Policy Memos

The Future of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Relations: A Rip Van Winkle Approach?

Policy Memo:


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The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, or the Treaty of Moscow) signed by U.S. president George W. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin during their Moscow/St. Petersburg summit in May 2002, marks the de facto end of traditional U.S.-Russian negotiated strategic arms control. In sharp contrast to previous agreements, the Moscow Treaty is very short (only three pages long) and it does not contain any definitions of what exactly should be reduced. In addition, counting rules and verification provisions are absent. Provisions of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reductions Talks (START I) agreement might be used as a verification mechanism in the Moscow Treaty reductions, but only until 2009, when START I is set to expire. What will happen when START I expires, has yet to be determined.

In the U.S.-Russian Declaration, signed alongside the Moscow Treaty, both sides agreed to establish a Consultative Group for Strategic Security headed by both powers’ ministers of foreign affairs and defense. It was intended to discuss the issues that remained unsolved by the 2002 document. Since May, however, the group has only met once at a September meeting in Washington, D.C. Reportedly, during the meeting, the ministers failed to discuss strategic nuclear matters and, instead, concentrated on other topics, such as Iraq and Georgia.

Lack of interest in the follow-up strategic nuclear dialogue, demonstrated in both capitals, could be explained by either exhaustion from the intensive bilateral talks that took place between summer 2001 and spring 2002, or deeper factors. Indeed, the late 1990s deadlock in the START-ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) arena has been solved in a way that could be considered as giving a green light to national priorities. The United States was able to withdraw from the ABM Treaty without immediate, dramatic negative consequences. Regarding strategic nuclear weapons, the Pentagon secured its own nuclear posture review, developed in 2001. [...]

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