Bush-Putin Treaty Will Prolong Nuclear Standoff

NRDC Experts Call Treaty 'Political Theater'

WASHINGTON, DC (May 20, 2002) -- The nuclear arms treaty being readied for signing at the upcoming Bush-Putin summit actually would impose a binding limit on operational U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for only one day -- December 31, 2012, say experts at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

Before and after that date, the number of nuclear warheads mounted on strategic nuclear missiles and bombers may exceed the treaty's maximum "limit" of 2,200 warheads in operation. The treaty likewise contains no limit on the number of warheads that may be kept in storage as a "reserve" force, meaning that potentially thousands of weapons on both sides could be remounted on missiles and bombers within weeks or months. "The whole framework of restraint is so tenuous, it could unwind rather swiftly," said Matthew McKinzie, an NRDC staff scientist.

Moreover, the treaty does nothing to constrain or eliminate stockpiles of nonstrategic nuclear weapons deliverable by shorter-range systems, such as cruise missiles, battlefield missiles, artillery and tactical aircraft. Further, the treaty imposes no timetable for removing warheads from operational missiles, bombers or submarines. The United States and Russia must comply with the 2,200-warhead limit only on the last day of 2012, after which the treaty expires.

"President Bush's claim that this agreement will 'liquidate the nuclear legacy of the Cold War' is self-serving political hype," said Thomas Cochran, director of NRDC's Nuclear Program. "The proposed treaty imposes no additional permanent limits on either side's nuclear forces, and does not require the destruction of a single nuclear warhead, missile, silo, bomber or submarine. This treaty is a sham, and will do nothing to make Americans or Russians more secure."

NRDC Senior Policy Analyst Christopher Paine called the treaty "political theater." "This administration clearly regards nuclear arms control as just another venue for political theater, designed to grease the skids of Russia's integration into the U.S.-led free market system," he said. "But arms control should be more than fostering the illusion that you're doing something."

More than 30 years ago, countries with nuclear weapons pledged in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to move toward eliminating their arsenals, Paine said. "Regrettably, the proposed Bush-Putin treaty offers no way to get there. It will persuade other countries that they, too, must prepare to live in a nuclear-armed world for the indefinite future."

Robert S. Norris, NRDC's nuclear historian, noted that President Bush has already rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed by President Clinton and supported by the majority of the world's nations -- including Russia -- and intends to withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June. "This treaty is just another example of the Bush administration's desire to maintain the flexibility to use the unusable -- nuclear weapons," he said. "Meanwhile, Bush is single-handedly destroying the credibility of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policies and commitments that preceding administrations worked hard to establish over the last 30 years."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
Further background and analysis
Table of US Strategic Offensive Force Loadings
Table of USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Force Loadings
Bush Admin's Secret Plan For Strengthening U.S. Nuclear Forces