Bush-Putin Summit, November 2001

Bush-Putin Summit, November 2001

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On November 13-15, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a series of discussions in Washington, D.C., and Crawford, Texas, on a wide range of issues, including U.S.-Russian economic cooperation, Russia's relations with NATO, and the situation in Afghanistan. The most closely watched part of the discussions, however, was the question of strategic arms control. Following the friendly earlier meetings between Bush and Putin, some observers expected the two presidents to reach a breakthrough on the crucial issue of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which would allow the United States to proceed with the National Missile Defense program without having to withdraw from the treaty. Such a breakthrough, however, did not materialize. But the two presidents appeared ready to sharply reduce their countries' strategic nuclear arsenals, and there are some indications that the Russian Federation has informally adopted a more flexible stance on the ABM Treaty.

During the summit, President Bush unilaterally pledged to reduce the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal from 7,000 deployed warheads to only 1,700-2,200 over a period of 10 years. The promised unilateral cuts in effect side-step the START II treaty and its warhead ceiling of 3,000-3,500 warheads. In response, Putin promised that Russia would respond in kind and reduce its own strategic nuclear arsenal consisting of 6,000 warheads by two-thirds, which would also leave approximately 2,000 deployed Russian nuclear warheads. Putin, however, did not specify a ceiling to which the Russian arsenal would be reduced, or the time table. Moreover, the two presidents appeared to have had different views on how formalized the new commitments ought to be. Whereas Putin insisted on turning the commitments into a formal treaty, Bush expressed a preference for a far more informal, and unbinding, arrangement.[1]

While National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice indicated that the U.S. government was willing to codify various aspects of the reductions, including some provisions for verification, she made it clear that the Bush administration did not have an arms control treaty in mind.[2] A senior administration official stated that the U.S. government did not oppose building transparency and verification arrangements into the agreement, although these arrangements would not be as elaborate as in existing arms control treaties (e.g., START I).[3] It is likely that issues such as time tables for implementing the reductions, as well as verification and transparency, will be the subject of future discussions.

It was also not clear whether the reductions would extend to actual elimination of nuclear warheads. In President Bush's formulation, the cuts would affect "operationally deployed" nuclear warheads, indicating weapons actually mated to delivery vehicles. Although President Bush initially indicated that warheads would be destroyed as well, Dr. Rice said that only some of the warheads would be eliminated, and others would be placed in storage. President Putin has insisted that the subsequent disposition of the warheads should be the subject of further negotiations and that the arsenal reductions be codified by a written agreement, a view also echoed by some members of the U.S. Congress.[4]

In spite of these limitations, the declared cuts in strategic weapons represent a significant step forward. While the new warhead counting rules cloud the issue somewhat, the agreed ceilings are close to the START III ceiling of no more than 1,500 deployed strategic warheads proposed by Russia, which was dictated by strategic considerations as much as by Russia's inability to maintain a larger force. U.S. commitments to carry out deep cuts in strategic nuclear weapons offer Russia the opportunity to retain some sort of strategic nuclear parity with the United States, an issue long viewed by Moscow as a key component of Russian national security. In view of the unlikelihood of START II ever entering into force and absent START III, the U.S. strategic arsenal could have remained largely unchanged, whereas Russia's would gradually have shrunk due to the progressive aging of the force, thus creating a significant numerical imbalance. Furthermore, since START I verification activities are going to continue for the foreseeable future, these activities will provide ample opportunity to monitor the progress of the reductions on both sides.

Little apparent progress was made on the ABM Treaty, however, and no formal agreements were reached. Contrary to some expectations, Putin continued to adhere to the traditional Russian position that the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability and should not be modified, although he qualified that statement by saying that Russia has come "to recognize the justified concerns of the United States."[5] President Bush reiterated his view that the treaty is a relic of the Cold War and ought to be scrapped. During a subsequent press conference, Dr. Rice stated that the United States was pursuing a "robust" testing and development program. While the United States had no intention of violating the treaty, it would "move beyond" it, according to Rice, indicating a withdrawal from the treaty at some point in the future. Similar views were expressed by Secretary of State Colin Powell.[6]In spite of the apparent lack of progress, Putin's qualified statements gave rise to speculation that Putin had tacitly consented to allowing the U.S. ABM tests to proceed unchallenged in return for continued U.S. formal adherence to the treaty. According to Dr. Rice, while President Putin has not given explicit approval to U.S. ABM tests, the ABM Treaty was no longer the most important issue on the U.S.-Russian agenda and disagreements in this area would not affect the overall relationship. Moreover, Rice indicated that Russia now had a good understanding of U.S. plans and intentions.[2]

Nevertheless, the Bush administration's apparent desire to avoid signing new arms control treaties (which it views as inappropriate in the new era of U.S.-Russian friendship) and to reduce the importance of strategic arms issues in the overall U.S.-Russian relationship represented preparation for an eventual withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. By giving the impression (strengthened by the unilateral commitment to reduce the U.S. strategic arsenal) that strategic arms control is no longer at the center of the bilateral relationship, and by emphasizing the friendly nature of the current relationship between Russia and the United States, the Bush administration hoped to soften the impact of the subsequent withdrawal.Following the summit, President Bush's formal declaration of intent to withdraw from the ABM Treaty made on December 13, 2001, did not elicit a strong Russian reaction. Reports then surfaced in the Russian press stating that Bush and Putin had reached an agreement on the U.S. withdrawal and that the exact date of the upcoming announcement had been made known to Putin at Crawford.[7]

The arms reductions initiatives launched at the summit were largely welcomed in Russia, particularly since President Putin was not forced into concessions on the ABM Treaty. The main points of concern raised by Russian politicians were raised by President Putin, and in the main concerned issues of codification of the agreement and further negotiations on matters of verification, transparency, and irreversibility. But the long-term implications on U.S.-Russian strategic relations of the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty remain unclear.


Articles and Reports

  • William R. Arkin and Robert S. Norris,The Internet and the Bomb: A Research Guide to Policy and Information about Nuclear Weapons (Washington, D.C.: Natural Resources Defense Council, April 1997),
  • Bruce Blair, Strategic Command and Control (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1985).
  • Glenn C. Buchan, ed., Future Roles of U.S. Nuclear Forces: Implications for U.S. Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001).
  • Oleg Bukharin and Pavel L. Podvig, eds., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
  • Thomas B. Cochran, Robert S. Norris, and Oleg A. Bukharin, Making the Russian Bomb: From Stalin to Yeltsin (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1995).
  • National Academy of Sciences, Committee on International Security and Arms Control, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997).
  • James H. Anderson, America at Risk: The Citizen's Guide to Missile Defense (New York: Heritage Foundation, April 1999).
  • Ashton Carter and David N. Schwartz, Ballistic Missile Defense (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1984).
  • Joseph Cirincione and Frank von Hippel, The Last Fifteen Minutes: Ballistic Missile Defense in Perspective (Washington, D.C.: Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, 1996).
  • Joseph Cirincione, "Why the Right Lost the Missile Defense Debate," Foreign Policy, Spring 1997.

Official Documents and Reports

  • U.S. Department of State, Fact Sheet: 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM),
  • U.S. Department of State, Fact Sheet: 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (START I),
  • U.S. Department of State, Fact Sheet: 1993 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II),
  • Joseph Cirincione, "Why the Right Lost the Missile Defense Debate," Foreign Policy, Spring 1997.


  • Arms Control Association, Treaties,
  • Federation of American Scientists, Arms Control Agreements,
  • Joseph Cirincione, "Why the Right Lost the Missile Defense Debate," Foreign Policy, Spring 1997.


[1] "Bush, Putin Agree on Cutting Nuclear Warheads," Washington File, U.S. Department of State,, November 13, 2001.
[2] "Transcript: Afghanistan Dominates Bush-Putin Talks, Rice Says," Washington File, U.S. Department of State,, November 15, 2001.
[3] "Transcript: Backgrounder on Putin Visit By Senior U.S. Officials," Washington File, U.S. Department of State,, November 13, 2001.
[4] Randall Mikkelsen, "Bush, Putin face challenges in making arms cuts," Reuters, November 17, 2001.
[5] Susan Glasser, "Putin Sees Chance for Accord on ABM Pact," Washington Post, November 11, 2001, p. A42.
[6] "Rice: U.S. Nearing Arms Treaty Limit," Associated Press, November 18, 2001.
[7] Svetlana Babayeva, Yevgeniy Bay, Dmitriy Safonov, "Planovaya oshibka," Izvestiya on-line edition, December 13, 2001,


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