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June 2, 2022
New Nuclear Accord Submitted to U.S., Russian Lawmakers
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July/August 2002

By Wade Boese

In the third week of June, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin submitted their recently concluded Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty to their respective legislatures for approval. The U.S. and Russian legislatures are expected to vote on the treaty’s fate this fall.

On June 20, Bush sent the treaty and an article-by-article analysis to the Senate for its advice and consent. Two-thirds of the senators voting on the accord will need to give their approval to enable the president to ratify the treaty, which would obligate the United States and Russia to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads they deploy to 2,200 each by the end of 2012. Both countries are currently limited to about 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads apiece.

After meeting with Bush on June 5, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) estimated that his committee would hold six hearings on the May 24 arms reduction agreement. The first, at which Secretary of State Colin Powell will testify, is scheduled for July 9. Other committees, such as the Senate Armed Services Committee, may also hold hearings.

The Senate is expected to vote on the treaty this fall before ending its current session. “My hope is we’d act on it…before we went out,” Biden said after his White House meeting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov has predicted that Russia will vote on treaty ratification in October. Putin submitted the treaty and an article-by-article analysis to the Russian Duma and Federation Council for approval June 21. In Russia, both houses vote on treaties.

Neither the Duma—the lower but more powerful and independent house of the Russian legislature—nor the Senate is expected to rubber-stamp the treaty. Both are expected to add some conditions and declarations, a typical practice in the ratification process.

The Duma, for example, in its April 2000 approval of the 1993 START II arms reduction agreement, tied the treaty’s entry into force to U.S. action on measures related to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Washington never acted on those provisions, thereby preventing START II from taking effect. (See p. 16.) Treaties do not formally enter into force until the countries exchange instruments of ratification.

Senator Biden has publicly expressed concerns about what he views as the treaty’s shortcomings, such as its lack of provisions for destroying weapons or for verifying that the reductions actually take place. He wrote in the May 28 issue of The Washington Post that “while the treaty as a whole is a step forward, some of its specifics risk moving us backward.”

In a letter accompanying the treaty to the Senate, Bush stated that the accord was in the “best interests” of the United States and would put the two countries on “a stable, predictable path to substantial reductions” in their deployed nuclear forces.

At the same time, Bush downplayed the accord’s overall significance to future U.S.-Russian relations, saying the treaty “is neither the primary basis for this relationship nor its main component.” The Bush administration contends that whereas past relations between the two countries were focused almost exclusively on limiting the threat posed by the other, the current relationship is much broader because neither country now needs to worry about the other’s military.

Bush highlighted that the new treaty does not specify which weapons should be taken out of service or spell out how the reductions are to be carried out. “This flexibility allows each Party to determine how best to respond to future security challenges,” Bush explained.

In the article-by-article analysis of the treaty submitted to the Senate, the Bush administration reported that Russia did not state “conclusively” during the treaty negotiations how it planned to carry out its reductions. (See p. 28 for the text of the analysis.)

But the administration predicts that Moscow will retire most of its 10-warhead SS-18 and six-warhead SS-19 ICBMs by 2012. As of January 2002, Russia deployed 150 SS-18s and 150 SS-19s. Moscow is also expected to continue deactivating its remaining 36 SS-24s, which can carry 10 warheads apiece.
The United States plans to take all 50 of its 10-warhead Peacekeeper ICBMs out of service and convert four Trident submarines, each of which can carry a maximum of 192 warheads, for use as conventional platforms. To comply fully with the treaty, the United States will need to make additional reductions, but it has not yet identified how it will do so.

The United States intends to keep at least 2,400 of the warheads it removes from ICBMs, submarines, and bombers under the treaty in a “responsive capability” that would permit their redeployment—some within weeks and months, and all within three years. The Bush administration claims that the responsive force is needed because it is uncertain what threats the United States will face in the future. Bush denies that the responsive force is geared toward any specific country.

Bush asserted in his June 20 letter, “The U.S. military has put Cold War practices behind it, and now plans, sizes, and sustains its forces in recognition that Russia is not an enemy.” Yet in its classified January nuclear posture review, excerpts of which became public, the administration noted, “Russia’s nuclear forces and programs, nevertheless, remain a concern.” The review further cautioned that if U.S.-Russian relations sour, the “U.S. may need to revise its nuclear force levels and posture.”

The Bush administration noted in its article-by-article analysis that it is easier to withdraw from this accord than from previous treaties. Rather than having to show that its supreme national interests are threatened by extraordinary circumstances, as required in other agreements, either party will simply have to give three months’ written notice of its intent to quit the treaty. The Bush administration explained that this permits “greater flexibility for each Party to respond to unforeseen circumstances.”