Nuclear Disarmament: Problems and Prospects
No. 1 2008 January/March

issues, which faded into the background of global politics over the
past decade, have become relevant again. The fate of treaties that
once marked the end of bipolar confrontation is now in the focus of
international attention. The situation in this sector requires a
very careful analysis, as hasty actions may undermine international

There are only
bilateral treaties between Russia and the United States in the
sphere of nuclear arms control. The participation of Belarus,
Kazakhstan and Ukraine in the Soviet-U.S. Treaty on the Reduction
and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START I Treaty) can be
considered to be purely formal, especially as these countries now
do not possess nuclear weapons.
Major nuclear arms control agreements between Moscow and Washington
include the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the
aforementioned START I Treaty, and the Treaty on Strategic
Offensive Reductions (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty. One
can also add here unilateral initiatives on deep cuts in
non-strategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons, made by U.S. President
George Bush Sr. and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in

How do things
stand now with the implementation of these treaties and
initiatives, and with the verification of their implementation? Is
there a need and is it feasible to prolong the existing agreements
or to make some of them into new agreements?

The INF Treaty
was signed on December 8, 1987 in Washington and came into force on
June 1, 1988. The treaty has an unlimited duration. In 1991, the
parties completed the destruction of weapons slated for reduction
by the treaty. The Soviet Union destroyed 1,846 missiles, while the
United States destroyed 846 missiles. Inspections by the two
nations of each other’s military installations and verification of
the termination of the production of intermediate-range and
shorter-range missiles continued for 10 years until the middle of
2001. At present, Russia and the United States monitor how the
other complies with the INF Treaty by means of the national
technical means of verification (NTM) and exchanges of

However, Moscow
is concerned over tests conducted by the U.S. for the creation of
its national missile defense system. These tests involve new
ballistic target missiles which, in fact, are intermediate-range
missiles. This can be viewed as a direct violation by the Americans
of INF Treaty provisions. Attempts to clarify the situation within
the Special Verification Commission (SVC), set up to oversee the
implementation of the INF Treaty and work out measures to improve
its effectiveness, are blocked by the U.S. (the last SVC session
was held in October 2003). The United States has said since 2004
that it will not hold SVC sessions. Washington insists that
Russia’s questions concerning the production of American ballistic
target missiles are not directly relevant to the INF

In fact, the
United States only stands to lose from negotiations on unilateral
violations of the INF Treaty. Diplomatic correspondence on this
issue resembles a dialogue between a deaf man and a blind man,
while Russia’s passivity makes it easy for the U.S. to violate the
INF Treaty.

signed on July 31, 1991, in Moscow and came into force on December
5, 1994. The treaty, which is to remain in force for 15 years,
provides for a wide range of verification measures: observance by
national technical means of verification; exchanges of data
(notifications, telemetric information on missile launches, etc.),
and 13 kinds of suspect-site inspections.
In accordance with START I, Russia and the U.S. completed the
reduction of their strategic armaments on December 4, 2001,
limiting them to 1,600 for deployed intercontinental ballistic
missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles
(SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers; and to 6,000 for warheads
attributed to the above missiles and heavy bombers. The parties
fulfilled their commitments and reduced the number of deployed
strategic delivery vehicles and warheads attributed to them: Russia
– to 1,136 delivery vehicles and 5,518 warheads, and the United
States – to 1,238 delivery vehicles and 5,949 warheads.

As of January 1,
2007, in keeping with the START I counting rules, the respective
number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles and warheads
attributed to them was 880 and 4,162 in Russia, and 1,225 and 5,866
in the U.S.

When reducing
nuclear weapons under START I, Russia actually eliminated its
armaments, while the United States largely used its
treaty-stipulated right to “lower” the number of warheads
attributed to deployed ICBMs and SLBMs. In reality, the U.S.
eliminated only an insignificant part of its strategic delivery
vehicles. Thus, the United States has created the so-called
breakout potential in its strategic offensive forces, which enables
it to build up its arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear warheads
by more than 3,000 units within four to six months if

As regards the
verification of the implementation of START I, Russia today has
much less capability than the United States in this field, although
initially there was a parity between the two countries. Due to
reduced financing for verification measures, for several years
Russian specialists have not been using the established quota for
suspect-site inspections, conducting about half of such
inspections. In addition, the shortage of national technical means
of verification, above all surveillance satellites, does not give
Russia any compensation for the reduced monitoring activities. In
May 2001, Russia even terminated the continuous monitoring over the
missile-producing Hercules plant in Magna, Utah.

In contrast,
Americans fully use the established quota for on-site inspections
every year. For example, in 2005 they carried out 47 inspections of
facilities of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. U.S. specialists
still conduct continuous monitoring over the missile-producing
Votkinsk machine-building plant in Udmurtia. In addition, American
NTM have virtually unlimited capabilities.

inspections carried out by Russia have revealed several violations
by the U.S. of START I provisions. The violations included the
testing of a Trident II SLBM; the shore-based support for strategic
submarines at an undeclared facility, namely Cape Canaveral; and
the conversion of silo launchers for ICBMs and SLBM launchers into
launchers for armaments of other types (in particular, interceptor
missiles and cruise missiles). In addition, the inspections
revealed uncontrolled production of the Castor 120 first rocket
stage, which is interchangeable with the first stage of the MX ICBM
and therefore is subject to control under START I as a strategic
delivery vehicle. Americans, however, declare this rocket stage as
a “commercial” first stage.

complaints about the above violations are regularly discussed at
Geneva sessions of the Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission
(JCIC), set up under START I, but Americans have not yet allayed
Russia’s concerns over their departure from START I provisions.
There is an impression that the violations by the United States of
individual provisions of START I are not incidental, but are part
of a consistent policy intended to erode the treaty’s verification
mechanism in order to ensure unilateral advantages for the American
military-industrial complex involved in the development of advanced
strategic weapon systems.

The inclusion of
a new type of SLBM, the RSM-56 (Bulava), and the RS-24 ICBM in the
START I legal field, as well as the beginning of their flight tests
in 2005 and 2007, respectively, were new major stages in the
implementation of START I by Russia. Also, Moscow openly announced
its new strategic offensive armaments facility – the Kapustin Yar
test range. It appeared as a result of a Russian Defense Ministry
decision to carry out launches of the RS-12M (Topol) ICBM to test
combat equipment of ICBMs and SLBMs.

The SORT Treaty
was signed on May 24, 2002 in Moscow and came into force on June 1,
2003. The treaty expires on December 31, 2012. By that time, Russia
and the United States must reduce and limit their deployed
strategic nuclear warheads so that the aggregate number of such
warheads does not exceed 1,700-2,200 for each party (which is
approximately three times lower than the limits for warheads
established by START I).

The SORT Treaty’s
format makes it basically different from START I. SORT does not
provide for verification mechanisms or stage-by-stage
implementation of the parties’ commitments. The parties only
reiterated their commitment to START I, which expires in December

Moscow and
Washington fulfill the SORT Treaty in accordance with their own
concepts for building nuclear forces. Russia is guided by the
expediency of really liquidating delivery vehicles for strategic
nuclear warheads so that by the end of 2012 it could achieve the
levels specified by the SORT Treaty. The United States prefers to
use the START I practice, when the reduction of deployed strategic
nuclear warheads is achieved mainly by “downloading” warheads from
delivery vehicles or converting the latter to fulfill non-nuclear

This situation
has made it necessary to form new confidence-building and
predictability measures, especially as this is provided for by the
Joint Declaration on New Strategic Relationship, signed by
Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush in Moscow together
with the SORT Treaty. Such efforts are made on Russia’s initiative.
In April and October 2005, Russia formally submitted the relevant
proposals to the Bilateral Implementation Commission (BIC), which
provide for control and verification measures. However, the
American delegation to the BIC has been very passive. The Russian
proposals remain unconsidered, and Washington does not view them as
necessary. The U.S. insists that regular exchanges of data between
the two parties at BIC sessions on the state of their strategic
nuclear weapons are enough to achieve transparency with regard to
strategic offensive armaments.

The parties have
also not yet reached agreement on how to count strategic nuclear
warheads subject to limitation under the SORT Treaty.

The Americans
believe that warheads to be counted under SORT in ground-based and
sea-based strategic nuclear forces comprise only “operationally
deployed nuclear warheads” in ICBMs and SLBMs that are on alert
during a specific period of time. This approach ignores missile
systems that can be quickly put on alert. And here Americans have
an obvious advantage over Russians.

The U.S. approach
concerning practical implementation of the SORT Treaty is aimed at
evading the working out and harmonization of any measures and
mechanisms for verifying its implementation. Also, Washington is
reluctant to structure and specify information on the state of
strategic nuclear weapons, which the parties exchange. Obviously,
the United States seeks to obtain unilateral advantages through its
exceptionally high capacity to quickly build up the potential of
its strategic offensive forces. In contrast, Russia has a very
limited capacity with regard to the breakout potential of its
strategic nuclear forces.

It is difficult
to foresee how discussions in the Bilateral Implementation
Commission will further proceed, although there are serious grounds
to believe that Washington will continue to ignore Moscow’s

As regards the
implementation of the unilateral initiatives of 1991 on reductions
of tactical nuclear weapons, it should be noted that these
initiatives are a classic example of an informal regime which,
thanks to well-balanced mutual concessions, allowed the parties to
achieve very impressive results within a short period of time. At
the same time, the parties avoided many difficulties inevitable in
the course of negotiations, such as the ratification process, whose
dependence on internal political developments was vividly
demonstrated by the Russian-American START II Treaty, which was
signed on January 3, 1993 in Moscow, but which has never entered
into force.

Of course, an
informal regime has its drawbacks, as it is based not on legal
obligations, but on political statements.

However, in the
last decade of the 20th century, when relations of trust were
established between Moscow and Washington, neither party had any
suspicions that the other party was not fulfilling its unilateral
commitments. As a result, by the end of 2001 the arsenals of
tactical nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia were
reduced by about 70 percent. The parties also resolved the issue of
sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles, which are a long-range
weapon. The missiles were removed from warships and submarines and
were stored in arsenals.

An assessment of
how Moscow and Washington are implementing their nuclear arms
control agreements suggests that, despite some friction in their
relations, the parties are fulfilling their commitments regarding
compliance with the required levels of the reduction and limitation
of nuclear weapons. This undoubtedly has a positive impact on
international stability. However, the time is approaching when the
START I and SORT Treaties will expire, and their future remains
uncertain. This situation may bring about complete chaos in the
sphere of nuclear arms control.

What must be done
to avoid a negative scenario?

First of all, the
parties must resume a high-level dialogue on nuclear arms control

In March 2007, in
accordance with the agreement reached by Vladimir Putin and George
Bush a year earlier, Russian and U.S. officials met in Berlin to
discuss the future of START I. Commenting on these consultations,
Daniel Fried, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European
and Eurasian Affairs, said the parties would discuss “transparency
issues for the post-START regime after the START Treaty

It seems,
however, that such a negotiating format is too narrow and the
parties will not make any headway in nuclear arms control if they
do not broaden it. START I and SORT are mutually dependent. They
regulate rules of conduct for the parties in one and the same area,
namely strategic nuclear armaments. Therefore the future of these
treaties must be negotiated simultaneously. Also, such an approach
is advantageous tactically, as it will give more room for
compromises. Besides, the negotiations should be put on a high
level. Without this, expert estimates will prevail in the
negotiations, and former experience shows that such estimates are
very difficult to harmonize. Political decisions are required to
achieve success.

On the whole,
considering Washington’s desire to equip its strategic missiles
with non-nuclear warheads, Moscow should insist on signing a new
legally binding treaty. This treaty would replace START I and SORT
and would provide for a specific mechanism of control over
strategic offensive armaments, taking into account both nuclear and
non-nuclear warheads. The position of some members of the Russian
leadership, who believe that equipping strategic delivery vehicles
with non-nuclear warheads is inadmissible, can hardly be considered
viable. Experience has shown that if the parties want to reach
agreement, they should take into account each other’s interests.
Otherwise – as was the case, for example, with attempts to adapt
the Soviet-U.S. Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed on May
26, 1972 in Moscow, to a changed international environment – the
result will a priori be negative. Since the Americans seek to
possess strategic armaments equipped with non-nuclear warheads,
Russia must take this into account and focus its diplomatic efforts
on the introduction of reasonable limitation to minimize damage to
its strategic stability from the deployment of such weapons. An
uncompromising position will backfire on Russia when the United
States will get its own way.

Russia and the
U.S. have also been actively discussing of late the future of the
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). An opinion has
formed recently in Russia that this treaty no longer meets the
country’s interests and therefore the issue can be raised about
Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from it. Advocates of such a move
offer various arguments in its favor – from apprehensions that
several states near Russia’s borders possess intermediate and
shorter-range missiles while Russia does not possess such weapons
and “things can no longer continue in this way,” to assertions that
such a move would be an adequate response to U.S. plans to deploy
missile defense bases in Europe.

Remarkably, none
of these arguments corresponds to the letter or the spirit of the
INF Treaty. Its Article XV says that either party has the right to
withdraw from the treaty “if it decides that extraordinary events
related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its
supreme interests.” However, one can hardly seriously argue that
ten ground-based interceptor missiles deployed in Poland can
jeopardize Russia’s supreme interests.

Moscow should
consider the issue of expediency of a unilateral withdrawal from
the INF Treaty in all its bearings. Haste in this matter would be
extremely harmful.

An analysis of
this matter may reveal that militarily Russia vitally needs
non-nuclear intermediate and shorter-range missiles. From the
military point of view, there seems to be no need for Russia to
possess nuclear missiles with such a range. In this case, Moscow
should come forward with an initiative to adapt the INF Treaty to
meet the requirement for non-nuclear intermediate and shorter-range
missiles. It is important that non-nuclear missiles do not pose a
fatal threat to Europe or other neighbors of Russia and
particularly to the United States. Therefore one may expect that
the U.S. reaction to such a move from Russia will be moderate. This
will create conditions for U.S. agreement to the proposed
adaptation of the INF Treaty.

Certainly, the
above considerations do not cover all aspects of the matter and are
open for discussion. The stagnation that has settled in the field
of nuclear arms control must be overcome. The control regime must
be preserved. For all its imperfections, it is much better for
international security than the absence of nuclear arms control.
Such control may be lost after 2012 if the leaders of Russia and
the United States do not display political will.