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Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty: SORT


Negotiated: 2002.
Signed: 24 May 2002 in Moscow.
Ratification: United States 6 March 2003; Russia 7 June 2003.
Entered into force: 7 June 2003.

History. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed in 1990 that another round of negotiations on strategic weapons, START II, would follow the conclusion of START I, signed in June 1991 {1.6.90}. In the autumn of 1991, Bush and Gorbachev agreed to set up two delegations to negotiate START II reductions. These groups met in November 1991. The breakup of the Soviet Union interrupted the negotiations {20.11.91}. At the end of January 1992, Yeltsin proposed a reduction to 2000-2500 warheads each, while Bush proposed a cut to 4700 each. A series of meetings between Secretary of State Baker and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kozyrev produced a “joint understanding” at the 16–18 June 1992 Bush-Yeltsin meeting in Washington. Russia agreed to eliminate all MIRVed ICBMs in return for US elimination of half of its SLBMs, a cut to 3000–3500 total warheads on each side, and an extension of the period for elimination to 2003 (or 2000 if the United States provided financial assistance to for dismantling and destruction).

The two sides expected to translate this understanding into a treaty in a few months. Russia, however, suggested some changes in the joint understanding and in START I provisions — changes that would have reduced the costs for Russia in moving to a smaller strategic nuclear force. Through the summer and autumn of 1992, the two sides negotiated on these changes. In December 1992, the USA made some concessions which let the two sides reach agreement on SS-18 silos, SS-19 downloading, and re-orienting bombers from nuclear to non-nuclear capabilities. On 3 January 1993, Bush and Yeltsin signed the START II Treaty in Moscow, agreeing to reduce the US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 3000–3500 strategic warheads. On 15 January, Bush sent the Treaty to the US Senate, and on 9 February Yeltsin sent it to the Russian Duma. Subsequent political difficulties delayed ratification in the United States until 1996 and in Russia until 2000, when the Duma’s approval made entry into force contingent on US ratification of several further protocols reached in 1997.

At a March 1997 Helsinki summit, presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to begin negotiating START III, with the goal of bringing each side down to 2000–2500 warheads by 31 December 2007. They also agreed that START III would contain measures on transparency of warhead inventories, the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads, and the permanence of START I and II. A Russian letter on early deactivation, signed with the other September 1997 START II documents, contained a unilateral statement that it expected START III to enter into force before January 2004 {26.9.97}. In September 1997, Russian Foreign Minister Primakov also said that Russia would like to discuss even lower caps than those specified at Helsinki. In December 1997, Yeltsin announced that Russia would reduce its nuclear arsenal by “another third.” According to Yeltsin’s press secretary, the announcement was a “possible proposal on START III.”

The announcement reportedly prompted preliminary consultations on START III. The United States set up an interagency review group tasked with determining its START III force posture. Options considered included removing four out of 24 missile tubes from Trident submarines and de-MIRVing SLBMs. In a report to Congress, the administration said that it was considering options for START III, but had made no decision {23.4.98}.

US-Russian bilateral talks on START III and the ABM treaty began in June 1999 and continued throughout the year without any concrete progress {20.6, 17-19.8, 8-9.9, 18.9, 21-22.10, 22.12}. The United States tried to persuade Russia to agree to a trade-off between more affordable cutbacks in arsenals under START III, which Russia wanted for financial reasons, and a modified ABM Treaty which would allow the United States to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD). Some Russian experts felt, however, that it might be better for Russia to pursue new MIRVed missiles and keep existing SS-18s — in violation of START II provisions — than to accept the US proposal {30.10, ACR 614cST3 10.99}. Given continuing disagreement over the ABM treaty and US NMD plans, the US Defense Department began to consider START III options that would permit limited Russian deployment of a new Topol-M ICBM with a MIRVed three-warhead configuration {21.1.99; 20.10.99}.

Russian offer. On 13 November 2000, President Putin announced that his earlier offer to go down to 1500 strategic warheads was not a final limit, and that his government was ready to consider even lower limits. He tied this offer to continued acceptance and observation of the ABM Treaty. Putin’s proposal comprised the following points:

    • Intensify the disarmament process;
    • Limit strategic nuclear arsenals to 1500 warheads by 2008;
    • Negotiate further reductions to begin after 2008;
    • Reinforce and build on the legal mechanisms of START I and II;
    • Ratify the 1997 START II and the ABM protocols in the US Senate;
    • Move “in parallel” to radically reduce nuclear munitions;
    • Strengthen and preserve the ABM Treaty;
    • Propose an alternative to NMD; and
    • Discuss the ABM Treaty in the Standing Consultative Commission.
On 2 July 2001, Putin repeated his offer for mutual cuts in US and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals down to 1500 warheads {2.7}.

In January 2003 the Russian State Duma revised a bill for the ratification of SORT, and approved it on 10 February. In March the US Senate also approved ratification of the treaty, although many senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, expressed reservations about the lack of details provided in SORT. On 14 May 2003, the State Duma ratified SORT by a 294-134 vote with 22 abstentions.

The Law on Ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty as amended by the State Duma includes several caveats: the Federal government must provide information and on work to deploy antiballistic missile systems in other states and on possible threats to Russian security if other countries undertake to put nuclear weapons in outer space.. The law also reserves the right of the State Duma and the Federation Council to take part in deciding the allocation of annual funds for research on and purchase of strategic armaments. In addition, the law specifies conditions for withdrawal from SORT— namely, if situations arise that threaten the “supreme interests of the Russian Federation,” such as a violation of the treaty by another party or the deployment of antiballistic missile systems by another state or group of states in a manner that could profoundly affect the capabilities of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. On 7 June President Putin signed the SORT ratification bill into law, bringing the treaty into force. {ACR 617bSRT03 14.5; 7.6}

In October 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that in the near future Russia would have arms capable of surmounting all current ABM systems. Putin noted that the new technology was not aimed at the USA, and that his country fully intended to comply with SORT obligations by 2012.
{ACR 617bSRT04 27.10}

US position. As a presidential candidate, George Bush declared his intention to affect deep cuts in the number of US nuclear warheads. On 1 May 2001, President Bush announced his willingness “to move quickly” to reduce the US nuclear arsenal to “the lowest possible number” {1.5.01}.

US-Russian differences over the future of the ABM Treaty and US missile defense plans dominated US-Russian talks for most of 2001. Several rounds of talks at various levels, including meetings at the presidential level, failed to resolve these differences. The Russian decision to accept the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in late 2001 (see ACR 603bABM01) finally cleared the way for the commencement of formal negotiations on a US-Russian agreement on strategic nuclear arms reductions.

At a 2001 summit meeting with President Putin, President Bush announced that the United States was willing to reduce its operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1700 and 2200 by 2012. President Bush expressed a preference for storing rather than destroying a significant number of the surplus warheads and for an arrangement well short of a formal arms control treaty. Russia insisted that the two sides destroy their surplus warheads and formalize the arrangement in a legally binding treaty. In December 2001, the USA and Russia agreed to begin talks on these issues in January 2002.

Negotiations in early 2002 focused on the Russian demands — destruction of surplus warheads and a formal, legally binding, treaty. The two sides eventually agreed to a legally binding treaty that did not provide for destruction of surplus warheads. In a marked departure from earlier strategic nuclear arms control agreements, the new treaty did not provide for elimination of any weapons, nor did it contain any verification mechanism. Presidents Bush and Putin signed the treaty in Moscow on 24 May 2002. The United States ratified the treaty on 6 March 2003, and President Bush welcomed the approval of SORT by stating that the treaty helped lay to rest the legacies of Cold War competition and suspicion. {ACR 617bST302 24.5; 617bSRT03 6.3.03}

In January-March 2004 the USA 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 a bilateral committee for the implementation of the treaty, this committee met only twice in 2004. The USA expressed concerns over how Russia intended to count its weapons reductions under the treaty because SORT did not have a verification clause. {ACR 617bSRT04 29.1; 12.2; 31.3}

Title. The formal title is above. Informally, the treaty has been called the Moscow Treaty or SORT. The Reporter informally refers to treaty as SORT.

Weapons. Unlike START I and II, SORT places a ceiling of 1700–2200 on the operationally deployed warheads of each side, not on total strategic warheads.

Reductions. The treaty does not stipulate a timeline for reductions. It provides for the limits on operationally deployed warheads to be reach by the end of 2012, which is also the deadline for the duration of the treaty.

Implementation. The newly created Bilateral Implementation Commission will meet at least twice a year.


The operative part of the treaty is as follows:

Article I
Each Party shall reduce and limit strategic nuclear warheads, as stated by the President of the United States of America on November 13, 2001 and as stated by the President of the Russian Federation on November 13, 2001 and December 13, 2001 respectively, so that by December 31, 2012 the aggregate number of such warheads does not exceed 1700-2200 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

Article II
The Parties agree that the START Treaty remains in force in accordance with its terms.

Article III
For purposes of implementing this Treaty, the Parties shall hold meetings at least twice a year of a Bilateral Implementation Commission.

Article IV
1. This Treaty shall be subject to ratification in accordance with the constitutional procedures of each Party. This Treaty shall enter into force on the date of the exchange of instruments of ratification.
2. This Treaty shall remain in force until December 31, 2012 and may be extended by agreement of the Parties or superseded earlier by a subsequent agreement.
3. Each Party, in exercising its national sovereignty, may withdraw from this Treaty upon three months written notice to the other Party.

Article V
This Treaty shall be registered pursuant to Article 102 of the Charter of the United Nations.


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