Rumsfeld and Russia

Sept. 1, 2002

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 17 to defend the Moscow Treaty, which commits the United States and Russia to dramatic reductions in their strategic nuclear arsenals. Below are excerpts of his remarks on that topic and on US­Russia relations more generally.

ABM Treaty Goes

“Far from causing a deep chill in relations, the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty was greeted in Russia with something approximating a yawn. Indeed, President Putin declared the decision does not pose a threat to Russia, which of course it does not. Far from launching a new arms race, the US and Russia have both decided to move towards historic reductions in their deployed offensive nuclear arsenals, reductions to be codified in the Moscow Treaty.”

Political Weather Change

“We’re working together to reduce deployed offensive nuclear weapons, weapons that are a legacy of the past and which are no longer needed when Russia and the US are basing our relationship on one of increasing friendship and cooperation, rather than a fear of mutual annihilation.”

Stuck in the Past

“Here in the US, there are some who would have preferred to see us continue the adversarial arms control negotiations of the Soviet era, where teams of lawyers drafted hundreds of pages of treaty text and each side worked to gain the upper hand, while focusing on ways to preserve a balance of nuclear terror. … Similarly, in Russia today there are those who are stuck in the past, who look warily at American offers of greater cooperation and friendship, preferring to keep us at arm’s length.”

Two Onerous Legacies

“Russia and the United States entered this new century saddled with two legacies of the Cold War: the adversarial relationship to which we had both grown accustomed and … the massive arsenals of weapons that we built up to destroy each other. In the past year, we have made progress in dealing with both.”

Simplicity Itself

“What’s remarkable is not simply the fact of these planned reductions, but how they have happened. After a careful review, President Bush simply announced his intention to cut our stocks of operationally deployed nuclear warheads. This was the result of the Nuclear Posture Review that we spent many months on. … President Putin shortly thereafter did exactly the same thing. And when they met in Moscow, they recorded these unilaterally announced changes in a treaty that will survive their two presidencies.”

Bypassing the Aficionados

“We did not engage in the lengthy adversarial negotiations in which the US kept thousands of weapons it did not need as a bargaining chip and Russia did the same. We did not establish standing negotiating teams in Geneva with armies of arms control aficionados ready to do battle over every colon and every comma. If we had done so, we would still be negotiating today.”

Tale of Two Treaties

“The START Treaty between President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev is 700 pages long and took nine years to negotiate. The Moscow Treaty was concluded in the summer, took some six months to negotiate, and it’s three pages long.”

Normal Countries

“We are working towards the day when the relationship between our two countries is such that no arms control treaties will be necessary. That’s how normal countries deal with each other. The US and Great Britain both have nuclear weapons, yet we do not spend hundreds of hours negotiating with each other the fine details of mutual reductions on offensive weapons. We do not feel the need to preserve a balance of terror between us. We would like the relationship with Russia to move in that direction.”

The Heart of the Matter

“We would have made these cuts regardless of what Russia did with its arsenal. We are making them not because we signed the treaty in Moscow, but because the fundamental transformation in the relationship with Russia means that we do not need so many deployed weapons.”

Relaxed Verification

“We saw no need to include detailed verification measures in the treaty. First, there simply isn’t any way on Earth to verify what Russia is doing with all their warheads and their weapons. Second, we don’t need to. Neither side has an interest in evading the terms of the treaty since it simply codifies unilateral announced intentions and reductions, and it gives both sides broad flexibility in implementing those decisions. Third, we saw no benefit in creating a new forum for bitter debates over compliance and enforcement. Today, the last place in the world where US and Russian officials still sit across a table arguing with each other is in Geneva.”

Reversibility Is Vital

“Similarly flawed, in my view, is the complaint that, because the Moscow Treaty does not contain a requirement to destroy warheads removed from the missiles and the bombers, the cuts are reversible and therefore they’re not real. Put aside for a moment the fact that no previous arms control agreement–not SALT, not START, not the INF–has required the destruction of warheads, and no one offered objections to those treaties on the basis that they did not require the destruction of warheads. This charge is based, in my view, on a flawed premise: that irreversible reductions in nuclear weapons are possible. In point of fact, there is no such thing, in my view, as irreversible reductions in nuclear weapons. The knowledge of how to build nuclear weapons exists. There’s no possibility that that knowledge is going to disappear from the face of the Earth. Every reduction is reversible given enough time and enough money.”

The Russian Edge

“When it comes to building nuclear weapons, Russia has a distinct advantage over the United States. Today Russia can and does produce both nuclear weapons and strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. They have open, warm production lines. The US does not produce either ICBMs or nuclear warheads. It has been a decade since we have produced a nuclear weapon, and it would likely take us the better part of a decade to begin producing some capabilities again.”

Remote Possibilities

“In the time it would take us to redeploy decommissioned nuclear warheads, Russia could easily produce a larger number of new ones. … But the question is, why would we want to do so? Barring some unforeseen or dramatic change in the global security environment, like the sudden emergence of a hostile peer competitor on a par with the old Soviet Union, there’s no reason why we would want to redeploy the warheads we are reducing.”

Hedge Against Problems

“The reason to keep, rather than destroy, some of those decommissioned warheads is to have them available in the event of a problem with safety or reliability in our arsenal. Since we do not have an open production line, it would be in my view simply mindless for us to destroy all of those warheads and then not have them for the backup in the event that we run into safety or reliability problems.”

Balance of Terror No More

“As enemies, we had an interest in each other’s failure. As friends, we ought to have an interest in each other’s success. As enemies we had an interest in keeping each other off balance. As friends, we have an interest in promoting stability. When Russia and the US were adversaries, our principal focus was trying to maintain and freeze into place the balance of nuclear terror. With the recently completed Nuclear Posture Review, the US has declared that we are not interested in preserving that balance of terror with Russia.”

New Adversaries Emerge

“We’re working to transform our nuclear posture from one aimed at deterring the Soviet Union that no longer exists to one designed to deter new adversaries, adversaries who may not be discouraged from attacking us by the threat of US nuclear retaliation, just as the terrorists who struck us on September eleventh were certainly not deterred by the United States’ massive nuclear arsenal.”

Dissuading Competitors

“Some have asked why in the post-Cold War we need to maintain as many as 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed warheads. The fact that the Soviet threat has receded does not mean that we no longer need nuclear weapons. To the contrary, the US nuclear arsenal remains an important part of our deterrent strategy and helps us to dissuade the emergence of potential or would-be peer competitors by underscoring the futility of trying to sprint toward parity with us.”

Seeking Flexibility

“[Critics] have asked why there’s no reduction schedule in the treaty. The answer is quite simple: flexibility. Our approach to the Nuclear Posture Review was to recognize that we’re entering a period of surprise and uncertainty when the sudden emergence of unexpected threats will be an increasingly common feature of our security environment. We were surprised on September eleventh, and let there be no doubt, we will be surprised again.”

Heavy Penalties

“It is not only an uncertain world. It is world that, besides promising surprise and promising little or no warning, is a world that has weapons of mass destruction. So the penalty for not being able to cope with surprise or cope with little or no warning can be enormous. … This problem is certainly more acute in an age when the spread of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorist states and potentially terrorist networks means that our margin of error is significantly less than it had been. The cost of a mistake could be not thousands of lives, but tens of thousands of lives. Because of that smaller margin for error and the uncertainty of the future security environment, the US will need flexibility.”

With or Without Russia

“If Russia … decided against this treaty, … the President would recommend that we go forward. He has made a judgment, at the conclusion of the Nuclear Posture Review, that we can go from many thousands down to 1,700 to 2,200 and still have the kind of capability that this country will need for deterrence and defense.”

Time of Testing

“At the present time I’m told it would take us two to three years to [test] a nuclear weapon, and we’ve not produced a [new] nuclear weapon in at least a decade to my knowledge. And the interest would be in reducing that down from two to three years to one year to 18 months, the ability to [test] one.”

Shorter-Range Nukes

“[Russian] theater nuclear weapons [are] a worry. The Russians unquestionably have many multiples of what we have, I mean thousands and thousands. And the fact that we have a gap in our knowledge as to what that number is, that is enormous. It tells you how little we know about what they have, what they look like, where they are located, what their security circumstance is.”

Ring in the Night

“One of the worrisome things that could happen is the phone could ring and say, … “We’re sorry to tell you but we’ve got a safety problem or a reliability problem with your currently deployed weapons.” And having warheads that are available that could replace some of those questionable, potentially unsafe, potentially unreliable weapons, it seems to me is a responsibility of the President.”

Weakness Is Provocative

“There’s no question in my mind but that weakness is provocative, and if we were to go down to some very low level, some country might decide that that is an area of weakness, an asymmetry that they can take advantage of. And we do not want to create that interest on anybody’s part. … As low as 1,700 to 2,200 sounds from where we’ve been, it is still … a nontrivial number.”