The Moscow Treaty signed by George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2002 did not require the actual destruction of a single U.S. or Russian warhead. All that it mandated was that warheads be taken from operational status—say, sitting on the tip of an ICBM—and moved to storage. Although the treaty was ratified by the Senate by a vote of 95 to 0, along the way Senate Democrats unrelentingly slammed the Bush administration for this deficiency.
Here, for example, was Senator John Kerry:
…the treaty amounts to little more than a series of missed opportunities. Let me be precise on that point.
It does not mandate a reduction in total warheads. None must be dismantled. The treaty merely requires both parties to reduce the number of warheads in their operationally deployed arsenals.
…thousands of weapons will be held in reserve . . . in the context of the threats we are looking at in the year 2003, that is extraordinarily hard to explain, particularly when those stockpiled weapons become the risk of stolen, bartered, sold, or blackmailed materials. By their continued existence, they present a tempting target for thieves and for terrorists.
...The great security challenge of our day is to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of those who would do us harm, but this treaty only expands the number of nondeployed warheads in Russia and in this country for that matter. ...I think the treaty runs the risk of increasing the danger of nuclear theft by stockpiling thousands of warheads.
...We missed an opportunity to help make the world safer for our children in the long term. We missed an opportunity to eliminate thousands of nuclear weapons for the long term, and not to reduce deployed weapons for the short term. (Congressional Record, March 6, 2003, pp. S3233-3235)
This is where things might get tricky. President Obama’s new START treaty, like the 2002 Moscow Treaty before it, does not require the actual destruction of a single U.S. or Russian warhead.
Among the Democratic senators who joined with Kerry in lambasting Bush for failing “to make the world safer for our children” were Richard Durbin, Carl Levin, Dianne Feinstein, and Joseph Biden. A sampling:
his treaty does not require reductions in nuclear warhead stockpiles.... Both sides are free to keep every warhead so removed and to store these warheads indefinitely for possible redeployment.(Congressional Record, March 6, 2003, p. S3222)
[The Treaty] runs counter to the whole point of reducing the danger of nuclear weapons by eliminating them once and for all. Have we really made a step forward in securing a better world for ourselves and future generations if both sides can re-arm at a moment's notice? (Congressional Record, March 6, 2003, p. S3241)
[One] way in which the Moscow Treaty differs from previous arms control agreements is that it does not require the elimination of any missiles, any bombers, any submarines, or any warheads.. . . You don't have to destroy them. You can stockpile them. You can put them in a warehouse. You can pile them up in a barn for ready reload. You can take them back out. You don't have to destroy anything….Under this treaty, Russia can do whatever it wants with its so-called reduced weapons. But we have a stake in Russia's decision on this. That is because of the risk that Russia will not adequately protect the weapons and nuclear materials it has stockpiled….The Russians have incredibly, incredibly insecure facilities because they lack the money to maintain these secure facilities. I worry that if Russia does not destroy them, that they will find themselves--and we will find ourselves--susceptible to clandestine sale or actual stealing of these materials, and they will fall into the hands of people who do not have our interests at heart. (Congressional Record, March 5, 2003, pp. 3132-3133)
Senator Kerry is today chairman of the committee that will hold hearings on the treaty and decide whether to send it to the floor of the Senate. Durbin, as majority whip, will have the job of gathering votes for it. Levin chairs the armed services committee, which will conduct hearings on the security implications of the treaty. Feinstein heads the intelligence committee, which will examine the treaty's verification provisions. And Biden presides over the Senate and will be instrumental in selling the treaty to his former colleagues.
Will these senators now slam the Obama administration for negotiating a treaty that “runs counter to the whole point of reducing the danger of nuclear weapons” and is “extraordinarily hard to explain” because it leaves thousands of nuclear weapons in the hands of a Russia that has “incredibly, incredibly insecure facilities?"
We shall see soon enough.