U.S. Ahead of Moscow Treaty Schedule in Reducing Its Nuclear Arsenal

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2009

The United States is more than two years ahead of the schedule set under the Moscow Treaty in reducing the number of its nuclear warheads operationally deployed on strategic missiles and bombers, according to congressional and administration sources.

There are fewer than 2,200 deployed warheads, the goal originally set to be reached by Dec. 31, 2012.

"The reduction was initially planned to be met in 2012, then 2010, but was achieved a few days ago," said Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project of the Federation of American Scientists, who first disclosed the information on his Web site.

While not giving the exact number of deployed warheads, Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, said Wednesday, "We are in compliance with the Moscow Treaty." She said reaching that goal early could support an effort by the Obama administration to get the Russians to go to even lower levels.

The total U.S. nuclear stockpile remains above 5,000 warheads, with the majority held in strategic reserve but available for deployment if necessary. There are probably 3,000 to 4,000 more warheads in storage awaiting dismantling, according to Kristensen.

Tauscher noted that the weakness of the 2002 Moscow Treaty was that while it limited the number of operationally deployed warheads, it left out those not connected to delivery systems and in storage. She said she expects the United States to push for improvements in the Moscow agreement. "We need to broaden the definitions and work with the Russians to account for everything," she said.

Kristensen said modest reductions in deployed warheads that began during the Clinton administration were expanded under President George W. Bush. "In the past four years, they have overhauled the strategic war plan," he said. "Strategic Command believes it can adequately meet the White House guidance with far less weapons."

Some experts think the Bush administration does not get enough credit for the reductions it has made in nuclear weapons. Robert S. Norris, a senior research associate at the Natural Resources Defense Fund, said yesterday, "It is little appreciated or known that the two Bush presidencies have gotten rid of three-quarters of the U.S. nuclear stockpile."

According to Norris, the United States had about 22,000 strategic and tactical nuclear warheads at the end of the Cold War. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush ordered the withdrawal of all tactical weapons and signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), cutting the total to approximately 11,000. "His son cut it in half again by the end of his administration," Norris said, "and this will be the baseline for further reductions during the Obama administration."

As the Bush administration was reducing deployed warheads, it was pressing Congress to approve funding for development of a new warhead under the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. The RRW was to be based on an old, tested design with no new testing needed before being deployed. It was to be more secure and reliable over the next decade than today's aging Cold War nuclear warheads, even those that had been refurbished. Congress, however, eliminated funding for the RRW in fiscal 2009, with members saying they would await results of the Obama administration's nuclear posture review.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has proposed an aggressive arms-control agenda that includes reductions in nuclear weapons, Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and renewal of the verification procedures of START, which run out at the end of the year.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company