The Treaty of Moscow

The Treaty of Moscow

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Victor Mizin

Senior Research Associate, The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


The U.S.-Russian summit held in Moscow and St. Petersburg on May 24-26, 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—some of them having, perhaps, more symbolic than practical meaning-were signed on a set of issues ranging from arms control to cooperation in economic, energy, and information technology areas. One of the documents, the Joint Declaration, outlines the foundation of a new strategic relationship and claims that the era in which both countries "saw each other as an enemy or strategic threats has ended." This document, proclaiming the two countries as "partners" cooperating "to advance stability, security, and economic integration," stipulated for the first time in history that the United States and Russia share the same basic ideology based on democratic values, human rights, freedom of speech and the press, tolerance, supremacy of the rule of law, as well as the same vision of global challenges.

This summit, in effect, sealed the reversal of the Bush administration's attitude toward Russia, which tentatively began in the summer of 2001 and came to fruition in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Moscow is now back on Washington's political radar as an ally–or at least a friendly power. The United States has finally acknowledged Russia's importance, not only because it possesses the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal, still ready to annihilate the United States and NATO countries in minutes (always a reason for Western anxiety), but also because of its remaining diplomatic clout in such parts of the world as Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, as well as its mineral, human, and intellectual resources. This acknowledgment satisfies President Putin, who employed a political gambit, trading a weak and rather "meaningless"–in terms of traditional arms control punditry–"strategic arms reductions" treaty for Moscow's recognition by Washington as an important, albeit a junior, partner on the global level. Politicking aside, the signing of this arms control agreement has marked the beginning of a new phase in the arms reduction process, one which could conceivably move beyond the Cold War-style of suspicious and careful "bean-counting" of weapons arsenals to one of more general deliberations on broad strategic issues of war and peace, international terrorism, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation dangers.

At the same time, with all its "historical" importance in opening "a new chapter" in bilateral relations, this summit did not, of course, completely extricate the two countries from their lingering, mutual mistrust left over from the Cold War. It remains to be seen whether a new turning point has actually been achieved or if the "entente cordiale" will vanish during another crisis. There are further positive signs demonstrating Washington's recognition of Moscow's potential role in fighting global terrorism, reducing WMD proliferation, advancing peace-building efforts, and promoting democracy and human liberties worldwide (not excluding Russia with its Chechnya and freedom of press conundrums), as illustrated by the creation of the NATO-Russia Council.

The U.S.-Russian summit was held in Moscow and St. Petersburg on May 24-26, 2002, capping 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–having, perhaps, more symbolic than practical meaning–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, which is to remain in force until December 31, 2012, 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 about concluding one. At the same time, the United States preserved what it wanted above all–freedom of choice on the fate of its decommissioned warheads, while Moscow gave up its earlier proposals on the guaranteed destruction of warheads. Russia got a legally bindding document confirming its status as the second largest nuclear power in the world and the attendant role of a state that should be paid attention to. The United States got Russia on the bandwagon as an ally and showed its European allies that the United States and Russia are engaged in policies related to WMD. By 2012, both countries are to reduce their strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads from the current levels of 5,949 for the United States and 5,858 for Russia (or by approximately two-thirds in comparison with START I-permitted levels). Both sides are free to define the composition and structure of their offensive forces within the imposed ceilings.As soon as the United States officially withdrew from the ABM Treaty, Russia promptly announced termination of START II.[1] According to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Moscow still hopes "to continue negotiations on issues surrounding the ABM Treaty," thinking the balance between offensive and defensive strategic armaments is still important. Russians still hope to assuage their concerns of the "reversibility" potential, which they think the United States is getting through the Treaty of Moscow, in the Bilateral Implementation Commission this document established.

The treaty received negative treatment in the Russian political and military communities, although criticism was not as harsh as one might have expected. Russian experts, estranged from diplomatic imperatives of the Kremlin's current policy, have claimed that it is better to have "no treaty than a bad one." Their main argument is that the treaty does not lead to any actual cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, nor does it require the destruction of even a single launcher or warhead. The United States will be allowed to store the decommissioned warheads, which they plan to keep on reserve for possible future contingencies. On the other hand, Russia, under the pressure of economic hardships, is to physically eliminate its aging strategic systems that have been taken out of combat duty, as they have no funds or storage sites to place them in reserve. Actually, the terms of the treaty place an additional burden on the United States, which is currently and actively assisting Russia under the Nunn-Lugar program in dismantling its strategic arsenal in order to prevent weapon theft or fissile material diversion by rogue states or terrorists. (This destruction is being administered in accordance with START I and other arms control treaties, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention.) Now that more and more warheads are to be decommissioned, Russia needs even more help with their secure dismantlement.

Moscow also suggested that both countries destroy not just launchers, as has been the case so far, but the warheads as well. The ostensible purpose of this suggestion by the Russian General Staff was to embarrass the American side with its predictable rejection, to demonstrate Moscow's far-reaching allegiance to the noble cause of arms control, and, if the opportunity arose, to catch a glimpse of the most secret American facilities and devices. This was clearly very risky. Had the Americans agreed, they would have gained access to Russian nuclear storage facilities—a scenario the Russian military would have loathed. The procedures for the verification of warhead dismantlement, which are only roughly worked out in theory, obviously demand a higher level of trust and transparency than currently exists in bilateral relations.

Putin's tilt to the West and his readiness to compromise on certain traditional Russian points of concern in strategic affairs have caused some ripples in Moscow's military-political elite. Putin was asked to seek more "payoffs" from Washington for Russia's role in combating terrorism. His acquiescence with a "bad" arms control treaty was equated with Russian "geopolitical suicide" in the wake of some highly publicized events–his weak reaction to the rash U.S. pullout from the ABM Treaty, the U.S. military deployments in Central Asia and Georgia, as well as the closure of Kamran (Vietnam) and Lourdes (Cuba) military bases–and was considered almost a betrayal of national interests compared to Gorbachev's "defeatist" policies.

It is evident that the Russian leader has the leverage to apply more pressure on his "recalcitrant" generals, who could be forced to retire or stripped of their pensions if they disagree with the new policies. But the criticism is coming not only from the leftist or ultra-nationalist or Russian generals still living mentally in the Soviet Union and cherishing superpower ambitions in the absence of available ammunition. Even the normally pro-Western intellectuals and strategy experts have stopped the litanies on the importance of assuring nuclear parity with the United States. Balance presupposes two poles that are supposed to be equal, but Russia has long ceased to exist as a separate and even opposing center of gravity, having entered into a strategic alliance with the United States. For some states in the so-called Third World, the threats of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism and irredentism remain the main threats to Russian security, not the American imperialism that continues to loom as "Enemy #1" for many Russian strategists. The two countries should begin genuine, unrestricted discussions on the parameters of the future strategic relationship, moving beyond the historical paradigms of mutually assured destruction and nuclear deterrence.

Arms control in U.S.-Russian relations has ceased to be a major policy avenue and the only channel for dialogue. It is to be replaced by measures for greater transparency in dealing with strategic weapons. The United States could dramatically intensify its efforts to provide safe and secure storage for Russian warheads, both strategic and sub-strategic. But so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons (TNW) were only cursorily touched on during the talks in Russia. No one in the West knows how many of them are deployed or stored. Experts estimate that there are about 3,500 Russian tactical warheads deployed and about 5,000 in "reserve" or slated for destruction (generally figures vary between 3,000 and 22,000). As Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden have proposed, the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program should be extended to further upgrade security at nuclear storage facilities of all types, to help reduce threats from TNW, as well as to dismantle more nuclear-powered submarines. The bilateral consultations on the practical, agreed-upon steps to complete the unilateral cuts in TNW initiated by both countries in 1991-92 are to be launched: first, likely focusing on the issues of confidence-building and strategies for TNW use, moving to verification issues, and finally addressing the topic of further possible reductions. Certain signals that the two states might start cautiously moving to adapt their strategic thinking to today's security environment are corroborated by the Joint Declaration's paragraphs on their readiness to implement a number of steps aimed at strengthening confidence and increasing cooperation in the area of missile defense. This may mean that Moscow is painstakingly shifting its stance on missile defense toward accepting the inevitable steady progress of American research and development on this program hitherto staunchly criticized by the Russian military.

Another emerging issue is nonproliferation. Russian cooperation with Iran in the nuclear and–as the United States alleges–missile areas remains a bone of contention that led to one of rare difficult moments during the Moscow-St. Petersburg summit. Russia staunchly denied any wrongdoing and pledged that its cooperation with Iran is strictly within the limits of its international obligations and in compliance with international nonproliferation regimes. Putin pointed out, wryly, that "the United States has taken on the obligation of building a nuclear power station identical to the one in Bushehr in North Korea." At the same time, he has suggested pushing Iran to allow international inspections of the Russian-built nuclear reactor there.[2] Putin is quite correct when he underscores that Russia's cooperation with Iran "as far as energy is concerned, focuses exclusively on economic issues."[3] Russia is getting billions of dollars from its nuclear power plant deal and arms sales to Iran (which, no doubt, remains geopolitically an important friendly state on Russia's southern borders). Sanctions and admonitions will not solve this issue of Russian ties with one of the most demonized states in the American inventory of states in the "axis of evil." One can only agree with the conservative thinker Richard Perle, who suggests that this problem can be solved in a "business-like manner," and suggested the following: "If you want to get this solved, don't send a diplomat. Send a banker to discuss it."[4] A U.S.-Russia working group was formed before the summit to resolve the problem. It is difficult, however, to imagine what Washington could actually propose to the cash-strapped enterprises in the Russian military industrial complex, short of buying out the most thriving of them. The same goes for the stated readiness of Washington to actively engage Russia in consultations on future missile defense systems. It is still unclear what specifically this Russian engagement could imply.

There is little doubt that the summit in Russia has ushered Moscow and Washington into a qualitatively new era in which both presidents are challenged to achieve greater levels of cooperation by moving beyond the uninventive, routine approaches of their military and political expert communities and assuring a major breakthrough into a brave new world where both states are irreversible allies. There are obvious challenges to the smooth development of a bilateral dialogue, including the "final solution" of the Iranian conundrum by some sort of "payoff" to Moscow, the partial or total pardon of Russia's international debts, and Russia's acceptance of possible U.S. military moves against Iraq. But, if these two leaders succeed, their names will be included with the likes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Peter the Great.


Official Documents and Reports

  • The United States of America and the Russian Federation, Joint Declaration, May 24, 2002. 
  • U.S. Department of State, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
  • White House, Fact Sheet.


  • Arms Control Association, Treaties,
  • Nuclear Threat Initiative, Bibliography: Bilateral U.S.-Russian Treaties,
  • Federation of American Scientists, Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty,
  • Center for Arms Control, Energy, and Environmental Studies, Strategic Arms Reductions,

Articles and Reports

  • Pavel Podvig, "For Russia, Little Loss, Little Gain," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November-December, 2001.
  • Dana Milbank, "Bush and Putin Sign Arms Pact," Washington Post, May 25, 2002.
  • Vladimir Isachenkov, "Nunn and Lugar Look to Safeguard Weapons," Moscow Times, May 28, 2002.
  • Joseph Biden, "Beyond the Moscow Treaty," Washington Post, May 28, 2002, p. A17.


[1] Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Statement of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the legal status of START II, as it appeared on the, May 8, 2002.
[2] Ron Hutcheson, "Putin Offers Inspectors in Iran," Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 2002.
[3] Putin and Bush Sign N-Deal, CNN, May 24, 2002,
[4] "U.S. Sent Data to Russia on Iran," Middle East Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 198, May 29, 2002.

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