A Dangerous Treaty | The Nation


A Dangerous Treaty

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The Nation has warned repeatedly that the Bush Administration was
threatening to undermine perhaps the best chance in a generation for a
cooperative relationship with Russia that would make the world safer.
The US-Russian nuclear weapons reduction agreement, announced May 13 and
scheduled to be signed when George W. Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin meet in Moscow on May 24, confirms our worst fears--and
indeed may even create new dangers.

An unprecedented kind of cooperation between the two former cold war
rivals is essential because of the disintegration of Russia's Soviet-era
nuclear infrastructures, a development that has made the dangers of
nuclear proliferation and accidents even greater than they were during
the cold war. The only solution is very deep, rapid and irreversible
cuts in the number of nuclear weapons in both countries, along with
taking those that remain off hairtrigger alert. This treaty, which was
virtually dictated to an impoverished and militarily weak Russia by the
Bush Administration, falls far short of that goal--it doesn't even
mention de-alerting--and thus represents a potentially tragic lost

The treaty calls for each side to reduce its strategic warheads from
about 6,000 to between 2,200 and 1,700. On the surface, those cuts may
seem to be "historic," as the White House is claiming. Leaving aside the
fact that the lower numbers are still obscenely high, the reductions are
not to be realized until 2012, and during that ten-year period neither
side is obliged to make cuts on a specified schedule. Since the
agreement also permits either side to withdraw from the treaty with
three months' notice, the United States or Russia could legally carry
out few or no reductions for almost a decade and then abrogate the
treaty before it expires. (The withdrawal clause was also insisted upon
by the habitually unilateralist Bush Administration; because the treaty
was all but imposed on Putin, it's unlikely to have much strong or
lasting support in Moscow in any case.) Worse, reductions made may turn
out to be virtual because neither side, on White House insistence, is
required to destroy its decommissioned warheads--it may store as many as
it wishes, as Washington has made clear it intends to do. Moscow will
almost certainly do the same, and, given the widely recognized lack of
security at its storage facilities, will thus multiply the already
considerable risk of Russia's nuclear devices falling into the wrong
hands--that is, fueling the danger of proliferation that has been
especially alarming since September 11.

Nor will a treaty that does not provide for irreversible nuclear weapons
cuts diminish Moscow's sense of insecurity, already exacerbated by the
Bush Administration's unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty, its
determination to build a missile defense system and its steady military
encirclement of Russia. (By 2003 there will be a US or NATO presence in
at least nine of the fifteen former Soviet republics.) This is hardly
offset by Russia's new quasi-deliberative role in NATO on select issues
and will make Moscow even more reluctant to destroy its nuclear weapons
unless Washington does.

Yet another danger may lurk beneath the misleading facade of the Bush
Administration's "historic" treaty. The agreement does not even mention
the thousands of small, tactical nuclear weapons on both sides. The
omission is ominous in two respects. Such weapons are more vulnerable to
theft and other kinds of proliferation. And, as we learned when the
Administration's new nuclear doctrine was leaked in March, the Pentagon
is devising scenarios for the early use of such weapons and thus for
building new ones. That would require a resumption of nuclear testing,
and Moscow would probably follow suit. The result would be a new and
more dangerous nuclear arms race: The first one built nuclear weapons
not for use but as deterrents; the new race would build nuclear weapons
with the intention of using them.

In announcing the agreement, Bush claimed that it "will liquidate the
legacy of the cold war" and "begin the new era of US-Russian
relationships." In fact, this treaty is more likely to perpetuate and
even increase some of the worst aspects of the cold war. And the "era"
it marks may well be more dangerous than the one we have only barely
survived. The struggle for a truly new era of US-Russian relations and
nuclear security must therefore be redoubled before there are no last

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