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June 2, 2022
Experts Call Nuclear Arms Treaty a Missed Opportunity, Urge Pursuit of Comprehensive Nuclear Risk Reduction Strategy
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For Immediate Release: May 24, 2002

Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball (202) 463-8270 x107 or Philipp Bleek (202)
463-8270 x103

(Washington, D.C.): A leading American arms control and international security organization called today’s signing of the new U.S.-Russian “Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions” a modest step that unfortunately falls short of what could and should be done to move beyond the Cold War-era nuclear rivalry. Experts from the Arms Control Association called on Russian and American leaders to pursue more comprehensive steps to reduce the risks posed by residual Cold War nuclear arsenals.

“Reducing deployed strategic forces by roughly two-thirds is a welcome and long-overdue step, but President Bush has passed up an historic opportunity to verifiably eliminate excess Cold War nuclear weaponry for the sake of maintaining a U.S. capacity to quickly expand strategic nuclear forces in the future,” according to Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

The agreement requires each side to reduce its number of “operationally deployed strategic warheads” from today’s 5,000-6,000 to no more than 2,200 by 2012, when the treaty will expire. Under the treaty each side would reduce its deployed strategic forces by removing warheads from missiles, bombers, and submarines, while allowing the retention of those delivery systems. The treaty does not spell out what is to be done with warheads removed from service. Though verification provisions from the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) will remain in effect until 2009, the new treaty provides no additional verification measures. Either party may withdraw within three months notice.

“The new treaty does not significantly alter the number of existing nuclear delivery systems and therefore only marginally affects the residual nuclear potential of the United States and Russia,” observed Jack Mendelsohn, a former member of the U.S. Strategic Arms Limitations Talks and START negotiating teams. “It creates thousands of ‘phantom warheads’ undercutting its own verifiability, and it contains no reduction schedule, making it difficult to predict force levels over the next decade,” he added.

“The treaty’s content is consistent with the Bush administration’s goal of maintaining maximum strategic flexibility,” Kimball observed. “The agreement ’s emphasis on flexibility only detracts from its predictability, lessening the likelihood that it can play a role in building a more stable and lasting
U.S.-Russian relationship,” he added.

While the Bush administration has said it intends to dismantle some warheads, it also plans to maintain the capability to redeploy at least 2,400 warheads from its active reserves within three years of the conclusion of the agreement, giving the United States the capability to deploy at least 4,600 strategic warheads by 2015. Several thousand more warheads in lower stages of readiness could also be redeployed over a longer period of time. Russia is likely to follow the U.S. lead and seek to retain the capability to increase its nuclear forces if necessary.

“If Russia mirrors the U.S. policy of warehousing, rather than eliminating, these deadly weapon systems, Moscow will be adding warheads to a vast and insecure nuclear weapons complex, which already poses a significant proliferation risk,” said Wade Boese, research director for the Association.

The new agreement is a departure from past agreements. Unlike START I and START II, signed by the first President Bush in 1993, this treaty allows each side to maintain existing strategic bombers, submarine-launched missiles, and land-based intercontinental missiles, leaving each side with the capability to quickly reconstitute its current arsenal.

Consistent with the Pentagon’s nuclear posture review, this agreement permits each side to deploy over 2,000 strategic warheads, the majority of which will likely be ready for quick use. Leaked portions of the classified review state “in the event that U.S. relations with Russia significantly worsen in the future, the U.S. may need to revise its nuclear force levels and posture.”

The United States currently deploys approximately 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads on its strategic triad of land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers, and, in addition, it currently has over 1,000 tactical nuclear warheads and more than 5,000 total nuclear warheads in reserve stockpiles. Russia currently deploys an estimated 5,500 strategic nuclear warheads on its strategic triad of land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers. Russia also deploys an estimated 4,000 tactical nuclear weapons and is believed to stockpile another 13,000 strategic and tactical nuclear warheads.

“We encourage the Senate to carefully review the treaty and also secure assurances from the White House that it will pursue a more comprehensive nuclear risk reduction agenda with Russia. That agenda should include verifiable dismantlement of excess strategic warheads; accelerating the withdrawal of excess warheads from deployment; verifiable elimination of the thousands of remaining tactical nuclear weapons; and augmented efforts and resources to improve safeguards of Russian nuclear weapons storage and materials facilities,” Kimball said.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.

For more information on the Bush-Putin treaty and nuclear weapons, see the
Association’s Web site at www.armscontrol.org

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