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The Moscow Treaty

On March 6, 2003, the U.S. Senate approved the resolution of ratification providing its advice and consent to the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, or SORT, also known as the Moscow Treaty. This agreement was first signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on May 24, 2002 in Moscow. It requires both sides to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.

In fact, the treaty does not reduce nuclear forces at all; it merely requires a change in their operational status. Each side can keep an unlimited number of warheads in storage.
It also does not require the destruction or elimination of a single nuclear missile silo, submarine, missile, warhead, bomber or bomb. Moreover, there are no verification measures to create confidence that either country is carrying out the required changes in operational status. Finally, it provides no timeline or milestones between now and 2012, and expires at the precise moment that its only requirement – the 1,700-2,200 limit on deployed forces – comes into force. 


Treaty Process
Under the U.S. Constitution, the President has the right to negotiate and agree treaties, but the Senate must provide its "advice and consent" before any treaty can enter into force. This is done through a resolution of ratification, which in general does not change the treaty itself (as that would require renegotiation with the treaty’s other signors) but can include conditions that place requirements on the administration and on US implementation of the treaty. The Senate can also include declarations that reflect the Senate’s views on the treaty and related issues.

In Russia, the two Chambers of the Federal Assembly must approve a bill on its ratification. Once this process is completed in both countries, the United States and Russia will exchange instruments of ratification and the Treaty will enter into force. It will remain in force until December 31, 2012, and may be extended or replaced with a subsequent agreement.

The Moscow Treaty
The Moscow Treaty requires the United States and the Russian Federation to reduce their number of operationally deployed strategic warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 each by December 31, 2012.

The Treaty codifies the reductions announced by President Bush during the November 2001 Washington/ Crawford Summit and by President Putin at that Summit and a month later. Each side may determine for itself the composition and structure of its strategic forces consistent with this limit. A Bilateral Implementation Commission will meet at least twice a year to discuss issues related to the Treaty.

After its negotiation, the President submitted the Treaty to the Senate on June 20, 2002. The Foreign Relations Committee considered and passed the resolution of ratification on February 5, 2003. The resolution includes reporting requirements that seek to redress some of the treaty’s shortfalls. Principally, these include an annual report to Congress on progress toward implementation of the treaty, and a report on how the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program can assist Russia in meeting the treaty’s deployment requirements.

The treaty is three pages long. It was negotiated in a few months, a far different history than the years required to negotiate previous arms control agreements, which included extensive verification provisions.


  • The Treaty includes no timetable for implementation and no mechanisms for verification of compliance. Moreover, the Treaty is set to expire on the same day when the deployed warheads must reach agreed-upon levels. Significantly, the treaty has no verification measures. Whatever verification that occurs will come about through the START I treaty, which will expire in 2009. By the time the treaty expires, the United States will have no treaty-granted ability to verify whether Russia is complying or not with its provision. Instead, as things currently stand, the Pentagon will be forced to rely solely on what are called "national technical means," e.g., satellite and other intelligence data.

  • The Treaty does not require the destruction of decommissioned warheads. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has already said the United States plans to store rather than destroy most of the warheads removed from missiles. The storage of nuclear warheads, as opposed to destruction, poses grave proliferation concerns. In Russia, plagued for years by security problems, the threat of warhead theft from a warehouse is much greater than the threat of warhead theft from a silo. Consequently, with no provisions for the actual dismantling of the weapons and safely getting rid of the fissile material, there is an increased risk of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands.

  • Each party would determine for itself the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms. The treaty therefore allows both sides to maintain missiles with multiple warheads. A key goal of the START II treaty, which was ratified but never entered into force, was to eliminate all multiple-warhead missiles as a threat to stability.

  • The Treaty does not deal with tactical nuclear weapons. Originally designed for easy deployment and use in battlefield operations, these shorter-range devices remain totally unregulated by existing arms control treaties. Because of their small size and the lack of electronic locks on older such weapons, these arms are especially vulnerable to theft or misuse.

  • The Treaty leaves both nations free to continue to improve and modernize their respective weapons stockpiles.

  • The US plans to maintain a large number of nuclear weapons beyond the 1,700-2,200 deployed warhead limit. This includes: "active warheads," maintained in ready-for-use status, with tritium and other limited-life components installed. In this category are: operationally deployed warheads; warheads deployed but on submarines in overhaul; the "responsive force," warheads stored but that can be deployed in times ranging from days to a year or longer; and spare warheads, typically 5-10% of operational warheads. The total number of warheads in the active category, including tactical warheads, could approach 5,000 weapons. The US may also maintain thousands more "inactive warheads" that do not have limited-life components installed, and may not have latest warhead modifications. This could include 4,900 additional warheads.

  • Unlike most arms control agreements, either party can withdraw from the Treaty upon three months notice without any reason. Traditionally, six months notice is required, and withdrawal is only allowed if supreme national interests are threatened.
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