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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

No Progress Toward Extending New START


July/August 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue on June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals.

U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea speaks to the media in Vienna on June 23 after holding talks the day before with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (Photo: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images)The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels.

“We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but only under select circumstances,” he said. Those circumstances include making progress toward a new trilateral arms control agreement that has strong verification measures, covers all nuclear warheads, and involves China, according to Billingslea.

New START will expire in February 2021 unless U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is ready to extend the treaty without any preconditions and warned that there is not enough time to negotiate a new agreement to replace it before next February. U.S. allies have also urged the Trump administration to extend the treaty.

Trump administration officials, however, have argued that New START is outdated and are instead prioritizing the pursuit of a broader agreement. (See ACT, May 2019.)

Billingslea characterized the talks with Russia in Vienna as “positive” and said the two sides had agreed to form technical working groups to discuss key issues.

The special envoy said he was hopeful that the working groups would make “sufficient progress” to allow for a second round of talks “at the end of July or maybe beginning of August,” when “China again will be called upon to attend.”

The Wall Street Journal on June 23 quoted an unnamed U.S. official who said that the topics for the working groups would be nuclear warheads, especially Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, and doctrine; verification; and space systems. But a June 24 report in Kommersant cited Russian officials saying Moscow did not necessarily agree to discuss nuclear warheads.

Asked about the discrepancy, Billingslea replied that he would have “to circle back” on this issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who had led the Russia delegation in Vienna.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said at the conclusion of the talks that “the delegations continued discussing the future of arms control, including extending [New START] and maintaining stability and predictability in the context of the termination of the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, as well as a comprehensive dialogue on resolving international security problems.”

Prior to the start of the June 22 talks, Billingslea tweeted a picture of the table, with some empty seats reserved with Chinese flags. “Vienna talks about to start,” Billingslea said. “China is a no-show…We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding.”

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied, “What an odd scene… Good luck on the extension of the New START! Wonder how LOW you can go?” The United States and Russia are currently believed to possess about 6,000 total nuclear weapons apiece, while China has roughly 300.

Following the Vienna talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on June 23 that the U.S. placement of Chinese flags at empty seats “is unserious, unprofessional, and unappealing for the U.S. to try getting people’s eyes in this way.”

Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea tweeted this photo of empty seats designated for China at nuclear talks on June 22 in Vienna. Earlier in the month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia.” (Photo: @USArmsControl/Twitter)He also noted the incorrect design of the flags that the United States set on the table. “We hope certain people in the U.S. can do their homework and improve their general knowledge to avoid becoming a laughing stock,” he said.

The Trump administration claims that China is engaged in a secret, crash program to build up its nuclear forces and that future arms control efforts must include Beijing.

China has repeatedly refused to join trilateral talks with the United States and Russia and bilateral talks with the United States. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Billingslea on June 8 invited Beijing to join the talks in Vienna, but the following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying declined the invitation. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia,” she said. “This position is very clear.”

Billingslea urged China to reconsider. “Achieving Great Power status requires behaving with Great Power responsibility,” he tweeted on June 9. “No more Great Wall of Secrecy on its nuclear build-up.”

Russia has refused to pressure China to change its position and join the talks. “China should itself decide whether these talks are beneficial for the country,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, on June 20. “We will not force our Chinese friends.”

Antonov also repeated a longtime Russian stance that if China joins arms control talks, then U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom should as well.

Billingslea acknowledged that the U.S. “definition of multilateral might be different, but the principle remains the same.” He claimed that China’s nuclear buildup poses a much greater threat than the French and UK nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration has yet to put forward a concrete proposal for what it wants arms control with China to achieve or detail what the United States would be willing to put forward as concessions in trilateral talks with Russia and China.

Prior to and following the talks in Vienna, Billingslea touted the support of U.S. allies for the Trump administration’s approach to arms control.

Allies have praised the administration for resuming talks with Russia and seeking to bring China into the arms control process, but they also continue to urge the Trump administration to extend New START by five years.

During the Brussels Forum on June 23, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he welcomes “Russia and the United States sitting down and talking to each other on arms control” and agrees “that China should be involved.”

Still, he added, “in the absence of any agreement that includes China, I think the right thing will be to extend the existing New START agreement.”

“We should not end up in a situation where we have no agreement whatsoever regulating the number of nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

As the Trump administration continues to assess whether to extend New START, inspections under the accord have been suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is not clear when such inspections might resume.

 

Prospects remain dim for extending New START or engaging China in nuclear arms control efforts.

Russia Releases Nuclear Deterrence Policy


July/August 2020
By Shannon Bugos

Russia publicly expanded on the circumstances under which it might employ nuclear weapons in a policy document on nuclear deterrence signed by President Vladimir Putin on June 2.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) attend a June 24 Victory Day parade in Moscow to mark the 75th anniversary of defeating Germany in World War II. Three weeks earlier, Putin signed a new document outlining Russia's nuclear deterrence policies. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)The 2020 document, called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” marks the first time Russia has consolidated and publicly released its nuclear deterrence policy, which previously was classified.

The document presents four scenarios that might warrant nuclear use, two of which did not appear in the 2014, 2010, and 2000 versions of Russia’s military doctrine. (See ACT, March 2010; January/February 2000.)

As stated in the two most recent versions of the military doctrine, two of the scenarios in which Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons” include when Moscow is acting “in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” The 2000 military doctrine differed slightly in its description of the latter scenario, as it instead allowed nuclear use in response to conventional attacks in “situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

The two additional scenarios contained in the 2020 document include an “arrival [of] reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies” or an “attack by [an] adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions.”

The two new scenarios had not yet been included in formal policy, but other documents or statements by government officials, including Putin, have hinted at their inclusion, said Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at International Crisis Group, in a June 4 analysis.

Divided into four sections, the document leads with how Russia defines its state policy on nuclear deterrence, which it calls “defensive by nature.” The goal of deterrence is “to prevent aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.”

The document does not explicitly name Russia’s allies and adversaries, but the second section does broadly define adversaries, stating that Russia implements its deterrence “with regard to individual states and military coalitions (blocs, alliances) that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary and that possess nuclear weapons and/or other types of weapons of mass destruction, or significant combat potential of general purpose forces.” This definition would include the United States and alliances such as NATO.

The second section of the document further defines Russia’s definition of nuclear deterrence as signaling to adversaries “the inevitability of retaliation in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” It also describes military risks presented by adversaries that deterrence is designed to “neutralize,” such as the deployments of medium- and shorter-range cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, and missile defense systems. The document does not say how Russia would move to neutralize any of these risks should they elevate to “threats of aggression.”

This section additionally details what Moscow views as “the principles of nuclear deterrence,” to include compliance with arms control agreements, unpredictability for an adversary as to Russian employment of its means of deterrence, and readiness of its forces for use.

The third section covers the four scenarios in which Russia might use nuclear weapons.

The fourth and final section notes the roles of the government and related agencies, including the Security Council and Defense Ministry, in implementing Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy. The document maintains that the Russian president makes the decision to use nuclear weapons.

The document does not explicitly address Russia’s purported willingness to use or threaten to use its much larger arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis initiated by Russia, a strategy known as “escalate to deescalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) But, as Oliker points out, “hard[-]core believers” in this strategy may point to the document’s statement that Moscow’s nuclear deterrence policy “provides for the prevention of an escalation of military actions and their termination on conditions that are acceptable for the Russian Federation and/or its allies.”

Oliker instead suggests an interpretation that Russia will not use nuclear weapons “for simple battlefield advantage.” But if Russia decides to use nuclear weapons, it “will do so intending to prevent further escalation and end the conflict as favorably (or acceptably) as possible for itself.”

Nikolai Sokov, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and former Russian Foreign Ministry official, said in a June 3 analysis of the deterrence policy that the document has a deescalation strategy but emphasizes deterrence and views deescalation more as a means of preventing rather than waging war.

Following the publication of the signed document, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on June 3 that “Russia can never and will never initiate” the use of nuclear weapons.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, responded to Peskov on June 11, tweeting, “Where is this reflected in the new doctrine?”

Russia publicly releases its nuclear deterrence policy for the first time.

U.S., Russia Boost Shows of Force


July/August 2020
By Michael Klare

As tensions between the United States and Russia have intensified, both nations have engaged in airborne “show of force” operations intended to demonstrate their intent to resist intimidation and defend their territories. Such operations can prove hazardous when the aircraft of one antagonist come perilously close to those of another, a phenomenon that has occurred on numerous occasions over the past few years. The recent maneuvers, however, appear to have raised the stakes, as the two rivals have increased their use of nuclear-capable aircraft in such operations and have staged them in militarily sensitive areas.

A U.S. F-22 aircraft accompanies a Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bomber during an intercept near Alaska on June 16. (Photo: North American Aerospace Defense Command)The pace and extent of recent air operations have exceeded anything since the end of the Cold War. The United States has flown a number of missions near Russia, sometimes going places for the first time with strategic bombers. These include (1) two missions in March and June by U.S. B-2 stealth bombers above the Arctic Circle in exercises intended to demonstrate NATO’s ability to attack Russian military forces located on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north; (2) a first-time U.S. B-1B bomber flight on May 21 over the Sea of Okhotsk, a bay-like body of water surrounded by Russia’s far eastern territory on three sides; (3) a May 29 flight by two B-1B bombers across Ukrainian-controlled airspace for the first time, coming close to Russian-controlled airspace over Crimea; (4) a June 15 mission by two U.S. B-52 bombers over the Baltic Sea in support of a NATO exercise then under way, coming close to Russian airspace and prompting menacing flights by Russian interceptors in the area; and (5) a June 18 flight by two U.S. B-52 bombers over the Sea of Okhotsk, a first appearance there by that type of aircraft, again prompting Russia to scramble fighter aircraft to escort the U.S. bombers away from the area.

For its part, Russia conducted a March 12 flight of two nuclear-capable Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers over Atlantic waters near Scotland, Ireland, and France from their base on the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s far north, prompting France and the United Kingdom to scramble interceptor aircraft. In addition, nuclear-capable Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, accompanied by Su-35 fighter jets, flew twice in June within a few dozen miles of the Alaskan coastline before being escorted away by U.S. fighter aircraft.

In conducting these operations, U.S. and Russian military leaders appear to be delivering two messages to their counterparts. First, despite any perceived reductions in military readiness caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they are fully prepared to conduct all-out combat operations against the other. Second, any such engagements could include a nuclear component at an early stage of the fighting.

“We have the capability and capacity to provide long-range fires anywhere, anytime, and can bring overwhelming firepower, even during the pandemic,” said Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, the unit responsible for deploying nuclear bombers on long-range missions of this sort. Without saying as much, Russia has behaved in a similar manner. From his post as commander of U.S. air forces in Europe, Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian observed, “Russia has not scaled back air operations in Europe since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the number of intercepts of Russian aircraft [by NATO forces] has remained roughly stable.”

Leaders on both sides have been more reticent when it comes to the nuclear implications of these maneuvers, but there is no doubt that such considerations are on their minds. Ray’s talk of “overwhelming force” and “long-range fires” could be interpreted as involving highly destructive conventional weapons, but when the aircraft involved are primarily intended for delivering nuclear weapons, it can have another meaning altogether.

Equally suggestive is Harrigian’s comment, made in conjunction with the B-52 flights over the Baltic Sea on June 15, that “long-range strategic missions to the Baltic region are a visible demonstration of our capability to extend deterrence globally,” again signaling to Moscow that any NATO-Russian engagement in the Baltic region could escalate swiftly to the nuclear level.

Russian generals have not uttered similar statements, but the dispatch of Tu-95 bombers to within a few dozen miles of Alaska, which houses several major U.S. military installations, is a loud enough message in itself.

Although receiving scant media attention in the U.S. and international press, these maneuvers represent a dangerous escalation of U.S.-Russian military interactions and could set the stage for a dangerous incident involving armed combat between aircraft of the opposing sides. This by itself could precipitate a major crisis and possible escalation. Just as worrisome is the strategic implications of these operations, suggesting a commitment to the early use of nuclear weapons in future major-power engagements.

The nuclear adversaries have recently increased flights of strategic bombers near each other’s borders.

U.S. Continues Stalling on New START | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, June 26, 2020

U.S. Continues Stalling on New START The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals. The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels. “We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but...

U.S., Russia to Meet on Arms Control


June 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia have agreed to discuss nuclear arms control issues, according to U.S. President Donald Trump’s arms control envoy following a May 8 phone call.

Marshall Billingslea, shown speaking in Latvia in 2019, has been tapped to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. He outlined the Trump administration's plans at a May event at the Hudson Institute.  (Photo: Latvian State Chancellery)Marshall Billingslea, whom Trump also has nominated to serve as U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov agreed “to meet, talk about our respective concerns and objectives, and find a way forward to begin negotiations” on a new arms control agreement.

“So, we have settled on a venue, and we are working on an agenda based on the exchange of views that has taken place,” he said.

Billingslea described the conversation during May 21 remarks at a Hudson Institute event in Washington, where he also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and sketched out some of the Trump administration’s goals for a new trilateral agreement with Russia and China.

New START expires in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia stated in December 2019 that it is ready to extend New START without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has yet to make a decision on the treaty’s fate.

“Any potential extension of our existing obligations must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control,” Billingslea emphasized on May 21. Earlier, in a May 7 interview with The Washington Times, he also stated that the administration wants “to understand why the Russians are so desperate for extension, and we want the Russians to explain to us why this is in our interest to do it.”

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

Billingslea views the agreement as flawed. “One main failing of New START, among the many problems with it, is that it does not include the Chinese,” he told the newspaper.

Bringing China into nuclear talks would appear to be a challenging task, particularly as China has repeatedly stated that it wants no part in them. Most recently, a Chinese spokesperson told reporters on May 15 that Beijing “has no intention to take part in a trilateral arms control negotiation.” Even Billingslea’s State Department predecessor, Andrea Thompson, said on May 14 “that China’s not going to come to the table before” New START expires next February. “There’s no incentive for them to come to the table,” she said, citing China’s much smaller nuclear arsenal.

But Billingslea insisted that Beijing could be incentivized to negotiate.

“If China wants to be a great power, and we know it has that self-image, it needs to behave like one,” he said May 21. “It should engage us bilaterally and trilaterally with the Russians.”

Billingslea added that “Russia must help bring China to the negotiating table.” Moscow previously said that it
will not try to persuade China to change its position.

He further asserted that the United States would hold Russia to its “public commitments to multilateralizing the next treaty after New START.” Moscow has long said that a future arms control agreement should include additional nuclear-armed states, including U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom.

A new agreement also must include Russia’s large arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and stronger verification measures than those contained in New START, Billingslea argued.

Billingslea did not say what the United States might be prepared to put on the table in return for limits on additional Russian weapons or concessions from China, nor did he clarify what precisely the administration is seeking from China on arms control.

Russia has frequently raised missile defense as an issue that must be on the table in the next round of arms control talks, but the special envoy said that he did not foresee the United States agreeing to limitations on missile defense.

Billingslea claimed that the United States is in a strong negotiating position and could win a new arms race if necessary.

“We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said. “If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it.”

Russia criticized Billingslea’s May 7 interview with The Washington Times. “The unmistakable impression” is that Billingslea “has not been brought up to speed on his new job,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 14.

She also noted that the Trump administration’s desire to include China in arms control talks was “far-fetched.”

Trump and Putin discussed arms control on a May 7 phone call.

“President Trump reaffirmed that the United States is committed to effective arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China, and looks forward to future discussions to avoid a costly arms race,” said the White House in a statement following the call. The statement made no mention of New START.

The Kremlin said in a statement that the two presidents agreed to work to resolve “the urgent problems of our time, including maintaining strategic stability.”

The United States and Russia last held formal talks on strategic security in January. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said on May 5 that Trump had agreed to Russia’s January proposal that the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) hold a summit to discuss a broad range of security topics, including arms control.

“It’s my understanding that the substance and logistics of such a meeting are under consideration,” said Sullivan.

On April 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that all parties agreed that the summit “must be face to face.” He added two days later that “the conceptual content” of the summit is in the works.

“There is agreement, an understanding,” Lavrov said, “that it should be devoted to all the key problems of the modern world, strategic stability, and global security in all its dimensions.”

In Washington, Billingslea could be facing a controversial Senate confirmation process before he can officially assume the position to which Trump named him on May 1. Some senators are likely to question his reputation as a critic of arms control and to examine his human rights record. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Billingslea previously served as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department. He was an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In 2019, Trump nominated Billingslea for the top human rights post at the State Department, but his nomination stalled in early 2020 amid concerns about his role in promoting enhanced interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture while serving in the Pentagon from 2002 to 2003 during the George W. Bush administration.

 

Officials have agreed on a venue to discuss arms control, but not an agenda.

Trump’s Withdrawal From the Open Skies Treaty Is Reckless and Self-Defeating

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Originally published in World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

President Donald Trump's recent decision to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, which has helped keep the post-Cold War peace, raises the long-term risk of armed conflict in Europe. While unfortunate, abandoning this 34-nation confidence-building measure is consistent with Trump's years-long policy of confidence-demolition.

First proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and negotiated under the George H.W. Bush administration, Open Skies allows signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory. This helps build a measure of transparency and trust regarding each countries' military forces and activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

Under the terms of the treaty, every detail of each flight is agreed to ahead of time by both the surveilling and the surveilled party, from the flight plan to the plane's airframe to the type of camera. These flights allow short-notice coverage of territory that is not readily photographed by satellites, which cannot be immediately shifted from fixed orbits and which cannot penetrate cloud cover optically.

No treaty adherent has benefited more from its transparency than the United States, which together with its allies overflies Russia far more often than Russia can overfly NATO countries.

The administration's May 22 notification that it will formally leave the treaty in November is fundamentally at odds with the interests of the US and its allies. In response to Trump's decision, 10 European nations, including prominent NATO allies like France and Germany, issued a statement expressing "regret" and said they will continue to implement the treaty, which "remains functioning and useful."

The administration is correct that Russia has violated the treaty by restricting overflight of certain areas, namely the Kaliningrad exclave and Russia's borders with the contested regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, which only Moscow recognizes as independent states. Those violations, while they must be addressed, do not negate the fundamental value of the treaty and certainly do not justify withdrawal.

As some members of Congress have pointed out, the notification of withdrawal is also illegal. The Open Skies Treaty was the brain-child of Republican presidents and enjoyed bipartisan support, so Congress last year included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act—which Trump himself signed—requiring the administration give 120 days' notice before announcing intent to withdraw from the treaty. The deliberate decision to ignore this requirement is yet another sign of the Trump administration's willingness to flout congressional authority.

Even setting questions of legality aside, the substance of the announcement is internally inconsistent.

The administration simultaneously argued that the treaty is not useful because Open Skies aircraft can't detect anything that is not already visible from satellites, but also that Russian planes were vacuuming up valuable information about nonmilitary infrastructure in the US. It argued that Russia's activities were inconsistent with the "spirit"—not the letter—of the treaty, while ignoring the fact that the US and its NATO allies have collected similar information in more than 500 flights over Russian territory since the treaty came into force.

Exiting the treaty will further isolate Washington from its NATO allies, all of whom urged the Trump administration to remain. Indeed, the decision seems intended to reinforce the message Trump has been sending to NATO throughout his presidency: that the 70-year-old alliance cannot rely on the United States.

NATO members that possess less advanced intelligence capabilities than the US have placed great value on the mandatory sharing among all Open Skies signatories of the images collected from surveillance flights. No NATO ally is likely to join the US in withdrawing.

There may be little immediate effect from the US withdrawal. In fact, there were no Open Skies flights conducted at all in 2018, yet this did not provoke any military disaster. Still, in the long run, withdrawing from the treaty will undoubtedly damage the national security of the US as well as its allies and partners in Europe.

The treaty's value has been demonstrated repeatedly during moments of crisis, as when Open Skies flights observed a massive Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine in 2014. The sharing of such images, unlike those obtained by satellites, is immediate, and in this case may have deterred a more open Russian invasion of Ukraine. The next time crisis strikes, such as heightened tensions on Russia's borders with Georgia or Ukraine, NATO will not be able to mobilize an overflight as rapidly as it could with advanced US aircraft.

All the national security benefits of withdrawing from the treaty will accrue to Russia, which will be able to schedule more collection flights over its neighbors and NATO members, including over US bases and military deployments in Europe. And NATO's diminished capability to fly over Russia means Moscow will have greater latitude to deploy forces to its borders.

This will pose a particular risk for Ukraine, which is still in an active conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions, and which pleaded with Washington to remain in the treaty. Russia, meanwhile, can continue to argue—with increasing credibility—that it is the United States that is stoking a new arms race.

Of still greater concern is what this decision reveals about the Trump administration's approach to the very concept of arms control.

When Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, I acknowledged that US withdrawal from the treaty could be justified as a result. But I also argued that withdrawing from the INF without any action plan to redress Russia's violations was ill-advised, and only served Moscow's propaganda interests. The same critique applies doubly in this case.

Russia's violations of Open Skies are marginal, preventing coverage of less than 1% of Russian territory, and they are not central to the treaty's objectives, as was the case with Moscow's violations of the INF. In that case, Russia was not just playing games with the rules, but was repeatedly found to be building the very types of missiles whose elimination was the entire point of the INF.

The administration has made clear that it is ready to withdraw from any treaty that is not being implemented fully. Of course, it is also prepared to withdraw from agreements that are being implemented fully, as with the Iran nuclear deal. It appears to believe—despite the complete absence of evidence to support it—that this approach increases pressure on Russia and will force it to compromise on this and related nuclear issues.

The same preference for confrontation over restraint seems also to be the motivating factor for the administration's dithering on the urgent need to renew the New START Treaty, the only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the strategic deployed nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.

Trump says he would prefer a better deal involving not just Russia but also China. But because a complex new agreement simply cannot be concluded before the treaty's expiration in February 2021, many experts suspect Trump's rationale is simply a pretext for leaving New START.

In another sign that Trump's team is prepared to escalate tensions, The Washington Post recently reported that White House officials discussed the potential of resuming US nuclear weapons testing, which would break a moratorium that has been in place since 1992.

A senior official speaking to the Post claimed that by demonstrating the US ability to "rapid test" a nuclear device, it could put pressure on Russia and China in future arms control negotiations. In fact, such a move would instead give a green light to China, Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan to break their own nuclear test moratoriums, which could help them develop new and more dangerous warhead designs. This would unquestionably undermine American and global security, and yet the Trump team considers it a feasible option.

Trump has brought to crucial arms control issues the same approach he has brought to domestic politics, not to mention his personal legal and business issues: petulance, egomania, bullying and short-sightedness. Members of Congress from both parties have an opportunity in the coming days and weeks to take a principled stand, not only in favor of continued Open Skies adherence, but also against reckless tests of nuclear weapons for the purpose of political messaging.

Thomas Countryman is chair of the board of directors at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He was a career U.S. Foreign Service officer for 35 years until retiring in 2017, having most recently served as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Read the original article on World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

Country Resources:

Trump's decision to ditch another treaty with Russia is a reckless own goal

Body: 


Originally published in World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

President Donald Trump's recent decision to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, which has helped keep the post-Cold War peace, raises the long-term risk of armed conflict in Europe. While unfortunate, abandoning this 34-nation confidence-building measure is consistent with Trump's years-long policy of confidence-demolition.

First proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 and negotiated under the George H.W. Bush administration, Open Skies allows signatories, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory. This helps build a measure of transparency and trust regarding each countries' military forces and activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

Under the terms of the treaty, every detail of each flight is agreed to ahead of time by both the surveilling and the surveilled party, from the flight plan to the plane's airframe to the type of camera. These flights allow short-notice coverage of territory that is not readily photographed by satellites, which cannot be immediately shifted from fixed orbits and which cannot penetrate cloud cover optically.

No treaty adherent has benefited more from its transparency than the United States, which together with its allies overflies Russia far more often than Russia can overfly NATO countries.

The administration's May 22 notification that it will formally leave the treaty in November is fundamentally at odds with the interests of the US and its allies. In response to Trump's decision, 10 European nations, including prominent NATO allies like France and Germany, issued a statement expressing "regret" and said they will continue to implement the treaty, which "remains functioning and useful."

The administration is correct that Russia has violated the treaty by restricting overflight of certain areas, namely the Kaliningrad exclave and Russia's borders with the contested regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, which only Moscow recognizes as independent states. Those violations, while they must be addressed, do not negate the fundamental value of the treaty and certainly do not justify withdrawal.

As some members of Congress have pointed out, the notification of withdrawal is also illegal. The Open Skies Treaty was the brain-child of Republican presidents and enjoyed bipartisan support, so Congress last year included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act — which Trump himself signed — requiring the administration give 120 days' notice before announcing intent to withdraw from the treaty. The deliberate decision to ignore this requirement is yet another sign of the Trump administration's willingness to flout congressional authority.

Even setting questions of legality aside, the substance of the announcement is internally inconsistent.

The administration simultaneously argued that the treaty is not useful because Open Skies aircraft can't detect anything that is not already visible from satellites, but also that Russian planes were vacuuming up valuable information about nonmilitary infrastructure in the US. It argued that Russia's activities were inconsistent with the "spirit" — not the letter — of the treaty, while ignoring the fact that the US and its NATO allies have collected similar information in more than 500 flights over Russian territory since the treaty came into force.

Exiting the treaty will further isolate Washington from its NATO allies, all of whom urged the Trump administration to remain. Indeed, the decision seems intended to reinforce the message Trump has been sending to NATO throughout his presidency: that the 70-year-old alliance cannot rely on the United States.

NATO members that possess less advanced intelligence capabilities than the US have placed great value on the mandatory sharing among all Open Skies signatories of the images collected from surveillance flights. No NATO ally is likely to join the US in withdrawing.

There may be little immediate effect from the US withdrawal. In fact, there were no Open Skies flights conducted at all in 2018, yet this did not provoke any military disaster. Still, in the long run, withdrawing from the treaty will undoubtedly damage the national security of the US as well as its allies and partners in Europe.

The treaty's value has been demonstrated repeatedly during moments of crisis, as when Open Skies flights observed a massive Russian military buildup on the borders of Ukraine in 2014. The sharing of such images, unlike those obtained by satellites, is immediate, and in this case may have deterred a more open Russian invasion of Ukraine. The next time crisis strikes, such as heightened tensions on Russia's borders with Georgia or Ukraine, NATO will not be able to mobilize an overflight as rapidly as it could with advanced US aircraft.

All the national security benefits of withdrawing from the treaty will accrue to Russia, which will be able to schedule more collection flights over its neighbors and NATO members, including over US bases and military deployments in Europe. And NATO's diminished capability to fly over Russia means Moscow will have greater latitude to deploy forces to its borders.

This will pose a particular risk for Ukraine, which is still in an active conflict with Russian-backed separatists in its eastern regions, and which pleaded with Washington to remain in the treaty. Russia, meanwhile, can continue to argue — with increasing credibility — that it is the United States that is stoking a new arms race.

Of still greater concern is what this decision reveals about the Trump administration's approach to the very concept of arms control.

When Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, I acknowledged that US withdrawal from the treaty could be justified as a result. But I also argued that withdrawing from the INF without any action plan to redress Russia's violations was ill-advised, and only served Moscow's propaganda interests. The same critique applies doubly in this case.

Russia's violations of Open Skies are marginal, preventing coverage of less than 1% of Russian territory, and they are not central to the treaty's objectives, as was the case with Moscow's violations of the INF. In that case, Russia was not just playing games with the rules, but was repeatedly found to be building the very types of missiles whose elimination was the entire point of the INF.

The administration has made clear that it is ready to withdraw from any treaty that is not being implemented fully. Of course, it is also prepared to withdraw from agreements that are being implemented fully, as with the Iran nuclear deal. It appears to believe — despite the complete absence of evidence to support it — that this approach increases pressure on Russia and will force it to compromise on this and related nuclear issues.

The same preference for confrontation over restraint seems also to be the motivating factor for the administration's dithering on the urgent need to renew the New START Treaty, the only remaining treaty that verifiably limits the strategic deployed nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.

Trump says he would prefer a better deal involving not just Russia but also China. But because a complex new agreement simply cannot be concluded before the treaty's expiration in February 2021, many experts suspect Trump's rationale is simply a pretext for leaving New START.

In another sign that Trump's team is prepared to escalate tensions, The Washington Post recently reported that White House officials discussed the potential of resuming US nuclear weapons testing, which would break a moratorium that has been in place since 1992.

A senior official speaking to the Post claimed that by demonstrating the US ability to "rapid test" a nuclear device, it could put pressure on Russia and China in future arms control negotiations. In fact, such a move would instead give a green light to China, Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan to break their own nuclear test moratoriums, which could help them develop new and more dangerous warhead designs. This would unquestionably undermine American and global security, and yet the Trump team considers it a feasible option.

Trump has brought to crucial arms control issues the same approach he has brought to domestic politics, not to mention his personal legal and business issues: petulance, egomania, bullying and short-sightedness. Members of Congress from both parties have an opportunity in the coming days and weeks to take a principled stand, not only in favor of continued Open Skies adherence, but also against reckless tests of nuclear weapons for the purpose of political messaging.

Thomas Countryman is chair of the board of directors at the Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He was a career U.S. Foreign Service officer for 35 years until retiring in 2017, having most recently served as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Read the original article on World Politics Review, June 1, 2020.

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Open Skies Treaty Pullout An Irresponsible National Security Misstep, Warn Experts and Former Officials

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For Immediate Release: May 21, 2020

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—The Trump administration reportedly will announce that it intends to pull the United States out of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, a valuable arms control and security agreement intended to reduce risks to the United States and its European allies.

“The Open Skies Treaty has helped preserve the post-Cold War peace. It allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another’s territory. This helps preserve a measure of transparency and trust, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict,” says Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and now chair of the board of the Arms Control Association.

“A unilateral U.S. exit from Open Skies would undermine our security and that of our European allies, all of whom strongly support the treaty,” Countryman added. “It has the effect—and perhaps this is the intention—of signaling a diminished U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.”

“U.S. and allied treaty flights over Russia provide valuable information about Russian military activities, thereby enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict in Europe,” says Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association director for disarmament and threat reduction policy. "The treaty has been an especially important tool in responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine." 

“There is strong bipartisan support in Congress for maintaining U.S. participation in Open Skies,” Reif notes. “The administration’s announcement of withdrawal is a slap in the face to Congress as it violates notification requirements written into law last year.”

The administration told reporters the formal notification of withdrawal would be effective immediately and the withdrawal itself will take effect in six months. However, such action violates Sec. 1234 of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the administration to notify Congress 120 days ahead of a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw.

The Trump administration cites Russian noncompliance as a motivating factor for its decision. Disputes have arisen because Russia has imposed a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast for treaty flights, refused access to observation flights along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denied planned U.S.-Canadian flights over a Russian military exercise in September 2019.

However, Russia recently approved and allowed a joint U.S.-Estonian-Latvian treaty flight over Kaliningrad this year that was not subjected to the earlier Russian restrictions. In addition, Jim Gilmore, U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said March 2 that Russia will no longer raise an “objection” for the United States and its allies to “fly over one of their major exercises.”

As President Reagan’s former Secretary of State, George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry wrote in October 2019 in the Wall Street Journal: “As with any treaty, implementation disputes arise. Current disagreements are related to underlying territorial and political issues between Russia and some of its neighbors. But these problems can be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

“Today’s announcement is part of a troubling pattern. The Open Skies Treaty is not the first, and may not be the last, nuclear or conflict risk reduction agreement this administration has withdrawn from without a viable strategy for replacement,” observes Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“Failure to take up Russia’s offer to extend by five years the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the administration has threatened to do, would compound the damage and further heighten the risk of unconstrained military and nuclear competition between the United States and Russia at a time when the world can ill afford it,” he warns.

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The treaty allows the 34 participating nations, including the United States and Russia, to fly unarmed observation aircraft over one another's territory, helping preserve a measure of transparency and trust and enhancing stability and reducing the risk of conflict.

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Global Cooperation in a Time of Contagion: Member Video Call

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The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping thinking about national security and geopolitics Understanding these changes is crucial to how we—as advocates, analysts, educators, and concerned citizens—respond.

Arms Control Association members are invited to join a video briefing and discussion with Colin Kahl, former national security advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden, who is now co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, executive director of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS) and Arms Control Association board member, will moderate.

All members will receive a separate email invitation to register for the Zoom meeting event. Current members who need assistance registering should contact us at [email protected].

If you are not currently a member and would like to join the video call, we invite you to become a member of the Arms Control Association.

Click Here to Become a Member and Join the Call

Here are recommended readings for the May 6 video call that have been authored by our speaker and moderator:

Questions? Please contact [email protected] or 202-463-8270 x105.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping thinking about national security and geopolitics Understanding these changes is crucial to how we—as advocates, analysts, educators, and engaged citizens—respond.

Responses to Audience Questions from April 29 New START Briefing

Top former U.S. administration officials last week expressed support for a five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the last remaining arms control agreement between the United States and Russia that is set to expire in February 2021. “Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running,” said Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April 29 event hosted by the Arms Control Association. Rose Gottemoeller, lead U.S. negotiator for the treaty, and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Frank...

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