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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

09 July 2002

Powell Says U.S. Plans to Cut Total Strategic Warheads to 4,600

(Testifies on Bush-Putin Moscow Treaty before Senate panel) (860)
By Ralph Dannheisser
Washington File Congressional Correspondent
Washington -- The Bush Administration plans to gradually cut the
number of strategic nuclear warheads -- both those deployed and in
storage -- to about 4,600, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed
July 9.
Powell made the disclosure in the course of a hearing by the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering the Treaty on
Strategic Offensive Reductions, agreed to between President Bush and
Russian President Vladimir Putin in May and submitted to the Senate
for its advice and consent on June 20.
That treaty contemplates a reduction in deployed U.S. and Russian
warheads from about 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the course
of the next decade. But it does not require actual destruction of any
warheads, permitting storage of dismantled weapons.
Powell's comments came against the background of questions by some
committee members as to how meaningful the treaty would be under those
circumstances, and without verification provisions that go beyond
those in existing pacts.
His comments telegraphed testimony expected to be delivered by
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who is scheduled to appear
before the committee on July 17. Powell stressed that it would be up
to Rumsfeld to state the official administration position on the
issue, but said, "The total number that I believe you will hear from
Secretary Rumsfeld, both deployed and in reserve, is somewhere around
4,600" warheads.
Powell's testimony in support of the treaty was warmly received by key
committee members, with both Chairman Joseph Biden (Democrat,
Delaware) and Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) saying that
they hope for, and expect, Senate approval by the end of the current
congressional session late this year.
Biden deemed the pact "a very important step forward in U.S.-Russian
relations and toward a more secure world."
"I think this is a good treaty," he told Powell -- though he said it
remains to be seen in practice just how good. It "may turn out to be a
great treaty," or it could be "of marginal value," he said.
And Lugar said the agreement to cut the number of
operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and
2,200 by December 31, 2012 is "a tremendous accomplishment that
deserves the full support of the Senate and the Russian Duma." He
added, "I believe this treaty marks an important step toward a safer
Lugar did express concern, however, that nuclear warheads taken from
dismantled Russian delivery systems not fall into the wrong hands.
Furthermore, he said, "Without U.S. assistance Russia cannot meet the
timetable of its obligations under this treaty... Without Nunn-Lugar
(the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program) it is unlikely
the benefits of this treaty will be realized."
Powell, in his opening statement to the committee, said the treaty
"marks a new era in the relationship between the United States and
Russia, easing "the transition from strategic rivalry to a genuine
strategic partnership based on the principles of mutual security,
trust, openness, cooperation and predictability."
He said the omission of a strict timetable and verification provisions
was intentional, and designed to give the parties "flexibility in how
each implements its obligations."
Overall, he said, the treaty advances the president's goal of
achieving a credible deterrent "with the lowest possible number of
nuclear weapons consistent with our national security requirements. It
reduces by two-thirds the number of strategic nuclear warheads
available for ready use while preserving America's ability to respond
promptly to changing future situations."
Perhaps the most serious reservations about the treaty were voiced by
Senator Russell Feingold (Democrat, Wisconsin). He termed it "a step
in the right direction," but expressed concern that "it does not
address the vital issues of compliance and verification, that it does
not include a timetable for those reductions, and that it does not
require that any nuclear warheads actually be destroyed."
"Only by dismantling and destroying those devastating weapons can we
truly achieve the goal of meaningful nuclear arms reduction," Feingold
Further, Feingold said, he is troubled by treaty language that permits
either party to withdraw, upon only three months' written notice and
without the need to cite any extraordinary justifying circumstances.
And harking back to the president's controversial decision to withdraw
the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
Feingold insisted that the Senate has a constitutional role to play in
terminating treaties, which must be respected in any future case. "I
look forward to exploring ways to protect the Senate's prerogatives
... as the committee continues its consideration of this treaty," he
When Feingold directly asked Powell whether he believes that the
president could withdraw from the new treaty without the need for
Senate approval, Powell replied, "Yes, sir." This prompted Feingold to
respond that the administration was entering on "a dangerous road"
which could ultimately lead to conflict with the Senate.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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