Bolton Questions Value of Past Negative Nuclear Security Pledges; Acknowledges U.S. Never Offered Specific Proposals to Amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty
For Immediate Release: February 20, 2002
Contacts: Daryl Kimball, 202-463-8270 x 107 or Wade Boese, 202-463-8270 x 104
(Washington, D.C.) On February 11, Arms Control Today interviewed John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, about the Bush administration's strategic nuclear policy, its ongoing negotiations with Russia, and its approach to nonproliferation. In the interview, Bolton questioned the value of long-standing U.S. commitments limiting the circumstances under which the United States would use nuclear weapons and acknowledged that the Bush administration never offered Russia amendments to the ABM Treaty. The following are highlights from the interview.
Bolton Dismissive of U.S. Negative Security Commitments
Arms Control Today asked Bolton if the Bush administration would stand by the United States' 24-year-old commitment not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state unless that state attacks the United States in alliance with a state that has nuclear weapons.
Bolton replied, "I don't think we're of the view that this kind of approach is necessarily the most productive. … 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 chit-chatting, is making changes in our force structures that we're making in a very transparent fashion."
Bolton's statement is significant because it suggests that the Bush administration might reverse a commitment the United States first made in 1978 and reaffirmed in 1995 to help strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which the Bush administration has said that it supports. The NPT allows Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States to have nuclear weapons but prohibits all others from developing them. Under the NPT, the five nuclear-weapon states agreed to pursue steps toward nuclear disarmament and to share peaceful nuclear technology.
Seeking to win support for an indefinite extension of the NPT at a 1995 treaty review conference, the United States, as well as the other nuclear-weapon states, gave additional assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that nuclear weapons would not be used against them. These pledges to not use nuclear weapons against states that do not have them were ultimately a significant factor in winning consensus for indefinite extension. If the Bush administration appears to be reneging on these assurances, it could negatively affect support for the NPT.
Bush Did Not Offer Russians Amendments to the ABM Treaty, As Had Been Promised
Bolton also indicated that the United States did not propose amendments to the ABM Treaty before announcing its withdrawal-in contradiction to pledges previously made by President George W. Bush and other administration officials.
In a September 2000 interview with Arms Control Today, then-candidate Bush said 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." (See full text of interview.) But Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, claim the United States never did so before announcing its intention to pull out of the treaty on December 13, 2001.
Bolton confirmed that the United States did not offer Russia amendments: "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."
Bolton Confirms U.S. Is Seeking "Legally Binding Agreement" on Strategic Force Deployments
Though some administration officials have said they want to avoid arms control negotiations, Bolton reinforced Secretary of State Powell's February 5 statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the administration's effort to reach a legally binding agreement on operationally deployed nuclear forces with Russia. Bolton said that the United States seeks a binding agreement "which could well take the form of a treaty or something other than a political declaration [that] would embody the offensive weapons numbers."
However, many issues relating to such a deal-ranging from verification and transparency measures to the relationship between strategic offenses and defense-remain to be worked out. Bolton said: "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."
Bolton Lists U.S. Arms Control Priorities; Controlling Russian Tactical Nukes Not High on Agenda
Bolton said that the administration is "certainly willing to discuss tactical nukes" with Russia but that the administration will not be looking for an agreement on that issue in the run-up to the May meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin in Moscow. He said that the administration's "first priority is missile defense…the second priority is going to be the offensive [strategic] warheads…the next priority is Russian proliferation behavior…."
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." There are an estimated 1,600 tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, while Russia is estimated to possess at least 4,000 such weapons.
See complete transcript of the Arms Control Today interview with Undersecretary Bolton.
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Arms Control Today is a publication of the Arms Control Association, an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.