(Washington, D.C.): Russian President Vladimir Putin has now added scrapping a treaty limiting conventional armaments in Europe to the list of possible Russian responses to U.S. plans to station missile interceptors and a missile-tracking radar in Eastern Europe. A trio of arms control experts recommended today that Washington halt its European missile defense deployment plan and instead focus on engaging with Moscow to reassess and reenergize efforts to help transform their strategic relations from competition to cooperation, in part, by adopting a more ambitious arms control agenda.
The Bush administration has erroneously asserted that arms control is unnecessary between friends and can serve as a source of tension. Although the United States and Russia are no longer foes, unfortunately, they are not yet allies, and their arms holdings and deployments continue to engender distrust. Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated in a Rossiiskaya Gazeta interview published Feb. 21 that the U.S. approach of not seeking to “restrain each other” is dangerous because “it carries the risk of generating the same old arms race, since neither of us is likely to want to lag behind too much.”
Russia’s harsh reactions to U.S. plans to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic underscore the poor state of affairs. Putin announced last week that Russia will suspend and potentially end its adherence to the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which caps the amount of tanks, artillery, and other conventional weaponry that its 30 states-parties deploy in Europe. This declaration followed the Kremlin’s threats to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which prohibits U.S. and Russian possession of nuclear and conventional ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 to 5,500 kilometers. And, as a report in the forthcoming May issue of Arms Control Today details, Russia also is warning that a proposed U.S.-Russian center to share information on missile launches worldwide could be shelved.
“Rather than responding to the proposed U.S. missile interceptor plan with threats and backward steps on important agreements, Russia should offer positive alternatives,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the nongovernmental Arms Control Association (ACA). He noted, “The two sides have a responsibility to pursue a mutually beneficial agenda, including accelerating reductions in strategic nuclear weapons levels, accounting for and reducing tactical nuclear weapons, decreasing the alert status and role of existing nuclear forces, and boosting transparency.”
U.S. and Russian experts are currently discussing measures to succeed their historic 1991 strategic nuclear reductions agreement, START, but neither side wants to extend the accord past its scheduled expiration on Dec. 5, 2009. Russia recently claimed holdings under START of 4,162 deployed strategic warheads, while the United States reported a total of 5,866 warheads. The two countries are supposed to further reduce their nuclear forces under the May 2002 SORT agreement to less than 2,200 “operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads” apiece by Dec. 31, 2012. On that date, however, SORT expires, and neither country’s forces will be limited any longer.
Kimball recommended one of the first steps of a reinvigorated U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue should be U.S. agreement to pursue Russia’s offer on negotiating a new strategic agreement to reduce deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads to less than 1,500 apiece. U.S. officials have said they oppose another legally binding arrangement, but Kimball argued that a new treaty is “necessary to restore confidence that each country will continue to get rid of obsolete weapons that were originally built to deter and destroy the other.”
Jack Mendelsohn, an ACA board member and former U.S. arms control negotiator, criticized the Bush administration for continuing to use missile defense as an excuse to unravel arms control agreements undertaken by Presidents John F. Kennedy through Bill Clinton. “This administration has trashed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, wasted billions of dollars on a missile defense system of questionable capability and dubious strategic value, and is now jeopardizing stability in Europe in order to counter a non-existent Iranian ICBM threat. Congress should rein in this administration and cut off funding for this program,” said Mendelsohn.
ACA Research Director Wade Boese added, “Russia should keep in mind the adage that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ when formulating its responses to the U.S. anti-missile plan.” He said, “Russia should remain party to and fully implement the INF and CFE treaties, including commitments to withdraw militarily from Georgia and Moldova.”
Additional information on all the treaties mentioned above and developments in the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship can be found at <www.armscontrol.org/country/russia>.