ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General


U.S. Explores INF Responses

The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a senior Defense Department official said.

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testifies at a December 10 hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (House Arms Services Committee)The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a senior Defense Department official told Congress in December.

The State Department announced in July that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligation “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

In testimony at a Dec. 10 hearing in the House of Representatives, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said a military assessment concluded “that development and deployment” of an INF-range GLCM by Russia “would pose a threat to the United States and its allies and partners.” At the hearing, held jointly by the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told lawmakers that the United States has seen Russia developing a prohibited GLCM, but did not say that the missile was deployed.

If Russia does not come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, McKeon said, the United States will seek “to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from its violation.” Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 28 statement that the allegations are “baseless” and “no proof has been provided.”

McKeon said the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” The Defense Department is reviewing the effect these options “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,” McKeon added.

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” and some “would not be.” He later added that deploying U.S. GLCMs “would obviously be one option to explore.”

McKeon said that, in responding to Russia’s alleged treaty violation, the United States wants to avoid “an escalatory cycle of action and reaction.” But he warned that “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.”

One European analyst said the deployment of U.S. GLCMs in Europe is unlikely. In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said other options, including sea- and air-launched cruise missiles “have been seen as more realistic and less costly.” He added, however, that “if Russia would really deploy a militar[il]y significant number of GLCMs, perceptions in Europe could change.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russian.

At the Dec. 10 hearing, Gottemoeller said the administration has “a kind of three-pronged approach” for dealing with Russia’s INF Treaty violation: diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back into compliance, exploration of potential “economic countermeasures,” and “military measures” in the event Russia’s noncompliance persists.

McKeon and Gottemoeller refused to say how much time the United States would give Russia to come back into compliance before pursuing economic and military measures. Gottemoeller noted that, in the case of Russia’s noncompliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, “the Reagan administration and the [George H.W.] Bush administration worked with the Soviets diplomatically for five years” before Russia returned to compliance with the treaty.

Gottemoeller led a U.S. delegation to Moscow in September for talks with Russian officials to discuss the violation. A State Department press release summarizing the meeting said that “the U.S. concerns were not assuaged at the meeting.” At the hearing, Gottemoeller and McKeon said that Russia refuses to acknowledge the existence of an illegal missile.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the McKeon and Gottemoeller testimonies “caught our attention.” The statement lamented the U.S. “intention to exercise economic and military pressure on Russia because of its alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty.” Referring to the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations over Ukraine, the statement said U.S. military measures “would increase tensions in a situation that is already complicated.”

The statement said that the U.S. government continues to be unable “to give an explicit wording to its claims and accusations” on Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation and accused the United States of being in noncompliance with the treaty. The statement referred to the use of “target missiles that resemble short- and intermediate-range missiles” in U.S. missile defense tests, “armed US drones that necessarily fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-launched cruise missiles,” and the U.S. “intention to deploy in Poland and Romania a land-based version of the MK 41 shipboard launcher for intermediate-range cruise missiles” as examples of U.S. INF Treaty violations.

The issue of how to respond to the alleged Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty was a controversial issue on Capitol Hill last year. The House-passed fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill included a provision requiring the Defense Department to develop a plan for the research and development of intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill contained no such provision. The final version of the bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19, softened the House demands by requiring the Defense Department to submit a report on Russia’s alleged violation and a report describing any steps being taken or planned by the department in response.

A senior Senate staffer said in a Dec. 19 interview that the incoming Republican-led Senate would likely follow the House in advocating for a more aggressive U.S. response to Russian noncompliance.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable

Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable.

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw addresses the conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague on December 2, 2014. He said Myanmar was on the verge of ratifying the treaty. (OPCW)Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable, according to a Dec. 1 Russian statement.

In the statement, which came on the first day of the week-long annual conference in The Hague of countries that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia said it was “fully committed” to the convention and would complete the destruction as quickly as possible. But Moscow “will do so based on the actual economic situation as it unfolds, while following all safety standards that ought to be met during the implementation of such a complex technological task,” the statement said.

In the statement, Russia said it planned to complete the work at four of its active destruction facilities—Leonidovka, Maradykovsky, Pochep, and Shchuch’ye—this year, but that work at the Kizner facility would continue through 2020.

Under the CWC, countries that possessed chemical weapons were supposed to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Russia and the United States, which accounted for the vast majority of chemical arms declared under the CWC, did not meet the deadline. Libya, which declared a much smaller stockpile, also did not meet the deadline.

In a document adopted at their 2011 annual meeting, the CWC parties essentially recognized that the three countries would miss the deadline, but said they should complete the work “in the shortest time possible.” The document spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for the destruction work. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

Russia had set the 2015 target date in 2010. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) At the time, some experts expressed skepticism about the feasibility of that timetable.

Earlier this year, Moscow indicated that it would not be able to meet the schedule. According to a May 2014 report by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) describing a visit to Russia the previous month by members of the council, a senior Russian official, Col. Gen. Victor Kholstov, told the delegation about several obstacles for the work at Kizner.

According to the council’s report, Kholstov described certain munitions that are particularly expensive and time consuming to destroy because of their complex configuration. The report cited Kholstov as saying that funds were moved from Kizner to the facilities handling the complex munitions, delaying completion of the construction work at Kizner. Kholstov also said that recently adopted safety regulations have had a particular impact on the technology used at Kizner, further delaying the work there, the report said.

At the council’s meeting in July 2014, Russia provided information that work at Kizner would continue beyond 2015, according to the official report of that meeting. Russia apparently did not specify a new target date at that time.

The current U.S. target date for eliminating its chemical stockpile is 2023.

According to figures cited by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü in his Dec. 1 statement to the CWC conference, the United States has destroyed about 24,900 metric tons of chemical weapons, representing 90 percent of its stockpile. Russia has destroyed about 33,800 metric tons, about 85 percent of its holdings, he said.

In his remarks, Üzümcü praised the OPCW’s “truly remarkable achievements” in the successful effort to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical weapons, but noted that some issues relating to Syria’s chemical weapons program remain to be resolved.

On one of those issues, the destruction of 12 chemical weapons production facilities, he reported that contracts with the “commercial entities” that are to carry out the destruction had been finalized at the end of November. In a Jan. 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said destruction of the first facility had begun Dec. 24 and was “ongoing.”

Another issue is the completeness of the declaration of its chemical weapons program that Syria made when it joined the CWC in 2013. In her Dec. 3 remarks to the meeting of CWC parties, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “chemical weapons capabilities may very well remain in the hands of the Syrian government.”

Üzümcü said in his statement that the OPCW would continue its consultations with Syria on the country’s declaration. Another continuing effort, he said, is the work of the OPCW team that determined “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in three villages in the northern part of the country last year, when Damascus already was a CWC party. (See ACT, October 2014.)

With Syria’s accession to the CWC, six countries—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—remain outside it. At the December conference, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw said his country was on the verge of ratifying the treaty.

During remarks at a Dec. 12 conference in Washington sponsored by the Arms Control Association, Peter Sawczak, head of government relations and political affairs in the OPCW’s external relations division, said he expected Myanmar to ratify the CWC “in short order.”

Sawczak also highlighted another nonparty, Angola, which began a two-year term on the UN Security Council on Jan. 1. “I think a lot of states-parties have delivered the message that it’s not a good look for a member of the Security Council not to be a state-party to cornerstone arms control treaties” such as the CWC, he said.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the conclusion of the report by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria. In its report, the team said it had a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon, but it did not assign responsibility for the chlorine use to any party.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Removing the Missile Defense Obstacle to Deeper Nuclear Cuts

It has been obvious for decades that advances in strategic ballistic missile defenses can complicate efforts to maintain a balance in strategic offensive forces while reducing overall nuclear arsenals. The two Cold War superpowers addressed this problem by negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, which limited the breadth and scope of ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployments. But U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and enthusiastic pursuit of BMD by the United States has again brought the negative impact of missile defense on nuclear arms control efforts to the...

Russia Skips Summit Planning Meeting

Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

December 2014

By Kingston Reif and Daniel Horner

Russia did not attend a planning session held in Washington in late October for the 2016 nuclear security summit, casting doubt on its participation in the summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends the opening plenary session of the nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 24. Russia said last month that it does not intend to participate in the preparations for the next summit, which is to be held in the United States in 2016. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)In a Nov. 5 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow “does not see any possibility to take part in the preparations” for the upcoming summit, which would be the fourth installment of the biennial meetings.

The summits are the most visible feature of an accelerated international effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. U.S. President Barack Obama launched the effort as part of his speech in Prague in April 2009. Summits have been held in Washington in 2010, Seoul in 2012, and The Hague last March.

The 2016 summit in the United States is scheduled be the last. In its statement, Russia questioned the need for that meeting.

“[M]ost of the political commitments undertaken by the participants of the preceding summits have been implemented,” said the statement. “These summits have thus nearly exhausted their agenda.”

The statement expressed “grave concern” with the proposed framework for planning the summit. According to Russia, the planning process privileges the hosts of the previous summits in the drafting of the preparatory summit documents.

Russia criticized the creation of “working groups formed arbitrarily and with limited membership” to “devise guidelines for such international bodies and initiatives” as the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and Interpol. The five working groups are intended to examine how to embed the work of the summits into existing international institutions that have a nuclear security mandate. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Officials from several countries confirmed that some states have raised some objections to the process. But a main purpose of the planning meetings is to air and resolve such objections, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said in a Nov. 17 interview.

In a Nov. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European official said that “[n]ew proposals concerning the organization of the workshops have been made.” The official wrote that “[i]t is logical that each host is willing to influence the way the summit goes,” but emphasized that “nothing is set in stone at this stage,” as the proposals are under negotiation.

“What matters is to preserve the consensus rule,” the official said.

Summits’ Progress
At the summits, participating countries have announced steps they would take individually and collectively to increase the security of fissile materials. These steps have included the removal of nuclear materials, enhancement of capabilities to counter nuclear smuggling, creation of centers to improve nuclear security and training, and ratification of international agreements and conventions that govern nuclear security.

Russia, which possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear material, has been an important participant in the summit process. In particular, Russia has assisted in the accelerated return of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of HEU from Poland and Kazakhstan. (See ACT, November 2014.)

Russia’s decision to boycott the preparations for the 2016 summit comes on the heels of a downturn in relations with the United States over Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

But Kenneth Luongo, a former senior adviser to the secretary of energy for nonproliferation policy who is now president of the Partnership for Global Security, said Russia’s absence from the October planning session goes beyond the current crisis in relations over Ukraine. It is another step in a decision that Russia has made to “wind down cooperation” with the United States on nuclear security, Luongo said in a Nov. 21 interview.

Luongo, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said the backsliding began with Russia’s insistence in 2013 on a pared-down replacement for the old Cooperative Threat Reduction program. (See ACT, July/August 2013.) That was followed by limited action from Russia at this year’s nuclear security summit, Luongo said. Russia notably failed to endorse a key initiative from the summit, formulated by the Netherlands, South Korea, and the United States and joined by 32 other countries.

On another nuclear security issue, Luongo noted that Russia had announced recently that it would not sign any new contracts for work with the United States on bolstering the security of nuclear materials and facilities inside Russia. Those contracts expire at the end of this year. (See ACT, November 2014.)

Luongo characterized Russia’s behavior as “irresponsible” and warned that U.S. options for convincing Russia to change course are limited. “You can’t throw a life preserver to someone floating away from you,” he said.
Russia said that it informed the United States of its decision not to participate in the 2016 summit preparations in mid-October. Of the 53 countries that attended the 2014 summit, Russia was the only one that did not participate in the planning session.

Closing the Door?
In spite of its negative tone and its expression of “doubts regarding the added value the 2016 forum,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement did not explicitly rule out Moscow’s attendance at the 2016 summit. But one high-ranking Russian official went beyond the statement. “We are not planning to attend the summit,” said Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during a Nov. 5 discussion with reporters at his home in Washington.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a Nov. 4 press briefing that “the United States regrets Russia’s decision not to participate” in the October meeting. Earnest added, however, that “the door remains open to Russia joining future meetings like this.”

Posted: December 31, 1969

Looking Back: Ukraine’s Nuclear Predicament and the Nonproliferation Regime

In the early 1990s, Ukraine’s claim to rightful ownership of nuclear weapons that had been part of the Soviet arsenal became a bone of contention in the country’s relations with Russia and the United States.

By Mariana Budjeryn

November 16, 2014, marked 20 years since Ukraine joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state, relinquishing the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union. Today, the nuclear renunciation of Ukraine, along with those of Belarus and Kazakhstan, is hailed as a great contribution to the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. This accomplishment is all the more laudable considering the unprecedented challenges created by the demise of the nuclear superpower and the ambiguous status of the nuclear armaments left on the territory of its non-Russian successors.

Of the three successors, Ukraine followed the most difficult path to the NPT, fraught with contention and acrimony. Soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s initial commitment to denuclearization gave way to a more cautious treatment of its nuclear inheritance. Ukraine’s claim to rightful ownership of nuclear weapons, based on its status as a legal successor to the Soviet Union on par with Russia, became the most controversial aspect of its disarmament negotiations with Russia and the United States.

This article examines the origins and development of this claim. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the claim to nuclear ownership did not arise solely or even primarily from a desire by Ukraine to leverage its bargaining position and exert financial compensation and security guarantees from Russia and the West. Instead, it originated as a challenge to Russia’s privileged status as the sole nuclear heir of the Soviet Union and an attempt to reconstitute relations with Moscow on the basis of formal equality.

From Renunciation to Ownership
One Saturday in April 1986, after an unexpected power surge, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine burst into flames, exposing millions of unsuspecting people across northeastern Europe to plumes of radioactive material. The Chernobyl accident also exposed the negligence of the Soviet leadership, which led to the explosion, and its duplicity, which was evident in its handling of the aftermath. In the years that followed, the accident spurred widespread anti-nuclear sentiment that became an integral part of Ukraine’s pro-independence movement: “anti-nuclear” became synonymous with “anti-Soviet.”[1]

At the same time, due to the secrecy and centralization of Soviet strategic military affairs, very few Ukrainians knew that the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal was located on their territory.[2] Those privy to the knowledge included political leaders who viewed the centralized control of the strategic systems as an impediment to Ukraine’s drive away from Moscow. In the words of prominent diplomat Volodymyr Vasylenko, “By being a nuclear power [Ukraine] could not have full independence.”[3]

These considerations led Ukraine to proclaim its intention to become a neutral state and “adhere to three non-nuclear principles: not to receive, develop or acquire nuclear weapons” in the Declaration of Sovereignty passed by the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, on July 16, 1990.[4] The declaration also affirmed Ukraine’s right to form its own military and conduct an independent foreign policy. In an attempt to act out this right and “remind the outer world of its existence,” Ukraine asked to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state prior to the 1990 NPT Review Conference.[5] Moscow thwarted this attempt due to the perception that participation in a major international regime by a Soviet republic would exacerbate decentralizing tendencies within the Soviet Union.[6]

Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich pose after signing an agreement in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on December 21, 1991, on unified control over nuclear weapons within the Commonwealth of Independent States. (RIA Novosti)The events of August 1991 radically altered the context within which Ukraine was to decide its nuclear future. The failed coup of August 19, attempted by conservative Soviet military and security apparatchiks, highlighted the defenselessness of Ukraine, a self-proclaimed sovereign state with only the republican police to protect it from the Soviet military behemoth. On August 24, the Rada passed the Declaration of Independence, which marked the birth of Ukrainian statehood. More than anything else, the document conveyed a profound sense of insecurity with its opening words: “Proceeding from the mortal danger that gripped Ukraine during the coup d’etat in the USSR.”[7]

Not accidentally, the very next bill passed by the Rada was a resolution subordinating all military units located on Ukraine’s territory to the Rada and ordering the establishment of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry and national armed forces.[8] Subsequently, Ukraine claimed ownership of all property and financial assets on its territory formerly belonging to the Soviet Union.[9] The problem was that some of these military units and properties were associated with the Soviet nuclear complex.

As the crumbling of the union became irreversible, Ukraine began negotiating its relationship with a fellow country striving for democracy, the Russian Federation led by Boris Yeltsin. This new Moscow held the promise of a partnership based on equality rather than domination. In September 1991, Yeltsin declared that Russia was no longer an empire, saying that it would be an “equal among equals.”[10] Kyiv’s pro-independence politicians, including moderate nationalists who saw Ukraine as a European country and feared that Moscow’s long tradition of dominating Ukraine would continue, thought this equality should apply in all respects, including the right to Soviet succession.

This new stance was first articulated by Vyacheslav Chornovil, the leader of the national-democratic Rukh party, who issued a statement in September 1991 stressing that Ukraine, like Russia and other republics, was the “rightful heir to all the material and technical resources, including weapons, of the former Soviet Union.”[11] The fate of Ukraine’s nuclear inheritance, he maintained, should be decided through treaties with “nuclear states.” Meanwhile, the existence of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, coupled with its aspiration to relinquish them, would serve as “a good incentive” for the creation of its independent armed forces, as well as for international recognition of Ukraine “as a fully fledged subject of international law.”[12]
Collective Insecurity

As Chornovil had understood, the establishment of Ukraine’s national army was a daunting task. It encountered formidable resistance from the command of the Soviet military, the only central Soviet institution still intact in late 1991. With about one million troops on its territory formally under oath to Moscow, the new Ukrainian state had to decisively secure their loyalty. Preserving unified control over strategic armaments was a technical and political necessity. Yet, the label “strategic” encompassed not only nuclear warheads, but also the vast research and development, communications, and intelligence infrastructure; air defense systems; and the troops of the 43rd Rocket Army and 46th Air Army associated with the strategic arsenal. What kind of independence would Ukraine achieve, after all, if part of its military remained subordinated to Moscow?

As it turned out, the expectation that nuclear weapons would prompt international recognition of Ukraine could not have been farther from reality. The United States stated explicitly that it opposed any possibility of independent control over nuclear armaments by non-Russian republics. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker insisted that Soviet nuclear weapons remain under “safe, responsible and reliable control with a single unified authority,” the precise nature of which was for “Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and any common entity to determine.”[13] Indeed, the United States granted Ukraine diplomatic recognition only after such unified control was formally preserved in the form of the Joint Strategic Command (JSC) of the newly created Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Nevertheless, the nuclear settlement reached at the CIS founding meetings in December 1991 was highly ambiguous. It envisioned a kind of nuclear umbrella to provide for the collective security of all members of the commonwealth. Ukraine committed to eventually transferring all tactical and strategic nuclear weapons to Russia. Until that time, it undertook some obligations traditionally associated with nuclear-weapon states, such as adherence to the no-first-use principle and commitment not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states.[14] Agreements spoke of joint command and control, but said nothing of who possesses the weapons.

The moderate nationalist members of the Rada, however, opposed any idea of a collective security arrangement with Russia. As Ivan Zayets, a Rukh member of the Rada security and defense committee, argued, a collective security system with Russia would hinder Ukraine’s prospects to “integrate…into the world economy and world civilization.”[15] Thus, although Ukraine joined the JSC, it steered clear of every other CIS security commitment.

Unsurprisingly, the JSC soon proved unworkable. Principled differences over the role of the CIS, mixed loyalties, and overlapping chains of military command erupted in a series of incidents late in early 1992. In one of the incidents, crews loyal to Moscow flew six SU-24 strategic bombers out of a Ukrainian air base to Russia. In response, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk on March 12 halted the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia and moved to establish “administrative control” over strategic forces, obligating all troops to take a Ukrainian military oath.[16] Although the transfer later resumed and was completed within the agreed time, the disputes over the status of strategic forces were to plague negotiations with Ukraine until the very end.[17]

Succession Without Possession
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (center) speaks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague (left) and acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia after a ministerial meeting in Paris on the Budapest Memorandum and the Ukraine crisis on March 5. (U.S. Department of State)Meanwhile, the historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on July 31, 1991, was cast into dubious legal territory as one of its signatories no longer existed. Ukraine and Kazakhstan, although not Belarus, insisted that they should become parties to the treaty. Despite Russian objections, the United States decided to go along with these demands. In May 1992 in Lisbon, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus signed a protocol making the latter three countries parties to START “as successor states” of the Soviet Union.[18] Lest this should be construed as the right of the non-Russian republics to claim those strategic armaments not subject to START reductions, Article 5 of the Lisbon Protocol obligated them to join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states “in the shortest possible time.”[19] Until then, the weapons were to remain under the control of a single unified authority.

The protocol did not specify the nuclear status of the non-Russian republics before they joined the NPT, and diplomatic notes submitted at the signing in Lisbon revealed that Russia and Ukraine had very different opinions on the issue. The Ukrainian note claimed that Ukraine voluntarily renounced its legitimate right to possess nuclear weapons as an equal successor of the Soviet Union and, in exchange, the country would demand security guarantees from the nuclear-weapon states.[20] The Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that Russia considered Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine “non-nuclear weapons states at the moment of the signing of the Protocol.”[21]

In mid-1992, Ukraine commenced negotiations with the United States on security guarantees. By the end of that year, however, it became clear that the United States was not prepared to make any binding security commitments to Ukraine beyond political assurances extended to all NPT non-nuclear-weapon states or pledged in other multilateral instruments such as the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act.[22] Moreover, neither security assurances nor financial aid and compensation for denuclearization would be forthcoming until Ukraine joined the NPT.[23]

Meanwhile, the perceived threat of border revisionism by Russia grew. Moscow’s involvement in the conflicts in Transnistria and the Caucasus, as well as its support for Crimean separatism, ran counter to the democratic equality Yeltsin once promised. To Ukraine’s demands for security guarantees, Russia responded that it would respect Ukraine’s borders only “within the borders of the CIS,” a formulation Ukraine rejected because that demand effectively made its territorial integrity hostage to membership in the CIS.[24]

By February 1993, Ukraine had become the only signatory not to ratify the START-Lisbon package. Kravchuk submitted it to the Rada in November 1992, but the vote was repeatedly postponed. Decried as Ukraine’s backtracking on its commitments, the lack of progress in denuclearization landed Kyiv in complete international isolation. Bereft of allies and threatened by Russia, Ukraine redoubled its insistence on nuclear ownership.

From Ownership to Renunciation
The claim of nuclear ownership crystallized as the main focus of Ukraine’s position by early 1993. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reported that Ukrainian-Russian nuclear negotiations were at an impasse because of principled differences on nuclear ownership and the status of strategic forces on Ukrainian territory.[25] That July, the Rada passed a set of foreign policy principles, claiming pointedly that, “as a result of historical events, Ukraine became the owner of nuclear weapons.”[26] Russia unsurprisingly construed this as a unilateral declaration of nuclear status.[27]

Within Ukraine, the right to nuclear ownership, which stemmed from insistence on legal equality with Russia, was translated into two main narratives.[28] Kravchuk and the Foreign Ministry employed it to substantiate Ukraine’s entitlement to financial and political compensation for relinquished state property of strategic significance.[29] They maintained that Ukraine’s nuclear ownership did not contradict the NPT since the country did not aspire to operational control over its weapons.30 Some senior Rada members, however, considered it the basis for retaining the 46 SS-24 missiles that were not subject to START reductions. Under this approach, Ukraine’s complete nuclear disarmament would be achieved through further treaties and in conjunction with reductions by other nuclear possessors.[31]

When the Rada finally voted on START in November 1993, it was this second narrative that found expression in its extensive reservations. The ratification bill, citing the 1983 Vienna Convention on the Succession of States, claimed that “all property of the strategic and tactical nuclear forces on Ukrainian territory, including nuclear warheads, is the state property of Ukraine.”[32] The Rada upheld proportional reductions under START, amounting to 36 percent of delivery vehicles and 42 percent of warheads, and proclaimed itself not bound by Article 5 of the Lisbon Protocol obligating Ukraine to join the NPT in the shortest possible time.[33]

Despite its initial outrage, the Clinton administration decided to engage in active diplomacy to mediate the crisis. In January 1994, this effort yielded the Trilateral Statement signed by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and the United States, pledging unconditional security assurances, technical assistance, and compensation for the highly enriched uranium contained in strategic and tactical weapons. In doing so, Moscow and Washington effectively recognized Ukraine’s claim that relinquishing its nuclear weapons entitled it to compensation. In a subsequent letter urging the Rada to remove its reservations, Kravchuk underscored the political significance of the trilateral process, in which Ukraine engaged in negotiations with Russia and the United States as a “fully fledged and equal partner.”[34]

In February 1994, the Rada granted full ratification to the START-Lisbon package, restoring the link with the NPT. In November 1994, the Rada ratified the NPT, also with reservations.[35] Although it continued to insist on the ownership of the weapons it was relinquishing and pointed to the shortcomings of the NPT in capturing Ukraine’s unique situation, the main focus of the reservations was the inadequacy of the security commitments Ukraine was receiving in return.[36] These commitments were formalized on December 5, 1994, in a memorandum signed by Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States in Budapest at the summit of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.[37]

Security assurances pledged by the nuclear-weapon states in the Budapest Memorandum remained substantively unchanged from what the United States brought to the negotiating table in 1992. They included negative and positive nuclear security assurances and commitments to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and abstain from economic coercion, the threat of force, or use of force. The memorandum also provided for consultations of signatories “in the event of a situation arising that raises a question concerning [parties’] commitments.”[38] The Ukrainian leadership, however, knew full well that these security assurances would neither deter violators nor lead to their punishment. Following the signing of the memorandum, Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s new president, conceded, “If tomorrow Russia goes into the Crimea no one will even raise an eyebrow. Besides…promises, no one ever planned to give Ukraine any guarantees.”[39]

The consultation mechanism was invoked for the first time in 20 years in March 2014 following the reports of a mass influx of unmarked Russian troops into Crimea, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declined to participate. In a statement released following the meeting, Ukraine, the UK, and the United States called on Russia to take seriously the assurances given “in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.”[40] Thus, over the years, the recognition that the nuclear arsenal was Ukraine’s to give up has become commonplace. In the early 1990s, however, the issue of the status of nuclear arms on Ukrainian territory was no matter of casual semantics.

Ukraine’s claim to nuclear ownership was not entirely untenable; its legal succession to the Soviet Union was recognized in relation to conventional armed forces.[41] If successful, however, the claim would have dragged out the country’s denuclearization indefinitely, with profound repercussions for the entire post-Cold War settlement. It ultimately collided with the interests of Ukraine’s powerful interlocutors and the precepts of the international nonproliferation regime. The very existence of the NPT meant that a different set of rules applied to the nuclear part of Ukraine’s military inheritance than to the conventional one. Furthermore, the NPT’s stark binary categories of “nuclear-weapon state” and “non-nuclear-weapon state” could not be reconciled with Ukraine’s new category of “nuclear ownership”—legal possession without operational control—which fell somewhere in the middle. Ukraine could sustain its claim only by remaining outside of the NPT. That option would have spelled isolation from the international community, which Ukraine ultimately wanted to join, not defy.

The normative power of the NPT and the pressure applied by Russia and the United States reinforced each other. As Ukraine yielded to these formidable political and normative pressures, it failed to obtain binding guarantees of its national security. The importance of the Budapest Memorandum, however, was in linking Ukraine’s accession to the NPT with security assurances against conventional as well as nuclear threats.Because of this connection, Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine violates the Budapest Memorandum and is detrimental to the NPT and the value of security assurances for future nonproliferation efforts.

Last August, as Russian troops poured into eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded the world that Russia is one of the world’s most powerful nuclear nations. At one time, this privileged status carried with it a sense of special responsibility for fostering the nonproliferation regime. Today, Russia’s nuclear boast suggests that it has resolved to use its nuclear status as a license to act with impunity. This is a perilous situation for the NPT. Just as it had benefited from the support of nuclear-weapon states, so is it particularly vulnerable to a nuclear possessor’s breach of commitments undertaken in connection with the treaty.

Mariana Budjeryn is a Ph.D. candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations at the Central European University in Budapest. Her research focuses on the politics of nuclear disarmament of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


1. Jane Dawson, Eco-Nationalism: Anti-Nuclear Activism and National Identity in Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 78.

2. The precise numbers on Ukraine’s nuclear inheritance are unknown. It is generally believed that the inherited arsenal consisted of 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles, including 130 liquid-fueled SS-19 and 46 solid-fueled SS-24 missiles, 44 strategic heavy bombers armed with AS-15 Kent cruise missiles, close to 2,000 nuclear warheads to arm these strategic delivery systems, and more than 2,600 tactical nuclear weapons.

3. John Lloyd and Chrystia Freeland, “A Painful Birth,” The Financial Times, February 25, 1992. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoloy Zlenko recalled similar reasoning on the issue in his memoirs. See Anatoliy Zlenko, Dyplomatiia I Polityka. Ukraїna v Protsesi Dynamichnykh Heopolitychnykh Zmin [Diplomacy and politics. Ukraine in the process of dynamic geopolitical changes] (Kharkiv: Folio, 2003).

4. “Deklaratsiia pro derzhavnii suverenitet Ukraiiny [Declaration of state sovereignty of Ukraine],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 31, St. 429 (July 16, 1990), http://zakon1.rada.gov.ua/cgi-bin/laws/main.cgi?nreg=55-12. 

5. Victor Batiouk, Ukraine’s Non-Nuclear Option (New York: UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 1992), p. 3. Batiouk served as a representative of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to UN institutions in Geneva from 1978 to 1984 and then as Ukraine’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 1992 to 1994.

6. William Potter, The Politics of Nuclear Renunciation: The Cases of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, Occasional Paper (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, April 1995), p. 13. The United Kingdom and the United States chose not to challenge Moscow’s opinion.

7. “Akt proholoshennia nezalezhnosti Ukraiiny [Act of declaration of independence of Ukraine],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 38, St. 502 (August 24, 1991), http://zakon.rada.gov.ua/cgi-bin/laws/main.cgi?nreg=1427-12.

8. “Postanova pro viis’kovi formuvannia na Ukraiini [Resolution on the military units in Ukraine],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 38, St. 562 (August 24, 1991), http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/1431-12.

9. “Zakon Ukraiiny pro Pidpryiemstva, Ustanovy Ta Orhanizatsii Soiuznoho Pidporiadruvannia, Roztashovani Na Terytorii Ukraiiny [Law of Ukraine on enterprises, institutions and organizations of union subordination on the territory of Ukraine],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 46, St. 615 (September 10, 1991), http://zakon3.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/1540-12.

10. Michael Dobbs, “Yeltsin Promises Russia Will Not Dominate Union,” The Washington Post, September 4, 1991.

11. “Vyacheslav Chornovil pro bez’iadernyi status Ukraiiny [Vyacheslav Chornovil on the non-nuclear status of Ukraine],” Molod Ukrajiny, September 12, 1991.

12. Ibid.

13. Sidney D. Drell and James E. Goodby, The Gravest Danger: Nuclear Weapons (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2003), p. 72.

14. “Soglasheniie o sovmestnykh merakh v otnoshenii iadernogo oruzhiia. [Agreement on joint measures on nuclear weapons],” December 21, 1991, http://cis.minsk.by/reestr/ru/index.html#reestr/view/text?doc=3.

15. “Protokol no. 7. Zasidannia komisii Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny z pytan’ natsionalnoii bezpeky i oborony [Protocol no 7. meeting of the Defense and Security Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine],” October 21, 1991, Fond 1-P, Opis 1, Delo 2179, Central State Archive of Ukraine.

16. Serge Schmemann, “Ukraine Halting A-Arms Shift to Russia,” The New York Times, March 13, 1992; “Ukaz pro nevidkladni zakhody po budivnytstvu Zbroinykh Syl Ukraiiny [Decree on urgent measures regarding the establishment of the armed forces of Ukraine],” April 5, 1992, http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/209/92.

17. In fact, the transfer was completed by May 6, 1992, ahead of the June 1, 1992, deadline stipulated in the Commonwealth of Independent States agreement of December 21, 1991. The Russian announcement on the completion of the transfer was timed to coincide with the visit of Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk to Washington. It came as a surprise to Kravchuk, embarrassing him and underscoring how much control Russia still had over military affairs on Ukrainian territory.

18. “Protocol to the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms,”  May 23, 1992, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/27389.pdf.

19. Ibid.

20. For the content of the note, see Valeriy Kuchinsky, “Za Bezpeku Bez Konfrontacii [For security without confrontation],” Polityka i Chas, Nos. 9-10 (October 1992), p. 38. Kuchinsky was chief of the disarmament department at the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

21. “Written Statement by the Russian Side at the Signing of the Protocol to the START Treaty on 23 May 1992 in Lisbon,” Arms Control Today, June 1992, p. 36.

22. For a more detailed discussion of the negotiation process on security assurances, see Sherman Garnett, “The Role of Security Assurances in Ukrainian Denuclearization,” in Missed Opportunities?: The Role of Security Assurances in Nuclear Non-Proliferation, ed. Virginia Foran (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1997); Mariana Budjeryn, “The Breach: Ukraine’s Territorial Integrity and the Budapest Memorandum,” NPIHP Issue Brief, No. 3 (September 2014), http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Issue%20Brief%20No%203--The%20Breach--Final4.pdf.

j23. In terms of financial aid, the United States had made funds available to post-Soviet states under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, created by legislation sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and passed in November 1991. In addition, in September 1992, Russia and the United States signed a $5 billion deal for the purchase of highly enriched uranium contained in dismantled Soviet warheads. This awakened Ukrainian leadership to the fact it had neither demanded nor received any compensation for the tactical weapons transferred earlier and the strategic warheads to be dismantled. It was understood that Russia would work out a settlement with Ukraine and others, but the entitlement to compensation was ultimately connected to the contentious question of ownership. In addition, until mid-1993, Russia refused to consider the idea of retroactive compensation for the tactical nuclear weapons transferred in 1992.

24. “Zapys Besidy Zastupnyka Ministra Zakordonnykh Sprav Ukraiiny B. Tarasiuka Z Poslom Z Оsoblyvykh Doruchen’ Ministersva Zarordonnykh Sprav RF M. Strel’tsovym. [Report of a meeting of Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister B. Tarasiuk with Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation M. Streltsov],” January 12, 1993, Fond 1, Delo 7039, Archive of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

25. “Pro Kompleksne Vyrishennia Shyrokoho Kola Pytan’, Pov’iazanykh Z Roztashovanoiu Na Terytorii Ukraiiny Stratehichnoiu Iadernoiu Zbroieiu I Taktychnymy Iadernymy Boiezariadamy, Vyvedenymy Vesnoiu 1992 Roku P Ukraiiny Dlia Iikh Rozukompledtuvannia I Znyshchennia [On the comprehensive resolution of the wide range of issues related to the strategic nuclear weapons located on the territory of Ukraine and tactical nuclear warheads, removed from Ukraine in spring of 1992 for their dismantlement and elimination],” March 1993, Fond 1, Delo 7057, List 23-25, Archive of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

26. Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, “Postanova pro Osnovni Napriamy Zovnishnioii Polityky Ukraiiny [Resolution on the main principles of the foreign policy of Ukraine],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 37, St. 379 (July 2, 1993), http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/3360-12.

27. Yuri Dubinin, “Ukraine’s Nuclear Ambitions: Reminiscences of the Past,” Russia in Global Affairs, April 13, 2004, http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/n_2913. Dubinin headed the Russian delegation to the talks.

28. There was a third narrative: retaining all nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrent, advocated by Rada members Colonel-General Volodymyr Tolubko and ultranationalist Stepan Khmara. This narrative, however, was marginal in Ukraine’s nuclear discourse and found no support with the Rada or the executive branch.

29. “Memorandum Ministerstva Zakordonnykh Sprav Ukraiiny [Memorandum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine],” December 11, 1992, Fond 1, Delo 6857, List 241-246, Archive of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

30. Ibid., p. 243.

31. Dmytro Pavlychko, Holosy Moho Zhyattia. Statti, Vystupy, Interv’iu. Dokumenty [The Voices of My Life. Articles, Speeches, Interviews. Documents] (Kyiv: Osnovy, 2013), pp. 419-421 (Pavlychko’s speech to the Rada on June 2, 1993). Pavlychko was the chair of the Rada foreign affairs committee and a member of the Presidium, a body comprised of senior Rada leadership that controlled the legislative agenda.

32. Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, “Postanova pro ratyficatsiiu Dohovoru mizh Soiuzom Radianskykh Sotsialistychnykh Respublik i Spoluchenymy Shtatamy Ameryky pro skorochennia i obmezhennia stratehichnykh nastupal’nykh ozbroien’, pidpysanoho u Moskvi 31 lypnia 1991 roku, i Protokolu do nioho, pidpysanoho u Lisaboni vid imeni Ukrainy 23 travnia 1992 roku [Resolution on ratification of the treaty between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America on strategic arms reductions and limitations signed in Moscow on July 31, 1991, and its protocol signed in Lisbon on behalf of Ukraine on May 23, 1992],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 49, St. 464 (November 18, 1993), http://zakon3.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/3624-12. The 1983 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of State Property, Archives and Debts never entered into force as not enough parties had ratified or signed it. Ukraine ratified it on January 8, 1993. For more detail on the  convention, see https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=III-12&chapter=3&lang=en.

33. Ibid.

34. “Lyst Presydenta Ukraiiny L. Kravchuka Holovi Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny I. Plyushchu [Letter of President L. Kravchuk to speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine I. Plyushch],” January 24, 1994, Fond 1, Opis 16, Delo 4964, Central State Archive of Ukraine.

35. The 10-month delay between the ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was primarily due to the change of government in Kyiv, with early parliamentary elections taking place in March and early presidential elections in June 1994.

36. Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, “Zakon Ukraiiny pro Pryiednannia Ukraiiny Do Dohovoru pro Nerozpovsiudzhennia Iadernoii Zbroii Vid 1 Lypnia 1968 Roku [Law of Ukraine on accession to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of July 1, 1968],” Vidomosti Verkhovnoii Rady Ukraiiny [Official Bulletin of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine], No. 47, St. 421 (November 16, 1994), http://zakon2.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/248/94-вр. Article 4 contained a caveat that Ukraine would treat the use or threat of use of force against its territorial integrity as “extraordinary circumstances that jeopardize its supreme interests,” a formulation taken verbatim from NPT Article X, which deals with withdrawal from the treaty.

37. China and France pledged similar security assurances separately in a bilateral format.

38. UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, “Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” A/49/765, S/1994/1399 (December 5, 1994).

39. Taras Kuzio, Ukraine Under Kuchma (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), p. 220 (quoting a December 6, 1994, Reuters article).

40. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “U.S./U.K./Ukraine Press Statement on the Budapest Memorandum Meeting,” March 5, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/03/222949.htm.

41. As a Soviet successor state, Ukraine acceded to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe in July 1992 and undertook proportional reductions in accordance with the treaty.

Posted: December 31, 1969

25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Enduring Value of Nuclear Arms Control


Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.


Volume 6, Issue 11, November 7, 2014

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has rightly aroused concern in Western capitals about Moscow’s commitment to international peace and security and a rules-based international order. These concerns are compounded by troublesome Russian behavior in the nuclear arena, such as the testing of a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and not so subtle reminders from Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia is strengthening its “nuclear deterrent capability.”

Russia’s belligerence has prompted calls from some in the United States to abandon long-standing bipartisan arms control efforts to reduce the Russian nuclear threat.

Some members of Congress have proposed mimicking Moscow by placing a greater premium on nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy.

But this would be a mistake. Moscow’s challenge to Europe requires a tough and unified response, but the challenge can’t be effectively resolved with nuclear weapons or the buildup of nuclear capabilities.

In a Sept. 8 opinion piece in Foreign Policy, Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) stated that Russia's development of new nuclear capabilities should accelerate plans to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons "and perhaps even develop new nuclear systems."

Similarly, former George W. Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker recently argued in The Washington Post that the Obama administration should punish Russia by suspending implementation of the reductions mandated by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)and cease efforts to further reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.

Heeding these calls would be counterproductive and self-defeating. U.S. presidents from both parties have long recognized the value of arms control agreements in constraining and reducing Russian nuclear forces. While current tensions between the United States and Moscow may preclude new negotiated agreements in the near term, the arms reduction process has survived similar downturns in the past, and remains in the national interest today.

Nuclear Weapons and the Ukraine Crisis

To date, the United States and European Union have responded to Russian moves in Ukraine and Crimea primarily with economic sanctions, financial and limited military assistance to Ukraine, and conventional military support to NATO countries, particularly the alliance’s easternmost members that border Russia.

U.S. nuclear forces have not played a significant role in the current tensions over Ukraine. The nuclear component of the U.S. response has been limited to sending nuclear-capable B-2 and B-52 aircraft to Europe to participate in military exercises. The deployment of the bombers is largely seen as a symbolic gesture meant to reassure NATO allies alarmed by Russian actions. The calls from Eastern European allies for reassurance have been almost exclusively for non-nuclear measures.

The unparalleled destructive power of nuclear weapons makes them unusable in all but the direst of circumstances. Given the catastrophic impacts of using just a handful of nuclear weapons, deterring their use can be achieved with a far smaller nuclear force than the arsenal of 4,800 weapons the United States currently possesses.

Nuclear weapons are especially irrelevant to the strategy of “hybrid war” that Russia has pursued in Ukraine and which some NATO officials fear could be deployed against the alliance’s eastern flank.  A recent article in the Financial Times described the Russian approach as “a broad range of hostile actions, of which military force is only a small part, that are invariably executed in concert as part of a flexible strategy with long-term objectives.” These tactics fall well below the threshold that makes threatening or using nuclear weapons rational or credible.

In fact, an overreliance on nuclear weapons could make preventing future Russian misbehavior more challenging. For example, many NATO members are skeptical of the continued deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. According to former British Secretary of State for Defense Lord Des Browne, this situation is a “godsend” for Russia, which is eager to exploit fissures in the alliance. In addition, the money spent on maintaining a bloated nuclear arsenal is money that can’t be spent to help Ukraine’s economy or provide central and eastern European allies with additional conventional military support.

Responding to Russia’s INF Violation

The State Department’s 2014 arms control compliance report released in July found “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 to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

The United States government has not published details of the violation. Sources told the New York Times in January 2014 that the missile of concern – which may not be intended to deliver nuclear weapons – has not yet been deployed. The Obama administration has taken up the issue with the Russians, but Washington remains unsatisfied with Russia’s explanation for the tests.

The Obama administration should publicly criticize Russia for its violation of the INF treaty, consider steps to make Russia pay a price for its actions, and engage with Moscow in an attempt to bring it back into compliance with the agreement. However, withdrawing from the INF treaty, stopping implementation of other arms control treaties, or ceasing pursuit of future agreements would not serve U.S. interests.

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan continued to observe the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow despite its determination that a large radar located at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia violated the treaty. It also engaged in negotiations with the Soviet Union on the INF treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty during this period. It took time, but diplomacy worked and the Soviets eventually tore down the radar.

Likewise, building new nuclear capabilities to counter Russia would be unwise. The U.S. military does not have a requirement for new INF-range missiles. Forcing the Pentagon to spend money on such hardware would suck funds from investments for which there are requirements. In addition, trying to find hosts for new intermediate range missiles would have political costs.

Overall, the implementation record of arms control agreements with Russia has been highly successful—which is why both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued such agreements. Without these efforts, Russian forces would be unconstrained, our ability to verify what Russia is doing would be curtailed, and the incentives to engage in a costly arms race would be magnified.

The Case for Further Reductions

Over the last 40 years, the United States and Russia have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear weapons to the benefit of U.S., Russian, and global security. Successive administrations, on a bipartisan basis, have reduced the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a way to draw down Russia’s arsenal, build international support for nonproliferation, and save money. These rationales still hold true today.

Paradoxically, the current tensions with Russia reinforce the value of arms control agreements such as New START. The United States and Russia are no longer adversaries like they were during the Cold War and the risk of a deliberate nuclear exchange is exceedingly low. However, by verifiably capping U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces, the treaty bounds the current tensions between the two countries.

Blocking implementation of New START would be a major propaganda victory for Moscow and could cause it to renege on its own commitments under the treaty. This would limit the U.S. ability to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, thereby driving up the worst case assessments of military planners, leading to a potentially costly surge in weapons procurements.

Even under New START, the United States and Russia are allowed to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons with thousands more in reserve. After an extensive review of nuclear deterrence requirements, U.S. military leaders concluded last year that the United States could safely reduce the size of its deployed strategic arsenal by up to one-third below the New START levels.

In the past, U.S. nuclear weapons reductions have provided an incentive for Russia to similarly reduce the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, via both formal treaties and unilateral cuts. Today, Russia is already well below the New START limit on deployed delivery vehicles. While Russia is aggressively modernizing its nuclear forces, some observers expect Russia’s stockpile to continue to decline as its largest and most heavily loaded missiles reach the end of their lifetimes and are retired.

Russia has so far resisted U.S. offers to negotiate further cuts below News START, and given current tensions between the two sides over Ukraine and INF Treaty compliance issues, further negotiated treaty cuts seem unlikely in the near term. However, the United States and Russia have continued to cooperate on other risk reduction goals, such as constraining Iran’s nuclear program, destroying Syrian chemical weapons, and securing dangerous nuclear and radiological materials. Likewise, disagreements over Ukraine should not reverse the overall trend toward smaller nuclear arsenals.

One option is for the United States and Russia to informally agree to reciprocally reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,000 warheads and 500 delivery systems. According to a 2012 report by the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, this lower level could be verified using the New START verification provisions and reduce Russia’s incentive to build back up to New START levels and deploy new delivery systems.

Continued U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions are a necessary condition for including other nuclear-armed states in the arms control process, most notably China. If the United States and Russia fail to further reduce their arsenals, China, which is believed to possess less than 300 nuclear warheads, is unlikely to consider capping the size of its arsenal and could instead speed up efforts to increase the capability and size of its arsenal.

There are also strong financial reasons for the United States to consider retiring excess weapons. The congressional mandate for significant reductions in projected military spending could force reductions to the U.S. arsenal with or without Russian reciprocity.

A December 2013 Congressional Budget Office report estimated the cost of the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans at $355 billion over the next decade. But this is just the tip of the spending iceberg. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion.

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, a bipartisan, independent report commissioned by Congress and the Defense Department recently called the Obama administration’s plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” Russia also faces significant financial constraints, as a drop in global oil and natural gas prices, the growing costs of the war in Ukraine, and the impact of Western sanctions have taken a significant toll on Russia’s economy.

Now is the time to reevaluate existing spending plans before major budget decisions are made.

Calls to place a greater emphasis on nuclear weapons in response to Russian revanchism is not the magic bullet that some critics make it out to be.  The marginal utility of the 4,799th and 4,798th warheads in the U.S. stockpile is next to nil. Pursuing common sense arms control measures and reshaping U.S. nuclear policy to comport with current security and fiscal realities makes sense as a way to reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and free up resources to address the most 21st century security challenges. – KINGSTON REIF

Country Resources:

Posted: December 31, 1969

France Delays Arms Delivery Decision

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

November 2014

By Jefferson Morley

The controversial sale of a French amphibious assault ship to Russia remains in limbo after the French government dropped its original deadline for a decision.

A man demonstrates on September 7 in the western French port of Saint-Nazaire against the decision of the French government to delay the delivery of the Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia. (Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images)On the eve of the NATO summit in early September, French President François Hollande announced he was delaying the scheduled delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers because of Russian intervention in Ukraine. At that time, Hollande said he had two conditions for approving delivery of the ship—a cease-fire in Ukraine and a political settlement that resolves the country’s crisis. He said he would make a decision in “late October.”

Germany and the United Kingdom had called on France to cancel the contract, which is worth 1.1 billion euro ($1.4 billion), so as not to bolster Russian military capabilities. According to news reports, France may have to pay a substantial penalty if it does not fulfill the contract, which was signed in June 2011.

In an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a spokesman for the French embassy in Washington pointed to remarks Hollande had made the previous day in Milan. In those comments, Hollande reiterated his conditions for approving the delivery of the first carrier, saying that the cease-fire “needs to be fully respected in Ukraine and the crisis resolution plan…needs to be fully implemented.”

The spokesman said that no date has been set for Hollande’s decision.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Future of Some U.S.-Russia Work in Doubt

Although Russia and the United States are continuing to work together on global nuclear threat reduction, the future of their collaborative efforts after the end of this year remains uncertain.

November 2014

By Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport

Russia and the United States are continuing to cooperate on key elements of global nuclear threat reduction, but the future of collaborative efforts between the two countries remains uncertain.

In comments last month, current and former U.S. officials said cooperation in some key areas is in doubt after the end of this year.

Containers of highly enriched uranium fuel are prepared for transport to Russia from Almaty, Kazakhstan, on September 29. (Sandor Miklos Tozser/IAEA)In one of the areas of ongoing cooperation, Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Poland and Kazakhstan. The Russian-origin HEU was shipped back to that country for secure storage and elimination.

Janusz Wlodarski, president of Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September that Poland’s remaining HEU will be shipped back to Russia in 2016. The Polish research reactors that previously ran on HEU now use only low-enriched uranium (LEU), he said.

Operators of the cargo ship that transported the HEU to Russia reported on Sept. 29 that the material reached Russia and was transferred to railroad cars for transport to a reprocessing plant. Poland did not disclose the amount of HEU in the shipment.

More than 10 kilograms of HEU from a research reactor near Almaty, Kazakhstan, were also returned to Russia for secure storage on Sept. 29, the IAEA said Oct. 2. The agency, which assisted in the removal, said that the reactor is being converted to run on LEU.

According to the IAEA, since 2002, Russia and the United States have worked in cooperation with the agency to transfer more than 2,100 kilograms of Soviet-origin HEU from 14 countries back to Russia, where it is secured or down-blended into LEU.

In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, cited examples of “very solid” nuclear security cooperation with Russia, but expressed concern that because of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russia does not seem to be “thinking beyond the end of 2014 about continuing expansive threat reduction cooperation.”

At an Oct. 29 briefing for reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, head of the Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, said nuclear security cooperation between Russia and the United States beyond the end of the year depends largely on the results of an ongoing internal Russian review.

Matthew Bunn, a former adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, cited the recent HEU removals as part of “a long-standing effort to reduce the security risks posed by Russian-supplied HEU around the world that would not be possible without Russian cooperation.” Moscow and Washington have so far been saying that this cooperation should continue despite the tensions over Ukraine, but “[c]ooperation within Russia faces more uncertainty at present,” Bunn said in an Oct. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new pact allows nuclear security activities in Russia to continue, but discontinues activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

Bunn, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, warned that nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 is now in doubt, as all the work specified in current contracts finishes at the end of the year. “What kind of cooperation will continue after that is very much up in the air,” he said.

For Russian and U.S. security, “[t]he worst outcome…would be no cooperation,” he said.

Funding for U.S. nuclear security work with and inside Russia has been a contentious issue on Capitol Hill this year. The House-passed appropriations bill that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs “provides no funds to enter into new contracts or agreements in the Russian Federation in fiscal year 2015” until the secretary of energy “reassess[es]” the Energy Department’s “engagement” with Russia and certifies that cooperative work with Russia is “in the national security interest of the United States.” Also, the bill redirects unspent fiscal year 2014 funds for nonproliferation projects in Russia to nonproliferation work elsewhere.

In addition, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions prohibiting the Defense Department from engaging in “cooperative threat reduction activities” with Russia and bars the Energy Department from funding “any contact, cooperation, or transfer of technology” between Russia and the United States on nuclear security. The provisions include waivers that would allow the executive branch to continue cooperation after certifying that the work is in the U.S. national interest.

The Obama administration strongly opposes House efforts to curtail cooperation with Russia. In statements on the appropriations and defense authorization bills, the administration stated that “[c]ooperation with Russia remains an essential element to the global effort to address the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. Critical bilateral nuclear nonproliferation activities are continuing in a number of key areas, and nuclear security is of paramount importance.”

In contrast to the House, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs provided about $50 million above the fiscal year 2015 budget request of $305 million for the materials protection account.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the defense authorization bill does not impose restrictions on U.S. nuclear security cooperation with Russia. The bill includes a provision restricting all bilateral security cooperation with Russia funded by the Pentagon, but according to a Senate staffer, the provision exempts the department’s CTR work in Russia from this restriction.

The full Senate has yet to pass either bill.

The vast majority of U.S. nuclear security work in Russia is led by the Energy Department. Its cooperative activities with Russia include returning Russian-origin HEU to Russia from third countries and improving security at Russian nuclear material sites. The Pentagon’s nuclear cooperative work with Russia has diminished in recent years, but still includes technical exchanges on nuclear weapons security topics and dismantling retired Russian nuclear submarines.

Congress left Washington in September without reconciling the differences between the House and Senate bills. It is unclear whether and, if so, when Congress will pass final authorization and appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015.

Posted: December 31, 1969

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