US and Russian arms control negotiators have reportedly reached an agreement on the terms for a new treaty between the US and Russia, reducing the size of the US arsenal to between 1700-2200 nuclear warheads each, and President Bush has announced that he plans to sign the measure at the Bush-Putin summit in Moscow on May 24th. The Russians sought a binding agreement in order to render the planned US nuclear disarmament measures “irreversible,” while Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld worked to retain provisions in the treaty which would leave the US the option to rearm itself in the event of a crisis, using deactivated warheads to be placed in storage. While the final treaty does not mandate the destruction of deactivated warheads, according to an article today in the Washington Times, a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that, “most of those that are retired are likely to be destroyed.” Rumsfeld was reportedly so opposed to the treaty that he tried various strategems in an attempt to sabotage the agreement. He did not desist from his efforts until personally ordered to do so by the President.
In order to better understand the rationale for the President¡¯s decision to sign this planned bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty, in opposition to the counsel of his own Secretary of Defense, it is necessary to provide some background.
Back in October 2001, President Bush and Russian President Putin of Russia met during their summit in Crawford, Texas, to much fanfare; there at the Bush estate, the two leaders pledged sweeping reductions in their respective strategic nuclear deterrent forces. But dating back to the onset of the Bush-Putin summit, October 2001, Mr. Bush announced his plan to go against the recommendation of his Secretary of Defense and top generals, who know better, and begin unilaterally disarming the US strategic nuclear deterrent from then-7200 warheads, fielded by the US in November 2001, to between 1700-2200 weapons by year-2012–as much as a 75% reduction in deployed warheads. The reason for this proposed range of weapons was reportedly an attempt to placate his generals; however, the Administration has clearly indicated that Bush would prefer to disarm to the low-end level of 1700 warheads. The Pentagon¡¯s top commanders, most notably Admiral Mies, then Commander of Strategic Command (STRATCOM) stated at the time that the minimum number of strategic nuclear weapons necessary to constitute an effective deterrent would be 2300 warheads.
President Bush initially had expressed a preference for the implementation of unilateral nuclear disarmament measures. At the Texas summit, President Bush reiterated his past promise to unilaterally disarm the US arsenal well below this minimum number, “regardless of what Russia does.” Bush has recently stated his determination to comply with the sweeping nuclear arms reductions required by the new treaty even if it is rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate. However, the President has since agreed to the codification of his unilateral nuclear disarmament measures now being implemented in the form of a binding bilateral accord with Russia. The primary reason of Bush¡¯s policy change was reportedly to appease the Russians for his announced decision in December that the US would ¡®opt out¡¯ of the long defunct ABM Treaty strictures, which forbid it from deploying national missile defenses of any size or effectiveness.
In February 2001, Bush ordered a Nuclear Posture Review to determine what the minimal size of the US nuclear deterrent could be and still successfully meet US requirements to deter a nuclear attack from America¡¯s most likely enemies-namely North Korea, Communist China, and a number of other rogue states, including, most notably, Iran, which is now on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons. This Nuclear Posture Review was disclosed to the public after considerable delay in January. The Nuclear Posture Review states that the US will transition from the current nuclear triad of land, sea and air-based nuclear weapons to a “New Triad,” consisting of “non-nuclear and nuclear strike capabilities, defenses, and responsive infrastructure.” The Nuclear Posture Review stated that the US would henceforth have a “Threat Based Force” with a “Capabilities Based Force.” In other words, the US will no longer seek to field a force capable of matching the vast Russian strategic nuclear arsenal, but instead will deploy only a force sufficient to counter potential threats from rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction as well as ballistic missiles to deliver them.
According to the Nuclear Posture Review, the US has abandoned its emphasis on deterring nuclear attack (Mutually Assured Destruction), a concept which has kept the nuclear peace for nearly sixty years, and will resort to more “flexible” measures to counter a wider “spectrum of contingencies.” This strategy change was inaugurated by President Bush and some of his top advisors who wanted to reflect their new post-9-11 outlook that Russia is not only not a threat, but is actually a strategic partner and perhaps even an ally in the war against terrorism, to be welcomed into NATO¡¯s decision-making councils. In other words, this vast planned reduction in US nuclear might is politically motivated and is not being implemented for any military rationale, which, in this case, was invented to serve and justify the political directives of the President. One wonders if this may be yet another case of the “peace dividend” being implemented prematurely, requiring yet another costly buildup of our military forces, should Russia retains the bulk of her strategic arsenal, as she may well do. Following such a U.S.-issued “peace dividend,” Russia could very well emerge again as a major threat at some point in the near future.
Next up: Part II–Do Russian Nukes Still Threaten the US?