Arms Treaty Marks New Era in U.S.-Russia Relations Background briefing by senior official on U.S.-Russia arms pact
The new arms control treaty to be signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their upcoming summit is significant not only because it reduces the number of weapons on each side by two thirds but also because it "recognizes the new relationship, the new era in U.S.-Russia relations in that we are no longer concerned about the way the Russians configure their forces, nor are they concerned about the way in which we configure ours," says a senior U.S. administration official. Briefing journalists at the White House May 13 a few hours after President Bush announced agreement on the pact, the official said the new treaty reduces strategic nuclear arsenals on both sides from their current levels of 5,000-6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 weapons over the next 10 years.
"Under this treaty, both sides can make reductions in their own way, according to what serves their own best interests. Each side will reduce according to its own plans and will determine for itself the composition of its strategic forces."
The treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.
The administration official contrasted the five-to-six month-long negotiating period that produced the new agreement, which is only three pages long, with earlier U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations that generally lasted many years and resulted in much lengthier documents.
The official concluded by saying the treaty proves "as the President has said in the past, we can have effective missile defenses and also agree with the Russians on further offensive nuclear reductions."
Reporters questioned the official on how the reductions would be made and on the potential re-use of plutonium from the warheads. In answer to a question about verification, the official noted that a bilateral implementation commission will be created to focus on providing "transparency into what each side is doing so that each side is confident that the reductions, in fact, are occurring over time."
Following is the White House transcript of the briefing:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary (Chicago, Illinois)
May 13, 2002
BACKGROUND PRESS BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL REGARDING U.S.-RUSSIAN ARMS AGREEMENT
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
10:45 A.M. EDT Mr. McCormack: Good morning, everybody. We have a senior administration official here this morning to talk a little bit about the President's announcement this morning with regard to strategic arms reductions and a treaty with the Russians. Without further ado, Senior Administration Official.
Senior Administration Official: Thanks, Sean.
As you know, during the campaign, the President made clear that he was interested in reducing the strategic nuclear weapons deployed by both the United States and the Russians. After a lot of work, last year, on November 13th, in the context of the Washington-Crawford summit, the President announced his decision that the United States would reduce our nuclear forces to between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads.
President Putin at that time made comments which indicated that he supported this approach, and a month later President Putin announced that Russia would also make similar reductions.
As the President announced this morning, negotiating teams from the two sides have agreed on the terms of a treaty which reduces strategic nuclear arsenals on both sides to 1,700 to 2,200 weapons over the next 10 years. The treaty requires that by the end of 2012, each side will have between 1,700 and 2,200 strategic nuclear weapons.
The President has said all along that he wanted a new agreement to reflect our new relationship with Russia. Instead of a negotiation which took multiple years and consumed multiple forests worth of paper, what we have is a negotiation that's lasted essentially five to six months, has produced a treaty which when fully prepared will be about 3 pages long.
Under this treaty, both sides can make reductions in their own way, according to what serves their own best interests. Each side will reduce according to its own plans and will determine for itself the composition of its strategic forces. And this will result, as we've pointed out in a cut of about two-thirds in the U.S. and Russian operationally deployed forces.
Under this treaty, the United States will retain the flexibility we require for an uncertain security environment in the future, as set for in the Defense Department's nuclear posture review. And we would point out that the treaty also proves, as the President has said in the past, we can have effective missile defenses and also agree with the Russians on further offensive nuclear reductions.
With that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: So can you tell us how many of these weapons will be decommissioned and how many will actually be dismantled?
Senior Administration Official: I can't tell you how many, because the Defense Department will be -- is still working on that. But some of the weapons will be dismantled, some of the weapons will be placed in deep storage, and some of them will be stored as operational spares.
Q: How about this idea that Russia has said in the past, that decommissioning a weapon isn't destroying it, and it's not really reducing your arsenal? Have you reached some sort of an agreement with that, or do you still agree to disagree on that point?
Senior Administration Official: We have agreed, as I said, that some warheads will be dismantled and some warheads will be stored. Now, if you go back and look at the history of arms control agreements, for example, START II, we would have -- each side would have taken its reductions largely in the form of what's called downloading, or removal of warheads from operational missiles, and having those warheads placed in storage.
So this is not a new departure. It is not virtual arms control. If START II was the breakthrough which it was announced to be -- and it was -- we're following the same kinds of rules.
Q: Have you -- has the United States offered Russia more access -- a more transparent build-down process? I've read something saying, a day-to-day availability to the Russians of information about U.S. nuclear arsenals.
Senior Administration Official: Each side will be working to provide the other with more transparency. As a baseline, as a baseline, the rules, the procedures that were created under START I, which require on-site inspection and counting of warheads and actually going to operational bases and looking in missile silos or in submarine tubes will apply. And the sides are going to continue discussions on looking at further ways to enhance transparency.
Q: Are any of those ways specified in the four corners of the binding treaty itself? Senior Administration Official: No, no, they are not. But a bilateral implementation commission will be created. And that commission will pursue enhancing transparency and predictability.
Q: Will the numbers 1,700 and 2,200 be in the three-page treaty?
Senior Administration Official: Yes, they will.
Q: There will be a range --
Senior Administration Official: Yes, they will -- 1,700 to 2,200 will be in the treaty.
Q: We could chose to go to 1,700, and the Russians could chose to go to 2,200, and that would be legal under the --
Senior Administration Official: That would be legal under the treaty.
Q: Is there a side understanding on missile defense?
Senior Administration Official: No. There is no side understanding on missile defense. Q: Will those issues -- will missile defense issues continue to be discussed, or what -- how are they dealt with?
Senior Administration Official: All issues are discussed. One of the topics -- which a colleague of mine could talk to you about, if Sean would arrange it, if it's necessary -- is that in an additional agreement that's being prepared for this summit, which is a broad statement of principles, there is language which talks about enhanced cooperation in many areas, to include enhanced cooperation in missile defense activities. But this agreement, this agreement is solely restricted to reducing strategic nuclear arsenals.
Q: What are the numbers that both countries have at this point?
Senior Administration Official: Today each side has about 5,000 to 6,000 operationally deployed nuclear weapons.
Q: I thought it as 7,000 --
Senior Administration Official: 5,000 to 6,000.
Q: On the bilateral implementation commission, how much time do they have and who is going to be on this thing?
Senior Administration Official: It hasn't been set up yet.
Q: All right, but do they have any timetable? You have 10 years here, so when does -- how much time does the implementation commission have --
Senior Administration Official: I would presume that the implementation commission will begin meeting as soon as the treaty enters into force.
Q: Do you know how long the Defense Department will take to review and make a decision about how many of these weapons will be dismantled or destroyed?
Senior Administration Official: No, I think it's going to be -- first, I would defer the question to the Department of Defense. But I think what they will say to you is it is going to be a rolling process, as they evaluate the security requirements we have, and the health of the warheads that are in our stockpile, because we don't build any new warheads. The warheads that we take off serve as, first and foremost, a set of operational spares. Through the Department of Energy and Department of Defense's stockpile stewardship program we learn more things every day about how the warheads are aging. So that will also condition what they will decide as far as dismantling.
The third factor is that dismantlement is something done by the Department of Energy. And over the last 10 years, the DOE facilities, the infrastructure which do the dismantlement work, degraded a fair amount because of budget cuts. We are building that back up, but our ability to dismantle warheads is not something which is particularly strong at this point.
Q: On that point, sir, what happens in this process for this implementation commission to resolve disputes that come up along the way about storage versus dismantling of the weapons --
Senior Administration Official: Again, this is not going to be a dispute. Each side will structure its forces in its own way. Each side will take its reductions as I said, through a combination of retirements, of eliminations, and of storage. But that's not going to be the focus of the implementation commission. The focus of the implementation commission will be to provide transparency into what each side is doing so that each side is confident that the reductions, in fact, are occurring over time.
And unlike other agreements where there used to be mid-points -- you know, the START agreements had mid-points to reach certain warhead levels -- this agreement provides for an endpoint, so the sides will need to provide each other with a fair amount of information that this submarine is being retired, this submarine is going into overhaul, it's not going to count, we're going to be taking these missiles out according to this schedule.
Q: Have the U.S. and Russia right now agreed upon a definition for a reduction? Senior Administration Official: Yes.
Q: Therefore, as long as that reduction is taking place, each side can do what it pleases with regard to retirement of weapons?
Senior Administration Official: That is exactly right.
Q: When is the treaty expected to come into force? And what is the ratification -- Senior Administration Official: As soon as it's ratified by the Senate and by the Russian Duma.
Q: Can you elaborate on what you described earlier as the uncertain security atmosphere that necessitates this flexibility? What are you talking about?
Senior Administration Official: Well, the Defense Department, in its nuclear posture review, as you're aware, said that the future is not particularly certain and that there may be requirements for us to have nuclear capabilities far into the future. That's all it said. Now, as far as the Russian Federation is concerned, what this document shows, what the President said, is that we have put behind us the notion that Russia is our enemy, and that we need to structure our forces based on how the Russians structure theirs, while we, in fact, need to be concerned that we shape Russian forces in a particular way.
So "other contingencies" has not a great deal to do with the Russians. And again, let me say, the warheads that we have -- we are going to 1,700 to 2,200. As to the warheads which are removed, some will be eliminated, some will be placed in deep storage, and some will be used as operational reserves.
Q: Are there provisions for recycling or reusing the plutonium?
Senior Administration Official: Not in this treaty.
Q: Is there a standard --
Q: So none of the plutonium can be reused, or we can reuse it -- Senior Administration Official: No, you can reuse it. There is nothing which prohibits the plutonium from being reused. But again, we have no capability today to build new warheads, and we're not going to be building new warheads. So we're not going to be recycling these pits or this plutonium to build new warheads.
Q: But you could use it for safer fuel rods for power plants, or something -- Senior Administration Official: You could conceivably, if you didn't have enough. I don't think that's -- that's not my strong point, but I don't think we have a shortage.
Q: Does the President want this process to begin even while the Senate is considering the treaty, since he has said he wanted to go ahead unilaterally anyway?
Senior Administration Official: You mean the reductions process? We are going to reduce. The President announced in November that we are going to reduce, and we are going to reduce -- we are on that track now. The Defense Department is making plans now to retire the 50 Peacekeeper Missiles, and to take four Trident submarines, and convert them to non-nuclear uses -- non-strategic nuclear uses. So, yes, we are drawing down. Similarly, the Russian Federation is drawing down its strategic forces, below the START I levels. So these reductions are taking place now, and will continue.
Q: Just to be precise on a couple of points. First of all, you used the word treaty several times. This will be a formal treaty, requiring --
Senior Administration Official: This will be a formal treaty --
Q: -- a two-thirds vote of the Senate?
Senior Administration Official: That is correct.
Q: And as I understand what you said, the treaty is totally permissive on the question of decommissioning versus storage, so that technically speaking, neither side is forced to destroy a single warhead, if it so wished.
Senior Administration Official: That is correct.
Q: That has the look of a trade-off, and the Russians were very strongly in favor of a treaty and the most formal and binding agreement as possible. The United States' position on the question of decommissioning seems to have been accepted on -- Senior Administration Official: Well, when you negotiate a treaty, a lot of things are in play. But I wouldn't draw that strict conclusion, because if you go into the specifics, as I said -- transparent -- we are establishing more and more transparency. One of the places where it's hardest to find transparency is in the nuclear laboratories, especially in Russia, and at nuclear facilities in Russia. For the Russians to let us -- for the Russians to push hard for a warhead destruction regime which then would allow us into their factories is a bit of a stretch. That was by no means a clear Russian position. That was more in the press than it was in the Russian government position. And because they also do continue to manufacture new warheads, because their warheads have shorter shelf-life than ours, to get into a situation where you mandate destruction on the one hand, but you're allowing new warheads to be built on the other is a bit of an odd situation if you're calling for a treaty. That's why we're focusing on operationally deployed weapons. We're focusing on those weapons which are in the field and which are responsive to the Presidents, not warheads that are in stockpiles.
Q: Two quick questions. The range between 500 missiles -- 1,700 to 2,200 -- represents a 30-percent variance, depending on which number you choose. Why go for a range, as opposed to specific numbers? Also, on the issue of security, Russia could have as many as 4,000 warheads decommissioned, but floating around out there. What are we doing to ensure that they don't fall into the wrong hands?
Senior Administration Official: Well, to go to the second point first, we have, under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, or the Nunn-Lugar program, provided a significant amount of assistance to the Russians to enhance the security of their nuclear warhead facilities. This is why the Nunn-Lugar program is in their interests, but it's also in our interests. This whole concept of ensuring that Russian warheads are under tight control has been a principal pillar of U.S. policy with Russia over the last 10 years.
With regard to the whole question of -- your first question --
Q: A range instead of a specific number.
Senior Administration Official: A range allows planners on both sides to have some flexibility as they work to the future, as they look to adjust force structure. Remember, warheads just don't exist, they exist tied to bombers, they exist tied to missiles, they exist tied to submarines. So as you adjust your force structures, you don't get them in packages of one or two, sometimes you get them in larger or smaller packages.
The range is the same kind of a range which existed in the START II treaty, 3,000 to 3,500 in that case, and it affords both sides some room to work their force structures.
Q: I'd like to follow on to Ken's question -- in big picture terms, it looks like the U.S. position generally prevailed. The Russians got a binding agreement that doesn't bind us to do anything other than what President Bush was ready to do unilaterally. Is that wrong?
Senior Administration Official: Yes, I think that's wrong. I think this is a treaty that both sides went in, in which both sides are cutting their nuclear forces by two-thirds, in which both sides will have confidence that they're cutting their nuclear forces by two-thirds, and that we're doing it in ways which two years ago all of you would have said, this is significant arms control. It's the way we've always done arms control in the past.
So it's not as if the Russians were forced to take a U.S. position. As I say, the controversy about destroying warheads was more a controversy in the press than it was between the two sides, because the Russians also have requirements to maintain some sort of a stockpile in reserve. And they also have the same problems in terms of the factories that dismantle and refurbish warheads are the ones that help produce new warheads. So dismantlement was more of a public issue than it was an issue between the two sides.
Q: Since we were going to reduce anyway -- the President said he would reduce no matter what the Russians did -- the Russians financially unable to maintain more than the agreed upon level of nuclear warheads -- since it does not matter how they are dealt with, either stored or destroyed, what is the benefit of the agreement? What does it do?
Senior Administration Official: I think one thing that it does is that it makes this legally binding. The statement that the President made in November was a statement of U.S. policy, and as some of our Russian interlocutors said to us, we believe you and we believe President Bush is serious about carrying this out, but what happens after President Bush leaves office? Can another U.S. President reverse that policy? And obviously, the answer is, yes, another U.S. President could reverse that policy.
The same applies to statements by President Putin. What you have here is an agreement which legally requires both sides to move in the direction that we said we wanted to go. And there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, we said we wanted to go in a certain direction; the Russians said that they wanted to go in a certain direction, that they wanted some guarantees, and we thought that this was a good thing to do.
What we didn't want to do was to hold up the reductions for another eight years of negotiations in Geneva. We were not prepared to do that. Nor were we prepared to get into the old business of saying, we're really going to retire these missiles, but we're going to keep them around, even though they're over-age and not supportable, as a bargaining chip to use in this non-zero sum game of arms control that we've all experienced for the past three decades.
So what we did was to say, this is a win-win situation, we're both going in this direction, and we're going to write it down and we're going to do it in a clear, easy, comprehensible way, and we're going to do it quickly.
Q: What are the withdrawal provisions, and is there a notification --
Senior Administration Official: There is a supreme national interest clause, as with other agreements.
Q: And how much time?
Senior Administration Official: I believe it's three months.
Q: You talked about what happens to the warheads during decommissioning. What happens to the delivery systems -- the missiles, the bombers? Is there any requirement for decommissioning or the destruction --
Senior Administration Official: There's no requirement for that, but I think in practical fact, most of those that are retired will likely be destroyed. Now, some -- let me be clear. First of all, you should go to the Defense Department and get the status of that. There are some elements of the Peacekeeper missile which I know have long been planned to be used as space-launch boosters, but not -- clearly not in their role as military intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.
Q: Were there any MIRV warheads left when this treaty --
Senior Administration Official: Absolutely. The Russians -- there would be MIRV warheads on the U.S. side because our Trident submarines will continue to carry multiple warheads. What the Russians do, the Russians will do. But that is -- as I said, how they structure their forces is up to them. We have not tried to channel them in a certain direction, as we did during the Cold War. And that reflects an important change. The President has been saying, they're not our enemies, we're not their enemies. This agreement does not reflect the kind of Cold War focus on forcing our view, or their view, of strategic stability on the other, because we're not that concerned about their forces anymore.
Q: Why today? Did they reach an accord over the weekend, or why was the announcement --
Senior Administration Official: The announcement was this morning because, in fact, the negotiators that have been meeting, say, every three to four weeks, intensively certainly since December-January, and somewhat preliminarily before that, since August, really, actually reached their agreements, the last agreements, this morning in Moscow.
Q: What was the last agreement?
Senior Administration Official: Well, there were a couple.
Q: Sir, to the best or your knowledge, does either side, the U.S. or the Russian side, have any plans of resuming nuclear tests at this point? Any time soon? Senior Administration Official: You'd have to ask the Russian Federation as to whether it has plans to resume nuclear test --
Q: What about the United States?
Senior Administration Official: I'm getting there, I'm getting there. The President has made clear that we intend to continue to abide by a nuclear testing moratorium. We have no plans to do any nuclear tests.
Q: You mentioned that we are no longer enemies. Are there any ways for increasing transparency of the nuclear planning process? You've been referring several times to a nuclear defense review, and we both know that both sides are still targeting each other. So is there a way --
Senior Administration Official: Neither side targets the other at this point. As you know, since the mid-1990s, no missiles on the U.S. side are targeted, and that is the same case on the Russian side.
Q: Correction taken. But we remember the press reports that Russia is still on the list of countries potentially to be targeted by the United States. Is there any way of increasing confidence in that --
Senior Administration Official: Well, the answer is, yes. There have been, again, since the late summer a series of Defence Department-to-Ministry of Defense consultations. Those will continue. Those are generally -- they are held at the under secretary level -- Under Secretary of Defense Feith and Deputy Chief of the General Staff Baluyevfsky; sometimes at a lower level, and sometimes between Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov.
So those discussions will continue. Transparency is one of the main topics which is on the agenda for those talks. We seek a better relationship across the board with the Russian Ministry of Defense, and indeed, as we continue our cooperation in the war against terrorism, that kind of transparency and increased cooperation is going to be absolutely vital. So that is clearly part of it.
Q: So as a matter of practical purpose, if the Senate does not ratify this, what difference will it make? You're going to go ahead with the reductions, so what happens if the Senate doesn't ratify it?
Senior Administration Official: I guess you could ask that question. We will continue to reduce, but to some degree an element of unpredictability in the long-term U.S.-Russian relationship will have been removed.
Q: Do you have any sense of what level of support there is in the Senate?
Senior Administration Official: I believe that -- no, I have not taken any soundings. I have not taken any soundings. But this is the kind of -- these are the kinds of reductions which have generally been supported in the past on a bipartisan basis. Q: The President in November said that we needed no formal treaty whatsoever, and he was making a unilateral decision, he was going to disarm at the level he wanted to disarm. Now we're signing a treaty. Has the President shifted to believe that a treaty is in the U.S. interest, or is it only a concession to the Russians?
Senior Administration Official: The President, as you may recall -- I think it was in Crawford; it may have been in Washington -- said that President Putin had asked him to write this down and that he would look at that, he would consider that. The President has always been open as to form. What the President wanted to avoid, as I said from the beginning, was, one, holding the reductions in abeyance while we went into a long classic arms control process. As long as this could be accomplished quickly and as long as this did not impede our ability to move forward, and as long as it was reciprocal, and as long as the Russian side also found that it was in Russia's national interest, the President was prepared to sign a treaty. And that's where we ended up.
Q: But he does believe the treaty is now also in the U.S. interest?
Senior Administration Official: Absolutely. The President believes this treaty is in our interests, for the reasons that I gave you, that it helps further codify and establish predictability in the long-term U.S.-Russian relations in a way which will go beyond him and President Putin, beyond their terms in office.
Q: -- how many warheads are there presently in storage as opposed to -- Senior Administration Official: I have no idea. I have no idea. There are thousands of warheads in storage on both sides.
Q: Does this supersede all the provisions of START II and START I, if it's ratified? Senior Administration Official: No. The treaty makes very clear that START I remains in effect by its own terms and in its own way. I think that we could say that we have moved beyond START II. START II was one of the first treaties -- actually, was the first treaty that featured dramatic reductions in nuclear warheads, but it still had a bit of a Cold War orientation.
This treaty moves beyond START II because it goes to lower levels and it recognizes the new relationship, the new era in U.S.-Russia relations in that we are no longer concerned about the way the Russians configure their forces, nor are they concerned about the way in which we configure ours.
Q: A quick follow-up on testing. Several members of Congress received a briefing on an analysis last week that suggested that the Russians may be getting set to resume testing -- I'm wondering what you know about that analysis and --
Senior Administration Official: What I know or what I'll tell you? We -- this administration opposes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty because we have always said it is not verifiable. We've always been concerned that if any country wanted to test in a deceptive manner, that we might not be able to pick that up. That's why we haven't signed to the test ban treaty. Verifying a test ban is very difficult. We are not going to test. The Russians have signed up to a nuclear test ban moratorium, as well, and we expect that they will -- we expect the Russian government to carry out its pledge to refrain from nuclear testing.
The Press: Thank you. 11:12 A.M. EDT