U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Nov. 15, 2019

Moscow Expresses Frustration About U.S. Stance on New START

Top Russian Foreign Ministry officials have issued a fresh set of warnings about the future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) because, they say, the Trump administration continues to refuse to engage in talks on extending the treaty.

Washington “is evading any serious discussion, making public discouraging signals regarding the future of this treaty,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Nov. 8 at a nonproliferation conference in Moscow. Lavrov’s deputy, Sergey Ryabkov, voiced similar criticisms at the conference saying, “[It] looks as if the United States is dragging its feet, if not downright, looking for an excuse to get rid of New START right after tearing up the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty.”

The United States did not send an official representative to the conference.

The remarks from Lavrov and Ryabkov came a week after Vladimir Leontyev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s nonproliferation and arms control department, declared that there is not enough time to negotiate any replacement for New START before it expires in February 2021.

“It’s evident that given the time left, we won’t be able to draw up any full-fledged document to replace it,” said Leontyev at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club Nov. 1.

Leontyev also warned that time could run out to secure an extension of the treaty. He said that Moscow would require “at least six months” in order to process a “technical extension.” Other foreign ministry officials have said that an extension would require the approval of the Russian Duma.

New START allows for an extension of up to five years (until 2026) if the presidents of the United States and Russia agree to do so.

As Russia emphasizes the importance of extending New START and indicated its readiness to begin talks on an extension, the Trump administration continues to talk about the need for a more ambitious arms control agreement with Russia and China but remains officially undecided about whether to extend New START.

During an Oct. 22 interview with FOX News’ Sean Hannity, President Trump repeated the call for a trilateral agreement: “I believe that we’re going to get together with Russia and with China, and we’re going to work out our nuclear pact so that we don’t all continue with this craziness. We should all get together and work out something—a cap, have a cap. We don’t need 10,000 weapons.”

China has stated repeatedly that it is not interested in entering negotiations on a multilateral agreement. In order for those negotiations to become a real possibility, either “the U.S. agrees to reduce its arsenal to China’s level or agrees for China to raise its arsenal to the U.S. level,” said Fu Cong, director of the arms control department at China’s Foreign Ministry, at the Moscow conference. Currently, the United States has more than 6,000 total nuclear warheads, while China has about 300.

Lavrov said that “It’s an open provocation to insist on China’s participation in the [arms control] process, as a precondition, despite Beijing’s clearly stated and many times repeated position on this.”

Trump administration officials have additionally criticized New START for not covering the new long-range nuclear delivery systems that Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in a March 2018 speech.

However, Russia for the first time stated that two of the weapons—the Sarmat, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, and Avangard, a hypersonic glide vehicle—would count under the treaty.

“If Sarmat comes into existence at least as a prototype while the treaty is still valid, including in the extended period, there will be no problems from the point of view of the New START,” Leontyev said. “There should be no serious problems with Avangard, either.”

Leontyev added that there is no chance of including the three other new nuclear weapons systems—Kinzhal, an air-launched ballistic missile; Burevestnik (aka Skyfall), a globe-circling nuclear-powered cruise missile; and Poseidon, a nuclear-powered torpedo—without amending the treaty, in which case Moscow would have its own list of U.S. capabilities that should be addressed. He said that Russia was open to discussing these systems in the format of strategic stability talks.

The Kinzhal reportedly began trial deployment in December 2017. (Russia is currently planning to field the weapon on the shorter-range MiG-31 aircraft, in which case Kinzhal would not be accountable under New START.) Initial fielding of the Avangard and Sarmat could begin as soon as later this year and 2021, respectively. The Burevestnik, a recent test of which resulted in a deadly explosion, and Poseidon are still in development and unlikely to be deployed in large numbers or before 2025, according to independent open source and intelligence assessments.

Moscow and Washington last held strategic stability talks in July. Leontyev said another round of discussions had been scheduled for November but had to be “postponed indefinitely” due to staff changes at the State Department.

Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and non-deployed missile launchers and bombers.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant


U.S. Officials Hedge on New START Extension

Neither President Trump’s nominee to be the commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) nor the U.S. ambassador to Russia would commit to supporting an extension of New START during their respective confirmation hearings last month.

Vice Adm. Charles Richard, the STRATCOM nominee, spoke to the benefits that New START gives to the United States during his confirmation hearing Oct. 24. “The New START treaty has provided us with valuable insight into Russian, in this case, capabilities,” he said. However, Richard also voiced concern that the treaty “does not address large categories of weapons that are not treaty-constrained. It is only with Russia, and they are developing new systems.”

Richard would not say if he supported a five-year extension of the treaty, stating only that he would provide “my best military advice, if confirmed, into the pros and cons of any future agreement, including this one.”

John Sullivan, currently deputy secretary of state and the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Russia, said at his nomination hearing Oct. 30 that the United States should not announce an extension of New START “today.” Sullivan also expressed concern about whether new Russian nuclear weapons would be covered by the treaty.

“Our position is that we should engage with the Russians now in discussions about including those weapons systems…which are not covered by the Treaty,” he said. “[I]f we were simply to extend New START now, without touching those other systems, which the Russians have been invested in, we’re tying our hands in not limiting what...the Russians see where their growth [is]…in their strategic assets.”

Russian officials recently announced that two of the new systems Russia is developing, the Sarmat and Avangard, would be accountable under New START. Article V of the treaty states: “When a Party believes that a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging,” the two sides can discuss how to take the systems into account. The United States has raised the issue in the treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission.

During his opening statement, Sullivan called for “sustained diplomacy” with Russia and highlighted his leadership role in the July U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks in Geneva.

Engel and Menendez Express Concerns about Arms Control Policy

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed “serious concern about the status of the New START Treaty” and the lack of senior staff at the State Department to conduct arms control negotiations.

The lawmakers said that they have received “little reassurance” that “any path” forward on New START is being actively pursued. They warned that the Trump administration’s pursuit of a broader deal including China is “highly unlikely” in the 16 months left before New START’s expiration in February 2021.

“We urge the Administration instead to put its energy toward extending New START, thus guaranteeing continued strategic stability between the United States and Russia,” they wrote.

Rep. Engel and Sen. Menendez also highlighted “the fact that there are no Senate-confirmed senior leaders at the State Department with responsibility over nuclear negotiations.” Andrea Thompson, the former undersecretary for arms control and international security, recently left the department, and there is no Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of state for arms control, compliance, and verification.

“The lack of senior leadership and the dearth of information coming from the administration regarding these critical security issues is alarming and leaves us deeply concerned that in the near future Russia’s strategic nuclear systems will be completely unconstrained and that the United States will lose key insights into Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” the Senators warned.

BCC Concludes in Geneva

The Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), New START’s implementing body, met in early November for the second time this year and the 18th total time since the treaty entered into force.

The United States and Russia met from Nov. 6-13 in Geneva, with Washington represented by Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament. Before the start of the BCC, Wood stated, “As U.S. Commissioner of the BCC, my team and I will meet with our Russian counterparts to try to resolve outstanding issues concerning implementation of the New START Treaty.”

The State Department released a statement Nov 14, saying, “The U.S. and Russian delegations continued the discussion of practical issues related to the implementation of the Treaty.”

New START established the BCC “to promote the objectives and implementation of the provisions of this treaty.” The BCC meets twice yearly.


Russia Reiterates Call for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in November rebuked the Trump administration for “dismantling” the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and NATO for rejecting President Vladimir Putin’s proposal of a moratorium on the deployment of missiles with a range formerly prohibited by the treaty.

During the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference Nov. 8, Lavrov argued that “our American colleagues were only engaged in searching for pretexts to get rid of the INF Treaty,” from which the United States withdrew Aug. 2. Putin has since called on U.S. allies in NATO and the Asia Pacific to observe a moratorium on the deployment of ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. NATO has rejected the proposal, saying it was not “a credible offer” and “ignored the reality on the ground.”

NATO has accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty by testing and fielding a noncompliant ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729. Russia denies that it violated the treaty and has not indicated that the 9M729 would be captured by the moratorium proposal.

Lavrov stated that Moscow will not deploy ground-launched intermediate-range missiles until the United States does. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Oct. 21 said that U.S. deployment of such missiles would “lead to an arms race, to the growth of a potential for conflict, [and] will raise the probability of incidents.”

Meanwhile, President Trump criticized the INF Treaty agreement in an Oct. 22 interview with FOX News’ Sean Hannity. “We had an agreement, a non-nuclear agreement,” Trump said. “We had all sorts of limits, and we were the only one that was paying attention to it.”

The president incorrectly described the treaty as “non-nuclear.” Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Japan Not Considering Hosting U.S. INF-Range Missiles

Japan’s new defense minister downplayed the prospect that Japan might host U.S. intermediate-range missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty.

In an Oct. 31 interview with The Financial Times, Taro Kono, Japan’s defense minister, said, “The U.S. doesn’t have non-nuclear missiles that can be deployed yet. Maybe they’re in the phase of development. We have not been discussing any of it.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in August that he would like to see the deployment of U.S. conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Europe and Asia, ideally as soon as possible. South Korea—as well as Australia—said at the time that they were not considering such deployments.

The United States tested a ground-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the INF Treaty Aug. 18. The Pentagon has previously stated that it would conduct a test of a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of about 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers sometime this month, but to date, the test does not appear to have taken place.


Future of Open Skies Remains Uncertain

The Trump administration appears to have pumped the brakes on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty amid backlash from lawmakers and U.S. allies.

In early October, reports indicated that the Trump administration was poised to withdraw the United States from the treaty by the end of that month.

But Trump has not formally announced a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, and ongoing discussions have revealed differing views within the administration about whether to do so.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Oct. 30 at his nomination hearing to be U.S. ambassador to Russia that “the United States has not withdrawn from the Open Skies Treaty.”

“I've consulted with our ambassadors to NATO and the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and...conveyed...their view that we should continue to be members of the treaty,” he said.

Sullivan added that the administration has yet to consult with allies or Congress on a possible withdrawal and that any decision to withdraw would require the unanimous support of NATO “to make sure we don't do damage to our NATO alliance.”

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states-parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all treaty parties.

A dozen Democratic senators, led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), signed an Oct. 25 letter to Secretary Pompeo arguing against a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty.

The senators wrote that “the Treaty on Open Skies continues to give the United States, along with our allies and partners, a key tool to observe Russian military activities and actions while also keeping a key military-to-military channel at a time we need it the most.”

U.S. allies and partners have also spoken out in favor of the treaty. In an article in The Wall Street Journal Oct. 27, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry stated that “Open Skies Treaty is one of the basic international treaties in the field of European security and arms control. Ukraine is interested in maintaining and implementing this Treaty.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also emphasized the importance of the treaty in creating “trust, mutual confidence, and predictability” and the need for the preservation of Open Skies.

Russia has expressed its support for the treaty and said that it would not withdraw from the pact if the United States does.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov told a Russian newspaper Nov. 8 that if the United States withdraws, “the Russian Foreign Ministry is ready to review different scenarios in response. Different options are available, but we cannot respond symmetrically and withdraw from the agreement.”

Opponents of the treaty in Congress have also spoken up. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a resolution Oct. 30 urging a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

“The treaty no longer serves America’s national security interests, and it is long past time the United States withdraw,” said Sen. Cruz. Sen. Cotton further argued that “America ought to withdraw from this flawed accord, which invites Russia to fly spy planes over our houses while Putin violates the treaty by restricting U.S. flights over Russia.”

Morrison Leaves the National Security Council

Tim Morrison resigned from his position as the top official on Russia and Europe on the National Security Council Oct. 30. Morrison was previously the senior director for arms control under former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Morrison submitted his resignation the day before delivering his testimony to House investigators in the impeachment probe. A senior administration official told AP News that Morrison “decided to pursue other opportunities.”

Andrew Peek, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, has since filled the position.

Other key administration positions remain unfilled by new nominees, including undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and assistant secretary of state for arms control, compliance, and verification.

Following Sullivan’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Russia, President Trump nominated Stephen Biegun, current U.S. special representative to North Korea, to be deputy secretary of state Oct. 31. A confirmation hearing for Biegun has yet to be set.



Nov. 19 Hearing on “The Importance of the Open Skies Treaty,” House Foreign Affairs Committee
Nov. 20 Hearing on “The Future of U.S. Policy Towards Russia,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee, featuring David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs
Dec. 3-4 NATO Heads of State and Government Meeting, London
Dec. 22 Ninth Anniversary of the approval of New START by Congress