Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)

Note: As of January 2011, this file will no longer be updated

Signed: 24 May 2002.

Entry into Force: 1 June 2003.

Duration: The Treaty shall remain in force until 31 December 2012 and may be extended by agreement of the Parties or superseded earlier by a subsequent agreement.

Parties: Russian Federation and United States.

Treaty Text

Background: The U.S.-Russian summit held in Moscow and St. Petersburg on 24-26 May 2002, capped the process of rapprochement between the two States that began in earlier summits in Ljubljana, Genoa, Crawford, and Shanghai, with both aspiring to leave behind the logjams of the Cold War.

Several documents were signed on a set of issues ranging from arms control to cooperation in the economic, energy, and information technology areas. The most publicized event of the summit was the signing of the Treaty of Moscow. This document was largely a result of compromise: the United States insisted that the two countries did not need a treaty at all, but agreed to insistent Russian proposals to conclude one. At the same time, the United States did not compromise on its top priority, freedom of choice on the fate of its decommissioned warheads, while Moscow gave up its earlier proposals for the guaranteed destruction of warheads.

Obligations:

  • Each Party shall reduce and limit strategic nuclear warheads so that by 31 December 2012, the aggregate number of such warheads does not exceed 1,700-2,200 for each Party.
  • Each Party shall determine for itself the composition and structure of its strategic offensive arms, based on the established aggregate limit for the number of such warheads.
  • The Parties agree that START I remains in force in accordance with its terms.
  • The parties shall meet at least twice a year for a Bilateral Implementation Commission to discuss the progress of implementation of the treaty.
  • In February of 2003, the Senate Armed Services Committee, in reviewing the treaty for ratification, stipulated two additional conditions. First, the creation of an annual report on the status of US-Russian Cooperation Threat Reduction initiatives and, second, an annual update on treaty implementation, including information on strategic force levels, planned reductions each calendar year, and verification or transparency measures.

Verification and Compliance: The Treaty does not contain any specific verification or compliance provisions. For purposes of implementing this Treaty, the parties shall hold meetings at least twice a year of a Bilateral Implementation Commission. The Joint Declaration of the United States of America and the Russian Federation, issued on 24 May 2002, states that START I provisions "will provide the foundation for providing confidence, transparency, and predictability in further strategic offensive reductions, along with other supplementary measures, including transparency measures, to be agreed." START I verification measures allow each country to utilize any accessible "national technical means" of verification, and provide for inspections at declared or suspect facilities in order to authenticate each country's declarations of its weapons and facilities. START I also requires several other types of confidence-building measures, including notification to the other side of weapons testing and open displays of some types of missile launchers. START I will expire in 2009. SORT does not expire until 2012.

Withdrawal: Each Party may withdraw from the Treaty upon 90-days' written notice to the other Party.

Developments:

2010: As of January experts estimate that Russia has close to 2,600 operationally deployed strategic warheads in its arsenal, although Russia has not officially declared the number.

On 22 December, the Senate advised and consented to the ratification of the New START treaty by a vote of 71-26. According to Article XIV.4 of the New START, upon its entry into force, it will supersede SORT.
 

2009: On 9 February, the Federation of American Scientists reported that the U.S. had reduced its stockpile of deployed strategic warheads to the maximum number permitted under the Moscow Treaty, reaching the limit over three years ahead of schedule. As of that day, "a total of 2,200 strategic warheads [were] deployed on ballistic missiles and at long-range bomber bases."

2008: Russia and the United States issued a Strategic Framework Declaration, in which, among many other topics, they "agreed to develop a legally-binding arrangement following expiration of the START Treaty in December 2009." The declaration also recognized the reductions already achieved under SORT and START.

2007: The Bilateral Implementation Commission (BIC) met on 11 May and 6 December in Geneva and participants exchanged confidential briefings on their strategic nuclear forces.

2006: The BIC met on 16-17 May and on 25 October in Geneva and participants exchanged confidential briefings on their strategic nuclear forces.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak met in September within the new framework of the Strategic Group on international security issues.

2005: The offensive transparency working group of the Consultative Group for Strategic Security (CGSS) met on 27-28 January.

In its 2005 Annual Report of the Implementation of the Moscow Treaty, the United States announced plans to complete the deactivation of its 13 remaining Peacekeeper ICBMs. It also noted configuration changes in warhead loading for all Trident II submarines and some Minuteman II ICBMs.

In November, the United States proposed replacing the CGSS with a Core Group and a Strategic Group on international security issues, to be chaired by the Russian Deputy Foreign and Defense Ministers and U.S. Undersecretaries of State and Defense.

2004: In January-March 2004 the United States and Russia engaged in talks concerning the implementation of SORT. Though the talks and work were described as useful and a draft document was drawn up setting forth the tasks of the Bilateral Implementation Commission (BIC) of the treaty, the United States expressed concerns over how Russia intended to count its weapons reductions under the treaty because SORT did not have a verification clause.

The treaty text requires the BIC to occur on a biannual basis for the lifespan of the treaty. The United States and Russia held the first two meetings of the BIC on April 8-9 and October 14-15, 2004, in Geneva. The work of the BIC is confidential.

The first steps envisaged by the United States are reducing operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads, retiring 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, removing four Trident submarines from strategic service, and no longer maintaining the ability to return the B-1B heavy bomber to nuclear service. These steps are already completed (B-1B and Trident submarines) or will be in 2005 (Peacekeeper deactivation). Beginning in FY06, at any given time, the United States will likely have two of the remaining 14 Trident SSBNs in overhaul. Those SSBNs will not contain operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads.

In October 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that, in the near future, Russia will have arms capable of surmounting all current anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Putin noted that the new technology was not aimed at the United States and that his country fully intended to comply with SORT obligations by 2012.

2003: In February of 2003, the Senate Armed Services Committee reviewed the treaty and added two conditions. First, the committee requested an annual report on the status of U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction initiatives. Second, the committee required an annual update on the treaty's implementation, including information on strategic force levels, a schedule of planned reductions each calendar year and verification or transparency measures that might have been or might be employed.

On 6 March, the United States Senate unanimously ratified SORT after defeating two amendments. One amendment sought to include an instrument of verification (specifically, a provision requiring U.S. intelligence agencies to file annual reports on the U.S. ability to monitor Russia's compliance). The amendment failed 45-50. The second amendment sought to establish the requirement of presidential consultations with Congress 60 days before any decision to withdraw from the treaty or to extend it. The amendment failed 44-50.

On 9 March, the Russian working group developed a new draft of the bill which was agreed to by President Putin and submitted to the Duma. On 18 March, the Duma postponed ratification of the treaty, citing disagreement with the United States over the decision to invade Iraq. On 14 May, the Duma approved the Federal Law on Ratification for the Treaty by a 294-134 vote.

According to reports, the ratification legislation identifies two possible scenarios in which Russia should consider activating its right to withdraw from the treaty (a step permissible upon the service of three months' notice): a "significant build-up in strategic offensive forces of some nation or a group of nations" or deployment by another state or states of a missile defense system "capable of significantly reducing the efficiency of Russia's nuclear arsenals."
On 1 June, Presidents Bush and Putin met in St. Petersburg to exchange instruments of ratification to bring the treaty into force. The leaders noted in a joint statement that the treaty "codifies...deep reductions of strategic nuclear warheads" and thus stands as "another indication of the transformed relationship between our two countries."

2002: On 13 June U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty took effect.

On 14 June, the Russian Federation announced its withdrawal from the START II Treaty due to U.S. refusal to ratify the treaty and to U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

The Joint Declaration on the New Strategic Relationship Between the United States and Russia established the Consultative Group for Strategic Security (CGSS), a forum where foreign and defense ministers work to strengthen confidence, expand transparency, share information, and discuss strategic issues of mutual interest. The CGSS met for the first time on 20 September.

2001: At the G-8 summit in Genoa, Presidents Bush and Putin first met to discuss new bilateral arms control options. The presidents issued a statement noting that the two would "shortly begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems."

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About

The treaty mandates the United States and Russia to mutually decrease and limit strategic nuclear weapons, with each party reserving the right to determine the structure of its strategic offensive arms.

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2016.