Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

START Treaty Expiration Road: Is the Bush Administration Jettisoning Arms Control Completely?

Posted by K.E. White on March 7, 2007

The Washington Times reports today on the looming expiration of the START Treaty, and the failure of Russian and American diplomats to agree on extending the agreement.

From the Washington Times: Where have the good times gone?

The Bush administration has rebuffed Russian overtures to negotiate a legally binding replacement of the 1991 START I treaty that reduced the two countries’ strategic nuclear forces but is set to expire in 2009, U.S. and Russian officials said yesterday…

While the Russians insist on a legally binding agreement, the Americans have focused on “transparency and confidence-building measures” that would still allow both sides to verify each others’ arsenals and capabilities.

The Washington Times provides this historical overview:

START I, signed by President George Bush in 1991, obliged Moscow and Washington to cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces of about 10,000 warheads apiece down to 6,000 each. The treaty can be extended, but either side must notify the other one year before it expires on Dec. 5, 2009.

START II, which was negotiated in 1993, never entered into force because the U.S. Senate and the Russian parliament ratified two different versions. Moscow repudiated the accord a day after the June 13, 2002, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) that banned strategic missile defense systems.

To replace the ABM, the current Bush administration negotiated SORT, which obligated the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed offensive nuclear forces to 1,700 to 2,200 strategic warheads each by Dec. 31, 2012, when the accord expires.


So why the divide? It actually is nothing new: The Bush administration has consistently sort to revise the arms control regime. Supporters of the approach laud it’s focus on the real threats facing America—international terrorism, in particular—and the move away from important, but largely irrelevant features like the number of warheads dismantled.

Jeffrey Larsen advocated this view in his 2005 publication, “National Security and Neo-Arms Control in the Bush Administration”:

The Bush administration’s preemptive policy and the NPR’s recommendations all meet Schelling’s and Halperin’s criteria. They represent a new, radically different means of handling international challenges formerly dealt with through arms control. In effect, and in what will seem to many a counterintuitive concept, the NPR and its related documents are arms control – but what we might call “neo-arms control”. Paradoxically, the administration itself does not seem to recognise it as such, and have accordingly failed to mount a good public relations effort to highlight their approach.

But to critics, it’s anything but a “neo-arms control.”

This is a selection from Michael Krepon’s 2004 publication, “The Bush Administration’s Record on Proliferation and Arms Control”:


The unbalanced approach adopted by the Bush administration has not fostered the conditions necessary for the progressiveMichael Krepon reduction and elimination of the most deadly, indiscriminate weapons. The pursuit of greater U.S. military supremacy only builds confidence in those pursuing it, but not where that dominance might someday be applied. As a consequence China and Russia are hedging their bets, and without their active support, the toughest proliferation cases will get tougher. If Beijing and Moscow perceive that the pursuit of even greater U.S. dominance is designed to negate their deterrents, they will take compensating measures. They will also confine their cooperation with U.S. efforts to stem, reverse, and eliminate deadly weapons to very narrow definitions of national interest.


Thus for many arms control advocates, the START Treaty represents another Bush assault on cooperative arms reductions agreements. Daryl Kimball lays out the proper narrative in which to view this latest START crisis :

Daryl KimballThe Cold War may be over, but the nuclear-armed missiles and suspicions remain. Now, Washington’s plan to deploy ground-based missile interceptors in the former Eastern Bloc—coupled with the expansion of NATO and the Bush administration’s resistance to further offensive nuclear reductions—are increasing Moscow’s anxieties about U.S. strategic missile capabilities.

U.S. officials say their anti-missile systems are designed to deal with a potential Iranian missile force not Russia’s. They correctly note that even if 10 U.S.-controlled missile interceptors are eventually stationed in Poland, Russia’s missiles could overwhelm and evade the defenses with far cheaper countermeasures.

And as Valdimir Frolov adds to the drama surrounding Bush administration plans for a European missile defense shield. He compares the quiet mumbling that accompanied the death of the ABM Treaty in 2002 against the recent rancor between Russia and America.

Nuclear anxieties are back, and with a vengeance.

The Bush administration does have a legitimate strategic concern: if—not when, it seems—Iran obtains nuclear weapons, the United States must be prepared. The old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty bargain no longer works: Countries that want nukes are going to get them.

But, by undermining relations with Russia, Washington is making effective multilateral diplomacy with Iran impossible. Unless America can get Russia and China behind any Iranian diplomatic action, there will be no way to avert the nuclear crisis with Tehran.

The START Treaty drama, and the overall arms control dialog it plays a part within, shows that while the Bush administration may be written off by the American public, it still plays a large and precedent-setting role when it comes to America’s strategic posture and those of over nations.

What arms-control template—“neo” or “traditional”—the Bush administration is able to push through, will constrain the options of the next administration.

And may just make our world that much more prone to nuclear peril.

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