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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Wants to Store Warheads

The Pentagon said the United States plans to store, not destroy, warheads removed from missiles as it downsizes the country's nuclear arsenal under a pledge to Russia.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday responded by demanding that the arsenal cuts be "irreversible" and not just made on paper.

U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary J.D. Crouch said Wednesday that the United States will slash, as promised, two-thirds of its operationally deployed warheads within a decade. But it "will maintain the force structure and the warheads that we take off these systems as part of a responsive force," he told a news conference in Washington, according to news reports.

He was outlining the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review, a new U.S. security strategy for a post-Cold War era, as prepared for Congress.

Crouch said he could not say how many warheads would be stored.

"There have been no final decisions made at this point on what the size of our responsive capability would be," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush promised President Vladimir Putin in November that the United States would cut its warheads to 1,700 to 2,200.

Russia, which pledged to reduce its warheads from 6,000 to 1,500, is calling for a formal agreement on the arms cuts. Washington has voiced reluctance.

"Russian-American agreements on further reductions in nuclear arsenals should be, first, radical -- only 1,500 to 2,200 weapons; second, controllable; and third, irreversible, so that strategic offensive weapons aren't just reduced on paper," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said Thursday, The Associated Press reported.

Crouch indicated that the White House was still not interested in a treaty.

"We are trying to achieve these reductions without having to wait for Cold War arms-control treaties," he said.

Russian-American consultations on strategic offensive arms reductions are to take place in Washington next Tuesday and Wednesday, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said.

The issue of what to do with nuclear weapons removed from duty has dominated U.S.-Russian arms control talks since the 1970s. This week's statements signal that there will be tough bargaining ahead.

Crouch outlined some of the nuclear warhead cuts that would be made, including 500 from the 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, each of which carries 10 warheads; 800 from the 96 missiles carried on four Trident submarines that have been designated for decommissioning; and 1,000 from the removal of two warheads from each of 500 Minuteman III ICBMs.

But if the United States puts those warheads into reserve, the cuts will be rendered meaningless, analysts said.

"The cuts offered in the NPR are a mirage," said Ian Davis, director of the British American Security Information Council, a think tank in London. "The Pentagon isn't recommending genuine reductions at all. Placing nuclear weapons into storage allows the United States to sustain its current level of lethality, just in a different place."

That is bad news for Russia, which cannot afford to keep its nuclear weapons in active duty no matter what the United States ends up doing, said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.

"There is going to be an imbalance of power," Konovalov said. "Instead of having to manufacture new warheads, the U.S. will be able to deploy warheads from storage in a matter of weeks."

In defense of plans to store rather than destroy warheads, Crouch said that he assumed that Russia would do the same.

But that's unlikely because Russia lacks the cash to do so, Konovalov said.

Russia is unlikely to make much more of a fuss about the U.S. plan, said Sergei Markov, director of the Institute for Political Studies.

"Russia understands that its relationship with the U.S. is still in a transition period," he said. "It's more concerned about getting cooperation on broader security issues, like Russia's decision-making role in NATO."

Markov predicted that Russia will stay mum about other parts of the U.S. defense review, including its recommendation to reduce the time necessary to prepare its nuclear test sites, a first step toward resuming nuclear testing. It currently takes two years to prepare a site for nuclear testing.

The decisions outlined in the review are not necessarily final, Crouch said. "There's actually a lot of implementation that will have to be done. ... It's an ongoing process," he said.