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Russia

U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe: Move the Ball, Not the Goal Posts

Within the last decade, the United States has made several important adjustments to its plans for deploying missile defenses in Europe. In light of the ongoing implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and an objective assessment of Iran’s missile program, it is high time to make another one—suspending the deployment of more advanced Aegis missile defense interceptors to Poland. Defending Europe Against Iran In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced a four-part “European Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to deploying U.S. missile defenses in Europe against the emerging ballistic...

U.S.: Russian INF Treaty Breach Persists

For the third year in a row, the State Department declared Russia to be in violation of the arms control pact, despite Moscow’s continued denial. 

May 2016

By Kingston Reif

Russia remains in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty for the third year in a row, according to an annual State Department report released on April 11.

Nevertheless, one high-ranking State Department official expressed optimism that Russia and the United States could make progress this year toward resolving the issue. 

Reiterating the public assessment that it made in July 2014 and June 2015, the State Department said Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.

Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement. The Russian embassy in Washington said in a lengthy April 16 statement that the United States “does not provide objective facts or any other reliable arguments to reiterate these accusations.”

The statement also accused the United States of “preparing military response scenarios” to Russia’s alleged violation that could “have unpredictable consequences for Europe and the international community as a whole.”

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House armed services and foreign affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon is “developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions” and “committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.” (See ACT, January/February 2016.

As in the 2014 and 2015 reports, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

In March 17 testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she had seen “some progress in Russia’s willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty” and that the U.S. government is “looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

Gottemoeller did not elaborate on the reasons for her optimism.

Meanwhile, the compliance report also registered concerns about Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. The report said Russia “continues not to meet its treaty obligations to allow the effective observation of its entire territory.” In addition, the report said that Russia in 2015 refused to allow Ukraine to overfly its territory “unless Ukraine paid for each flight in advance.” This “could be the basis for a violation determination” by Ukraine, the report said. 

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits each of the agreement’s 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

Separate from the compliance concerns, some U.S. military officials and intelligence officials appear to be opposed to Russia’s request in February to end the use of older wet-film cameras on flights over the United States and instead use a more advanced digital optical sensor to collect data. 

Although the upgrade to digital equipment is allowed under the treaty, the concern is that the use of the more advanced cameras and sensors would greatly increase Russia’s ability to collect intelligence on critical military and civilian infrastructure. 

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee at a March 2 hearing that he has “great concern about the quality of the [digital] imagery” for intelligence collection purposes and “would love to deny the Russians…that capability.” 

The United States has yet to transition to the use of the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia, but plans to do so in the near future.

Gottemoeller told lawmakers at the March 17 hearing that she has “a somewhat different view of the utility of the treaty” than Stewart does. 

“I do want to stress that the Open Skies Treaty is an arms control treaty with a larger set of goals and purposes, among them confidence building, mutual confidence building,” she said. 

“It has a great value to our allies and to our partners,” such as Ukraine, Gottemoeller said, adding that Ukraine has “made great use of the treaty” during its ongoing confrontation with Russia.—KINGSTON REIF

Posted: April 27, 2016

Statement by Daryl G. Kimball on Challenges on Disarmament and Opportunities for Progress

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Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties...

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Political and Security Challenges on Disarmament
and Opportunities to Achieve Progress 

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Framework Forum Roundtable organized by the
Canadian Mission, the Middle Powers Initiative, and Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung 

Mission of the Government of Canada in Geneva, April 18, 2016

Under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), each of the parties, including the nuclear-weapon-state parties, “undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In its 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that the threat and use of nuclear weapons was generally illegal, but it could not decide whether this illegality applied “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.” Three judges dissented from that ruling, arguing that nuclear weapons were illegal in all circumstances. In its 1996 opinion, the ICJ also concluded unanimously that the disarmament obligation is not limited to NPT parties.

But today, and contrary to these legal obligations, progress on nuclear disarmament is at a standstill, and the risk of unbridled nuclear competition is growing.1

U.S. MX missile re-entry vehicles being tested at Kwajalein Atoll. Each line represents the potential explosive power of about 300 kilotons of TNT. All nine of the world's nuclear weapon states are replacing or upgrading their nuclear weapons strike capabilities. (Photo courtesy of Department of Defense.)As the delegations here at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Disarmament realize, there are still no legally-binding restrictions on the nuclear buildups of world’s four non-NPT nuclear-armed states, and are currently no active bilateral or multilateral negotiations to further regulate, cap, or reduce the stockpiles of any of the world’s five original nuclear-armed states.

Worse still, key treaties like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have not yet entered into force due to political divisions in Washington and inaction by seven other Annex 2 states, leaving the door to renewed nuclear weapons testing ajar twenty years after the Conference on Disarmament completed its negotiation and the treaty was opened for signature.

In addition to the tensions between key nuclear-armed states, the biggest challenge to the disarmament enterprise is the fact that all of the world’s nine nuclear-weapon states are, to varying degrees or another, devoting vast sums of money to modernize, upgrade, and in some cases expand the size and lethality of their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems.

As Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in in 20142, the numerical nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia may be over; but elsewhere, “a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Although there is abundant evidence that even a “limited” exchange of nuclear weapons would result in a catastrophic humanitarian catastrophe—and in the view of many would violate the principles contained in the Law of War and be contrary to widespread interpretations of International Humanitarian Law—each of the nuclear-armed states continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons for their security and maintain plans for the use of these weapons in a conflict.

U.S.-Russian Tensions

Undoubtedly, renewed tensions between Moscow and Washington are blocking progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States and Russia have a special responsibility to provide leadership to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons, but they are not doing so.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, the United States and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons—some 1,800 each—than necessary for nuclear deterrence purposes. As President Barack Obama correctly noted in a speech in 2012, “we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Yet progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. As President Obama recently acknowledged and the Russian [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] MFA confirmed, new negotiations on further nuclear disarmament beyond [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START are unlikely any time soon.

Russian leaders cite concerns about limited but unconstrained U.S. ballistic missile interceptors, NATO conventional military capabilities, and third-country nuclear arsenals, as reason for rejecting the June 2013 U.S. proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s strategic nuclear forces. But Russia has failed to put forward a counterproposal and has rejected U.S. offers to discuss the full range of strategic issues.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. U.S. and Russian officials say they are interested in discussing the issue, but the matter remains unresolved. So long as it does, the prospects for negotiation of a follow-on agreement to New START are low.

Making matters even worse, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its fiscal year 2017 budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons, including the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons are irrelevant to the protection of nervous NATO allies in the Baltics and elsewhere.

Obama and his successor, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that would put both countries at greater risk and block further nuclear reductions for many more years to come.

Other Nuclear-Armed States

Meanwhile, as the U.S. and Russian tensions and arsenals attract most international attention, China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems3 themselves and increasing the size of their warhead stockpiles or their capacity to produce material to make more weapons.

Although smaller in number, these arsenals are just as dangerous. Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use in a potential conflict with India by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats.

Pakistan’s stated concern about India’s larger fissile stocks has led it to block negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, even though the United States has recently opened the possibility of changing the mandate to address fissile stocks4.

For its part, India says it would support fissile cut-off talks, but it appears to be expanding its fissile material production capacity as the CD remains deadlocked.

Leaders in Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad profess support for nondiscriminatory approaches to disarmament and minimal deterrence, but their programs are moving in the opposite direction and there is little or no dialogue among them, and with others, on nuclear risk reduction options.

Chinese officials suggest they will not consider limits on their nuclear arsenal unless there are additional, deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons cuts.

Although North Korea may be under tighter and tighter international sanctions, its nuclear weapons and ballistic programs remain unconstrained. With further nuclear and ballistic missile tests, it will likely have missile-deliverable nuclear warheads.

Israel’s nuclear opacity and the inability of the Arab League to find a way to agree on an agenda acceptable to Israel for a meeting Middle East Nuclear WMD Free Zone Treaty has frozen discussion of practical measures to reduce nuclear and missile dangers in that region.

Another challenge is the relatively low-level of public and policy-maker awareness about the dangers of renewed nuclear competition and the consequences of nuclear weapons use is relatively low in the United States—and perhaps elsewhere.

While there is support among Democrats in Congress for efforts to further cut U.S. and Russian arsenals, there is strong skepticism among Republicans in Congress about any further nuclear reductions, and even though the U.S. Defense Department acknowledges that it cannot afford its costly, all-of-the-above plan to replace each component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal5, for the time being there is bipartisan support for most U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs.

Moving Forward

Obviously, these are very challenging conditions. These difficulties are reflected in the inability to achieve consensus here in Geneva at the CD and in the failure of the nuclear weapon states to meet key 2010 NPT Review Conference commitments and the inability of the states parties at the 2015 NPT Review Conference to agree on an updated action plan on disarmament.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the so-called “step-by-step approach” to disarmament, many non-nuclear-weapon states have tried to catalyze progress through the humanitarian consequences initiative. The effort has helped raise awareness once again about the unique destructive power of nuclear weapons and the dubious legal and moral basis for their possession and use.

But that initiative and the open-ended working group to discuss possible measures “to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons" has not yet produced a unified, realistic diplomatic proposal for halting nuclear competition or starting multilateral disarmament talks.

There is no substitute for serious dialogue, the political will and support to achieve results, and international and domestic pressure to achieve meaningful results.

Simply repeating calls for action are not sufficient. Creative, practical ideas are needed to overcome persistent obstacles and new challenges.

It does not appear to me that there is any one initiative that can overcome these broader systemic challenges that impede progress on disarmament.

Rather, it will likely take the pursuit of multiple, practical, and sometimes bold, initiatives on the part of responsible leaders and groups of states.

So, what options might states participating in the OEWG and the CD pursue to jumpstart progress? Allow me to briefly comment on a few that are in circulation here in Vienna and to offer a few others for your consideration.

  • A Ban Treaty
    At the February OEWG discussions some states and civil society campaigners suggested it is time to launch talks on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons possession and use. Such a ban is, in my view, eventually a necessary step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

    But if such a negotiation is launched and concluded, it would not help the nuclear weapon states meet their nuclear disarmament obligations and would not likely do much to change opinion, policies, dangerous nuclear use doctrines, or accelerate progress on the elimination of the nuclear arsenals in the nuclear-armed states.

    This is due in large part to the fact that the nuclear weapons states will simply ignore the process and the results. The key is to draw them in such a way that they are compelled or persuaded to shift their approach and accelerate action toward zero nuclear weapons.
  • Challenge Nuclear Weapons Use and Use Doctrines 
    Another, approach—which would help address the longstanding goal of assuring non-nuclear-weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons—would be to pursue the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument banning the use of nuclear weapons.

    Such an instrument would not, as some have suggested, legitimize the possession of nuclear weapons. Even if the nuclear-weapon states do not initially join in the negotiation or sign the instrument, the process itself and the final product could further delegitimize nuclear weapons, strengthen the legal norm against their use, and put pressure on nuclear-armed states to revise their nuclear doctrines.

    Another approach would be to press each of the nuclear-armed states to report, in detail, on the physical, environmental, and human impacts of their nuclear war plans, if these plans were to be carried out, and how they believe the use of hundreds of such weapons would be consistent with humanitarian law and the laws of war as some nuclear-armed states claim6.

    Such a process could force an examination of dangerous nuclear doctrines and focus public attention on the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons use.
  • UN Study on Effects of Possible Nuclear Exchanges Between Weapons States
    Part of the OEWG mandate is to make recommendations on “measures to increase awareness and understanding of the complexity of and interrelationship between the wide range of humanitarian consequences that would result from any nuclear detonation.”

    One important way to do so is to launch a UN study on the climate effects and related humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

    Tremendous advances in climate modeling and research on both the immediate effects and impacts on climate and agriculture from large-scale nuclear weapons use have been completed since the United Nations looked at the issue 25 years ago. It is time for an up-to-date UN study and report on these issues to inform current and future debate and decisions on global nuclear policy.
  • Disarmament Discussions in the CD or Through Another Forum
    Theoretically, the CD can be a forum for a dialogue on disarmament. The United Kingdom has put forward a useful, and wide-ranging proposal for a working group to discuss and identify effective measures on nuclear disarmament7. It would appear to be flexible enough to all states’ interests into account. If states do not burden this proposal with poison pill demands, it could help extend the conversations taking place at the OEWG and engage key nuclear-armed states. If launched, it would be vital for all states to bring forward detailed and considered proposals, not tired talking points.

    Another option would be to initiate a series of high-level summits approach to put the spotlight on the issue and spur new ideas. This would complement the ongoing P5 [China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States] dialogue on nuclear terms and concepts and the humanitarian impacts initiative.

    Leaders from a core group of states could invite their counterparts from a representative group of 20 to 30 nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states to join a one- or two-day summit on steps to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. The high-level meeting could be a starting point for ongoing, regular disarmament discussions at the expert and ministerial levels on the basis of a clear understanding of the devastating impacts of nuclear weapons use and an objective assessment of the security concerns of states.

    Borrowing a concept from the nuclear security summit process, all participants should be encouraged to bring “house gifts”—specific actions by states that would concretely diminish the threat of nuclear weapons use, freeze or reduce the number of nuclear weapons, reduce the role of nuclear weapons, bring into force key agreements such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, or make their nuclear programs more transparent.
  • UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Action to Reinforce the Test Ban Pending Entry Into Force
    The CTBT was concluded twenty years ago, yet entry into force is still many years away. It is essential that states that support the norm against nuclear testing support initiatives that raise the political and legal barriers for testing pending entry into force of the CTBT.

    Specifically, we urge you to actively support a non-binding UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure later this year that:
  1. Calls on all states to refrain from testing and calls upon those states that have not ratified the CTBT to do so at the earliest possible time;
  2. Declares that the conduct of a nuclear test explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT;
  3. Underscores the need for a continuous, real-time global nuclear test monitoring capability to detect, identify, and locate nuclear test explosions, and recognizes the vital contributions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, including the International Monitoring System and International Data Centre.

    In light of the North Korea’s ongoing nuclear testing, the central importance of the CTBT to the NPT and nonproliferation, and the ongoing efforts by several nuclear-armed states to improve their capabilities, the time is right to take this initiative. The place to begin discussing it is the upcoming June 13 high-level meeting in Vienna on the CTBT.
  • Call for Parallel U.S.-Russian Reductions Without a New Treaty
    In 2010, all of the nuclear-weapon states committed “to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament,” including “all types of nuclear weapons.”

    Further nuclear reductions need not wait for a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty. More states need to call upon the United States and Russia to accelerate the pace of reductions under New START to reach the agreed limits before the 2018 deadline and call on both states to continue to reduce force levels below the New START ceilings, to be verified with the treaty’s monitoring regime.
  • New START Follow-On Talks No Later Than 2017
    States can also call upon the leaders in Moscow and Washington to begin formal negotiations on a follow-on to New START, and on other relevant strategic weapons issues, no later than 2017.

    The aim should aim to cut each side’s strategic arsenals to fewer than 1,100 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, including any strategic-range conventional prompt-strike weapons. Such talks can and should explore a wider range of issues, including transparency and confidence-building steps on tactical nuclear weapons and joint understandings on missile defense capabilities and deployments8. Talks should begin soon and before New START expires in 2021 
  • Reinforce the INF Treaty and Pursue Nuclear-Armed Cruise Missile Limits
    To sustain progress on nuclear disarmament, it is essential to reinforce and expand the INF Treaty. States at the CD and elsewhere need to speak up and call upon the United States and Russia to immediately resolve compliance concerns.

    The United States and other like-minded states could also propose and initiate talks with other states in talks on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems. President Obama could spur progress in this area by cancelling plans for a costly new U.S. air-launched cruise missile, which would have new military capabilities and is destabilizing former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and others have proposed9.

    Such an initiative would allow the United States, Russia and other countries to forgo expensive modernization programs for such missiles, and in cooperation with other key states, head off dangerous cruise missile buildups around the globe.
  • Call On Other Nuclear-Armed States to Freeze Their Nuclear Buildups
    The world’s other nuclear-armed states must do their part too.

    In addition to urging the United States, China, and the other CTBT Annex 2 states to finally take the steps necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Russia and the world’s other nuclear-armed states should be called upon by all NPT states parties to freeze the overall size of their stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals. 

    A unified push for further U.S.-Russian arms cuts combined with a global nuclear weapons freeze by the other nuclear-armed states would help create the conditions for multilateral, verifiable nuclear disarmament and an eventual ban on nuclear weapons.

In the coming months and years, creative, bold approaches will be needed to overcome old and new obstacles to the long-running effort to eliminate the potential for nuclear catastrophe.


1. "Race for Latest Class of Nuclear Arms Threatens to Revive Cold War,” By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, The New York Times, April 16, 2016

2. “Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT?,” Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, May 2014.

3. “India’s Submarine Completes Tests,” Kelsey Davenport, Arms Control Today, April 2016

4. “U.S. Floats New Fissile Talks Formula, “ Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March 2016.

5. “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Spending Binge,” by Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, December 2015

6. The June 2013 Report on the Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy of the United States claims that: [t]he new guidance makes clear that all plans must be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly, plans will, for example, apply the principles of distinction and proportionality and seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects. The United States will not intentionally target civilian populations or civilian objects.”

7. Letter dated 19 February from the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Conference on Disarmament.

8. “Second Report of the Deep Cuts Commission: Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times,” published by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, April 2015.

9.“Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile” by Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association Issue Brief, October 19, 2015

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Posted: April 18, 2016

On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

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The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

###

The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: April 15, 2016

Russia Relies on “Satan” to Keep New START Data Exchange Numbers Up

The eleventh U.S.-Russian biannual data exchange under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) shows a mixed measure of progress toward keeping under the treaty’s February 2018 ceilings. Five of the six numbers are below or trending toward those ceilings. But Russia moved upward above the ceiling in operationally deployed warheads for the second consecutive time as the U.S. warhead count continued to fall. While disappointing in the signals it sends, the bump-up in Russia’s current warhead aggregate is neither militarily significant, nor necessarily indicative of an intent to...

Russia’s Absence Should Not Be Focal Point of Summit

Russia’s decision to boycott the fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington this week is concerning, but it should not distract from the important work of the summit process. Even with Russia absent from the table, progress can—and must—be made on enhancing nuclear security worldwide and preventing nuclear terrorism. While Moscow has not been an innovator for enhancing global nuclear security, as the largest possessor of weapons-usable materials its participation in the 2010 , 2012 , and 2014 summits was important. And as part of the process Russia has taken steps to enhance...

Back to the Nuclear Brink?

Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In the years after...

March 2016

By Daryl G. Kimball

Three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” In the years after, Russia and the United States began to wind down Cold War tensions and slash their nuclear arsenals. But today, the risks of nuclear brinkmanship and unbridled nuclear competition are on the rise once again.

Although the number of nuclear weapons is down from its Cold War peak, Russian and U.S. nuclear forces and postures still allow each country to launch more than 1,000 nuclear bombs within minutes if attacked. Each side depends on the restraint and good judgment of the other to avoid mutual annihilation.

Obama listens to Putin after their bilateral meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18, 2012, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Distrust is deep, and the list of grievances is growing. Although Russian and U.S. forces still far exceed nuclear deterrence requirements, progress on further nuclear cuts is on hold. Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing concerns about U.S. regional missile interceptors and third-country arsenals, has rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 proposal for a further one-third reduction in each side’s nuclear forces without so much as a counterproposal.

Complicating matters, Russia also has tested ground-based cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and stiff-armed U.S. efforts to resolve the issue. Both countries continue to pursue fiscally unsustainable, multibillion-dollar schemes to replace and upgrade each major component of their strategic nuclear forces.

Worse still, Putin’s illegal annexation and destabilization of parts of Ukraine in violation of its 1994 pledge to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons has put NATO members bordering Russia on edge. Unfortunately, the Ukraine crisis has halted most military-to-military contacts between East and West, making the increasingly frequent Russia-NATO close air encounters an even more dangerous potential flashpoint.

To date, the United States and Europe have responded to Putin’s meddling in Ukraine with targeted economic sanctions against Russia, plus additional conventional military training and support for allies and partners.

As Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander, told a Senate committee last year, “The security situation in Europe is less stable, but it’s not based on the nuclear piece” of the equation.

Over the past year, however, Russian officials have begun to highlight their nuclear forces as a deterrent against what they see as increasingly threatening U.S. and NATO conventional military capabilities. Late last year, Russia “leaked” plans for a new nuclear-armed underwater torpedo, implying it is eyeing new types of nuclear weapons.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg cautioned, “No one should think it is possible to use nuclear weapons in a limited way as part of a conventional conflict.” He is right.

Now, in a troubling shift of rhetoric, the Defense Department has unwisely begun to frame its unaffordable, all-of-the-above plan for replacing and upgrading U.S. strategic bombers, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land- and sea-based strategic nuclear forces as part of its strategy to “counter Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe,” according its latest budget request.

In reality, U.S. nuclear weapons do nothing to address Russia’s actions in Ukraine or protect nervous NATO allies in the Baltics. This new Pentagon talking point only provides the Kremlin with a cynical excuse to accelerate its plans to improve Russia’s nuclear forces.

It makes no sense for either side to pursue a multidecade nuclear weapons spending binge that would perpetuate excessive force levels and Cold War-era nuclear war-fighting capabilities for generations to come.               

Obama and his successor, along with Putin, have a responsibility to pull back from a nuclear action-reaction cycle that puts both countries at greater risk.

To start, the two presidents should issue a joint statement reaffirming their understanding that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and that as long as each side has nuclear weapons, strategic stability will remain central to their bilateral relations.

They should immediately resume active discussions on new, creative proposals to reduce the size and enormous cost of their excess strategic and tactical nuclear stockpiles and to resolve disagreements about missile defenses and INF Treaty compliance.

For instance, Obama could order a halt of the program to develop a new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile, phase out the missile it is replacing, and pursue with Russia and other states a ban on nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Such systems are for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence. As former Defense Secretary William Perry has argued, “[T]he old Cold War requirement for such a capability no longer exists.”

To avoid miscalculation in a crisis, U.S. and NATO officials should resume regular communications with their military and intelligence counterparts in Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council. Dialogue is essential for security and should not be denied to show displeasure with Russian behavior.

Leaders in Moscow and Washington need to walk back from a new era of nuclear one-upmanship, or else the world will face even greater dangers in the months and years ahead. 

Posted: March 1, 2016

INF Treaty Impasse: Time for Russian Action

If Russia does nothing to address U.S. concerns about Moscow’s compliance with the [INF] Treaty, the current dispute over the treaty could lead to a dangerous action-reaction cycle. 

January/February 2016

By Richard W. Fieldhouse

Eileen Malloy, head of the arms control implementation unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, attends a ceremony marking the destruction of Soviet missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at the Saryozek site in Kazakhstan on May 11, 1990. (Photo credit: American Foreign Service Association)The U.S. government has determined that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). So far, the Russian government has simply denied any violation and refused to engage the United States in constructive discussions on the issue.

Moscow has made counteraccusations that the United States insists are intended to divert or deflect attention from Russia’s own violation.1 Despite repeated U.S. efforts to discuss and resolve its concerns with senior Russian officials, there are no signs of progress.

The Obama administration has been developing a response to the violation over the last year, but Congress is pressing for stronger action. With the upcoming presidential election and the pressure from Congress for a forceful, near-term response, the political circumstances in the United States could push the dispute in a direction that makes it more dangerous for both sides, as well as for U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. To avoid such a mutually undesirable outcome, Russia should use the remaining period of the Obama administration to work toward a constructive resolution of this serious problem.

Without visible progress toward a resolution, it seems likely that any future U.S. president, particularly a Republican president, will feel a need to take additional steps to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation. Such moves could increase the risk of a nuclear confrontation of a type that has not been seen since the Cold War ended.

Fortunately, there is nothing inevitable about a deterioration in nuclear security and stability. These are matters that will be decided by the governments.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States each deployed hundreds of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe that the other side saw as an unacceptable security threat. Eventually, that confrontation led the two governments to conclude the INF Treaty.

The potential consequences of the current standoff could include the termination of the INF Treaty or an action-reaction cycle of military deployments that increases the threat of nuclear confrontation and instability. Given these possibilities, it is important to examine the key elements of this dispute to understand why it would likely grow worse over time and to begin considering how both sides might approach resolution to avoid a return to increased nuclear confrontation and insecurity.

The INF Treaty Violation

The July 2014 arms control compliance report by the Department of State contained the first public exposition of the U.S. assessment of Russia’s actions. The report stated that “[t]he United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km [kilometers] to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”2 In its compliance analysis section, the report enumerates each provision of the INF Treaty relevant to the determination of the violation.

The June 2015 compliance report, which reaffirmed the previous determination, included an additional detail: “The United States determined the cruise missile developed by the Russian Federation meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty.”3 To avoid any ambiguity or disputes about potential differences such as range, capability, or purpose within a prohibited type of missile or its launcher, the INF Treaty says that if any type of missile or launcher meets the definition of a prohibited item, then all such items, regardless of any potential variations or differences, “shall be considered to be” that type of prohibited item, even if they have not been demonstrated or tested for that purpose, and thus must be eliminated.4

The report also stated that “[t]he United States noted concerns about the Russian Federation’s compliance with the INF Treaty in earlier, classified versions” of the compliance report.

Since the details of the violation remain classified, there has been some public uncertainty and speculation about which of several conceivable missile systems constitutes the violation. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has commented publicly to dispel some of the confusion and clarify the nature of the violation. In an interview in June 2015, she said, “At issue is a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500-5,500 kilometers. We are confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”5 In a September 2015 interview, she elaborated that she was “talking about a missile that has been flight-tested as a ground-launched cruise-missile system to these ranges that are banned under this treaty.”6 Around the same time, Anita Friedt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear and strategic policy, said Russia had tested the “state-of-the-art” missile “at ranges capable of threatening most of [the] European continent and our allies in Northeast Asia.”7

On December 1, 2015, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade held a joint hearing on the violation and the administration’s response. The two Obama administration witnesses, Gottemoeller and Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, provided the most definitive description to date of the violation and of the U.S. response.

According to McKeon’s testimony, there “has been some speculation about what missile the United States is referring to and whether we have mistaken its testing for a treaty-compliant sea-based cruise missile.” The INF Treaty prohibits intermediate-range GLCMs but does not limit intermediate-range sea-launched cruise missiles or air-launched cruise missiles, which Russia and the United States each possess.

According to McKeon, “The evidence is conclusive. Russia has tested this ground-based system well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty. We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.”8

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller testified that, in discussions with Russian officials, the United States “made very clear that this is not a technicality, a one-off event, or a case of mistaken identity, but a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.”

Administration Response

The Obama administration’s planned response to the Russian violation of the INF Treaty has evolved over the last year. This is most clearly seen in the differences between congressional testimony of administration witnesses in 2014, the first year the administration made public its determination of Russia’s violation, and their testimony a year later at the hearing described above.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, shown above in an April 2015 photo, said at a congressional hearing on December 1, 2015, that Russia is committing “a serious…violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.” (Photo credit: CTBTO)At the December 10, 2014, hearing, which was a joint hearing of the same House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services subcommittees, the administration witnesses stated they had two objectives: first, to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty and keep the treaty in force, and second, to ensure that Russia does not gain any significant military advantage from its violation. Gottemoeller testified that because Russia “has been unwilling to acknowledge its violation or address our concerns,” the administration was “reviewing a series of diplomatic, economic, and military measures” to pursue these objectives.9

At the same hearing, McKeon said the United States has been having discussions with Russia on the subject since early 2013. He said he and his colleagues “have conveyed to Russian officials we expect the Russian Federation to cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” He reported that Russia has not provided any information or acknowledged “the existence of such a noncompliant cruise missile.”

He went on to explain that the U.S. Joint Staff had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy an INF Treaty-range ground-launched cruise missile in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment also led the administration “to review a broad range of military response options and consider the effect each option could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system.”

Later in the hearing, McKeon explained that the military response options “fall into three broad categories: Active defenses to counter intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles; counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks; and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” He acknowledged that the administration was looking at “a broad range of options, some of which would be compliant with the INF Treaty, some of which would not be.”

It is noteworthy that the administration is reviewing some options that would not comply with the INF Treaty. Because the administration’s policy is to comply strictly with the INF Treaty and preserve the pact’s viability by bringing Russia back into compliance, the noncompliant options are presumably part of a contingency planning process in the event that Russia does not return to compliance or the treaty is no longer in force and the United States seeks to counter the Russian violation.

Although McKeon’s list of possible responses was focused on Russia’s INF Treaty violation, he indicated that the administration was seeking to develop a comprehensive policy toward Russia regarding the numerous security concerns posed by Russian actions in areas beyond that violation, including Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

At the December 2015 hearing, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said of the alleged Russian violation, “We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.” (Photo credit: U.S. House Armed Services Committee Webcast)One year later, in his statement for the recent hearing, McKeon explained that the administration had broadened its response beyond the concerns about the INF Treaty violation: “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.… Accordingly, we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”10 It is worth noting that Gottemoeller testified at the same hearing that Russia had begun testing the cruise missile in 2008, but the United States did not determine until late 2011 that it was a GLCM and thus prohibited by the INF Treaty. That indicates that Russia began its noncompliant behavior years before the current challenges McKeon discussed.

McKeon said the substantially broader response, current and planned, includes a number of features to improve the defense of Europe. Such a response, he testified, could serve the purpose of denying Russia a significant military advantage from its violation. He added, “[W]e are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.” In terms of the effect of the broader response on changing Russia’s behavior, including returning to compliance with the treaty, he said that Moscow “will see these activities and they will see them in our budget, and they will start to understand, we believe, that this response is not making them any more secure.”

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller summarized the security risk to Russia if it fails to come back into compliance: “We continue to remind Russia why it signed this treaty in the first place, and why Russia’s continued violation would only lead to a needless and costly action-reaction cycle to the detriment of Russia’s security.”

The significantly expanded Obama administration response will likely become the baseline U.S. response. If a future president wants to indicate increased frustration or resolve, he or she probably will feel a need to take action that goes beyond this baseline, such as developing one or more of the three categories of systems to counter the Russian INF Treaty violation. If there has been no progress toward resolution at that time, such stronger action will likely appear to be politically necessary, particularly if the president is a Republican. In the shorter term, Congress is likely to continue pushing for stronger action on the INF Treaty during the upcoming campaign year.

Congressional Action

As the two joint House hearings indicate, Congress has been heavily involved in this issue. At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said there had been some 60 briefings, hearings, and meetings with Congress on the subject.

Of course, the most important measure of the input of Congress on any issue is the legislation it enacts. In 2014, the year the United States made public its determination of Russia’s INF Treaty violation, Congress enacted two provisions on that subject in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.

Section 1651 of that act requires the secretary of defense to report to Congress on the “steps being taken or planned to be taken” to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation, including “research, development, testing, or deployment” of future U.S. military capabilities “to deter or defend against the threat of intermediate-range nuclear force systems of Russia if Russia deploys such systems.”11

Section 1244 of the act requires a comprehensive report on Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty, including a description of the president’s plan to resolve noncompliance issues, and requires prompt notification to Congress if the president determines Russia “has deployed or intends to deploy systems that violate the INF Treaty,” including “any plans to respond to such deployments.”

In November 2015, Congress approved the defense authorization act for fiscal year 2016, which contains a far-reaching provision responding to Russia’s continuing noncompliance with the INF Treaty. The more forward-leaning language in part reflects the increased influence of congressional Republicans, who gained control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections. (They have held the majority in the House of Representatives since 2010.)

Section 1243 of the act requires the defense secretary to submit to Congress a plan to develop “[c]ounterforce capabilities to prevent” attacks from intermediate-range missiles covered by the INF Treaty “whether or not such [counterforce] capabilities are in compliance with the INF Treaty”; “[c]ountervailing strike capabilities to enhance the forces of the United States or allies,” again “whether or not such capabilities are in compliance”; and “[a]ctive defenses” to defend against intermediate-range GLCM attacks.

Although these are the same three categories of potential military responses that McKeon described as being under review in his testimony at the December 2014 hearing, the Obama administration has not pursued a plan to develop these capabilities, let alone begun to develop them.

Section 1243 also directs the defense secretary, if Russia has not begun to return to compliance, to develop any of those specified capabilities if they are recommended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with priority on those “capabilities that the Chairman determines could be fielded in two years.” (It is possible that the chairman would not make any such recommendation, in which case development would not be required.) Finally, the provision requires the administration to report to Congress on “potential deployment locations” of the military capabilities “in East Asia and Eastern Europe, including any basing agreements that may be required to facilitate such deployments.”

This provision of law pushes well beyond what the Obama administration is planning, even with its expanded response strategy. As the joint House hearings indicated, if there is no sign of progress on this issue when Congress prepares its legislation next year, it is likely that lawmakers will press for even stronger action. The provisions on the INF Treaty will inform the policies of the next president and could form the basis for additional future U.S. actions.

Russia’s Reaction

According to senior Obama administration officials, Russia’s reaction to the INF Treaty dispute has essentially been twofold. First, it has denied violating the treaty. As Gottemoeller said at the December 2015 hearing, Russia “claims that it is in full compliance with the treaty,” and it “asserts its commitment to continue, for the present time, to stay in the INF Treaty.”

Second, the Russian government has accused the United States of violating the INF Treaty with respect to three types of military systems: ballistic missile defense target missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Mk-41 launcher planned for the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Europe, which Russia claims is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles. The INF Treaty prohibits such a capability.

At the December 2014 hearing, McKeon said, “All of Russia’s claims, past and present, are categorically unfounded. The United States has been and remains in compliance with all of its obligations under the INF Treaty. These Russian claims are meant to divert attention from its own violation. We fully addressed each of Russia’s concerns during the September 11[, 2014,] meetings in Moscow, and provided the Russian side with detailed explanations and Treaty-based explanations as to how U.S. actions are compliant with our obligations under the Treaty.”

At the same hearing, McKeon explained why these U.S. systems are in compliance with the treaty. The first two systems—missile defense target missiles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles—are clearly permitted by the terms and definitions of the INF Treaty. The one issue that is not so obvious is the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher because it appears similar to the ship-based Mk-41 launcher, which can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. If the Aegis Ashore launcher had the same capability as the ship-based version, it would be capable of launching intermediate-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from land, which is prohibited by the INF Treaty. According to McKeon, “The Aegis Ashore Vertical Launching System is not the same launcher as the sea-based Mk-41 Vertical Launching System, although it utilizes some of the same structural components as the sea-based system. Equally important, the Aegis Ashore system is only capable of launching defensive interceptor missiles, such as the [Standard Missile]-3. It is incapable of launching cruise missiles.”

Any Chance for Resolution?

The Aegis Ashore weapons system launches an SM-3 Block IB guided missile from the land-based Vertical Launching System during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency and Navy test from Kauai, Hawaii, on May 20, 2014. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)So far, there has been no progress toward resolving any of the U.S. concerns about Russia’s noncompliance with the INF Treaty and, according to Gottemoeller, no sign of willingness by Russia to try.12 Under the current circumstances, with so many areas of disagreement between Russia and the United States, it is difficult to imagine a constructive way forward. Yet if this controversy is to be resolved, it is important to begin considering what a mutually agreeable resolution might look like.

To start, Russia would have to be willing to have discussions with the United States to acknowledge and address the U.S. concerns. To resolve those concerns, it would likely have to acknowledge in some way that it has taken actions inconsistent with treaty and must be willing to take the significant steps to convince the United States it has come back into compliance.

The INF Treaty created a Special Verification Commission as a forum to discuss and resolve implementation and compliance issues and to consider additional steps to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty, which it did successfully. Although the commission is now a multilateral body that includes the former Soviet states that are parties to the INF Treaty, it is the logical forum for Russia and the United States to confidentially discuss and resolve the U.S. compliance concerns.

It is not clear what specific steps would be necessary to resolve this case. In an earlier compliance case, the United States accused the Soviet Union of violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by building a noncompliant radar at Krasnoyarsk. As McKeon noted at the December 2015 hearing, resolution took some seven years. The Soviet Union eventually acknowledged that the radar was noncompliant and dismantled it. Because Russia has not acknowledged any action in violation of the INF Treaty, resolution would presumably take a different path.

Although it is not possible to “untest” the cruise missile system or eliminate the testing knowledge, it would be essential to preclude its deployment, which is a threshold issue, and meet the U.S. standard enunciated by McKeon, namely to “cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” Doing so would require significant transparency and confidence-building steps, including on-site inspections. That was the standard created under the INF Treaty and enshrined in the current New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Given Russian assertions that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher system would violate the treaty and Russia’s long-standing and often-stated anxiety about the Aegis Ashore missile defense system as a threat to Russian strategic deterrent capabilities, it is likely that Russia would seek some degree of transparency and confidence that the system cannot launch cruise missiles.

Although this idea may currently appear politically implausible to the United States and NATO, it is important to remember that the George W. Bush administration proposed to Russia a number of robust transparency measures on European missile defense to assure the Russians that it posed no threat to them. These steps included confidence- and security-building measures such as the presence of Russian military officials at NATO missile defense facilities and cooperation on joint missile defense centers. If it were a necessary step to help bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty, NATO might agree to a transparency process by which the United States demonstrated that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore system cannot launch cruise missiles and is compliant with the INF Treaty. Such a process might include provision of information about how the Aegis Ashore system differs from the ship-based launcher and tours of the facilities to demonstrate its compliance. An arrangement of this type would require the consent of Poland and Romania, the countries on whose territory the planned Aegis Ashore sites would be located.

In light of the seemingly intractable INF Treaty impasse, the obvious question is how Russia would react to such a resolution idea. The answer depends, at least in part, on whether it sees the INF Treaty as remaining in its continuing security interest, as it says it does, and if it perceives that the U.S. response would diminish its security. If so, then it should be willing to resolve U.S. concerns. If not, Russia may hope the United States will withdraw from the treaty, as the United States did from the ABM Treaty, or take some step that is explicitly inconsistent with the treaty, thus giving Russia an opportunity to free itself of INF Treaty constraints without admitting to a violation. Some Russian officials have raised doubts about the continuing value of the treaty, noting that it limits only Russia and the United States. They have suggested that the treaty should be made multilateral to place similar limits on other countries with intermediate-range missiles. Because those countries are not interested in giving up their missiles, this idea seemed intended to undermine the treaty.

For its part, the United States should pursue actions that will increase the likelihood of Russia returning to compliance with the treaty. In the first instance, that means that Washington should remain in strict compliance with its obligations to the INF Treaty. Additionally, the United States, including Congress, should not take actions that would effectively preclude the option of Russia coming back into compliance, including moving toward withdrawal from the treaty, as long as there is a possibility for resolution. Finally, the United States should continue pressing its case with Russia for resolution.

If Russia does not engage in serious discussions with the United States to resolve its INF Treaty concerns, the results could look like a replay of scenes from the Cold War. McKeon acknowledged this at the December 2014 hearing: “We do not want to find ourselves engaged in an escalatory action/reaction cycle as a result of Russia’s decision to possess INF Treaty-prohibited weapons. However, Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security along with those of its allies and partners. Those actions will make Russia less secure.” At the same hearing, Gottemoeller said she had told her Russian counterparts, “[W]e do not want to go down the road of putting in place the kind of countermeasures that would…raise the kinds of threats that existed in Europe back at the time that [the] INF [Treaty] was first agreed.” After decades of Cold War nuclear confrontation and danger, the Soviet Union and the United States finally learned how to reverse the process and improve mutual stability and security. The INF Treaty was a central accomplishment in that effort.

It would be a historic failure if Russia and the United States forgot those lessons and could not preserve the security benefits of the INF Treaty. To avoid such an outcome, Russia should begin immediately to work constructively with the United States to resolve the U.S. concerns. Waiting will only make matters worse.

ENDNOTES

1.  This article assumes that Russia has taken the actions cited by the U.S. government in violation of Russia’s obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The U.S. government process for assessing and reporting noncompliance with arms control treaties is a comprehensive and exhaustive one, and determinations of violations are made only after a thorough review of the evidence provides high confidence in the assessment. As required by Section 403 of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, the process involves the coordinated input of all relevant executive branch agencies and components. For the requirements for the annual compliance review and report, see http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title22-section2593a&num=0&edition=prelim.

2.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2014, p. 8, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/230108.pdf.

3.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” June 5, 2015, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/rpt/2015/243224.htm.

4.   INF Treaty, art. VII.

5.  “Rose Gottemoeller: We Don’t Want to See Action-Reaction Cycle Like We Saw During the Cold War,” Interfax, June 23, 2015, http://www.interfax.com/interview.asp?id=600960.

6.  Mike Eckel, “Impasse Over U.S.-Russia Nuclear Treaty Hardens As Washington Threatens ‘Countermeasures,’” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 16, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-nuclear-treaty-us-threatens-countermeasures/27250064.html.

7.  Anita Friedt, “A Full Spectrum Approach to Achieving the Peace and Security of a World Without Nuclear Weapons” (remarks at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Tiergarten Conference, Berlin, September 10, 2015), http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/2015/246943.htm.

8.  C-SPAN, “U.S.-Russia Arms Treaty,” December 1, 2015, http://www.c-span.org/video/?401252-1/hearing-russian-arms-control.

9.  Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administration’s Responses: Joint Hearing Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, 113th Cong. (2014).

10.  Brian P. McKeon, Statement Before the Joint Hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, December 1, 2015, p. 2, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20151201/104226/HHRG-114-FA18-Wstate-McKeonB-20151201.pdf.

11.  Carl Levin and Howard “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, Pub. L. No. 113-291, 128 Stat. 3292 (2014), sec. 1244, 1651, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-113publ291/pdf/PLAW-113publ291.pdf.

12.  At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said that if the United States had “some inkling” that Russia were willing to acknowledge and try to resolve U.S. concerns, the United States would convene a meeting to do so. She and McKeon repeatedly said there is no such interest from Moscow.


Richard W. Fieldhouse is president of Insight Strategies, LLC, an independent consulting company. From 1996 to 2015, he served as a professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. He was on the personal staff of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) from 1991 until 1996.

Posted: January 14, 2016

Russia Still Needs Arms Control

Prospects for U.S.-Russian arms control currently seem bleak. But if Russia hopes to achieve its aim of being a great power or at least being perceived...

January/February 2016

By Heather Williams

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right), accompanied by his adviser Sergey Ivanov (center) and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, walks after delivering his annual state-of-the-nation address at the Kremlin on December 3, 2015. (Photo credit: Dmitry Astakhov/AFP/Getty Images)These are dark days for strategic arms control. Events in Ukraine have brought U.S.-Russian relations to a post-Cold War low point, and Russia increasingly relies on its nuclear arsenal for signaling and prestige. Yet, if Russia hopes to achieve its aim of being a great power or at least being perceived and treated as one, arms control is a status symbol and cost savings mechanism that it cannot afford to waste.

Perhaps Leon Trotsky would direct one of his vitriolic outbursts at today’s supporters of arms control: “You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”1 Russia appears to be on the verge of sending arms control to the dustbin of history given its reliance on nuclear weapons. After years of modernization and investment, there now appears to be little incentive for Russia to limit its arsenal.

Russia’s “nuclear sabre-rattling”2 certainly suggests it is no longer interested in engagement with the West. It insists further arms control is not possible unless any future agreement incorporates missile defense and long-range precision conventional weapons or is expanded to include other nuclear possessor states. In a June 21, 2015, interview with the Financial Times, Sergey Ivanov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, observed, “To be frank, there are practically no channels for interaction left” with the United States.3 Russia went so far as to threaten suspending verification of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in response to Western sanctions,4 and talks on a New START follow-on agreement and on missile defense collapsed in 2012.5

From the U.S. perspective, alleged Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty undermine trust between the two countries. From the Russian perspective, there is no political expediency to arms control at present. Moscow’s interests lie elsewhere, and any overtures at dialogue would undermine its desired impression of standing up to the West and promoting a more multipolar world. Arms control is dead and no longer a priority for Russia. At least, that is the dominant narrative.

There is an alternative story line, namely that Russia needs arms control more than the United States. Verification under New START expires in 2021, with a possible five-year extension. At that time, Russia will face the prospect of losing insight into the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the symbolic value of a treaty legally binding it to parity with the United States, and a venue for it to showcase its nuclear weapons and portray itself as a great power. This narrative is far less prominent, but leads to a more useful approach of examining the arms control landscape two, five, and 10 years from now. From this perspective, it is not only conceivable but actually quite likely that well before New START verification expires, Russia will be more open to further arms control.

Stutter Steps in Arms Control

Arms control has never been easy, but today, many claim it truly is on its last legs. In his classic 1961 treatise on the subject, international relations scholar Hedley Bull defined arms control as “restraint internationally exercised upon armaments policy, whether in respect of the level of armaments, their character, or deployment of use.”6 Above all, arms control is a management and confidence-building tool. It does not always seek to reduce the size of arsenals but rather to reduce risks by promoting transparency and dialogue about existing weapons.

Past instances of U.S.-Russian arms control were inspired by various factors that changed the strategic balance. In the case of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, technological developments in delivery vehicles and defensive measures, namely missile defense, brought Americans and Soviets to the negotiating table. Oversized arsenals and costly excesses in defense procurement were among the shifts that inspired the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). A change in bilateral relations and the geopolitical climate resulted in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. Other examples include the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which had intrusive inspections that laid the groundwork for the 1991 START, and the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, which were at first unilateral steps taken by Washington and shortly thereafter reciprocated by Moscow with no formal verification measures.

The most recent example of U.S.-Russian arms control is New START, which requires Russia and the United States each to reduce their forces to 1,550 operationally deployed strategic weapons, 700 delivery vehicles, and 800 launchers by 2018. Yet, New START was a harbinger of challenges to come. Negotiations nearly broke down on numerous occasions over Russian insistence that meaningful limits on missile defense be included. The eventual compromise included vague language in the treaty’s preamble recognizing the interrelationship between strategic offense and defense. An additional challenge came from the U.S. Senate, where some Republicans expressed skepticism about arms control and its post-Cold War utility. In some cases, the skepticism appeared to be genuine, but in others, it appeared to be part of an attempt to make arms control a political football in the bitter partisan wars of 2010.

Russian behavior also suggests the beginnings of an arms control death spiral. First, Russian hardliners are questioning their country’s participation in New START, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).7 Second, defense was the only sector excluded from recent, across-the-board 10 percent cuts in the Russian federal budget. Finally, Russian nuclear saber-rattling, such as threats to deploy nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad and Crimea, demonstrates Russia’s continued reliance on nuclear weapons as part of a hybrid warfare strategy that draws on conventional and nonconventional capabilities.8 Within its hybrid strategy, nuclear weapons also serve a symbolic function. As Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution recently observed, “The Kremlin seeks to project the image of a Russian superpower; its oversized nuclear arsenal provides the sole basis for its claim to such status.”9

From the Russian perspective, any decline in arms control is primarily the fault of the United States. In a presentation at the 2015 NPT Review Conference, the PIR Center, an independent Russian think tank, outlined and analyzed this perspective: missile defense remains the most sensitive issue in further bilateral strategic arms control, and the United States has consistently insisted that its plans for missile defense in Europe are directed at threats from the southeast, namely Iran, rather than at Russia. Despite the recent nuclear agreement with Iran, however, the United States has shown no inclination to roll back these plans. Missile defense is not the only factor jeopardizing strategic stability as the United States also continues to develop advanced conventional weapons. Russia is following suit in modernizing its nuclear and conventional arsenals but purely to catch up. Moreover, although Russia may be questioning its participation in some arms control agreements, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, has not ratified the CTBT, and remains opposed to the Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat of Force Against Outer Space Objects.10

Russian reliance on nuclear weapons and current skepticism of arms control, by this logic, are based on decisions made in Washington rather than in Moscow. According to Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s senior arms control negotiator, “While the U.S. continues to strengthen its national security methods, which reduce the level of Russia’s national security, to speak of future nuclear disarmament is hardly possible.”11 So why does Russia need arms control?

The Need for Arms Control

Russia needs arms control over the long term to promote strategic stability, thereby decreasing its need for more weapons, and to reduce military investments. More importantly, Russia needs arms control in the short term to feed its great-power narrative, which is a crucial domestic political tool and a foundation of Putin’s leadership. As paradoxical as it may seem, reducing weapons has the potential to increase Russia’s credibility as an international leader and make it more secure in at least three ways.

Prestige. Putin’s great-power message relies on parity with other great powers and a sense of continuity from previous Russian and Soviet empires. This message is directed at domestic and international audiences. At the domestic level, according to a recent poll by the Levada Center, Putin’s greatest overall achievement was “strengthening Russia’s position in the international arena.”12 Putin’s narrative consists of re-establishing Russia’s sphere of influence in its region—for example, by reunifying Crimea with the Russian state—and overcoming the shame associated with the loss of the Soviet empire and the subsequent economic and military collapse of the 1990s.

Arms control, like the weapons it manages, is a status symbol for Russia. To be sure, for many Russians, arms control and the reduced size of the nuclear arsenal contribute to a sense of shame. Arguably, this shame in arms control is largely associated with the 1997 START II, which banned the use of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles and would eventually have limited each side to 3,000 to 3,500 operational deployed strategic weapons over the course of two phases. From the Russian perspective, the treaty took advantage of Moscow’s weakness following the collapse of the Soviet Union and was imbalanced in favor of the United States because Russia would have to “make significant financial expenditures” for destruction of its weapons and would actually have to build up its forces in order to reach the treaty’s limits.13 Nevertheless, neither distrust of U.S. intentions as a result of START II nor U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty prevented Russia from participating in arms control negotiations and agreements. Negotiations for New START, for example, began in 2009 with the Obama administration’s “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia.

Arms control continues to be closely linked to Russia’s great-power narrative. Equality as an international player is essential to Russian prestige, and arms control enshrines strategic parity with the United States, at least numerically in nuclear weapons.14 Putin also relies on a sense of history and continuity in portraying himself as the guardian of the Russian state as it has evolved through imperial and Soviet eras. For Putin, Russian history flows as a continuous thread rather than in fits and starts. Therefore, just as arms control was prominent at the height of the Soviet military era in securing parity with the United States—the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) treaty is a prime example—it can hold an important place in the revamped Russia of the 2010s.

Beyond bilateral strategic agreements with the United States, arms control has also been a source of prestige for Russia in managing Syrian chemical weapons and the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the product of negotiations in which Russia joined with five other world powers to reach agreement with Iran on rolling back that country’s nuclear program. In these cases, Russia was expected to demonstrate preference for its allies in Syria and Iran. Yet, the final agreements proved Russia to be a credible and fair broker. These agreements showcased Russia as a diplomatic power, not just a military one.

Russia’s interest in arms control is enshrined in its national policy. A great deal has been written about the bellicose nature of Russia’s 2014 statement of its military doctrine, but an often overlooked component of the document commits Russia to “compliance with international treaties of the Russian Federation for the reduction and limitation of nuclear missile weapons.”15 Its 2013 “Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” goes even further in portraying Russia as an advocate for further arms control and nonproliferation efforts, whereby Russia will encourage “elaborating and concluding new agreements in [arms control] that meet its national interests and take into account each and every factor influencing strategic stability, building on the principles of equality and indivisibility of security.”16 Russian interest in arms control and nonproliferation is not purely a matter of prestige, but also contributes to strategic stability and the reduction of military risks.

Strategic stability. In a 1961 treatise, nuclear strategists Thomas Schelling and Morton Halperin said the objective of arms control was to establish strategic stability.17 Arms control is intended to avoid arms races and establish a balance of military power between peers, adversaries, or both. This was the primary role of arms control during the Cold War, particularly with the SALT Interim Agreement when the Soviet Union and the United States attempted to slow the arms race and pursuit of superiority, reconciling themselves to parity. In Henry Kissinger’s famous 1974 rhetorical question, “What in God’s name is strategic superiority?”18

Strategic stability affords Russia breathing room to focus on domestic stability rather than becoming embroiled in a costly arms race. Strategic stability reduces uncertainty in dealing with peers, such as the United States and China.19 In a 2014 op-ed in The New York Times, Sergey Rogov, head of the prestigious Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow, wrote, “If the Russian-American arms control collapses, it will be difficult to develop strategic stability in a polycentric world. The new unrestricted arms race will be multilateral and include not only nuclear but also conventional weapons.”20

Russia cannot afford an arms race at this time or in the foreseeable future. Its 2013 foreign policy concept document explicitly speaks to the contribution of arms control in establishing stability “through bilateral and multilateral cooperation,” particularly with regard to nuclear weapons, “for the purpose of ensuring common security in the spirit of strategic openness.”21 Arms control has the potential to place limits on U.S. capabilities, obviously in exchange for some concession on the part of Russia. At present, Russia’s primary bargaining chips are its warheads and delivery vehicles, tactical and strategic, which are reaching the end of their lifespans faster than they can be replaced. Arms control is Russia’s best hope for engaging the United States in a dialogue about missile defense and advanced conventional weapons. Whether or not this dialogue results in reductions or changes in U.S. posture will depend on context and what Russia has to offer, but it is the first step.

Military investment. Perhaps one of the strongest signals of waning Russian interest in arms control is its increased investment in nuclear forces, despite the resurgence of its conventional forces as demonstrated in Ukraine. Russia is projected to spend $88.3 billion on defense in 2015, with research and development as the main area of investment in order to continue boosting the share of modern weaponry across the services to reach 70 percent by 2020, with the bigger projects yet to come. Its 2016 national budget has been described as a “stagnation budget” of “militarism and inaction.” Defense remains one of the only sectors with increased spending, particularly in new technologies, and the government is waiting for oil and gas prices to rise again in order to make further investments in defense.22

This suggests a major commitment to improving conventional forces, but nuclear modernization has seemingly accelerated at the same time. Putin recently announced Russia would be introducing 30 new missiles to its arsenal of strategic delivery vehicles, and it recently deployed the new Borei-class submarine armed with the Bulava missile. Modernization elsewhere in the strategic forces includes updating cruise missiles23 and replacing the 59-year-old Tu-95 Bear bomber.24 In the 1990s, Russia claimed to rely on nuclear weapons while it rebuilt conventional forces. If Russia has now achieved a sufficiently strong conventional force, why is it more reliant on nuclear weapons than ever since the end of the Cold War?

There are three possible explanations for this continued reliance on nuclear forces, all of which suggest Russia will need arms control for financial reasons to lower defense costs in the coming years. First, Russia’s conventional forces remain weak. The swift and effective military operations carried out in Crimea were by Russia’s elite Southern Military District, the best equipped and trained of the Russian forces.25 They are not indicative of the overall Russian military, in which investment is largely going toward technology rather than training and people.26 Most of the newer capabilities and investments have yet to be introduced, so in real terms, Russia’s conventional military is not yet as tough as it seems and will continue to receive attention and investment while it is rebuilt. One risk is that Russia will pursue a conventional arms race, which may already have started, according to Russian nuclear expert Alexey Arbatov: Russian research on long-range, high-precision weapon systems is absorbing a disproportionate amount of defense spending.27

Second, improvements in nuclear delivery vehicles in particular have been in the works for decades and are only now becoming operational. Although Russia has increased the rate at which it introduces new missiles, it has slowed the pace of retirement so as to give the impression of a growing force. According to Eugene Miasnikov, director of the Russian Center for Arms Control, Energy, and Environmental Studies, the service life of Russian missiles have been “extended by factors of two to three,” and any further extensions are “impossible.”28 As a result, Russia’s arsenal is growing quantitatively but not necessarily qualitatively. In reality, much of this force may be inactive and slated for retirement. For example, early in the New START talks, Russia was amenable to deeper reductions on its delivery vehicles that were reaching the end of their service lives.

Third, military modernization is a domestic political issue. Military investment is particularly complicated because of its links to bureaucratic politics in Moscow, similar to the Cold War days of the Soviet Military-Industrial Commission. Many of Russia’s most powerful politicians and those advising Putin, the siloviki, have personal investments in the military-industrial complex. Any Russian defense investments should not immediately be viewed as posturing vis-à-vis the West or as symbolizing a more aggressive Russia, as they often are part of a domestic political narrative.29 This may present a challenge to further cuts, as is currently being demonstrated. On the other hand, Moscow is having debates similar to those in Washington and London as to whether investments in conventional forces are preferable to those in nuclear forces. With currency reserves running low, oil prices staying down, and defense spending demands on the rise, Russian investment in its nuclear forces is one obvious area for cuts. Rather than unilaterally reducing its arsenal, Russia can explore the possibility of reciprocation from the United States through an arms control agreement.

Preparing for Optimism

A man stands near a trainload of modified T-72 Russian tanks after their arrival in Gvardeyskoye railway station near the Crimean capital of Simferopol on March 31, 2014. (Photo credit: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)Russia may still need arms control, but one of the biggest remaining questions is whether Washington still has an appetite for it. To skeptics, nuclear arms control is a Cold War legacy and places undue limits on U.S. capabilities. Moreover, the skeptics argue, no verification system can guarantee compliance, as was most recently argued in congressional debates about the Iran nuclear deal. It is difficult to discern how much these objections are sincere and how much they are politically motivated, but Obama administration policy statements have affirmed that arms control is in the national interest. For example, in 2013 the administration declared, “The U.S. intent is to seek negotiated cuts with Russia so that we can continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”30 From the U.S. perspective, arms control provides transparency into Russia’s arsenal and reduces excessive weapons and their associated costs on both sides, which in turn reduces nuclear risks.

Arms control is arguably more complicated for the United States than for Russia because of the United States’ role as a security provider to its allies in Europe and Asia. Further arms control with Russia will entail difficult discussions about missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. For the United States, these discussions will have to incorporate the security concerns of U.S. allies in NATO, some of which are reluctant to see any change in the U.S. strategic posture in Europe given Russian aggression in Ukraine. What the United States wants to see in further arms control, therefore, is a reduction in the numbers of Russian tactical nuclear weapons and compliance with all existing agreements, along with a deeper reduction of strategic weapons and delivery vehicles.

Russia claims to want some combination of a reduction in U.S. missile defense in Europe, a reduction in conventional forces, and an expansion of the arms control process to include other nuclear possessors, such as China. From this perspective, Russian and U.S. demands of arms control are incompatible: any reduction in U.S. tactical nuclear weapons or missile defenses would be unacceptable to a large number of U.S. allies, and tactical nuclear weapons are Russia’s only bargaining chip to obtain the reductions that Moscow wants. Other nuclear possessor states have said they will not engage in multilateral arms control until Russian and U.S. arsenals come down further.

A Russian Tu-95 long-range bomber flies above the Kremlin on May 7, 2015, during a rehearsal for Russia’s annual May 9 Victory Day commemoration. (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)As discussed above, however, Russia’s goals are broader: great-power status, strategic stability on its borders, and cost savings. By the time New START verification expires in 2021 or 2026 (depending on whether or not the United States and Russia decide to extend the treaty), arms control may be a readily available option for pursuing these interests. Ultimately, whether in two, five, or 10 years, Russia may return to arms control.

There are at least three steps the United States can take now to lay the groundwork for these discussions. First, if it is willing to work toward resolution of Crimea’s status in parallel with, rather than prior to, arms control talks, one possible starting point is to set a goal of returning to 2012. That would mean returning to discussions about missile defense transparency measures and re-establishing NATO-Russian dialogue as they existed before the Ukraine crisis. That would be a nonbinding first step back to the negotiating table and would give attention to Russia’s primary issue of missile defense. At the same time, however, the United States would have to offer some means of reassurance to its allies that it is not indicating acceptance of Russian aggression. This could include continuing to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons in NATO member states, refusing to acknowledge Crimea as part of Russia, or increasing the size of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

Second, despite the Ukraine crisis and claims of INF Treaty violations, New START continues to be implemented. Its Bilateral Consultative Commission continues to meet, most recently on October 20, 2015. The priority should remain on implementing New START and, as 2018 approaches, using the commission as a forum for exploring follow-on options and taking advantage of the five-year extension on verification.

Finally, the credibility of the INF Treaty must be restored. Russia and the United States can work toward that goal now so as to prevent it from poisoning the waters of a New START follow-on agreement when the time comes. Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty under Article XV31 would complicate further arms control talks by undermining trust and providing fodder, in different ways, to arms control skeptics in the Duma and Congress. Restoring full compliance with the INF Treaty must be a priority and can potentially be achieved by playing to Russia’s desired role as a leader in arms control and its stated policy commitment to “compliance with international treaties.”

U.S. policy states that arms control is in the country’s continued interest, but further opportunities for arms control successes may test the limits of what the United States is willing to compromise to achieve them. For example, if Russia and the United States did negotiate further arms control agreements, the United States would likely take measures to reassure its NATO allies that by no means is it accepting of Russian aggression. Yet, these means of reassurance, particularly an increased U.S. military presence in Europe, could backfire and cause Russia to question the U.S. commitment to any agreement. Moscow may perceive it as trading one form of strategic imbalance for another.

Arms control pessimists are not short on evidence these days, particularly when it comes to the INF Treaty. Nevertheless, there is cause for optimism that Russia and the United States can continue to make reciprocal reductions in their strategic arsenals while applying transparency and confidence-building measures. Russia, in particular, has an interest in further arms control as an element of the great-power narrative that continues to drive Putin’s policies at home and abroad. As the deadline for New START reductions approaches in 2018, followed by the expiration of verification in 2021, followed by the conclusion of a possible five-year extension of verification in 2026, there will be numerous opportunities to take further steps in strategic arms control. Indeed, before analysts relegate arms control to the dustbin of history, Russia might be the one to revive it.

ENDNOTES

1.  William Safire, “Dust Heaps of History,” The New York Times Magazine, October 16, 1983.

2.  Tom Parfitt and David Blair, “Vladimir Putin Accused of ‘Nuclear Sabre-Rattling’ as He Promises 40 New Russian Missiles,” Telegraph, June 16, 2015 (quoting Jens Stoltenberg).

3.  “Transcript: Interview With Sergei Ivanov,” Financial Times, June 21, 2015.

4.  Dániel Bartha and Anna Péczeli, “Nuclear Arms Control: Implications From the Crisis in Ukraine,” NATO Defense College Research Paper, No. 108 (February 2015).

5.  Steven Pifer, “Obama’s Faltering Nuclear Legacy: The 3 R’s,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2 (2015): 101-118.

6.  Hedley Bull, The Control of the Arms Race (London: Institute for Strategic Studies, 1961).

7.  Alexey Arbatov, Presentation at the 2014 EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Conference, Brussels, September 5, 2014, http://www.iiss.org/en/events/eu%20conference/sections/eu-conference-2014-4706/special-sessions-6020/special-session-10-7a22 (session on deterrence, nonproliferation, and disarmament) (hereinafter Arbatov presentation).

8.  See, for example, Samuel Charap, “The Ghost of Hybrid War,” Survival, Vol. 57, No. 6 (December 2015-January 2016): 51-58.

9.  Pifer, “Obama’s Faltering Nuclear Legacy,” p. 107.

10.  PIR Center, “From Words to Actions: Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament From 2010 to 2015 and Beyond” (presentation at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, New York, May 20, 2015), http://www.pircenter.org/media/content/files/13/14317274020.pdf.

11 .  Matthew Bodner, “Fight Over Ukraine Darkens Future of Russia-U.S. Nuclear Arms Control,” Moscow Times, April 7, 2015.

12.  Levada Center, “Vladimir Putin: Successes and Failures, His Strengths,” September 15, 2014, http://www.levada.ru/eng/vladimir-putin-successes-and-failures-his-strengths.

13.  Eugene Miasnikov, “Problems of START-2 Treaty Ratification for Russia. Is START-3 Possible?” INESAP Information Bulletin, No. 10 (August 1996), pp. 15-17.

14.  Matthew Moran and Heather Williams, “Keeping Up Appearances: National Narratives and Nuclear Policy in France and Russia,” Defence Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2013): 192-215.

15.  “Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” No. Pr.-2976, December 25, 2014, http://www.rusemb.org.uk/press/2029.

16.  Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation,” February 12, 2013, http://archive.mid.ru//brp_4.nsf/0/76389FEC168189ED44257B2E0039B16D.

17.  Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961).

18.  Barry M. Blechman and Robert Powell, “What in the Name of God Is Strategic Superiority?” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 97, No. 4 (Winter 1982-1983): 589-602.

19.  Andrei Kokoshin, “Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present: Theoretical and Applied Questions,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2011, p. 5.

20.  Sergey Rogov, “Reinvent Arms Control for the Present Day,” The New York Times, November 15, 2014.

21.  Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation.”

22.  Andrey Movchan, “What Can We Learn From Russia’s 2016 Budget Proposal?” Carnegie Moscow Center, November 19, 2015, http://carnegie.ru/commentary/2015/11/19/what-can-we-learn-from-russia-s-2016-budget-proposal/im3h.

23.  Jeffrey Lewis, “Russian Cruise Missiles Revisited,” Arms Control Wonk, October 27, 2015,  http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/7816/russian-cruise-missiles-revisited.

24.  Paul Richard Huard, “Russia’s Blast From the Past: Beware the Tu-95 Bear Strategic Bomber,” The National Interest, August 22, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/russias-blast-the-past-beware-the-tu-95-bear-strategic-13669.  

25.  International Institute for Strategic Studies, “The Military Balance 2015,” 2015, ch. 5.

26.  The Russian Air Force, in particular, remains a Soviet legacy with extremely poor performance. For example, in 2015 between June and mid-August, it had eight crashes as a result of technical failure or pilot error. Matthew Bodner, “Russia’s Military Is a Paper Tiger in the Baltic,” Institute of Modern Russia, August 26, 2015, http://imrussia.org/en/analysis/world/2389-russias-military-is-a-paper-tiger-in-the-baltic.

27.  Arbatov presentation.

28.  Eugene Miasnikov, “How to Approach Nuclear Modernization? A Russian Response,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 71, No. 3 (2015): 12-15.

29.  Heather Williams, “Two Russian Tales, Same Ending: Doubling Down on Defense,” Aspenia Online, May 25, 2015, https://www.aspeninstitute.it/aspenia-online/article/two-russian-tales-same-ending-doubling-down-defense.

30.  U.S. Department of Defense, “Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States,” June 12, 2013.

31.  The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is of unlimited duration, but section 2 of Article XV states that “[e]ach Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests. It shall give notice of its decision to withdraw to the other Party six months prior to withdrawal from this Treaty. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events the notifying Party regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”


Heather Williams has been a MacArthur Postdoctoral Fellow since January 2015 in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, where she received her Ph.D. in 2014. Her research focuses on U.S. and Russian nuclear policies, deterrence theory, and trust building in international relations. Previously, she was a research fellow at Chatham House and at the Institute for Defense Analyses.

What's New Text: 

Posted: January 14, 2016

New Russian Nuclear Design Shown

A broadcast on Russian state television of a Nov. 10 meeting in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military officers revealed...

December 2015

By Kingston Reif

A broadcast on Russian state television of a Nov. 10 meeting in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military officers revealed a document showing the design of a purported new underwater nuclear-armed drone that could rain radioactive fallout on enemy coastal areas.

In a Nov. 10 post on his blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, said the Russian name of the system shown in the document translates to English as “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.’”

According to Podvig, a short summary included in the document described the mission of the proposed weapon as “[d]amaging the important components of the adversary’s economy in a coastal area and inflicting unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic, or other activity for long periods of time.”

At the meeting where the underwater drone design was revealed, Putin, reiterating a long-standing Russian complaint, criticized U.S. missile defense plans, claiming they are intended to “neutralize” Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

Putin said Russia would respond by developing “strike systems capable of penetrating any missile defenses.”

The United States says its missile defenses are not aimed at Russia but instead at smaller adversaries such as Iran and North Korea.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, in a Nov. 12 statement to the Russia news agency Interfax, said that “some secret data fell into the field of view of these cameras.”

“We hope such a thing will never be repeated,” he added.

According to Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and current director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, the airing of the document was no accident.

“The picture was aired because the Kremlin wanted it aired and wanted the world to believe that Russia has plans for a large nuclear torpedo,” Pifer said in a Nov. 18 blog post.

“That fits with Moscow’s pattern of nuclear saber-rattling over the past two years,” he added. 

What's New Text: 

Posted: December 3, 2015

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