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The Moscow Treaty's Hidden Flaws

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February 3, 2003 - This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a resolution of ratification expressing the Senate's advice and consent regarding the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty -- the "Moscow Treaty" -- signed by Presidents Bush and Putin in May 2002.

This meager agreement -- which fits on less than one typeset page -- hardly deserves to be called a treaty. A careful analysis reveals that President Bush failed to honor his pledge to make nuclear force reductions legally binding. When reporting on this issue, NRDC urges reporters to take the following observations into account:

  • According to the administration's own "article-by-article analysis" submitted with the treaty, the effective date of the treaty's only constraint -- a reduction in "operationally deployed strategic" weapons that must occur "by December 31, 2012,"-- lags by a microsecond the expiration of the overall treaty, which remains in force only "until December 31, 2012." The bottom line is the treaty's advertised "two-thirds" reduction in deployed strategic arsenals never enters into legal force and effect. The only substantive provision in the treaty is a sham.

  • The Moscow Treaty lacks any interim milestones for implementing reductions and assessing compliance. According to the article-by-article analysis: "...Prior to December 31, 2012 each Party is free to maintain whatever level of strategic nuclear warheads it deems appropriate ..." (emphasis added). This same freedom obviously exists on or after December 31, 2012, but for a different reason -- the treaty expires before compliance with the phantom reductions provision can even be assessed.

  • The treaty's voluntary, self-imposed "limit" on operationally deployed strategic weapons excludes strategic nuclear systems that are being overhauled, but the treaty contains no corresponding cap on the number of deployed warheads that may be claimed to be in overhaul at any given time. The result is that the 1,700- to 2,200-warhead limit, even if voluntarily observed by each side, is easily reversed.

  • President Reagan's "doverai no proverai" -- trust but verify -- approach is dead. The Moscow Treaty lacks verification and inspection provisions of any kind.

  • The Moscow Treaty does not mandate the elimination of a single nuclear missile silo, submarine, missile, warhead, bomber or bomb. It allows unlimited production and deployment of new nuclear warheads, and delivery systems, both tactical and strategic. It even lacks an agreed definition between the parties of what, if anything, is being "reduced."

Administration Holds Nuclear Reductions Hostage to Defense Buildup

Given the agreements glaring deficiencies, the wording of the treaty's withdrawal clause might seem to be a minor matter, but even here the treaty manages to lower the bar, from the usual requirement to explain "extraordinary events that require withdrawal," to a mere "exercise of national sovereignty."

What difference could such a standard make? Quite a lot. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 25, 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened U.S. withdrawal from the treaty if Congress does not fully fund the president's missile defense requests and other favored programs:

"The proposals with respect to 1,700 and 2,200 [warheads] are premised on some investments that need to be made in missile defense and investments that need to be made in infrastructure... Investments in these and many other transformational capabilities in the 2003 budget should allow the U.S. over time to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons and enact the reductions contained in the treaty ." (emphasis added)

In other words, in the view of the Bush administration, U.S.-Russian ratification and entry-into-force of the Moscow Treaty's obligations are by themselves insufficient to "enact the reductions contained in the treaty." This being the case, why then is the administration wasting the Senate's time with ratification of what amounts to a legally meaningless agreement?

Administration Shows Contempt for U.S. Nonproliferation Treaty Obligation

As matters now stand, the Moscow Treaty merely provides a misleading public relations cover for a muscle-bound U.S. nuclear posture that will not reduce future nuclear risks.

The combination of the treaty's nonbinding character with the Bush administration's new doctrine of preemptive and preventive attacks -- including tactical nuclear strikes against deeply buried and "agent defeat" targets in non-nuclear weapon states -- amounts to a failure to comply with U.S. obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Under the NPT's Article VI, the United States has, in concert with other nuclear weapon states, a legally binding obligation to engage in "good faith" negotiations on, and thereby to conclude, "effective measures" relating to nuclear disarmament. Not only is the Moscow Treaty clearly not an "effective measure" within the meaning of the NPT, but the Bush posture review's strong endorsement of the indefinite utility of nuclear supremacy and first-use threats amply illustrates the fact that the Bush administration is not undertaking the Moscow Treaty as a "good faith" step toward nuclear disarmament.

In his July 2002 Senate testimony on the Moscow Treaty, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld vividly exemplified the Bush administration's intention to ignore the U.S. NPT obligation. When called upon to explain the rationale for the thousands of nuclear weapons the Bush administration is planning to retain under the treaty, Rumsfeld offered a brief for permanent U.S. nuclear supremacy: "The U.S. nuclear arsenal... helps us dissuade the emergence of potential or would-be peer competitors by underscoring the futility of trying to sprint toward parity with us."

Press Contact
Christopher Paine, NRDC senior analyst, 434-244-5013

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