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U.S./Russia: Arms-Reduction Treaty Achieves Compromise

  • Andrew Tully

For nearly a year, diplomats from Russia and the United States have been negotiating a treaty under which both countries would drastically reduce their nuclear arsenals. On Monday, U.S. President George W. Bush announced in Washington that the pact is ready to be signed when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. But each side had to give up something of what it wanted in order to reach the accord.

Washington, 14 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. officials say both presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin got most of what both men wanted -- and some of what they did not want -- in a compromise treaty under which both the U.S. and Russia would reduce their nuclear arsenals.

Under the compromise, each country will reduce the number of its strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next 10 years. The U.S. now has about 7,000 such warheads, and Russia has about 6,000.

Bush and Putin announced their intention to reduce the arsenals during their summit in Washington last November. But it has since been revealed that the two men began discussing the plan when they met in Genoa, Italy, last July.

Since the November summit, U.S. and Russian negotiators have been refining the wording of the agreement. Most recently, Undersecretary of State John Bolton met in Moscow with Russia's deputy foreign minister, Georgii Mamedov, to complete the talks.

During the Washington summit, Bush said he would be satisfied by an oral agreement to reduce weapons. But Putin made it clear that he would prefer a formal treaty. As it turned out, Putin got his wish. On Monday, he said he was satisfied with the accord.

But because it is a treaty, it must be approved by the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, which opposes Bush's Republican Party. But a senior Bush administration official -- who spoke on condition that he not be named -- told reporters at the White House that he expects the Senate to give no political resistance to the agreement.

While Putin got what he wanted on the form of the treaty, he did not get what he wanted on another element: a U.S. commitment to destroy warheads that are removed from service. The United States says it plans to destroy some weapons, but keep others as backups for the weapons that will remain in service.

The Bush administration official who briefed reporters at the White House said each side will be able to decide exactly how to reduce the number of weapons.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, however, said in Moscow that his government has not dropped its objection to this plan. He did not explain this apparent contradiction.

The U.S. administration official said the reduction in warheads will be monitored under existing verification methods.

Since he campaigned for the U.S. presidency in 2000, Bush has advocated reducing nuclear weapons as part of a broader program of modernizing and streamlining the U.S. military infrastructure. Early in his term of office, he directed the Defense Department to study how to reduce the country's strategic arsenal.

While reducing strategic arms gives the United States a more efficient military, it will save Russia money. Analysts say that Moscow cannot afford to maintain its conventional forces properly unless it cuts the cost of maintaining its nuclear force. The cuts in warheads could save Moscow about $2 billion a year -- not an enormous savings, but welcome nonetheless.

Bush and Putin met for the first time in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in June 2001. After that brief summit, Bush spoke of the trust that quickly grew between the two men, and their desire to bring an end to the legacy of the Cold War that had separated their countries for more than a half-century.

On Monday, when Bush announced that a final agreement on reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals had been reached, he said the treaty will be a significant step in ending the decades of enmity.

"This treaty will liquidate the legacy of the Cold War. When I sign the treaty with President Putin in Russia, we will begin the new era of U.S.-Russian relationships," Bush said.

Bush thanked the American and Russian negotiators who managed to complete work on the treaty so he and Putin can sign it on 24 May during their meeting in Moscow.

"I look forward to going to Moscow to sign this treaty. It will be the culmination of months of hard work and a relationship built on mutual trust that I established with President Putin in Slovenia," Bush said.

The Moscow summit also is expected to produce another document addressing a separate arms-control issue: Bush's plan to test and possibly deploy a national missile-defense program.

Critics of the plan, including many of the United States' European allies, say it could lead to a resumption of the arms race between Washington and Moscow, and perhaps including Beijing. Bush said it is meant not to deter possible attacks by Russia or China, but countries that his administration calls "rogue states" such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.

Deploying and even testing a missile-defense system is forbidden by the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, or ABM, that was signed by the U.S. and the Soviet Union 30 years ago. But Bush has decided to "go beyond" that treaty -- in other words, withdraw from it -- saying it is an outdated relic of the Cold War.

Putin has objected to a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM, but his resistance has not been strenuous.

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