuclear reductions beyond START II: deterrence, stability, equivalence, and the hedge.5 Thus, despite the public pledge to pursue “transparency and irreversibility” in nuclear arms reductions, PDD-37 also endorsed a reserve of unaccountable nuclear warheads that could preserve the U.S. ability to reverse its nuclear arms reductions quickly.

This contradiction in U.S. policy was magnified when PDD-37 reached STRATCOM, where commander-in-chief Admiral Henry D. Chiles directed the Policy and Doctrine Branch to prepare a paper that outlined STRATCOM’s position on post-START II arms control. The resulting white paper was approved by the Strategy and Policy Division on September 16, 1996, and used the four “first principles” in PDD-37 to formulate five objectives for U.S. arms control efforts after START II:

• Protect U.S. strategic nuclear delivery vehicle force structure. There are currently no new platforms planned, so it’s important to retain as many of the existing ones as possible. Hedge
• Retain U.S. warheads at a level consistent with war-fighting needs. Deterrence
• Minimize the impact of those Russian systems, [deleted], that pose the greatest threat to U.S. interests. Deterrence, Stability
• Reduce and eliminate U.S. and Russian non-deployed warheads and fissile materials. Equivalence, Stability
• Address non-strategic nuclear forces as part of the overall effort to stem the proliferation threat. [deleted]. Equivalence, Stability6

The STRATCOM white paper assumed that “warhead elimination must be the centerpiece of post-START II arms control, and should come before further force structure reductions occur,” and the fourth objective called for reducing and eliminating nondeployed warheads. At the same time, however, the first objective emphasized the importance of retaining as many of the existing “delivery platforms” as possible to “ensure adequate hedge capability.” The reason for this inconsistency was that, as a nuclear war-fighting command, STRATCOM not surprisingly viewed the arms control process as a means of achieving strategic advantages. Cold War or not, STRATCOM’s foremost concern was to ensure that the United States would triumph in a nuclear clash. To that end, the hedge served to safeguard U.S. nuclear superiority, while transparency and warhead elimination helped bring Russian weapons under greater control.

Thus, throughout the early and mid-1990s, the U.S. government and military faced a conflict between the desire to lower the overall number of nuclear weapons and improve relations with Russia while maintaining some sort of insurance against potential future challenges.

Today, the role of the hedge in protecting U.S. security by insuring against a vast Russian nuclear rearmament is less important, both because of a warming in U.S.-Russian relations and because of a contraction of Russia’s arsenal. Although Russia’s current inventory of unaccountable warheads is even larger than that of the United States, its arsenal is likely to shrink dramatically over the next decade. Of an estimated 20,000-25,000 nuclear warheads,7 some 9,000 are considered operational (5,600 strategic and 3,500 tactical),8 with approximately 13,500 warheads awaiting dismantlement. Unless significant numbers of Russian warheads are refurbished, remanufactured, and returned to operational forces, the stockpile may shrink to as few as 1,000 strategic and several hundred tactical warheads9 within the next 10 years.

With a Russian “breakout” becoming less likely, and concern that rogue states or terrorists could acquire warheads or fissile material increasing, a large reserve of unaccountable U.S. warheads is a growing liability to national security. If a large proportion of the U.S. arsenal remains opaque, it will be extraordinarily difficult to convince Russia to open its stockpile to inspection, especially in the absence of a more formal arms reduction agreement. U.S. interests would then be threatened as thousands of Russian warheads are removed from service to storage facilities whose security may have been weakened over the last decade by Russia’s poor economy. The result could be a failure to bring Russian unaccountable nuclear warheads and fissile material under control.

President Bush’s initiative to reduce only operational strategic nuclear forces will move thousands of U.S. warheads into the unaccountable hedge categories, and it completely ignores the proportionally increasing number of nonstrategic nuclear warheads. This perpetuates a dangerous transformation of the U.S. stockpile. Before START I, about 5 percent of the total stockpile was in the inactive category, but the current trend is that deployed (accountable) strategic warheads are a shrinking fraction of the stockpile. Present plans for the START II stockpile could increase that ratio to a 1:1 ratio, with the reserve constituting as large a stockpile as the deployed stockpile.10 Over the next 10 years, this trend could transform the composition of the U.S. nuclear stockpile to a predominantly clandestine posture, in which less than a quarter of all warheads are accountable.

Rather than bringing greater transparency to the nuclear arms reduction process when it is most needed, President Bush’s apparent continued endorsement of the hedge decreases transparency, undercutting incentives that Russia would have for disclosing the status of its thousands of non-operational tactical nuclear warheads.

The Bush administration’s aversion to a new formal nuclear-reductions agreement and its focus on operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads is also inconsistent with STRATCOM advice. In the past few years, STRATCOM—a strong proponent of a hedge force and of maintaining a nuclear war-fighting advantage over Russia, as indicated above—has repeatedly and publicly emphasized the importance of greater transparency and irreversibility of nuclear arms reductions. In connection with his nomination as commander-in-chief of STRATCOM, Vice Admiral Richard W. Mies stated in a written response to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 1998:

Further reductions in strategic delivery systems beyond START III should be complimented by more comprehensive considerations of increased stockpile transparency, greater accountability and transparency of non-strategic/tactical nuclear warheads, limitations on production infrastructures, third party nuclear weapon stockpiles, the impact on our allies, and the implications of deploying strategic defensive systems. [With fewer weapons, these issues] become more complex and sensitive. Whereas at existing START I/II levels our deterrent forces are relatively less sensitive to “cheating.”

Even after President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 4 in early 2001,11 which ordered a review of U.S. nuclear offensive and defensive postures, STRATCOM continued to stress the need for transparency. Admiral James Ellis, the current head of STRATCOM, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September that, as reductions to low levels are implemented, “issues such as disparity in non-strategic nuclear forces, transparency, irreversibility, production capacity, aggregate warhead inventories, and verifiability become more complex and more sensitive.”

Whether the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review reflects STRATCOM’s appeal will be apparent when the results are announced before the end of the year. So far, however, Bush’s cuts appear to favor protection of the hedge over greater transparency and irreversibility of nuclear arms reductions.


The Crawford summit promised a new era in U.S.-Russian relations, but with respect to nuclear policy issues it fell far short of expectations. Rather than moving toward a true “new strategic framework” that takes arms control beyond the Cold War paradigm, President Bush seems to be regressing to an early 1990s mentality that requires the United States to prepare for possible Russian rearmament, even as the president proclaims America’s new and growing friendship with Russia.

Indeed, even the size of the president’s proposed reductions ring of Cold War conflict. In the early 1990s, STRATCOM analysis established a “preferred force structure” that protected a triad of modern and flexible nuclear forces in a “stable nucleus,” while gradually reducing excess operational weapons. The analysis was the basis for START II, the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review, and the START III framework, which called for a 2,000-2,500 warhead level. This same thinking seems to be underlying Bush’s policy. Bush says that the goal continues to be to maintain a credible deterrent, but a continued deployment of about 2,000 warheads indicates that STRATCOM will adhere to the same concepts of triad, counterforce targeting, and flexible response as it did a decade ago. “I can guarantee you,” former STRATCOM commander-in-chief General Eugene Habiger said during an interview in 1998, that “our analysis and assessment will be based on an analysis of the threat, if you will, potential for threat, and not just on ‘well, 1,500 or 2,000 looks about right.’”12

Bush’s cut of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,700-2,200 is not deep enough or different enough to indicate a shift in nuclear policy of the magnitude that he alluded to in his May 2001 speech at the National Defense University. His announcement provoked a tepid response from President Vladimir Putin, who issued only a vague promise that Russia would “try to respond in kind.” The summit simply reaffirmed how deeply rooted in Cold War nuclear planning the United States continues to be.

Bush’s pledge indicates that, despite its frequent criticism of arms control, the Bush administration has not moved beyond the most significant shortcoming of treaties: the fact that they have counted only operational strategic warheads while ignoring reserve warheads and non-strategic weapons. This means that thousands of non-operational nuclear warheads placed in reserve and thousands of tactical nuclear weapons continue to be unaccounted for by the arms reduction process. If Bush wants to move nuclear arms control out of the Cold War, he must end the distinction between operational and non-operational warheads and seek ceilings on total warheads.

The hedge is a dangerous signal of intent that connotes deceit in our relations with Russia. There seems to be no better way to undermine the very trust that President Bush has said should be the basis for a new U.S.-Russian strategic relationship than to keep thousands of nuclear warheads hidden in secret bunkers in case it turns out that Russia needs to be destroyed after all. If Bush wants to transform our strategic relations with Russia, he must make the entire stockpile accountable.

President Bush could have used the November summit with Putin to increase the transparency and irreversibility of the nuclear arms reduction process. Instead he seems to have taken a step back from the START III framework and complicated efforts to reduce the currency of nuclear weapons in the U.S.-Russian relationship. There now rests a great responsibility with the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review to create clarity and transparency on the nuclear posture.

The B-1 Bomber: Not ‘Conventional-Only’

The B-1 bomber is one of the most dramatic examples of how weapons in the hedge can be quickly reactivated to increase the U.S. nuclear punch, demonstrating the ease of reversing arms reductions and the difficulty of preserving predictability and stability.

The aircraft is widely reported to have been converted from a nuclear-strike bomber to one delivering conventional weapons. STRATCOM officially removed the B-1 from nuclear-strike missions in support of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) and Limited Nuclear Options on October 1, 1997. As a result, the Air Force’s white paper on long-range bombers states, “B-1s are no longer tasked to perform nuclear missions.”1 The aircraft is now, according to a 1998 fact sheet signed by the secretary of the Air Force’s legislative liaison director, “a conventional-only platform.”2

Not so. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the Air Force maintains the B-1 bomber in a Nuclear Rerole Plan intended to return the aircraft to nuclear-strike missions within only six months if necessary. Under the B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan, which was approved in October 1998—exactly one year after the B-1 was removed from SIOP—“spare” B61 and B83 nuclear bombs are maintained outside arms control treaties in STRATCOM’s secret active reserve stockpile, which is part of the hedge.

Development of the plan began shortly before START II was signed in early 1993, but it was kept secret. When the Nuclear Posture Review was announced in September 1994, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that “we would have no nuclear capability maintained for the B-1 bomber.” In truth, however, the NPR decided that “reorientation [of the B-1 to a conventional aircraft] will not preclude the return of the B-1 fleet to a strategic nuclear role.” The plan was formally enshrined into the FY 1999-2002 Defense Planning Guidance by then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen in 1998.3

Portraying the B-1 as conventional-only served several purposes for the Pentagon. First, it relieved the aircraft of its image as a nuclear relic of the Cold War. The expensive B-2 program had already been cut back to only 21 aircraft, and shifting the B-1 to conventional missions increased its utility in real-world operations. Soon, B-1s began flying around the globe and conducting conventional bombing training in Egypt and South Korea. Behind the scene, however, Air Combat Command (ACC) and STRATCOM were tasked by the Air Force to ensure that the conventional upgrades “would neither preclude future nuclear capabilities (if necessary) nor demand the high cost to maintain an immediate nuclear capability.” So when the B-1 was officially relieved of its SIOP commitment in 1997, the aircraft maintenance procedures did not change, and the nuclear hardness and surety was maintained alongside the Conventional Mission Upgrade Program.

“Hiding” the B-1’s nuclear capability was also important for treaty reasons. START I credited each B-1 with one bomb (a total of 91 bombs for the entire fleet), but the counting rules changed under START II so that each aircraft was credited with 16 bombs. This meant that the B-1 fleet would “cost” almost 1,500 bombs and compete with other more important weapons under the total treaty limit, such as the B-2s and B-52s, which serve as backup to strategic submarines and ICBMs. A one-time nuclear rerole permission was worked into the START II language, and the B-1 was excluded from the treaty. Six months later, ACC and STRATCOM reached formal agreement on how to retain a secret nuclear capability for the B-1.

Maintaining the B-1 in a rerole plan—as opposed to keeping it in nuclear service full-time—also saved money. Achieving full nuclear capability is an inherently expensive and cumbersome process that places a significant additional burden on crew and equipment otherwise needed for conventional missions. ACC’s operational resources were so strained in the 1990s that the command occasionally was forced to ask STRATCOM to be relieved from participating in nuclear exercises. The B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan removed the B-1s from nuclear exercises and relieved crew from the nuclear weapons certification inspections.

The B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan is legal under START II, but it makes a mockery of the nuclear arms reduction process, undermining the trust and transparency necessary for advancing a new U.S.-Russian strategic framework.

1. Department of the Air Force, “U.S. Air Force White Paper on Long Range Bombers,” March 1, 1999, p. 18.
2. Secretary of the Air Force, Legislative Liaison, “1998 Air Force Congressional Issue Paper,” n.d. [1998], p. 5.
3. “HQ Air Combat Command B-1 Nuclear Rerole Plan (U),” October 30, 1998, p. 1. This document is available at http://www.nautilus.org/nukestrat/USA/bombers/b1rerole.html.

Support for research used in this article was provided by the Ploughshares Fund and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Editor’s note: Many of the documents referenced in this article can be found on the Nautilus Institute’s Web site, www.nautilus.org. Direct links can be found in the Web version of this article at www. armscontrol.org.
1. Bush quote: The White House, “President Bush and President Putin Talk to Crawford Students,” November 15, 2001. Rice quote: “Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice on Visit of President Putin,” U.S. Newswire, November 15, 2001.
2. U.S. Strategic Air Command/XP, n.t. [“The Phoenix Study”], September 11, 1991, p. 32. Available on the Internet at http://www.nautilus.org/nukestrat/USA/Force/phoenix.html
3. Department of Defense, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Deterrence,” October 1998, p. 48. Available on the Internet at http://www.nautilus.org/nukestrat/USA/advisory/dsb98.pdf
4. The White House, “Joint Statement on the Transparency and Irreversibility of the Process of Reducing Nuclear Weapons,” May 10, 1995.
5. U.S. Strategic Command, “White Paper: Post-START II Arms Control,” September 18, 1996, pp. 1, 2.
6. Bulleted points are a direct quotation from the “White Paper: Post-START II Arms Control,” pp. 1, 2. Underlining in original.
7. U.S. Strategic Command, “Statement of General Eugene, United States Air Force, Commander in Chief, United States Strategic Command, Before the Senate Armed Services Committee,” March 13, 1997, p. 3. The Defense Department reported in January 2001 that the Russian nuclear stockpile “was estimated [in December 2000] to be well under 25,000 warheads, a reduction of over 11,000 warheads since eliminations began in 1992.” Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, January 2001, p. 55.
8. Hans M. Kristensen and Joshua Handler, “Appendix 6A: Tables of Nuclear Forces, 2001,” in SIPRI Yearbook 2001: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 466. Available on the Internet at http://projects.sipri.se/nuclear/06A.pdf
9. William M. Arkin, Robert Norris, and Joshua Handler, “Taking Stock: Worldwide Nuclear Deployments 1998,” Natural Resources Defense Council, March 1998, pp. 2, 13, 27.
10. “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Nuclear Deterrence,” p. 48.
11. Federation of American Scientists, “National Security Presidential Directives [NSPD] George W. Bush Administration,” http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nspd/index.html
12. General Eugene E. Habiger, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Command, interview with Defense Writer’s Group, Washington, D.C., March 31, 1998.

Hans M. Kristensen is a senior program officer with the Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, California. He is a contributor to the SIPRI Yearbook and co-author of the “NRDC Nuclear Notebook” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.



U.S. and Russian/Soviet Strategic Nuclear Forces

Since START I entered into force December 5, 1994, the treaty parties have substantially reduced their deployed strategic nuclear forces to comply with treaty limits that they must reach by December 2001. START I will limit the United States and Russia to 1,600 deployed strategic delivery vehicles (bombers and land- and submarine-based missiles) carrying 6,000 nuclear warheads, to be counted according to rules delineated in the treaty text.

START I was signed July 31, 1991, by the United States and the Soviet Union. Five months later, the Soviet Union dissolved, leaving four independent states in possession of strategic nuclear weapons: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. On May 23, 1992, the United States and the four nuclear-capable successor states to the Soviet Union signed the “Lisbon Protocol,” which makes all five nations party to the START I agreement. (Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan also agreed to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states.)

Under START I, the five parties semiannually exchange memoranda of understanding (MOUs) containing numbers, types, and locations of treaty-accountable strategic nuclear weapons. The tables presented here compare information from the initial September 1990 MOU with data from the July 2001 MOU, demonstrating the progress the parties have made.

Soviet/Russian numbers for 1990 apply to the Soviet Union, while current numbers are provided separately for Russia and Ukraine. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine have transferred all of their nuclear warheads to Russia, but Ukraine continues to dismantle associated delivery vehicles and hence has “START-accountable” weapons on its territory.

—For more information, contact Philipp C. Bleek.

U.S. Strategic Forces
Delivery Vehicles
September 1990
July 2001
September 1990
July 2001
Minuteman III
Minuteman II
Poseidon (C-3)
Trident I (C-4)
Trident II (D-5)
B-52 (ALCM)
B-52 (Non-ALCM)


Soviet/Russian Strategic Forces
Delivery Vehicles
September 19901
July 20012
September 19901
July 20012
SS-24 (silo)
SS-24 (rail)
SS-273 (silo)
SS-273 (rail)
Bear (ALCM)
Bear (Non-ALCM)


Current Strategic Forces Ukraine
July 2001
Delivery Vehicles
Warheads 4
SS-24 (silo)
Bear (ALCM)

Key: ICBM: Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, SLBM: Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile, ALCM: Air-Launched Cruise Missile

1. Includes weapons in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
2. Weapons in Russia only.
3. Also known as the TOPOL-M or RS-12M Variant 2 ICBM.
4. Even though all nuclear warheads from Ukraine have been transported to Russia, they remain START accountable until their associated delivery systems have been destroyed.

Sources: START I Memorandum of Understanding, September 1, 1990; START I Memorandum of Understanding, July 31, 2001; Arms Control Association.

Bill Aims to Lift Nuclear Reductions Restriction

The fiscal year 2002 defense authorization bill before the Senate contains language that would lift a 1998 restriction effectively barring the president from unilaterally reducing U.S. strategic nuclear forces below START I levels. The restriction would need to be lifted before President George W. Bush could follow through on his campaign pledge to reduce U.S. forces unilaterally.

The Senate was unable to complete action on the bill in the final week of September and will take up the legislation again in early October. The House approved its version of the bill, which does not lift the restrictions, September 25. Several House Democrats had offered language lifting the restriction, but their amendments were rejected. However, the House bill does contain a partial repeal exempting the Peacekeeper missile from the restriction. The administration announced earlier this summer that it intends to retire all 50 of the multiple-warhead ICBMs between 2003 and 2005. (See ACT, July/August 2001.)

Pentagon officials have repeatedly asked Congress to lift the restriction. The language, first introduced in the fiscal year 1998 defense authorization bill, was originally intended to pressure the Russian Duma to approve START II. Moscow ratified that agreement in May 2000, but the treaty has not entered into force because of related disagreements over the ABM Treaty and national missile defense. (See ACT, May 2000.)

Democratic lawmakers mounted a major effort to overturn the language last year, but Republicans led by Senator John Warner (R-VA) resisted the move. In debate on the Senate floor just months before the end of President Bill Clinton’s term, Warner said he felt it was a “wiser course of action to defer such decisions…until the next president is in office.”

Given the disparity between the approved House and expected Senate bills, the issue will likely have to be resolved in conference negotiations between the two chambers of Congress. Conference negotiations, subsequent votes in each chamber, and submission of the bill to the president for signature will extend into the 2002 fiscal year, which begins October 1.

Last Minuteman III Missile Silo Destroyed

On August 24, the United States destroyed its last Minuteman III missile silo slated for dismantlement under START I. Demolition of the silo, located at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, takes Washington one step closer to meeting an upcoming treaty implementation deadline.

The START I accord requires the United States and Russia to deploy no more than 6,000 nuclear warheads on 1,600 strategic delivery vehicles by December 5. To help meet this deadline, the United States began destroying 150 Minuteman III silos in October 1999. It plans to retain 501 of these missiles, according to an administration official.

Washington intends to make other significant nuclear force reductions over the next few months to meet its START commitments, the official said. These include destroying one decommissioned Poseidon submarine and 15 B-52 bombers configured to carry air-launched cruise missiles. Washington will also reduce the number of warheads on each of its 192 Trident I missiles from eight to six and the number of warheads on 150 of its remaining Minuteman III missiles from three to one.

These reductions will put the United States “well below START limits,” with 1,238 delivery vehicles and 5,903 warheads, the official stated.

The official added that “it certainly appears the Russians are on track to finish on time.” Ukraine also has START-accountable delivery vehicles on its territory and is expected to meet the December deadline too, the official said.

START I entered into force in December 1994 and remains in effect until 2009, unless it is extended or superseded by a new nuclear reduction agreement. At a March 1997 summit in Helsinki, Moscow and Washington agreed to work to make the START I and II accords unlimited in duration but have not followed through on that commitment. START II, which would require both sides to reduce their arsenals to 3,500 deployed strategic warheads, has not yet entered into force.

Outgoing Nuclear Chief Counsels Caution on Strategic Reductions

Philipp C. Bleek

As the Bush administration prepares to make significant changes to U.S. nuclear forces, the country’s most senior military official in charge of those forces counseled caution in implementing deep reductions and criticized de-alerting proposals.

In July 11 testimony to the Senate Armed Services strategic subcommittee, Admiral Richard Mies, outgoing commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Command, supported moves to reduce deployed strategic weapons but cautioned that strategic reductions must be viewed as “means to an end—national security—not as an end in itself.” The admiral highlighted a “naive and mistaken belief that the ‘nuclear danger’ is directly proportional to the number of nuclear weapons and accordingly, lower is inevitably better.”

Quoting an unnamed former national security adviser, Mies suggested that, “given present circumstances in Russia,” the United States should focus on “strengthening the safety and security of Russian weapons” and improving Moscow’s command and control rather than “spending our energies on radical cuts.” At lower levels, issues such as transparency, irreversibility, production capacity, aggregate warhead inventories, and verifiability become more important than numbers of deployed forces or numerical parity, Mies said.

Both during the campaign and from the White House, President George W. Bush has repeatedly said he would seek to reduce U.S. strategic forces to “the lowest possible number consistent with our national security.” More specifically, Bush said during the campaign that “it should be possible to reduce…significantly [below] START II,” under which the United States and Russia would be required to deploy 3,500 or fewer strategic warheads. Bush also said that “the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status” and that “keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.” (See ACT, September 2000.)

The admiral sharply criticized reductions in the alert status of forces. Mies warned that de-alerting nuclear forces “can diminish their credibility and survivability” by “jeopardizing the existing stability we have against a pre-emptive strike because they increase our vulnerability.” Contesting the notion that U.S. forces are on “hair-trigger” alert, Mies emphasized that “multiple, stringent procedural and technical safeguards have been in place and will remain in place to guard against accidental or inadvertent launch.” Finally, he reiterated longstanding U.S. policy not to rely on so-called launch-on-warning. “Our trigger is built so we can always wait,” the nuclear chief said.

Mies also touched on U.S. plans to sustain its current strategic forces, noting that the issue will become increasingly critical as systems age. Mies stated that the B-52 bomber is scheduled to remain in service until 2044, giving it a total service life approaching a century. He also said the Trident submarine has had its service life extended from 30 years to 44 years. Mies further noted that, because some of the warheads currently deployed on Minuteman III missiles are due to reach the end of their service lives around 2009, it is important to transfer newer warheads to the Minuteman from the Peacekeeper missile, which the administration recently decided to retire with congressional support. He indicated the Defense Department is “committed” to moving the warheads.

The Defense Department announced July 25 that Bush had nominated Admiral James Ellis, currently commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe, to replace Mies. The position is subject to Senate confirmation; a confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Pentagon Prepares Modest Cutbacks in Nuclear Arsenal

Philipp C. Bleek

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is taking steps to reduce modestly all three arms of the nuclear triad in what appears to be the first stage of the unilateral nuclear cutbacks promised by the Bush administration. The secretary said he intends to retire the Peacekeeper ICBM, reduce the number of deployed B-1B Lancer bombers by a third, and study converting two Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to play a conventional role.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee June 28, Rumsfeld said that both he and the Air Force had concluded that the Peacekeeper missile, also known as the MX, was “not needed.” The Air Force is seeking $4.9 million for 2002 to prepare for Peacekeeper dismantlement. The missiles are scheduled to be taken out of service between 2003 and 2005, with final dismantlement activities concluding in 2007.

The Peacekeeper is the United States’ newest ICBM, deployed under President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Like the heavy, multiple-warhead Russian ICBMs, the Peacekeeper must be eliminated under the START II agreement, whose entry into force remains stalled. Currently, the United States has 50 Peacekeepers deployed.

The administration is prohibited from reducing U.S. nuclear forces below START I levels by language first included in the fiscal year 1998 National Defense Authorization Act. Intended to prevent then-President Bill Clinton from unilaterally reducing strategic forces, the language specifies that Pentagon funds may not be used to “retire or dismantle” strategic weapons below set levels, including “50 Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim indicated at a June 27 press briefing that the administration was seeking “relief” from the restriction for all weapons systems, not just for the Peacekeeper missile.

That same day, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Representatives John Spratt (D-SC) and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced the Nuclear Threat Reduction Act in both houses of Congress. The legislation would lift the restriction while also calling for reductions in the alert status of weapons and the acceleration of nuclear threat reduction efforts in Russia.

Rumsfeld also indicated in testimony to both houses of Congress that the Air Force had recommended reducing the fleet of B-1B Lancer bombers from 93 to 60 and reducing the number of B-1 bomber bases from five to two, a recommendation he indicated was already being implemented. The Lancer currently carries conventional weapons but is nuclear capable.

Lawmakers from states due to lose their bomber contingent expressed anger during the hearings. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), whose state is slated to lose its bombers, informed Rumsfeld that he was going to “make every effort” to block the decision until he is “confident” that it “fits into our national defense strategy.” Other lawmakers echoed his sentiments. Roberts was particularly upset by an Air Force memo he obtained that discussed the political necessity of maintaining bases in Texas and South Dakota, home to President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, respectively.

The plan to study the conversion of two Ohio-class submarines to carry conventional cruise missiles appears to have generated little congressional interest. The United States currently deploys 18 of these nuclear-capable submarines, each of which carries 192 nuclear warheads, but four of those submarines are due for retirement by 2003.

The proposed reductions mesh with Bush’s plans to reduce the size of U.S. nuclear forces. During a May 1 speech at National Defense University, Bush said that he intends to develop a new framework that would “encourage” cuts in nuclear weapons and that he is “committed to achieving a credible deterrent with the lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs.” (See ACT, June 2001.)

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)


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