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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Russia and US arms cuts: The start of a new era?
The United States and Russia have agreed cuts in their nuclear arsenals, clearing the way for what they described as a new era in their relations.
It is hoped that the number of nuclear warheads on each side will be reduced from current levels of between 6,000 and 7,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next 10 years.
President George W Bush will travel to Russia on Thursday, where he will sign the arms reduction treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders have spoken of a "new relationship" between their countries since the September 11 attacks on America.
President Putin was the first foreign leader to call Mr Bush after the attacks, and has done almost everything possible to back his war against terrorism, short of offering direct military involvement.
Is this agreement on arms cuts the beginning of a new era between the United States and Russia? Tell us what you think.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I think both Europe and the US are falling into a deep hole. It seems to me that the people of both regions have two sets of priorities. What's worse is that the citizens hate each other more than the politicos.
Mick Woods, UK
What about China?
I can't believe the number of cynics on this board, scoffing at this agreement as if it was meaningless. Yes, nukes are still around and the world is full of conflict. But how can anyone claim this is not a step in the right direction? Is this agreement not progress from the dark days in the 50s and 60s when it seemed many times as if nuclear war was imminent? Sure there is posturing going on with Bush and Putin, but may I remind you that then-world super posers Britain and France fought on and off for centuries before finally learning to live with one another?
Pointless exercise. Putting two thirds of the nuclear weapons out of use will - obviously - leave one third still in commission. Does anyone recall the devastation that a single, fairly crude, atomic bomb inflicted upon Hiroshima? Wondering whether to keep your entire nuclear arsenal intact, or altruistically decommission two thirds, is as daft as wondering whether to jump off the top of a twenty storey building or a thirty storey building. The end result is potentially the same.
Chris B (England), I understand your point but there are a couple of very significant results of this which have to be positive. Firstly, Russia is wasting so much money it cannot afford on the maintenance of these missiles, which would be far better put elsewhere. Secondly, this poor maintenance means these warheads are dangerous and badly guarded so best to reduce to a number which can be better controlled. The balance for pride requires America to match these cuts despite the fact there are much lower concerns over the security of America's arsenal.
I pray for the day when there is none left but feel we must be positive that this is a step in the right direction.
Dan Sayer, UK
This shows a very positive attitude between the 2 countries but the amount of nukes they have agreed to disarm is hardly large. Russia had over 28,000 warheads, and the US - 14,000
The US needs Russian oil to prop up its failing economy. That is the only reason Bush is talking to Putin. The USA is currently bullying or befriending anyone who can guarantee oil supplies, don't be conned into thinking there is any wish for world peace by Bush and his cronies in the oil industry.
Bush and Putin may well gloat over their forbearance and initiative in this matter. I am unclear what purpose, if any, this will serve for humanity as a whole. From where I sit in Africa, HIV-AIDS, malaria, malnutrition, poverty and ignorance daily claim more lives than any nuke ever has or ever will. The tragedy is that a minute fraction of the financing for these nukes which are being shelved with such fanfare can solve this continent's problems over and again.
To Rich, UK: Outrageous defence spending? According to the CIA World Factbook, the US spends 3% of it's GDP on defence to the UK's 2.7%. Are you prepared to call your own country's defence expenditures outrageous?
As for the "new era" with Russia, this will only begin when Russia starts phasing out Saudi Arabia as our largest oil supplier. Undoubtedly this is one of Bush's goals with Putin. Bush would like nothing more than to take a multi-billion dollar bite out of Saudi Arabia's GDP and use it as leverage.
My question is: why are these countries (and the UK) owning more weapons of mass destruction then everyone else put together, allowed to decide who else should (Israel) and shouldn't (Iraq) also have them? Why do we accept their right to destroy the economies and social infrastructure of those countries they don't like in the name of preventing the spread of the very weapons which they hold in such superior numbers?
To Ronnie Smith: All good questions. First, the reason that Russia and the US own more weapons of mass destruction, and let's just focus on nuclear weapons, is that they started a while back, over fifty years ago, to design, build and upgrade them. There has simply been more time to accumulate their respective stockpiles. The recent arms reduction announcement is a recognition that the world has changed and the aging stockpiles must be dealt with. Second, there is general consensus in the world that peaceful nations, even those with nuclear capability, are not a threat to others. Contrast this with other nations, you mentioned Iraq, which openly invade their neighbours and threaten other countries in their region and around the world. It seems prudent to "decide" that such belligerent nations should not have a nuclear capability. Some people might point to Israel and say that it is also belligerent and aggressive. History bears witness that Israel has only defended it! se! lf over the past several decades, and any territory it has gained has come from the defeat of nations who tried to wipe it off the map. Lastly, it is far from clear whether we all accept anyone's right to "destroy the economies and social infrastructure of those countries" that are not liked. However, it is clear that countries that routinely spew rhetoric along the lines of "Death to America" should not be allowed to possess the very weapons that might turn that rhetoric into a reality.
I agree that reducing the nuclear stockpile is a good thing, but we have to remember that a deterrent is important too. Rogue states have to understand that that if they use a weapon of mass destruction against the free world (and that includes Russia) we have the ability to reduce their countries to down to bare rock ...permanently.
Whilst nuclear weapons are accessible to all countries I believe we are heading for a mutually assured destruction.
Has anyone taken into account that their opinions are based on information that has been chosen for public consumption?
Even with only a few thousand missiles, that's still enough to level the planet a few times over.
The world may feel slightly more at ease with these nuclear "disarmament" treaties being reached, but let us face reality. All "disarmament" refers to is a relocation of these warheads to storage. And firing one guided nuclear warhead out of ten is qualitatively no different from firing one guided nuclear warhead out of a thousand. Until the complete abolition of nuclear weapons becomes the topic of discussion, this idea of "A New Era" between the two nations is merely entertainment of a simple illusion of progress.
Henry Coleman, Australia
I am pro-nuclear weapons, so one might argue what is the difference in having enough nuclear warheads to destroy the entire world once over, or having enough to destroy it 10 times over. There is none. What worries me is that the larger the world stockpile of nuclear warheads the higher the risk of a few going missing to certain organisations that are itching to let one off in a major city. The less we have the easier it will be to keep them secure.
War is about public opinion. The US can't use nuclear weapons until it can guarantee that its own people and some of UN agree with its use. This makes the weapon pretty darn useless. Money would be better spent developing weapons that destroy an enemy without a huge PR campaign.
Military history is my hobby, and being a Russian hopefully helps me to understand my country's moves. I wouldn't really think about anything like extra trust between US and Russia. For my country it's rather just another step on its way towards normal relations with the rest of the world. From a purely military point of view, putting aside The Last War, a number of warheads doesn't really matter, unless it gets below 100-200. It's still enough to deal with terrorism...
Who believes that the US or Russia are truly cutting back major numbers of nuclear weapons? Can you possibly be that naive? The US, a country so proud of itself and so patriotic, will never cut back on anything that might protect them from others. Plus the US don't make a very trustful image for the rest of the world these days: suddenly not signing agreements isn't the way of making a statement. How long before they will be backing out of this deal? And Russia, I'm sorry to say, isn't known for it's open policy considering weaponry. May I remind you that at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, no civilian in Russia knew exactly what had happened because things were kept secret. And who really knows what's going on in Chechnya? So as much as I regret to have to say this: I don't believe in this sudden open and friendly behaviour of these two countries.
Let one of these nukes go off either intentionally or accidentally, none of us will be here to talk about the percentage of reduction.
It would be even better if the Russians knew where half their stocks were?
A lot of cynicism here. Everyone points their finger and yells until they do it and once they do, they get scoffed at and spoken ill of.
People in Europe ought to remember that the presence and existence of those nukes may have kept their world free in a previous age. I think you all ought to be more grateful and less sarcastic. This is a good move and should be applauded accordingly, not derived in the snooty, holier-than-thou European manor the whole world has heard before.
A few months ago a meteor came within the Moon's orbit and almost hit the Earth. Shouldn't these 'obsolete' nuclear warheads be shipped into space to counter such a threat? We should develop some form of planetary defence system from space junk should anything the size of Texas come our way...
It is good to see the US moving more from offensive nuclear capabilities to defensive capabilities.
The nuclear arsenals of Russia and America for use as a deterrent to each other are now useless for that end since the threat of Soviet military takeover of the world is gone. However, both sides must keep a relatively small stockpile of weapons to make it clear to other countries such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Lybia, that a nuclear strike against either of them would be instant suicide.
Dave Adams, USA
Russia turns communistic again, removing all freedom of speech and controlling the media. They have made the EU so dependent on them for natural gas, that they have the upper hand in the EU's energy sector.
Just one question: How long will it be until America (for the third time) will have to come to Europe's defence?
What a load of talk. It really is a not very newsworthy issue. Is it not just very obvious that these so called arms cuts mean absolutely nothing - an empty symbol. Nothing has changed although the gestures are becoming to be seen by more and more people for exactly what they are. Have people become so blinded?
On the one hand, we sign a deal with the Russians to cut down on our storage of weapons of mass destruction, and on the other, we violate treaties like ABM treaty with the Russians (yet we call it withdrawal!). Who is to know if, after signing this agreement as well, and after Russia has done its part, we decide to "withdraw" from this as well?
This agreement is good news for the free world. If Russia, America, and Europe unite, perhaps world peace and love will win the day.
The biggest military budget increase in over twenty years! Storage companies must be charging an arm and a leg for storing all those warheads.
I wonder how Russia is going to counter threats from 1.4 billion of Chinese on her eastern borders set on expanding their own nuclear arsenal, enlarging NATO on her western borders, high-precision weapons and National Missile Defence being developed by Americans.
At least now there is a safety in numbers. But when you cannot pay a piper you have to dance to American tune.
The very fact that guns exist means that people will get shot
It is excellent news. Particularly for those who live in countries not likely to be directly targeted. Whilst you could still set the world's population back to early 1970's levels with the remaining weapons, even that would be difficult to achieve. The immediate threat of man-kind being all but wiped off the planet by a large-scale nuclear exchange would be completely removed by this reduction. In that sense at least, it would make the world a much safer place to live.
Does it take 10 years to put some warheads in storage? Of course not! It is good news, but our world "leaders" should be tearing down all warheads!
I think that it is pointless to shout about the disarmament of the USA and Russia when there are still countries like India, Pakistan, Iraq and members of terrorists organizations who are quite possibly armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. This means that it is they who should be disarming, and not our only deterrent against them.
During the Cold War, it seemed that there was an effort on the part of the governments of the US and the USSR to frighten each others' populations, for the purpose of keeping up the political pressure on each other. But I don't think most rational people thought that there would be a nuclear holocaust. The great danger now is from those less than rational people who would kill everyone who does not share their bleak vision. The US and the former Soviet nations must now embark on an intensive global effort to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists, who respond to no deterrent. There is more danger now from nuclear weapons than there ever was before.
John, Anaheim, Ca, US
The news of an arms deal between the US and Russia is, admittedly, more symbolic than anything else. But should the two superpowers really go all the way through and abolish all of their nuclear weapons? If they did adopt this "moral" course of action wouldn't it mean leaving nukes in the hands of those "immoral" countries who would wish to retain or acquire them ? Therefore, Moscow and Washington would be leaving nuclear weapons in the hands of immoral powers- hardly a morally justifiable action.
This is a 'Mexican stand-off' folks. Don't expect both parties to 'drop their guns at the count of three'. Lowering your weapons slowly at the same time and slowly emptying your guns at the same time is the only way to go.
David Newman, Italy
The fact that the two superpowers are 'agreeing' to dismantle their aged ICBM and SSBM fleets which are reaching the end of their shelf lives is nothing to shout about. Especially as they are replaced with smaller numbers of more effective and sophisticated nuclear weapons - or at least they are on the American side. The financially drained Russian military cannot afford this. It will increasingly become a one horse race.
I also think the new era started some time ago and we are just noticing it. The threat to world peace is no longer a 1930s-style totalitarian monolith armed with nukes, as the Soviet Union was, but ideological fanatics driven to mass destruction in the name of their cause. In that context, thermonuclear devices are no deterrent, especially against enemies who value death as a gateway to paradise. The US and Russia have more in common than they have differences and the fact that they have fewer weapons pointed at each other should be a cause for genuine celebration. Of course the habitual moaners will still complain. Progress is about slow steps, not coups de theatre, especially in the realm of disarmament.
I'd like to know why they still need a couple of thousand nukes. It is my understanding that most nukes sit in silos targeted at the sea, but can very rapidly be re-tasked to point at a range of targets such as military installations, major cities, etc. I'm not quite sure what America would do with a couple of thousand nukes if it felt the need to deploy them - it's not like you can have a protracted nuclear war and there probably aren't that many targets that actually need a nuke to destroy them. A single UK Trident submarine can carry about 20 nuclear missiles and in my view that is more than enough. If we get to a situation where 20, let alone 2000 nuclear missiles isn't enough to achieve our objectives then we have quite clearly made a very grave error somewhere.
Chris Jones, UK makes an interesting point. Why does anyone still need 2000 nuclear missiles when 20 could destroy any country? Well, this was true in the past, but imagine if the other side had a missile shield which destroyed 99% of your missiles? This is why we had an ABM treaty and why it shouldn't be thrown away.
The Cold War is now over, but the unilateralism and militarism of the self-styled leaders of the 'free' world is causing tension all around the globe. Thankfully there will never be a rest-of-the-world vs America war, but if multilateral treaties are no longer worth the paper they're written on then I suggest that any deterrent to complete American domination should not be disposed of lightly.
Carl Warner, Pelham, Al, USA
The history of mankind is regrettably that of warfare. Survival of the fittest and all that. Faced with the certainty of a rouge state or terrorist outfit obtaining a nuclear weapon I wonder how many of you out there would accept as an absolute last resort a pre-emptive nuclear strike against that state or terrorist organisation. Let's reduce our arsenal by all means but let's keep enough weapons to maintain our deterrent.
This agreement highlights the true dangers to the world. Having reduced their offensive nuclear capability, both the US and Russia will maintain 1900 strategic warheads by 2012. This number of course does not include the tactical warhead which may be used in the battlefield. Of course neither of these two countries are signatory to any of the international conventions on chemical and biological weapons; nor on the use of land mines. The US alone has engaged in warfare against 23 countries since 1980 and with its belligerent tone I worry about all those people who will be killed by the weapons of mass destruction by these two countries.
The paranoia that ignited the cold war has shifted. Had this been 1985, the celebrations would be comparable to 1945. In 2002, it's too late and too irrelevant to challenge the emerging enemies of world peace.
How can anyone seriously believe that a simple reduction in nuclear weapons is ushering in a new era? As long as this weaponry exists, along with chemical and biological weapons the whole world is in danger. It doesn't matter who has these weapons, be it the US or Russia, the means to end all life on this planet will still exist. I'm also surprised that there's been no mention of the cost involved in the dismantling of missiles and the disposing of the nuclear materials. The reduction in the nuclear arsenal of these two countries merely means that there is slightly less of a threat to the world now than before.
I just read these comments and laugh. If the US didn't maintain its military strength most of the free world would not be free. Yes UK, the goose step would now be your national dance.
This makes very little difference. To use an analogy: If someone has a shotgun pointed at your head at point blank range, would you feel any less in danger if it was swapped for a pistol?
While they still keep enough to kill us all nothing changes.
Finally the superpowers have realised that they are better off as allies, uniting their resources against extremist terrorists such as Al-Qaeda... it's a good move on the part of USA and Russia and will make the world a safer place.
This shows exactly what is wrong with world politics, Russia and the USA can take their time unloading 60% of their vast nuclear warheads setting 10 years as a deadline, whilst Iraq has to remove theirs NOW (if they have any). The USA should be the first to remove any of these weapons because they remain the only country that has used it and the only country that is currently threatening to use it again.
Within Russia we can observe a deterioration of civil rights over the last years. Beside the totally inhumane warfare in Chechnya, regular citizens are sent to prison and actually to labour camps (yes they still exist) just because they publicly criticise decisions and actions of government authorities. The fact that the "Bush"-US and "Putin"-Russia get well along now is not really surprising. When we look at the human rights record of the US, we should not be surprised that these two governments and especially these two presidents, who both speak the same language, that of unmasked exercise of power, are getting well along.
The US has certainly tried to use this as a PR exercise - telling us how they are working towards a peaceful world etc. What they forgot to mention is that they still have the nuclear capability to destroy the world many times over. So when Bush says that the agreement will "will make the world more peaceful" - don't believe it.
That's a very good plan but I wonder that when they reduce their nuclear weapons will they again increase it in the coming few years or no? If yes, then that wouldn't be a useful contract, if no then that should be greatly welcomed. Will it also have an impact on the two super-powers to reduce helping other countries as America helped Pakistan in building nuclear weapon or that Russia is going to help Iran to build nuclear weapons for economic purposes?
As Robin Williams once said: "Talking about partial nuclear disarmament is a lot like talking about partial circumcision. Either go all the way or forget it!"
I think Britain should not scrap its nuclear arsenal for defensive reasons
I see this as a good thing in that there are less nuclear weapons in the world. I hope they dispose of these weapons in a sensible way and that they don't fall in to the wrong hands. Many warheads are now out of date so may become unusable.
Just as well the UK isn't involved. If the fridge fiasco here is a reliable yardstick we'd all have to hang on to our nuclear weapons for years, while the government fiddled around trying to understand the instructions for disposal as set out in the EU rule-book!
It's all gloss for the media. Behind the scenes, I bet it's a different story altogether
I cannot for a moment believe that a country like the US, which begins conflicts so easily, is willing to reduce its arsenal by any amount. The reduction in nuclear weapons is almost certainly balanced by the increase in other types of weaponry. Let's not forget the US's most recent defence budget. On the subject of nukes, perhaps our American friends have finally decided that it's not in their best interests to destroy themselves as well as everyone else in some form of future nuclear holocaust...
So the US and the Russians will be capable of destroying the world ten times over rather than twenty! Big deal. However, symbolically this is clearly a very significant move because the fact that these two great superpowers are entering a new era of friendship and agreement brings with it a new era of stability to the world that was lacking during the Cold War. These improved relations have existed for some time of course with cooperation over the International Space Station being a good example. The problem now however is the fact that a new threat has arisen with rogue states developing nuclear weapons and so perhaps the threat of nuclear conflict is as great as it ever was.
I think it is great that the two powers are reducing there nuclear stock piles. But, more importantly the treat of nuclear war from occurring one day is not diminished by this reduction!! There will also be states who want to develop such weapons of mass destruction.
This new agreement is a co-operative face saving exercise. Both sides have recognised that huge numbers of missiles are no longer fashionable for their domestic or foreign politics and both would dearly like to save the money. Instead of admitting that the huge arsenals were never required for practical purposes they dress it up as progress in a new relationship, which perhaps it is in an economically truthful kind of way.
Why bother signing anything with the USA these days? They just throw the agreement away when it suits them.
It sounds great - but it's a bad thing. Less nuclear weapons will fool world leaders into the belief that nuclear wars are "winnable". In the past, we were assured of destroying the world many times over. The lower that assurance gets, the more likely their usage becomes. With the US already contemplating using small nuclear munitions in place of conventional weapons for jobs like "bunker busting", I fear that spectre of nuclear war may have unwittingly been pulled closer by this announcement.
Much of these cuts are concessions to an ageing inventory of nukes. The cost of maintaining warheads is considerable. They deteriorate with time and need to be serviced. This is a technical, environmental and financial nightmare. Also, you ultimately don't need twelve thousand bombs to achieve any rational scenario.
Vineet Joshi, India
So we went from approximately 6000 weapons each to approximately 2000 each. Let us assume for a moment that I am holding a Browning HiPower pistol on you. It holds thirteen rounds in the magazine. Now let us assume that I remove nine rounds. I am now pointing a gun with four bullets at you. Do you feel any safer?
The importance of
this agreement for
global peace is difficult to overestimate. The USA
and Russia have more
than enough nuclear
warheads to destroy
the entire planet in
minutes and as an inhabitant of this planet and as a human being I can only welcome the reduction of this
deadly arsenal. However, we
should all remember
unless we learn to understand and respect each other
not only in words
and on paper the hope for any real
improvement in the relationship between
The US and Russia will remain frail.
Absolutely. With the signing of a new arms control to replace the 1972 ABM Treaty, one of the last remaining reminders of the Cold War era, I hope with all my heart that the world can embrace this new era, and not get stuck in the past. We must move on, but, at the same time, not forget the lessons learned from the Cold War.
It really is just an evolutionary step in my view. As Clive points out, the decommissioned warheads are to be put in storage. The future seems to lead to the development of directed energy weapons as well as low yield warheads designed to penetrate bunkers and other hardened targets. It is hard to imagine how such developments could be reassuring to adversaries in view of the coming ABM system. This enhanced first strike capacity could cause a "hair trigger" response from an intimidated opponent, they may feel it's a choice of "use them or lose them".
The cynical amongst us might be tempted to point out that from America's point of view 1700 Russian warheads are probably a lot easier to destroy with any American anti-missile system than 7000.
And let's not forget - America wants most of the decommissioned warheads put into storage in case they need them in the future - for what exactly? An asteroid?
The remaining 1700 warheads on either side are still more than enough to effectively end the human race and turn the planet into a radioactive dustbin. Unfortunately no one can "un-invent" nuclear weapons but if both sides were serious then they would reduce their arsenal to somewhere in the region of 20 warheads each - more than enough to deal with any "rogue" states.
This treaty is a front for other plans. The nuclear load will be dismantled because in truth it is not needed anymore. There are more effective ways of causing mass genocide, and mass murder. Nuclear weapons are now not the most important weapons in the war arsenals.
This Treaty is signed on paper which is not worth anything it is as symbolic as Chamberlain's piece of paper from Hitler and worth as much. The corporate bodies are behind this treaty there is no peace objective in the treaty at all
Mirek Kondracki, USA
US-Russia relations went into decline during the Clinton administration. This was a special brief given to VP Gore that he bungled it.
Bush is elected and does the unilateral things that conventional wisdom said doomed US standing on the world stage and yet US-Russian relations are closer than at any time since the Cold War ended. Perhaps conventional (European) wisdom is as incompetent as Al Gore.
Peter Grimes, Gerrards Cross, England
It is a great beginning. The Russian have a long and difficult road ahead of them. Americans are pleased and hopeful that the Russians succeed in their democratic reforms. For the first time in my lifetime, it looks like the two countries have more common interests than disagreements.
Even if for some reason every country on the face of the earth decided to make peace with every other country, there would still be those who would argue that we need nuclear weapons "just in case." It is heartening to see the old adversaries, Russia and the US, plan a coordinated arms reduction, but the fact of the matter is that with advanced technology, fewer nuclear weapons are required for the same ignoble tasks as before.
Chris L, UK
I think it's wonderful. Whether or not it will be a new era is irrelevant. I'm just glad the two countries have agreed to give it a go on reducing nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons need to GO!!
The new era between the US and Russia began a while ago. This agreement is more important in reducing the danger of decaying warheads, in saving money spent on maintaining the weapons and in reducing the threat of any of these warheads going 'missing' and falling into the wrong hands.
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