Russia-U.S. Interaction in WMD Non-Proliferation
No. 2 2004 April/June
Vladimir Dvorkin

Head of Research, Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, Major General (Ret.).

Since the emergence of new Russia, the nation has maintained an
unequivocal position on non-proliferation issues. This unambiguous
and consistent attitude should be largely attributed to the
consensus of the main social and political forces in Russia on
these issues.

Russian analysts have been emphasizing that Russia, unlike the
United States, has ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty. It also proposed, much earlier than the United States,
substantial cuts in strategic offensive weapons, which is the core
of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Russian analysts
have reiterated this country’s invariable and strict compliance
with the spirit and letter of the NPT. This is notable because of
the extremely adverse environment that emerged following the
breakup of the Soviet Union, together with the resultant long-term
economic crisis.

Presently, the Russian analysts believe that U.S. President
George W. Bush has noticeably eased his pressure for an all-out,
uncompromising struggle against WMD proliferation. However, Joseph
Cirincione, the Carnegie Endowment’s Non-Proliferation Project
Director, noted that Washington continues to regard the risks of
WMD proliferation as extremely serious. The Bush administration
seemingly doubts the efficiency of the non-proliferation regime:
against the backdrop of the significant efforts to establish it,
there have been little tangible results to show for this work. This
may explain why the U.S. administration has opted to resort to the
pre-emptive use of force. Speaking about U.S. priorities with
regard to budget allocations, Cirincione showed that the
Counterproliferation Program has become the leading source of
expenditures – it now totals $8 billion, in contrast to $1.5
billion earmarked for non-proliferation programs. 1

Moscow has also developed new policies toward
counterproliferation, which was manifest at the Second Moscow
International Nonproliferation Conference held on September 18-20,
2003. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking at a major
conference of leading Defense Ministry officials attended by
President Vladimir Putin, contemplated the theoretical possibility
of pre-emptive non-nuclear strikes against WMD offenders.

All these factors are indicative of Moscow’s and Washington’s
drift from non-proliferation policies, which relied on the control
and observance of the existing non-proliferation regimes, toward
more practical steps to prevent WMD ending up in the wrong


In order for the NPT to remain effective, it is not so important
for the United States and Russia to necessarily conclude treaties
to reduce strategic offensive arms; what is important is that they
actually reduce them, even if this means unilaterally.
Analysts have been quoting the statement that five nuclear powers
(the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China) agreed upon
in early May 2000, in which they pledged to take further unilateral
measures to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 2 Such unilateral moves are crucial for
keeping the NPT operable at a time when bilateral or multilateral
negotiations have stalled.

In this sense, the Moscow Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
(START) may be regarded as a treaty in its original meaning only
with certain reservations. This is because the Russian and U.S.
presidents had put their signatures to unilateral strategic arms
reduction plans long before the new treaty was ready for signing.
Nevertheless, it has been continuously emphasized that START is a
mandatory, albeit insufficient, condition for the NPT to remain

Non-strategic nuclear arms reductions are no less important for
attaining this goal. Official statistics about the number of
non-strategic warheads that Russia and the United States possess
are not available; unofficial statistics on the types and overall
number of warheads vary considerably. In 1991, the Soviet Union was
said to have 15,000 to 21,000 such warheads and the United States,
around 10,000. Under the 1991 initiatives, the nuclear warheads
were removed from operational status and transferred to central
storage facilities. According to the same sources, Russia presently
has 3,500-3,800 warheads, and the United States has 1,100-1,670
non-strategic nuclear warheads.3

However, non-strategic nuclear arms control would invariably
encounter obstacles incommensurate with those that the sides had
surmounted in the process of START negotiations. The main obstacle
is the complexity of exercising non-strategic nuclear arms control.
The STARTs are based on regulations of counting and control, above
all, of the number of delivery vehicles with warheads deployed in
specific areas. With non-strategic weapons, this rule is hardly
workable since the delivery vehicles employed in this case are
basically dual-purpose ones; they have no distinguishing features
or permanent locations.

The issue of non-strategic nuclear arms control was last brought
to a focus in 1997, when the U.S. and Russian presidents met in
Helsinki. Ever since, the differences over the ABM treaty have kept
the issue suspended, although Moscow has never shown reluctance to
continue the dialog.

Russian defense and foreign ministry officials have repeatedly
stated that the main obstacle to non-strategic nuclear arms control
remains the U.S. nuclear arms deployed in Europe. The United States
is the sole country that has nuclear arms deployed in other
countries, with the safety of those arms being much lower than the
nuclear arms located on the territory of the United States.4

Over a brief period of time, the arguments for preserving the
U.S. non-strategic nuclear arms in Europe underwent a considerable
transformation, which certainly did not go unnoticed by Russia. In
1994, former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch explained
this transformation by arguing that, due to the economic crisis and
changes in its domestic policy, Russia was unlikely to restore its
conventional weapons to the level of the Cold War period; its
return to a more aggressive nuclear policy would be less costly.
Thus, if the situation in Russia deteriorated, the U.S. was most
likely to counter a nuclear threat.5

It is noteworthy that such policies toward non-strategic nuclear
arms have met with more elaborate criticism in the United States
than in Russia. The critics argue from the belief that, due to the
end of the Cold War, non-strategic nuclear arms have lost their
relevance. In the event of a hypothetical worsening of the
situation in Europe, the risk of nuclear arms being used against
U.S. allies will be fully outweighed by the strategic nuclear
forces of the United States, as well as by French and British
nuclear forces.

The Director of the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the
Monterey Institute of International Studies, William Potter,
believes that a withdrawal of the U.S. tactical weapons from Europe
will in no way weaken the U.S. guarantees. On the contrary, this
measure will enhance the deterrence effect as provocative weapons
will be removed from the region, thereby widening the gap between
conventional and nuclear armaments.6

Efforts to strengthen the NPT may suffer a considerable setback
from a relatively new trend in the U.S. nuclear policy, which is
currently the focus of discussion by Russian government officials
and analysts. This setback concerns the R&D efforts to create
low- and extra low-yield nuclear warheads. These weapons would be
capable of piercing soil, concrete and rock structures in order to
destroy WMD storage facilities in so called ‘rogue states’ where
there is a threat of WMD employment against the United States or
its allies. Opinions have been voiced in the United States about
the possible termination of the 1994 law banning the creation of
nuclear warheads with yields under five kilotons. Such low-yield
warheads would actually erase the borderline between nuclear and
conventional arms. For example, Paul Robinson, Sandia Laboratory
Director, said in March 2000 that nuclear armaments that are
leftovers of the Cold War era are much more powerful than is
required by the deterrence policies which were adopted in the
contemporary multipolar world due to the growing threat of WMD

The lack of advanced decisions and transparency in matters
concerning Russian and U.S. non-strategic nuclear arms reductions,
as well as the presence of this class of U.S. weapons in Europe,
will most probably remain on the agenda at all levels for quite
some time. This factor can by no means facilitate nuclear
non-proliferation efforts. The potential emergence of extra
low-yield piercing warheads will provoke further drifts in the
positions of the countries involved.

The expert communities in Russia and the United States share an
understanding that the current threats to the NPT are rooted in the
uncertainty over the nuclear status of Iran and North Korea.
Furthermore, there is evidence that Saudi Arabia may acquire a
nuclear capability. The news has been leaked to the media that
Saudi Arabia is prepared to buy nuclear warheads; this possibility
looks quite realistic. Some analysts maintain that Saudi Arabia
will never agree to remain without a nuclear potential. If Saudi
Arabia’s relations with Washington are disrupted, Saudi Arabia will
not be able to stay without a nuclear umbrella. Relations with the
United States have been worsening ever since Sept. 11, 2001.
Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who attacked New York and
Washington were Saudi citizens. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud
al-Feisal admits that “the growing misapprehension of his country
by the U.S. may create an unsurpassable abyss in the relations
between the two countries.”8

As concerns Iran, Russia and the United States are unanimous in
the conviction that it must not be permitted to acquire a nuclear
capability. However, their positions differ with regard to
Russia-Iran cooperation in commercial nuclear energy programs and
the sale of conventional weapons.

Work is already underway in Iran to create what may eventually
prove the region’s most powerful missile potential. It would enable
Iran to produce ballistic missiles of different types. The fact
that missile programs are pegged to the development of weapons of
mass destruction is fairly obvious to experts and relevant not only
to Iran.

The main reason is that ballistic missiles feature low target
accuracy, particularly at long ranges; so their use with
conventional warheads is not feasible in terms of cost-efficiency.
Even advanced U.S. and Russian missiles, having far greater
accuracy, are not regarded as delivery vehicles for conventional
warheads. Effective use of ballistic missiles can be ensured only
by equipping them with WMD warheads, above all nuclear ones. This
is the main incentive for acquiring nuclear arms by third world

The attitude of the Russian and U.S. leaders to the creation of
a nuclear power industry in Iran has proven very hard to coordinate
and will largely depend on Iran’s policy. If Iran does not suspend
its uranium enrichment program, as was stated by the Iranian
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, by the excuse that this country is
surrounded by nuclear powers (India, Pakistan and Israel) which
have abstained from signing the NPT, Russia and the United States
may take closer positions to resist Teheran’s plans.

Similarly, controversies between Moscow and Washington may be
minimized if the October 2003 meeting of the Iranian, British,
French and German foreign ministers in Teheran proves fruitful. At
that meeting, Iran signed a declaration containing a pledge to
fully cooperate with the IAEA and sign the IAEA Additional

Indeed, Iran was reported to have suspended its uranium
enrichment program on November 10, 2003; later that day it
addressed the IAEA declaring its consent to sign the IAEA
Additional Protocol.

As regards North Korea, Russia and the United States have
coordinated their approaches within the framework of the Beijing
agreements, but these attitudes will most likely drift apart if the
negotiations fail and North Korea declares itself a nuclear


Moscow and Washington strictly follow their commitments under
the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); however, the scale of
such control varies, while both countries have equally retarded
measures that could have made the MTCR more effective.

Russia focuses on the observance of missile technology
non-proliferation by domestic manufacturers under a diversified
export control system that President Vladimir Putin supervises
personally. After President Putin approved the Regulations on
the Statute of the Export Control Commission of the Russian
on January 29, 2001, the mass media described him
as “the initiator of an export control system in Russia.”

As he discussed non-proliferation and export control issues with
U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, Putin said: “Russia
has convincingly demonstrated its commitment to enhancing export
controls and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction… However, to our great regret, the U.S. sanctions
imposed on a number of Russian enterprises and institutes remain
the issue of the day. I do hope it will be resolved soon.”10

The United States, in addition to controlling its own
corporations, exercises global monitoring of all transfers of
missiles and missile technologies and puts on record hundreds of
violations, or suspected violations, of the missile technology
control regime.

Analysts believe that more detailed information is required
about the industrial potential and missile programs of Iran and
North Korea. This includes the current state of research and
development, missile characteristics, their equipment, progress in
flight tests, and prospected dates for adopting the missiles for

It is believed that the highest quality of information may be
achieved if Russian and U.S. information and intelligence systems
are used comprehensively. In this respect, the policies of former
and current Russian and U.S. administrations look incredibly

In 1998, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill
Clinton made a joint decision for establishing a center in Moscow
for exchanging information about missile launches. The center was
intended not only to provide warnings of unintentional launches
from both countries, but also to monitor missile launches made from
the territories of other countries, as well as from sea and ocean
areas. Such measures would have permitted the exercise of impartial
control over missile programs, first and foremost in unstable
regions, and concerted action. A venue for the center was chosen,
human resources needs identified, and functional duties of its
staff and equipment described. However, for over five years now,
the center has been unable to start operation.

Russian Foreign Ministry officials explain the halt in the
project by a lack of agreement concerning civil responsibility for
possible damages, as well as certain tax questions.

Another, more serious but less obvious, obstruction is the
resistance of Washington and, to a certain extent, of Moscow, to
the joint analysis of potential missile threats from the third
world countries.

A few years ago, the CIA reported that missile threats to the
United States from the so called ‘rogue states’ might become a
reality not earlier than 2015. This projection practically
coincided with the opinion of Russian specialists. However, not
everybody in the United States was eager to agree with this
assessment. Soon thereafter, in July 1998, a commission under
incumbent Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivered a report
which said that these threats may become real as early as 2005.
President George Bush Jr. used this assessment as a powerful
argument for withdrawing from the 1972 ABM treaty and escalating
efforts to start full-scale work to develop plans for deploying
anti-ballistic missile defenses.

Repeated proposals for setting up a joint group for assessing
nuclear threats received the cold shoulder. Anti-ballistic missile
defense advocates in the United States rejected the idea as
unacceptable, while Moscow was afraid that the joint assessment of
nuclear threats would be tantamount to the recognition that missile
threats to the United States were real; this would undermine
stability of the ABM treaty.

A missile threat to the United States cannot emerge overnight.
There has to be a long period of preparations and flight tests –
something that is impossible to do covertly. The year 2005,
predicted as the time when a threat to the U.S. mainland will
materialize, is quite near. Therefore, it would be appropriate to
address Mr. Rumsfeld and his team with a question: “Where are the
intercontinental ballistic missiles in North Korea, Iran and other
countries that the Untied States calls ‘rogue nations’?”

In the meantime, a center for the exchange of information about
missile launches could have provided unbiased, technically
confirmed data about missile and missile technology proliferation,
especially since Russian early warning systems deployed in the
south are capable of providing real-time information about missile
launches from the ‘belt of instability.’ No other system or means
available to the United States can do that.

As for missile technology proliferation, the MTCR has largely
coped with its role of missile technology transfer from one country
to another. However, the MTCR is not a legally binding agreement,
so it cannot create a universal legal regime in the sphere of
missile technology similar to that existing in the sphere of
nuclear weapons non-proliferation. As long as the MTCR remains
legally unbinding, the implementation of its principles in the
domestic legislation of the participating countries will continue
to be of critical importance. Russia is believed to serve as an
example: since August 2001 it has been implementing Presidential
Decree No. 1005 On the Authorization of the List of Equipment,
Materials and Technologies That Can Be Used to Manufacture Missile
Weapons and to Which Export Control Applies

There has been no support so far for the idea of creating a
global system of missile technology control, which Russia proposed
at the G-8 Summit in June 1999. This global system would restrict
and deter missile proliferation and establish a set of rules for
countries possessing missile weapons and related technologies.


Chemical weapons are believed to be more dangerous when used by
international terrorist organizations than as weapons of
conventional warfare. Therefore, the disposal of chemical weapons
is regarded as a key measure for preventing these armaments from
falling into the hands of terrorists.

In March 1996, the Russian government adopted a federal program,
Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stockpiles in the Russian
, which provided for the disposal of nearly 40,000
tons of chemical weapons by the year 2009. However, economic
difficulties made the program unfeasible. Its revised version set
the chemical stock disposal deadline at 2012.

The cooperation between the United States and Russia in the area
of eliminating Russia’s chemical arsenals began in 1990 with the
signing of the U.S.-Soviet Agreement on Destruction and
Non-Production of Chemical Weapons and on Measures to Facilitate
the Multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention. American assistance
began to arrive in real terms after the endorsement in 1991 of the
Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the
enactment of the 7-year agreement between the U.S. Department of
Defense and Russia’s presidential Committee on Conventional
Problems of Chemical and Biological Weapons on safe, reliable and
ecologically sound disposal of chemical weapons. At the time, the
U.S. side did not put forward any conditions that could stall the
agreement’s implementation. The U.S. assistance was declared to
total $286.5 million. It was later that political restrictions were
imposed and special requirements set.

For all its usefulness, the program had a few weaknesses,

1.  The size of the assistance is approved by the U.S.
Congress annually, which hampers long-term planning due to the
danger of a sudden stoppage in the project.

2.  The assistance is provided in the form of equipment
supplies and payments for U.S. companies’ services, not as direct
funding of the Russian program. U.S. companies engage Russian
organizations on a contractual basis.

3.  The assistance does not cover the real expenses
incurred on the territory or in the interests of Russia. Between
1992 and 1999, Russian organizations received a total of $25
million. A sizeable part of the funds was used to cover U.S.
administrative and other technical expenses.

Such deficiences are characteristic also of other programs,
above all, those related to the scrapping of strategic offensive
arsenals. U.S. experts refer in this case to U.S. legislation.
Notwithstanding regrets about the United States’ increased spending
on Russia’s chemical weapons destruction program, the efficiency of
the U.S. assistance can be objectively assessed only after the work
is completed.

A far more serious barrier to U.S. assistance was put in place
by the October 1999 decision by the U.S. Congress to freeze the
funding of chemical weapons destruction projects in Russia; the
decision appeared to be the major reason for a halt in the Schuchye
facility construction. This happened in early 2002, after the Bush
administration declined to confirm that Moscow had been stringently
abiding by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Apart from bringing to
a standstill a number of old programs, the decision by the U.S.
Congress stalled action on several new projects aimed at reducing
the threat posed by existing WMD arsenals.

Debates over the reasons behind the situation around the
Schuchye facility, for which the blame has been alternately laid on
Russia and the United States, continue unabated. The problem was
discussed during George Bush’s visit to Russia in May 2002. In
January 2003, President Bush signed special orders to release
frozen funds to help Russia in implementing its program for the
elimination of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Earlier, the U.S. Congress had approved a bill giving the president
the right to circumvent legislative restrictions on financial
assistance to other countries, including Russia.

The president’s right to circumvent legislative restrictions is
only temporary – in respect of the Nunn-Lugar program it is valid
for three years. As regards U.S. assistance to Russia in the
destruction of its chemical weapons, the right is valid for one
year only (it actually expired on September 30, 2003). Richard
Lugar maintains that for the project to be implemented successfully
it is necessary to extend the right before the end of the year. He
welcomed President Bush’s special orders to free the funds as they
provide for both completing many ongoing projects and launching new
ones. In his view, Bush’s special orders mean that the elimination
of Russia’s nuclear, biological and chemical arsenals can now

Moscow appreciated President Bush’s decision to release more
than $310 million in frozen funds to continue financing the
construction of the Schuchye facility. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of
the State Commission on Chemical Weapons Destruction and the
Russian president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Volga
District, has pointed out that during his visit to the United
States on a mandate from Vladimir Putin in 2002, he reached
agreement with the U.S. side that a decision to unfreeze funds
would “unlock that year’s allocations together with the unspent
balance of the previous years.”12

Therefore, the resumption of Russian-U.S. cooperation in the
destruction of chemical weapons inspires optimism, albeit limited
by the U.S. Congress’ recurrent debates over the feasibility of
providing a new tranche.

*   *   *

Over the past two to three years, Russian-U.S. cooperation in
the WMD non-proliferation sphere has grown particularly close due
to the rapprochement of the two countries in the assessment of new
challenges and threats, and the emergence of the G-8, with the
United States playing the decisive role in assisting Russia to
implement its WMD destruction programs.

Whatever differences the United States and Russia may have,
coordinating the practical steps of the two nuclear superpowers
which possess the world’s largest chemical and biological weapons
stockpiles, is a must because there is no alternative to their
cooperation. To overcome the differences, strenuous efforts will
have to be made by the Russian and U.S. governments, scientists,
and expert communities. Critical issues will surely require the
political will of the two countries’ top leaders.

1 Joseph
Siricione. Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: Problems and
Perspectives. Report at the Second Moscow International
Nonproliferation Conference, September 2003, Moscow.

documents. 2000/21.

3 SIPRI Annual
Report, 2002. Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security,
Moscow: Nauka, 2003.

4 A. Borisenko, L.
Chumachenko. Problems of and Prospects for the Negotiations on
Tactical Nuclear Weapons. Yaderny Kontrol, Vol. 8, No. 2,

5 John Deutch.
Comments at Press Conference. News Released by the Office of
Assistant Secretary of Defense, September 22, 2003, p. 7.

6 Bulletin of
the Atomic Scientists.
Vol. 53, No. 3, May/June 1997, p.

7 Robert N.
Nelson. Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons. FAS Public
Interest Report
, Vol. 1, 2001.

8 Will Saudi
Arabia Acquire Nuclear Weapons? Le Temps, September 19,

9 Judith Perera.
Report on a Ministerial Meeting in Teheran. www.globalcoal.com/mcis/news/searchnews.cfm/

10 An excerpt
from President Putin’s conversation with S. Berger, ABN. lenta.ru,
May 19, 2000.

11 George Bush
Releases Frozen  Funds to Support Former Soviet Republics.
USA Today, January 14, 2003.  

12 Yadernoye
, Vol. 46, Carnegie Moscow Center, Moscow,