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

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General


Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: March 16, 2018

Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START

March 2018

Contact: Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, 202-463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

On April 8, 2010, Russia and the United States signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The treaty requires both sides to limit the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550 and fielded delivery platforms to 700. The treaty also permits the United States and Russia to conduct 18 annual on-site inspections of facilities operated by the other country. Biannual data exchanges indicate the current state of their strategic forces.

As of February 2018, Russia had 527 deployed delivery systems and 1,444 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Russia is in the process of both retiring many of its older strategic systems and replacing them with new systems.

For a factsheet on U.S. nuclear forces, click here.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)

The following tables are based on public source data given that Russia does not release offical statistics for specific New START accountable delivery systems.

Missile system

Number of systems

WarheadsTotal warheads


R-36M2 (SS-18)




Dombarovsky, Uzhur

UR-100NUTTH (SS-19)




Kozelsk, Tatishchevo

Topol (SS-25)




Yoshkar-Ola, Nizhniy Tagil, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Barnaul, Vypolzovo

Topol-M silo (SS-27)





Topol-M mobile (SS-27)





RS-24 mobile





RS-24 silo










All tables are from http://russianforces.org.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Submarines


As of early 2017, the Navy had 12 functional strategic submarines of three different types, 11 of which are functional and one is being overhauled. They are deployed with the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. Bases of the Northern Fleet host six 667BDRM (Delta IV) submarines. The Delta IVs are undergoing overhaul in which they are being equipped with new missiles. The Pacific Fleet base hosts three 667BDR (Delta III) submarines but these are being withdrawn from service. Project 955 (also known as Borey or Yuri Dolgorukiy) is the newest class of submarines. Construction began in 1996 and the first joined the Northern Fleet in 2013, though subsequent submarines of this class will join the Pacific Fleet. As of January 2016, three Project 955 submarines have been accepted into service. When the missiles on Project 941 (Typhoon) class submarines reached the end of their service lives, these submarines were withdrawn from service. The one exception is the lead ship of the class, TK-208 Dmitry Donskoy, which was refitted for the new missile system, R-30 Bulava, which is designed for deployment on the Borev-class nuclear submarines The Borey class submarines are expected to constitute the core of the Russian strategic submarine fleet, replacing the aging Project 941 and Project 667 boats. Russia is planning to build eight Borey and Borey-A class subs by 2020.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

RIA News reported, in June 2012, that the Bulava sea-based ballistic missile had entered service. The Bulava (SS-NX-30) SLBM, developed by the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, carries up to 6 MIRV warheads and has a range of over 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles). Borey class strategic submarines will carry up to 16 Bulava ballistic missiles, each with multiple warheads.

Strategic submarines

Number of submarines

Number of SLBMs and their type


Total warheads

Project  667BDR (Delta III)


32 R-29R (SS-N-18)



Project  667BDRM (Delta IV)


96 R-29RM (SS-N-23)



Project 941 (Typhoon)


- - -

- - - 

- - -

Project 955 (Borey)


48 R-30 Bulava








[a] One submarine is undergoing overhaul and those missiles are not counted.
[b] One submarine of the Project 941 type has been refitted as a test bed for the Bulava missile system. It is not counted in the total number of operational submarines.

Strategic bombers

Russian Long-range Aviation Command consists of six divisions, two of which are the heavy-bomber divisions made up of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS aircraft. As of early 2017, the Command is estimated to have 66 strategic bombers. The bombers can carry various modifications of the Kh-55 (AS-15) cruise missile and gravity bombs.


Number of bombers

Number of cruise missiles and their type

Total cruise missiles

Tu-95MS (Bear H)


Up to 16 Kh-55 (AS-15A)

No estimates available

Tu-160 (Blackjack)


12 Kh-55SM (AS-15B)

No estimates available






-Updated by Marissa Papatola


Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

Country Resources:

Posted: March 8, 2018

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

March 2018

Updated: March 2018

In February 2018, Russia announced that it had met its New START limits on strategic nuclear weapons and had reduced its total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,444, delivered by 527 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. As of early 2017, Russia’s entire nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 7,010 warheads, including approximately 2,510 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Nuclear Doctrine
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty



Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)



CPPNM 2005 Amendment



Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism



Back to Top

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group

Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list

Missile Technology Control Regime


Nuclear Suppliers Group


Wassenaar Arrangement


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with the United States

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation


Proliferation Security Initiative


UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

Back to Top

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to a February 2018 statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russia has deployed 1,444 strategic warheads deployed on 527 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of 2017, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 7,010 warheads, including approximately 700 strategic warheads in reserve, roughly 2,000 tactical warheads, and approximately 2,510 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2016, Russia’s estimated 316 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,076 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M - three variants: ninety RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle]), eighteen mobile RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]), and sixty silo RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]); each carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) - mobile and silo versions, 70 mobile missiles and 12 silo missiles, each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) – 20 missiles, each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) – 46 missiles, each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh - development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km. It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat) - dubbed the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2”, Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s. It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev. The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
    • Barguzin - Russian defense officials have indicated that a rail-based version of the SS-27 Mod 2 (intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains), called the Barguzin, is in the early stages of design development. Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.  
  • All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
  • While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.  

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)


  • Russia is capable of delivering up to 768 warheads through 6 Delta IV submarines, 3 Delta III submarines (only two of which were operational as of 2016—the other was undergoing overhaul), and 3 of the new Borey-class submarines (Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
    • Delta IV - part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles, reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).The Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau was contracted to develop the R-29RMU2.
    • Delta III - part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
    • Borey class and Borey-A class –armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2.
    • RSM-50 - deployed in 1978, equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range, inventory includes 32 deployed RSM-50 missiles with 96 warheads.
    • RSM-54 - deployed in 2007, equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range, inventory includes 96 deployed RSM-54 missiles with 384 warheads.
    • RSM-56 (Bulava) - deployed in 2014, equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range, inventory includes 48 deployed RSM-56 missiles with 288 warheads. Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.  
    • R-29RMU2- several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of early 2017, the Russian Air Force operates a total of 60-70 long-range bombers: approximately 25 Tu-95 MS6 (Bear-H6) long-range bombers, 30 Tu-95 MS16 (Bear-H16) long-range bombers, and 13 Tu-160 (Blackjack) supersonic long-range bombers.
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. Only 50 of the bombers are believed to be deployed with an estimated carrying capacity of 616 cruise missiles and an unspecified number of gravity bombs.
  • The estimated 68 strategic bombers do not all regularly carry nuclear payloads but have the capacity to deliver up to 786 cruise missiles in total.
  • The specific carry capacity of each bomber is as follows: 
    • Tu-95 MS6 - capable of carrying 6 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 84 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • Tu-95 MS16 - capable of carrying up to 16 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 400 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • Tu-160 capable of carrying up to 12 Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. An estimated 132 AS-15B missiles are deployed as of 2017.
    • All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
  • The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
  • Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.

Nuclear Doctrine

Under Russia’s standing military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons 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 response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

U.S. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine. 

Fissile Material

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
  • At the end of 2015, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
  • Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
  • A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.


  • In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
  • Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 57.2 metric tons of seperated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.  

Proliferation Record

  • The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
    • In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
    • Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
  • Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
  • The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
    • The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other former Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
    • However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
  • After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

Back to Top

Biological Weapons

  • The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
  • The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
  • Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.” 
  • The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the U.S. from reaching more concrete conclusions.

Back to Top

Chemical Weapons

  • Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
  • On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
  • The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”

Back to Top

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015 and 2016.

For its part, Russia has raised concerns about U.S. compliance with the treaty. 

In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as New START, entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.

Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.  

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation especially since its borders fall well within the range of Iranian ballistic missiles. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nonproliferation sanctions. For example, in 2016 Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. In response to threats arising from the Trump administration to discontinue the JCPOA, Vladimir Voronkov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, stated in January 2017 that it is “necessary to do everything possible to avoid damage” to the nuclear deal.

Back to Top



Country Profiles

Subject Resources:

Country Resources:

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: March 8, 2018

Putin’s Irresponsible Nuclear Boasts

In a March 1 pre-election speech to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about Russia’s pursuit of several nuclear weapons systems, some that have already been tested as well as some new capabilities: Putin cited the “Sarmat’ heavy intercontinental missile, which can carry nuclear and hypersonic munitions, which has been undergoing developmental testing. Putin said Russia is developing a type of cruise missile with nuclear propulsion that has an unlimited range that “is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.”...

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits

The United States and Russia met their obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the February 2018 deadline. The treaty required each country, using agreed counting rules, to reduce its strategic nuclear stockpiles to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and bombs, along with 700 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles by Feb. 5, 2018.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Feb. 5 that the country had 1,444 warheads, with 527 deployed and 779 total delivery vehicles. In a State Department press release Feb. 22, the United States said it had 1,350 warheads, with 652 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles. Since the treaty entered into force in 2011, the countries have exchanged more than 14,700 notifications related to the location, movement, and disposition of nuclear weapons and conducted 252 on-site weapons inspections.

In its press release, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. commitment to New START, stating that the United States had reconfigured several Trident II submarine ballistic missile launchers and B-52H bombers in such a way that it “could not confirm that these strategic arms have been rendered incapable of employing nuclear armaments” in accordance with treaty procedures. Russia also accused the United States of “arbitrarily” converting some underground missile launch facilities into indistinguishable “training launch facilities.”

New START expires Feb. 5, 2021, but may be extended until 2026 under the treaty terms. Its future is murky, given President Donald Trump’s denunciation of the agreement as “one sided.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Russia’s interest in an extension may be waning, with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing skepticism about negotiating in light of tense relations.—RYAN FEDASIUK

Posted: March 1, 2018

Arms Control Association Hails New START Milestone, Calls for Extending Treaty



New START implementation has improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed still oversized nuclear arsenals. The next step is to extend the treaty for five years to avert the possibility of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition between the world’s two largest nuclear actors.


For Immediate Release: February 5, 2018

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

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, the United States and Russia each announced that they have met their obligations under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces by today’s implementation deadline.

President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia sign the New START Treaty during a ceremony at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010. (Photo: White House / Chuck Kennedy / Wikimedia Commons)“New START implementation is a significant accomplishment. Through this treaty, the two sides have improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed their still oversized nuclear arsenals,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which advocated for the treaty’s negotiation a decade ago and for its ratification in 2010.

“The next step is for Presidents Trump and Putin to agree to extend the treaty for another five years–to 2026–to avert the possibility of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition between the world’s two largest nuclear actors,” Kimball said.

“At a time when U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, New START serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks,” said Tom Countryman, chairman of the board of directors and former acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

“Continued implementation and compliance with New START, followed by an extension of New START and, if possible, the negotiation of a follow-on agreement, would advance U.S., Russian and international security,” he said.

Signed in 2010, New START requires each country to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by today’s implementation deadline. New START also includes a comprehensive suite of data exchanges and on-site monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

The United States reached the required limits in August 2017. As of the last data exchange in September 2017, the United States had 1393 deployed strategic warheads, 660 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.”

In a statement published Monday, the State Department said that Washington and Moscow “will exchange data on their respective strategic nuclear arsenals within the next month, as they have done twice per year over the last seven years in accordance with the Treaty.”

In a separate statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia announced that as of Monday it deploys 1,444 deployed strategic warheads, 527 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 779 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.

The treaty is one of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as both sides have abided by its terms. The U.S. military agrees and continues to strongly support the agreement. Gen. John Hyten, who leads U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that he is a “big supporter” of New START. Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

New START is set to expire Feb. 5, 2021, and can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. Russian officials have stated that they are open to discussing a five-year extension. The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review released last week does not take a position on the extension of the treaty.

“Unfortunately, President Trump has been dismissive of New START,” noted Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy.

In a January 2017 phone call, Trump responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two countries work to extend the treaty, according to a Reuters report.

“Failing to extend New START would be an unforced and self-defeating error,” Reif warned.

“If the New START is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. The United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile,” he said.

The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. Other key pillars of the U.S.-Russia arms control architecture, like the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, are in jeopardy. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of testing a type of ground-launch cruise missile prohibited by that accord–a charge that Moscow denies. Bilateral discussions on the matter have not yet resolved the dispute.

Despite the benefits of New START to U.S. security, some Congressional critics of the treaty have tried to block its extension. The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty.

“This is senseless and counterproductive. By ‘punishing’ Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021,” Reif says. “Fortunately, the final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include the House language,” he added.

“Extending New START would be an easy win for President Trump,” Kimball said. “It would buy five additional years of much-needed stability, predictability, and transparency. It would help head off unconstrained U.S.-Russia nuclear competition. It would help reassure allies unsettled by both Trump and Putin loose rhetoric on nuclear weapons. And it could serve as a springboard for both sides to pursue further parallel, reciprocal reductions in their still bloated strategic nuclear arsenals, which stand at about 1,550 warheads each.”

The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, all successfully negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.

“As the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks,” Countryman said. “The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives even more urgent. Extending New START—without either side asking for preconditions—would be an important down payment on a safer and more secure world.”

Subject Resources:

Country Resources:

Posted: February 5, 2018

U.S.-Russian Arms Control At Risk: An Assessment and Path Forward


The global nonproliferation order is weakening. It cannot afford continued noncooperation between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.


By Maggie Tennis
January 2018

Download PDF

In March 2017, Gen. Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that Russia had deployed a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) violating the “spirit and intent” of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.1 Selva warned the committee that Russia is “modernizing its strategic nuclear triad and developing new nonstrategic nuclear weapons.” His testimony illustrates the new normal of U.S.-Russian relations, wherein historic nuclear cooperation is profoundly at risk.

Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation has soured already strained relations between the world’s largest nuclear powers. Yet, the United States and Russia continue to share a common interest in ensuring nuclear stability worldwide. Together, the countries possess over 90 percent of the planet’s roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons. This power carries a responsibility to rejuvenate cooperative initiatives that reduce nuclear risks dating back to the depths of the Cold War.

To effectively evaluate the opportunities and challenges involved in that objective, U.S. policymakers must understand Russia’s current nuclear force policy and strategy. This policy paper examines Moscow’s nuclear doctrine, capabilities and modernization efforts, the status of U.S.-Russian arms control treaties, and the primary obstacles to cooperation. It concludes by offering a set of recommendations for both mitigating threats to strategic stability and resuming a productive U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue.


The longstanding tradition of U.S.-Russian dialogue and cooperation to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons—dangers that their rivalry and possession of nuclear weapons created—has been critical to global security and the health of bilateral relations in general. Indeed, during the Cold War, collaboration on nuclear matters was often the only tether holding the relationship together. The global nonproliferation order is weakening. It cannot afford continued noncooperation between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Current pressures on the U.S.-Russian relationship

Perhaps the greatest source of tension between Moscow and Washington is a fundamental difference of perspective on the post-Cold War European and international order. The Kremlin views its loss of superpower status following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and subsequent exclusion from international decision-making, as a root cause of many global problems. Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, the country is focused on regaining regional and global influence. Russian possession of nuclear weapons is a crucial component of these ambitions.

Moscow feels entitled to a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space at the same time that Washington maintains an orbit in Europe through NATO and its European alliances. As part of a quest to strengthen its influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Russia is expanding and deepening its information warfare and foreign economic activities to further weaken Western liberal democracy in these regions. There is clear evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as in recent elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany, with the intention of swaying the vote in favor of nationalist, populist candidates sympathetic to Russia.

Furthermore, Moscow is supporting pro-Russia authoritarian and oligarchic-style regimes and political movements throughout Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia. Perceived attempts by Washington to interfere in that zone are sure to have exacerbated tensions with Moscow. An example is the eastward expansion of NATO, which Russia fears perhaps more than any other geopolitical threat.

Russia’s most recent military doctrine, published in 2014, explicitly identifies NATO expansion as a major threat to Russian national security. Russia has viewed the eastward expansion of NATO as a menace since before the Soviet Union fell—and especially since the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo. Moscow is highly critical of U.S. intervention in past conflicts in the Balkans and Middle East, and remains suspicious that NATO intends to destabilize incumbent regimes in the post-Soviet space. The Kremlin directly blames Washington for inciting uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine, and the Middle East.

In Ukraine, Moscow blames the Obama administration for encouraging the Maidan revolution and views U.S. policy toward Crimea as hypocritical. In Syria, Russia and the United States have disagreed on a range of issues, including the use of airspace, the future of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Iran’s role, how to fight the Islamic State, and which parties to the conflict constitute terrorist organizations.2

Finally, Moscow has amplified its muscular military signaling in recent years. In Ukraine and Syria in particular Russia has exercised nuclear sabre rattling and dangerous brinksmanship. Both countries have engaged in increased military exercises and force buildups on the NATO-Russia border.3

Arms control is not dead, but it’s wounded

Arms control is an area where Russia and the United States must cooperate, despite numerous tensions in their relationship. Yet, disagreements over treaties, missile defense, and approaches to nonproliferation have created additional challenges.

The INF Treaty is at the center of a significant and ongoing arms control treaty dispute between Moscow and Washington. In 2014 the United States accused Russia of testing a GLCM that violates that agreement. Then, in 2017, Washington alleged that Moscow had deployed the system. The Kremlin denies the allegations, and instead accuses the United States of violating the agreement. Mounting distrust on the treaty threatens to affect other hallmark agreements, such as the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Agreement Treaty (New START).

New START requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and non-deployed delivery systems by February 2018. The treaty is slated to expire in February 2021 but can be extended for another five years by mutual agreement by the two presidents. Since New START went into force in 2011, bilateral talks on further reductions have been put on hold amid a litany of U.S. and Russian disagreements in both the nuclear and non-nuclear realms.

Moscow is troubled by the expansion of U.S and NATO missile defenses, particularly the Aegis Ashore system in Romania and another planned site in Poland. While NATO argues that the intention of the system is “to protect European NATO allies, and U.S. deployed forces in the region, against current and emerging ballistic threats from the Middle East,” Moscow views the system as directed against Russia.4 Moscow’s perception is underscored by the fact that U.S. missile defense deployment planning did not change following the achievement of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which curtailed the Iranian nuclear threat.

On the U.S. side, there is concern that Russia is lowering its threshold for nuclear use, thereby increasing the potential that regional conventional conflicts could escalate into catastrophic nuclear collisions. While it is certainly possible to interpret Russian nuclear doctrine in this way, American and Russian analysts debate whether Moscow has indeed incorporated limited strikes as part of its official military doctrine.

Despite these irritants, past cooperation between the two powers on New START and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to limit and roll back Iran’s emerging nuclear program indicates that future cooperation is possible.5 However, statements by the Trump administration suggesting that the United States might pull out of the JCPOA, as well as withholding a certification to Congress tied to the deal, have seriously harmed this potential and led Moscow to question Washington’s commitment to arms control and nonproliferation.

Furthermore, the bilateral risk reduction enterprise is under siege. Since the end of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow have worked in partnership to combat the threat posed by non-state actor access to nuclear weapons, but recently that collaboration has stalled.

Trump-era developments

Immediately following Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, some believed that U.S.-Russian relations would rebound due to Trump’s admiration of Putin, his stated desire to improve ties, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump over Clinton. Yet, evidence of Russian election interference and support for Assad in Syria soon led Trump administration officials to expand their criticisms of Moscow. Congress has taken additional steps to put economic pressure on Moscow and constrain the president’s ability to engage.

Trump has yet to articulate a clear policy toward Russia, including on arms control. In January 2017, the administration announced plans to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, posture, and planning. The release of this document, called the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), is expected in February 2018. While Trump has expressed a desire to improve relations with Moscow, and on occasion professed that global nuclear weapons inventories should be significantly reduced, he has also publicly pledged to strengthen and expand U.S. nuclear capabilities. In a January 2017 phone call with Putin, Trump reportedly denounced New START and rebuffed Putin’s suggestion to extend the treaty.

In May 2017, White House and Kremlin officials stated that they would pursue resumed talks on strategic stability. The two sides held a first round of talks on September 12 in Helsinki, Finland, led by Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, but the specific agenda has not been disclosed, nor has a date for the next round of talks been scheduled.

Congressional action could undermine U.S. relations with Russia

Republican hawks in Congress have introduced provisions that could jeopardize key arms control treaties, including the INF Treaty and New START. In an attempt to counter Russia’s INF Treaty violation, the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range prohibited by the treaty.6

Nuclear policy of the Russian Federation

Russia published its most recent military doctrine in 2014. Although it discusses nuclear weapons and use, it is not meant to be the last word on Russian nuclear policy.

What the latest military doctrine says

The most recent version of Russian military doctrine identifies the past, present, and future expansion of NATO, and NATO activities “in violation of international law,” as a primary threat to Russian national security. Other main threats include the “creation and deployment of strategic missile defense systems,” which the doctrine argues “violate the balance of forces in the nuclear-missile sphere,” and the “deployment of strategic non-nuclear systems” and precision weapons. The document also references the weaponization of space and cyber and electronic warfare.7

Although Russia’s military doctrine demonstrates a view of the United States and NATO as aggressors in an evolving security environment, it also highlights the value of the arms control architecture and exhorts the military to “conclude and implement agreements in the area of nuclear-missile arms limitation and reduction.”8

The doctrine states that the purpose of Russia’s nuclear forces is to serve as a broad deterrent, and adds that Russia reserves the right to use:

“nuclear weapons in response to use against it and (or) its allies of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is
under threat.”9

Earlier versions of the doctrine described a lower standard for nuclear use, which prompted debates on concepts of de-escalation and pre-emption.10 There is now a near consensus view in Washington that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, whereby Moscow would use nuclear weapons on a limited basis to bring a conflict with a conventionally superior opponent to a halt.

Yet, the 2014 version does not mention de-escalation or legitimize pre-emptive strikes, and it is vague or silent about many aspects of nuclear use, including the scale of a nuclear response to an existential threat. It also does not include a no-first-use declaration, a policy Moscow abandoned in 2000.11

What the Russian government is saying and doing

The words and actions of the Kremlin and military officials provide additional context and insight into Russia’s military doctrine. In recent years, officials have emphasized the role of nuclear weapons in Russian defense strategy. Many recent prominent Russian military drills have included simulated nuclear strikes, including the September 2017 Zapad exercises, which featured two tests of the RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Kremlin leaders frequently draw attention to the strength of the arsenal in their public statements and, on occasion, have referenced it when issuing warnings to the West, such as the time Putin praised Russian nuclear weapons and said, “it’s best not to mess with us.”12 In 2009, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, “we will certainly resort to using nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests.”13 The 2003 Report of the Defence Ministry of the Russian Federation, known as the “Ivanov Doctrine” after then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, defined de-escalation as “forcing the enemy to halt military action by a threat to deliver or by actual delivery of strikes of varying intensity with reliance on conventional and (or) nuclear weapons.” The state press also regularly features headlines announcing the augmentation or improvement of an aspect of the nuclear arsenal.

These statements generate confusion among analysts as to whether Russia is truly lowering its threshold for nuclear use. Such ambiguity may ultimately be Moscow’s objective.

What analysts think about Russian doctrine

Western analysts frequently speculate on the conditions that would prompt Moscow to employ nuclear weapons. As noted above, military doctrine states that an existential threat would prompt Russia to employ its nuclear arsenal. However, it is unclear precisely what conditions Russia considers as constituting a threat to the existence of the Russian state, or how to measure the circumstances that would motivate Russia to escalate a conflict with limited nuclear strikes.14 Paul Bernstein, senior fellow for the National Defense University Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, wrote in a 2016 report that Russia likely views any conflict involving NATO as posing an existential threat.15

Alexander Velez-Green of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) argues that rapid technological advances, which “give far greater advantage to the side that escalates first,” have made it likely that Moscow would consider a first strike in a conflict situation.16 After analyzing Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program, some analysts note that many of its systems being upgraded have the capabilities needed to carry out “limited nuclear strikes against both military and non-military targets of value to the Western Alliance.”17 Russia has also improved its advanced non-nuclear capabilities, including theater-range precision strike systems,18 which could indicate a “pre-nuclear level of deterrence.”19

Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work testified before Congress in 2015 that Russian nuclear doctrine contains a de-escalation strategy.20 But because the concept of de-escalation is not mentioned in public military doctrine, analysts debate whether the concept is formally part of Russian nuclear policy.

Eldridge Colby, currently Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, argued in a 2016 report for the Foundation for Strategic Research that Russia’s possession of the capabilities necessary for limited nuclear strikes, coupled with reports of limited nuclear strikes in recent military exercises, signal that Russia is lowering its nuclear threshold.21 Although de-escalation is not explicitly mentioned in military doctrine, the fact that senior military officials often reference the concept suggests it is part of Russian defense planning.

Conversely, Olga Oliker, senior adviser and director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, argues that because the purpose of military doctrine is to apprise adversaries of intention, it would be only logical to mention a lowering of threshold in the document if that were truly Moscow’s intention.22 Beyond doctrine, Oliker writes that there is “unconvincing” evidence that Russia invokes such a strategy, instead arguing that Moscow is more concerned with reminding the world that Russia has the power and capabilities to escalate—without actually intending to do so. The point is to keep NATO and Washington on their toes.23 Oliker says that recent Russian military exercises are meant “to test the readiness and command and control of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces,” and not as a “preparation for tactical use.”24

Russian nuclear capabilities in 2017: current status and modernization plans

While it is difficult to make a precise assessment of the size and composition of Russia’s nuclear stockpile, experts have been able to provide estimates using New START aggregate data and data from monitoring sources. Analysis from Hans Kristensen, Robert Norris, and Pavel Podvig indicate that, as of 2017, Russia owns a total military stockpile of operational forces of 4,300 nuclear warheads. Of these, 1,960 are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases, and 500 strategic warheads and 1,850 non-strategic warheads are in storage.25 The military’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) manages ICBMs, the Navy manages sea-based systems, and the Aerospace force manages air and missile defense systems.

Modernization plans and the State Armaments Programme (SAP)

Russia has pursued a major upgrade of its nuclear forces over the past decade. The vast scale of the program seems designed to counter perceived threats from the United States and NATO and maintain strategic stability.26 The program includes an emphasis on modernizing strategic nuclear and aerospace defense forces. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in 2017 that the military would “continue a massive program of nuclear rearmament, deploying modern ICBMs on land and sea, [and] modernizing the strategic bomber force.”27

Russia commenced the State Armaments Programme 2020 (SAP-2020) in 2011 to expand and upgrade the technology of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces from 2011-2020. The stated goal of the SAP-2020 is to modernize 70 percent of Russian arms and equipment by 2020. But sanctions on Russia, a punishment for Russian aggression in Ukraine, have slowed the Russian economy­—and with it, progress on the SAP. Despite economic concerns, Russia is modernizing all three legs of its nuclear triad.28 In a 2017 speech before the Ministry of Defense, Putin extended the deadline to 2021. In this address he stated that the Russian nuclear triad was 79 percent modernized, and that by 2021 ground-based nuclear forces would be 90 percent modernized.”29

Russia frequently justifies its nuclear force posture by signaling a need to defend against U.S. missile defense and conventional strike capabilities and keep up with the pace and scope of U.S. nuclear modernization. Russian Foreign Ministry Director of Nonproliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov remarked in 2014 on ongoing U.S. modernization plans, declaring that Russia would “take corresponding countermeasures to ensure our security.”30 Regarding modernization, it should be noted that the Russian program began before that of the United States.

Putin said in 2016, “It is necessary to strengthen the combat potential of the strategic nuclear forces, primarily for missile systems capable of and guaranteed to overcome the existing and future missile defense system [of the U.S.]”31 Russia is building new ICBM systems equipped with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and maneuverable warheads to counter the U.S. missile defense program.

Budget and cost estimates of Russia’s nuclear program

According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia plans to spend approximately $28 billion by 2020 on upgrades to its strategic nuclear triad. The budget for SAP-2020 was initially planned with a much higher GDP growth rate than was actually achieved. When oil prices fell from the expected $50 per barrel to under $35 per barrel and GDP stalled, the military was forced to make budget cuts of up to 10 percent for each ministry. These cuts hampered modernization plans.32 At the same time, the defense budget continues to grow at a higher rate than the national GDP, likely due to the lobbying power of the Russian defense industry and the government’s strong commitment to modernization.33 However, U.S. defense spending still far outpaces that of Russia.

Russia announced plans to spend approximately 20.7 trillion rubles ($704 billion) on the SAP-2020 in 2011, although Western analysts believe 19 trillion rubles to be a more realistic figure.34,35 First Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin, who oversees the SAP, said that the bulk of the funding would go to developing eight nuclear-powered strategic submarines equipped with the Bulava missile system, modernizing ICBMs, purchasing precision weapons, and building a heavy-liquid ICBM.36 By 2015, Russia had procured only 30 of 400 desired ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), two of eight desired ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), 11 of 56 S-400 missile defense systems, and two of 10 desired Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile brigades.37 Actual Russian spending in 2015 for the nuclear complex was roughly 44 million rubles. In 2016, it was 46 million.38

The Defense and Finance Ministries put forward competing proposals to fund the SAP-2025 for the years 2018-2025. The Defense Ministry proposed a 24 trillion ruble budget, while Finance proposed a budget of half that amount, at 12 trillion.39 The two ministries will need to reconcile these figures to produce a budget for approval.40

The intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force

As of March 2017, Russia’s stockpile includes an estimated 316 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carrying 1,076 warheads. Russia is increasing its arsenal of ICBMs equipped with multiple warheads, possibly to account for a smaller ICBM force than that of the United States. By the early 2020s, most mobile Russian ICBMs are expected to carry ballistic missile payloads containing multiple warheads.

The Russian ICBM force includes the Topol (SS-25), Topol-M (SS-27 Mod 2), RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2), UR-100NUTTH (SS-19), and R-36M2 (SS-18). The latter two are the oldest ICBMs in the arsenal. The R-36M2 is likely to remain in service until 2022, when it will be replaced by a new silo-based liquid-fuel ICBM, called Sarmat. Development of the RS-24 Yars began after the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired in 2009. It is a MIRVed variation of the Topol-M. The RS-26 Rubezh (no SS- designation), Sarmat (no RS- or SS- designation), and Barguzin are in development.41

The Russians are retiring Soviet-era ICBM systems in order to gradually replace older systems with newer systems by the early-to-mid 2020s.42 The new ICBMs are MIRVed, road-mobile, and silo-based—mainly variants of the Topol-M/RS-24 Yars missile. The road-mobile RS-26 Rubezh is planned for deployment in late 2017 and the Sarmat will replace the RS-20V in 2019 or 2020, although it is behind schedule. The Sarmat is expected to be a liquid-fueled missile equipped with as many as 10 MIRVs, and may carry a hypersonic maneuvering warhead. It will be able to attack U.S. targets by multiple trajectories, thereby allowing it to overcome U.S. missile defense systems.43

The Defense Ministry had announced the development of five regiments of a rail-based ICBM, called “Barguzin.” Testing was planned for 2019, and deployment, by 2020.44 Each regiment was to contain six missiles. An ejection test was reported in November 2016.45 However, it was reported in December 2017 that the program had been canceled.46

The ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) force

The Russian force contains 11 operational submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) across three classes, including the Delta III and Delva IV classes, with a total of 176 missiles carrying 768 warheads. Each submarine can carry 16 SLBMs, for a total of almost 800 warheads. Russian SLBMs include the R-29R (RSM-50, SS-N-18 Stingray), R-29RM Sineva (RSM-54, SS-N-23), RSM-56 Bulava (SS-N-32), and, according to some sources, a version of the RSM-54 known as the R-29RMU2 Lanier.

Russia is developing eight Borey-class submarines to replace the ageing Delta III and IV submarines in the mid-2020s, three of which have already been built. The first three are Borey and the additional submarines are Borey-A. The fourth submarine will be introduced in 2019 and the last should join the fleet sometime in 2021. Each will be loaded with sixteen Bulava SLBMs carrying up to six warheads per missile.47

The bomber force

Russia maintains a bomber force of approximately 68 aircraft. Only 50 of the deployed nuclear-cable bombers carry assigned nuclear weapons. Of the estimated 68 planes, approximately 25 are TU-95 MS6 (Bear-H6) long-range bombers, 30 are TU-95 MS16 (Bear-H16) long-range bombers, and 13 are Tu-160 (Blackjack) supersonic long-range bombers. They are capable of carrying nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). As strategic heavy bombers they are subject to New START limitations. The Russian air force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tupolev Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles. It is not limited by New START.48

Russia is reportedly replacing its current fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s with a new generation of strategic bombers by the early 2020s. These fleets are being upgraded to increase their conventional capabilities. In 2015, the Defense Ministry revealed plans to resume production of the Tu-160M2, an upgrade to the Tu-160, in the mid-2020s.49 It reportedly signed a $103 million contract to upgrade three of the 10 Tu-160 bombers slated for modernization.50 Over the next decade, Russia is also developing a new generation bomber called the PAK-DA.

Nonstrategic nuclear weapons

The Russian nonstrategic arsenal totals 2,000 weapons, including short-range surface-to-surface missiles, air-to-surface missiles and bombs, nuclear-armed torpedoes, depth charges, and surface-to-air missiles for air defense. At least 760 warheads are used by the Russian Navy.51 About 570 nonstrategic weapons are used by the air force.52

Moscow currently has a far larger arsenal of non-strategic weapons than the United States, although Moscow might say that it is more accurate to count U.S. non-strategic weapons in combination with those of France and the United Kingdom, thus reducing the asymmetry. None of these forces are limited by treaties. The Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, co-chaired by former Secretaries of Defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, found this imbalance to be “worrisome to some U.S. allies in Central Europe.”53

Russia is developing dual-use systems, weapons that can be deployed in nuclear and conventional variants. Both the Kalibr sea-based cruise missile, which has an intermediate range, and the Iskander ground-based ballistic missile represent this type of weapon. Moscow is nearing full deployment of the potentially nuclear-capable Iskander-M system, which comprises short-range ballistic and cruise missiles, to replace Tochka-U missiles.

According to Pavel Podvig, director of the Russian Nuclear Forces Project, the development of dual-use systems is worrisome from a stability perspective. He writes that the systems are capable of “blurring the line between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons.”54 The U.S. European Command 2017 Posture Statement declared that “Russia’s fielding of a conventional/nuclear dual-capable system that is prohibited under the INF Treaty creates a mismatch in escalatory options with the West.”55

Early-warning system upgrades

Russia is upgrading its strategic force support systems, such as early-warning launch detection satellites and ballistic missile early-warning radars. The SAP called for as many as 10 new early-warning satellites by 2020. These had fallen behind U.S. capabilities after the Soviet collapse.56 Three new early-warning radars were planned to become operational in 2017 as part of an upgrade program to Russian early-warning systems. Russia began deployment of a new early-warning space-based system, known as EKS, in 2015. Satellites of these systems can transmit information in real time to command centers at western and eastern locations.57 According to Shoigu, in 2017 Russia will achieve full coverage of its perimeter through a “continuous radar field of warning systems for missile attack on all strategic air and space directions and on all types of trajectory of ballistic missile flights.” This achievement is a result of the three new radars beginning combat duty, as well as upgrades to three older radars.58

Russia’s missile defense capabilities and modernization

Despite Moscow’s fierce criticisms of the U.S. missile defense program, Russia is expanding and upgrading its air and missile defense systems. Russia exports many of these systems abroad. The A-135 ballistic missile defense system has been operational around Moscow since 1995, after replacing the 1970s-era A-35 Galosh system. Russia operates several families of air defense systems, each consisting of multiple variants and upgrades. These include the S-300P, S-300V, and S-400 systems. The S-500 system is in development.59

The S-300P (SA-10 Grumble/ SA-20 Gargoyle) is comparable to the U.S. Patriot PAC-3 system. The PMU-2 version introduced the 58N6E2 missile, which is capable against short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).60,61

The S-300V (SA-12/SA-23) is also comparable to the U.S. Patriot PAC-3 system. It can intercept both SRBMs and MRBMs. An unknown number of systems were deployed to Syria beginning in 2015.62

The S-400 “Triumph” (SA-21 Growler) was designed as an upgrade to the S-300 family. It entered service in 2007, but production has been slow. The system is purportedly capable of intercepting ballistic missiles with a range of around 3,000 km; however, the intercept would have to take place in the atmosphere, making its defense capabilities limited. An unknown number of these systems are deployed in Syria.63

The S-500 “Prometheus” is in development to be a comprehensive anti-ballistic missile system that works in conjunction with the S-400. This system extends the engagement envelope of Russian air defenses beyond an altitude of 30 km, making it an “air / space defense system.” It is currently undergoing testing. Russian defense officials claim that the system will be capable of defending against ICBM attacks.64

The A-135 Moscow missile defense system was designed to protect Moscow. It comprises the Radar Don-2NP, a stationary, all-around, multi-purpose surveillance centimeter-range radar station, the command-and-control center, shooting complexes including 12-16 silo launchers of anti-missiles, and high-speed 53T6 interceptors that operate at the terminal trajectory phase and are nuclear-armed.65 The A-135 is aimed at intercepting ICBMs and SLBMs. The system’s upgrade project, called the A-235 Nudol, will employ a new, conventional version of the 53T6 missile with a longer range and higher accuracy.66 As part of the missile defense system, Russia has located 68 nuclear-tipped ballistic-missile interceptors near Moscow. For comparison, the United States deploys 44 anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska and California.67,68,69

Obstacles to arms control

The INF Treaty dispute

The INF Treaty required the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty led the countries to destroy a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the 1991 deadline.70 Yet, beginning in 2014 Washington has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, and as of 2017, deploying, a GLCM with a prohibited range.

The Trump administration says the Russian system of concern is the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile, which, according to the U.S. government, uses the Russian designator 9M729. Because Washington has not been transparent to the public about the violation, very little is known about the noncompliant system. Some have speculated that it is a ground-based version of the Kalibr missile, while others believe that the illegal missile is a follow-on to the R-500/SSC-7 Iskander missile. The SSC-8 is likely capable of targeting major European and east Asian cities, respectively, from Russia’s far western and eastern bases.71

Analysts have suggested various possible rationales for Russia’s development and deployment of the noncompliant system. Analysts point to a desire to enhance theater strike capabilities, increase the survivability of its forces, and destabilize NATO. Moscow’s concern over a security environment in which other nuclear-armed countries are not party to the INF Treaty may also be fueling the violation.72 That disadvantage is a main reason why Moscow has sought to multilateralize the INF Treaty.

In addition to denying U.S. allegations, Moscow has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance with the agreement. Russia charges the United States with the following practices: placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can be used to fire cruise missiles, employing targets for missile defense tests that have similar characteristics to treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and developing armed drones that are seemingly equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

In November 2016, the United States called a meeting of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), an implementing body established by the INF Treaty to resolve compliance issues. The meeting in Geneva was attended by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. There, the United States provided detailed information to Moscow about its allegations of Russian noncompliance.73 The meeting yielded little progress toward resolving the compliance dispute. A second meeting of the SVC took place from December 12-14, 2017, but little information from that session has so far emerged.

The 2017 State Department compliance report repeats past accusations of Russian treaty noncompliance. It claims that the United States has provided Russia with information on the offending missile, such as details regarding the internal designator for the mobile launcher chassis, names of companies involved in developing and producing the missile and launcher, history and coordinates, and documented Russian efforts to obfuscate the program.74 The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to that report by reiterating a complaint it has made in the past that Washington had provided only “odd bits and pieces of signals with no clarification of the unfounded concerns.”75

Washington’s reluctance to provide explicit detailed evidence—including evidence it claims to have already given to Russia—has stymied productive discussion around resolving the compliance dispute. Ultimately, compliance concerns only heighten feelings of distrust on both sides. Without a solution for adequately addressing each side’s concerns—and returning Russia to compliance—it will be difficult for Moscow and Washington to make progress on other arms control issues.

On December 8, 2017—the 30th anniversary of the signing of the INF Treaty—the Trump administration announced what it called an integrated strategy for dealing with the Russian violation. The strategy reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to preserving the treaty and said the United States would (1) continue efforts to seek a diplomatic settlement of the Russian violation, including through the Special Verification Commission; (2) begin research and development on options for conventionally-armed intermediate-range ground-launched missile systems; and (3) impose economic sanctions on Russian entities that had taken part in development and production of the SSC-8.76

To extend or not to extend New START?

Aggregate data from September 2017 demonstrates that Russia has decreased its deployed strategic warheads by 235 in the past 12 months. Russia now has 501 deployed delivery systems and 1,561 deployed strategic nuclear warheads—only 11 warheads over the New START limit of 1,550 warheads.

Both countries are on track to fulfill New START limits by the February 5, 2018 implementation deadline, and there are no indications of either side straying from their obligations. In December 2017 Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov confirmed that Russia would meet its New START limits on schedule.77 As the deadline approaches, Russia has signaled interest in commencing talks on extending the treaty. The Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures.

Trump’s ambivalence toward New START and efforts by Congressional Republicans to link its extension to resolution of the INF Treaty dispute mean that the treaty could expire in 2021 with nothing to replace it—a dire result.

Third-Country nuclear forces

Although other nuclear-armed countries have arsenals amounting to less than five percent of the size of the Russian and American arsenals, Russia still seeks the institution of limits on these arsenals and the inclusion of other nuclear countries in the arms control regime. In fact, even during INF Treaty discussions, Moscow strongly advocated for extending negotiations to UK and French forces, and continued to call for the inclusion of France and the United Kingdom in subsequent arms control talks with Washington.78 In 2013, the Kremlin advocated for the multilateralization of future arms reductions. At the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2015, the Russians stated that multilateral negotiations among all nuclear-armed states are necessary to make progress on disarmament.79 Russia has yet to table a specific proposal for expanding the arms control process.

The United States does not believe that the relatively small size of third-country nuclear forces warrants inclusion in the next round of arms reductions. It is possible that the United States would be open to multi-lateralization in the future, if and when the size of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals has been more significantly reduced. But at the present time, this issue is yet another on the list of disputes hampering U.S.-Russian cooperation.

U.S. missile defense in Europe

Russia has expressed strong objections to U.S.-NATO missile defense systems in Europe. Moscow worries that the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) could challenge the strength of Russia’s nuclear deterrent, especially after future modernization projects are completed.

Putin remarked in 2016 that “we were assured that the missile defense system and its European segment were designed to protect against Iranian ballistic missiles. However, we know that the situation with the Iranian nuclear issue was resolved…and nevertheless, work on a [U.S.] missile defense system continues.”80 Kremlin officials have also claimed that U.S. missile defense systems lower the threshold for nuclear use. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in 2017, “the anti-missile umbrella may increase the illusion of invulnerability and impunity and lead to temptation of taking unilateral steps in the resolution of global and regional problems, including the reduction of threshold of nuclear weapons use.”81

Incentives for Russian engagement on arms control

The current tensions in the U.S.-Russian relationship would seem to preclude agreement on a major new arms control accord in the near term. But resuming an arms control dialogue with Washington should be attractive to Moscow for many reasons.

First, participating in arms control efforts with the United States cements Russia’s status as a great power. By being party to treaties that enshrine Russia and the United States as equal actors, Russia can portray itself as a global influencer on par with the United States.

Secondly, the verification provisions contained in treaties like New START allow Russia to monitor U.S. nuclear forces and then factor that knowledge into nuclear planning. If Washington and Moscow were to fail to agree to extend New START, Russia would likely be displeased with the loss of limits and transparency on U.S. forces.

Thirdly, active participation in the arms control regime benefits Moscow during a time of economic uncertainty and unrest at home. Arms control reduces the need to finance expansive nuclear modernization projects, which frees funds for use elsewhere.

Finally, Russian military doctrine explicitly declares a commitment to arms control and nonproliferation. To be true to its doctrine and legacy of bilateral nuclear cooperation, Russia must reengage with the United States on nuclear risk reduction.

Recommendations for U.S. policy

The poor state of the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship demands prioritizing measures that are feasible in the near-term in order to build a productive, durable dialogue on arms control. These measures include improving the NATO-Russian relationship, resolving the INF Treaty dispute, and extending New START. Ultimately, engaging in meaningful talks on strategic stability between the United States and Russia must be a priority for Washington if it wishes to heal its nuclear partnership with Moscow.

Strengthen the NATO-Russia relationship

Russia is undeniably anxious about the expansion and conventional force superiority of NATO, which may be driving increased Russian sabre rattling, emphasis on nuclear weapons, and even the decision to test and deploy a GLCM prohibited by the INF Treaty. The NATO-Russian question begs for resolution.

Reviving and expanding channels for NATO-Russian communication could mitigate Russian unease. Communication is essential in order to prevent dangerous military incidents, especially in the Baltic region where tensions are extremely high. Preventing incidents will help to prevent unintended escalation—a critical need, given concerns about the possible Russian use of nuclear strikes to turn the tide of conventional conflicts. Establishing direct military contacts and independent bodies that assess and respond to military confrontations could help prevent conflict.82

Russia and NATO must implement mutual restraint measures, such as those laid out in the NATO-Russia Founding Act (NRFA),83 which could alleviate concerns on both sides of the border. The NRFA should be reviewed and updated to address current needs. The NATO-Russia Council is one possible forum for dialogue, but it might be more useful to establish a similar body that is solely focused on nuclear-related matters. Either way, it is critical that there be a space for Russian and NATO representatives to openly discuss the factors affecting security and strategic stability.

The two sides should prioritize options to resolve destabilizing force imbalances, particularly in the common border area. Their discussions should also explore regulations on tactical nuclear weapons, which have not yet been included in the bilateral arms control process. NATO could also reaffirm its commitment under the NRFA to carry out defense activities by “ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.” Finally, a decision by Washington to unilaterally reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal could push Moscow to reevaluate the size and scope of its next SAP.84

Resolve the INF Treaty dispute

The preservation of the INF Treaty is a crucial safeguard against the advent of a destabilizing arms race in the region. Therefore, Washington and Moscow must urgently address their disagreement regarding the treaty compliance of both countries. The United States should prioritize a diplomatic approach while working to ensure that Russia does not gain a military advantage from its violation.

The Deep Cuts Commission, a group of nuclear experts from the United States, Russia, and Germany, recently published a plan of action for addressing the INF Treaty dispute.85 The plan requests that Russia allow U.S. experts to examine the disputed Russian GLCM. If the United States concludes that the missile is indeed violating the treaty, the paper recommends convening the SVC or a similar independent panel of U.S. and Russian experts to discuss destroying the illegal missiles and launchers to return Russia to compliance.

The Deep Cuts Commission proposal suggests that Washington address Moscow’s concerns over U.S. compliance by negotiating revisions to the treaty language to account for drones and the use of booster stages in target missiles for ballistic missile defense. To satisfy Russian concerns, the authors recommend that the United States alter the land-based version of the Mk-41 launcher to clearly differentiate it from the Mk-41 systems placed on U.S. warships, and institute transparency mechanisms that allow Russia to verify that the launchers in Romania and Poland only contain SM-3 interceptors.

If the INF Treaty does collapse, Washington must ensure that Russia shoulders the blame. This means avoiding steps—such as building a new U.S. missile—that would simultaneously raise red flags among NATO allies and enable Russia to claim that the United States is cultivating nuclear instability.

Extend New START as soon as possible

Given the value of New START to U.S., Russian, and global security, the Trump administration should waste no time in accepting Russia’s offer to extend the treaty. If the treaty is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. Furthermore, the United States will lose the important monitoring and verification measures that allow Washington to keep an eye on the size and composition of Russia’s nuclear stockpile.

The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. By verifiably capping U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces, the treaty bounds the current tensions between the two countries. This is especially important because other key pillars of the U.S.-Russian arms control architecture, like the broader bilateral relationship, are under siege. Failing to respond to Moscow’s invitation to discuss an extension of New START would be a major missed opportunity to ensure continued stability and predictability in the strategic relationship.

Make the most of strategic stability talks

During the Cold War, the Americans and Soviets understood “strategic stability” to mean a security environment in which neither side had an incentive to launch a nuclear first strike. To achieve that end, they collaborated on implementing measures to govern strategic nuclear weapons, missile defense, and air defense.

It is urgent that Washington and Moscow resume such discussions, beginning by agreeing on a shared definition of “strategic stability” to meet the current threat environment. To do so likely entails expanding the agenda of the talks, which should feature key arms control agreements, namely the INF Treaty and New START, as well as missile defense, third-country nuclear forces, and advanced conventional weapons. Without a renewed commitment to strategic stability talks, it will be difficult to improve nuclear cooperation between Russia and the United States.

The first round of renewed U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks began September 12, 2017 in Finland. Following the meeting, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that “the discussions provided both sides with an opportunity to raise questions and concerns related to strategic stability and also to clarify their positions on that matter.” The two delegations agreed to continue implementing New START arms reductions to meet the February 2018 deadline. Conversations focused on extending New START will need to follow quickly if such an extension is to be achieved.

It is important that this round of talks yield other rounds in the near future. Although Lavrov commented pessimistically in October 2017 that the global community should not expect “considerable results in the foreseeable future”86 from the U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks, the very resumption of dialogue is a significant step forward. An important outcome of the talks would be a reaffirmation by the leaders of Russia and the United States of the 1985 declaration made by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”


The United States and Russia must commit to continual dialogue if they wish to address the different perceptions and misperceptions on both sides of the relationship that are harming nuclear cooperation. Even in the bleakest moments of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were able to cooperate on arms control. If both countries put aside their differences to embark on further nuclear force reductions, they could reduce threats and save billions of dollars. Healing relations and enhancing national and global security requires productive discourse and true dedication to reducing nuclear weapons.

Washington cannot control Moscow, but it can formulate smart policy in regard to its nuclear forces and diligently seek tough and pragmatic cooperation with the Kremlin. To make that possible, the Trump administration must articulate a clear policy toward Russia, as well as strategies to reduce nuclear risks. Congressional support will be necessary to achieve these goals. Rather than hasten the unraveling of several longstanding nuclear risk reduction efforts, the Trump administration and Congress should maintain and reinforce existing arms control and nonproliferation measures.

Finally, American and Russian officials must tone down harsh rhetoric and capitalize on issue areas where they do agree. Unfortunately, the internal politics and foreign policies of both countries continue to shrink potential areas of cooperation. But the relationship has weathered hazardous tensions and even near-catastrophes in the past, with Washington and Moscow able to maintain nuclear cooperation during their darkest days. Today’s leaders must learn from their predecessors and prioritize nuclear risk reduction, or face a more uncertain and dangerous future.


1 Michael Gordon, "Russia Has Deployed Missile Barred by Treaty, U.S. General Tells Congress," The New York Times, Mar. 8, 2017.

2 Rajan Menon, "What’s Russia Doing in Syria and Why," Huffington Post, accessed September 7, 2017. Mythili Sampathkumar, "Syria war: Tensions between America and Russia escalate as countries clash over drones and airspace," Independent, June 20, 2017. Bryony Jones and Nic Robertson, "Syria talks: What Russia and the US agree and disagree on," CNN, Sep. 8, 2016.

3 Thomas Frear and Denitsa Raynova, "Russia-West Military Incidents: Skirting the Law," European Leadership Network, December 7, 2016.

4 "What You Need to Know About Aegis Ashore Romania," U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/ U.S. 6th Fleet, May 11, 2016, http://www.c6f.navy.mil/news/what-you-need-know-about-aegis-ashore-romania

5 Kelsey Davenport, Daryl G. Kimball, and Greg Thielmann, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Join Comprehensive Plan of Action," Arms Control Association Briefing Book, August 2015, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/Solving-the-Iranian-Nuclear-Puzzle-The-Joint-Comprehensive-Plan-of-Action/2015/08/Section-3-Understanding-the-JCPOA

6 Kingston Reif, "Hill Wants Development of Banned Missile," Arms Control Today, December 2017.

7 "The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation," December 25, 2014.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Olga Oliker, "Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine: What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means," Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2016.

11 Serge Schmemann, "Russia Drops Pledge of No First Use of Atom Arms," The New York Times, Nov. 4, 1993. Vladimir Mamontov, "Меняется Россия, меняется и ее военная доктрина (Russia is changing, and its military doctrine is also changing," Izvestia, Oct. 14, 2009.

12 Colin Freeman, "Vladimir Putin: Don’t mess with nuclear-armed Russia," The Telegraph, Aug. 29, 2014.

13 David Nowak, "Russia reserves right to conduct preemptive nuclear strike: Say US, NATO pose threat of aggression," Boston Globe, Oct. 15, 2009.

14 Paul Bernstein, "Countering Russia’s Strategy for Regional Coercion and War Workshop Report," National Defense University, March 2016. Elbridge Colby, "Russia’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine and its Implications," Center for a New American Security, January 12, 2016. https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/notes/russia-s-evolving-nuclear-doctrine-and-its-implications-2016-01

15 Paul Bernstein, "Countering Russia’s Strategy for Regional Coercion and War Workshop Report,"National Defense University, March 2016

16 Alexander Velez-Green, "The Unsettling View from Moscow: Russia’s Strategic Debate on a Doctrine of Pre-emption," Center for a New American Security, April 27, 2017.

17 Elbridge Colby, "Russia’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine and its Implications," Center for a New American Security, January 12, 2016, https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/notes/russia-s-evolving-nuclear-doctrine-and-its-implications-2016-01, Dave Johnson, "Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s approach to conflict," Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, November 2016.

18 Johnson, 2016.

19 Bernstein, March 2016.

20 Adm. James Winnefeld and Robert Work, Statement Before the House Committee on Armed Services, June 25, 2015.

21 Colby, 2016. https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/notes/russia-s-evolving-nuclear-doctrine-and-its-implications-2016-01

22 Oliker, 2016.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris,"Russian nuclear forces, 2017."

26 Mark B. Schneider,"Russian Nuclear Weapons Policy," RealClearDefense, April 28, 2017. 

27 Schneider, 2017. Putin urges Russian navy to prioritize nuclear force buildup," New China, April 26, 2017.

28 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency,"Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations.""Рогозин заявил о подготовке новой госпрограммы вооружений к сентябрю (Rogozin announced the preparation of a new state arms program by September)," Lenta, July 3, 2017.

29 President Vladimir Putin, Address at expanded meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defense, December 22, 2017.

30 Alexei Druzhinin,"Russia developing new nuclear weapons to counter ‘potential threats to military security’ from NATO," National Post, Jan. 24, 2015.

31 President Vladimir Putin, Address at expanded meeting of the board of the Ministry of Defense, December 22, 2016.

32 Steven Pifer,"Pay Attention, America: Russia Is Upgrading Its Military," The National Interest, Feb. 3, 2016. Science and Technology Committee,"Russian Military Modernization," NATO Parliamentary Assembly, October 11, 2015.

33 Gudrun Persson et al.,"Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective—2016," Swedish Defence Research Agency, December 2016.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid. Yuri Gavrilov,"‘булава’ к концу года (Bulava by the end of the year)," The Russian Newspaper, Feb. 25, 2011.

36 Gavrilov, 2011.

37 Science and Technology Committee,"Russian Military Modernization," NATO Parliamentary Assembly, October 11, 2015.

38 Gudrun Persson et al., 2016.

39 "СМИ: Минобороны требует увеличить вдвое финансирование вооружения (Media: Defense Ministry demands doubling the financing of weapons)," Red Line, July 4, 2016. Keir Giles,"Assessing Russia’s Reorganized and Rearmed Military," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 4, 2017.

40 Gudrun Persson et al., 2016.

41 Correspondence with Pavel Podvig. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris,"Russian nuclear forces, 2017.""Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia," Arms Control Association Fact Sheet, updated March 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/russiaprofile. U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency,"Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations," 2017

42 Hans M. Kristensen,"Russian Nuclear Weapons Modernization: Status, Trends, and Implications," Federation of American Scientists, September 29, 2014.

43 Ibid. Kristensen and Norris, 2017. Malcolm Davis,"Russia’s New RS-28 Sarmat ICBM: A U.S. Missile Defense Killer?," The National Interest, Feb. 15, 2017. Shannon N. Kile and Hans M. Kristensen,"Trends in World Nuclear Forces, 2016," Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), June 2016.

44 Pavel Podvig,"Flight tests of Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM are said to begin in 2019," Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, Jan. 19, 2017. Schneider, 2017."Russia to Conduct Flight Tests of Missile for ‘Nuclear Train’ in 2019," Sputnik, Jan. 19, 2017.

45 "Эксперт: Ракета БЖРК «Баргузин» успешно стартует с железнодорожной платформы (Expert: Barguzin BZHR rocket successfully starts from the railway platform)," Defence.ru, Nov. 21, 2016.

46 Pavel Podvig,"Barguzin rail-mobile ICBM is cancelled (again)," Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, Dec. 4, 2017.

47 Kristensen, 2014. Kristensen and Norris, 2017.

48 Kristensen and Norris, 2017.

49 Kristensen, 2014. Kristensen and Norris, 2017.

50 "Russian Defense Ministry Signs $100 Mln Deal to Overhaul 3 Tu-160 Bombers," Sputnik, July 26, 2013.

51 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency,"Russia Military Power: Building a Military to Support Great Power Aspirations."

52 Kristensen and Norris, 2017.

53 William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger,"America’s Strategic Posture: The Final Report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States," United States Institute of Peace, 2009.

54 Pavel Podvig,"Blurring the line between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons: Increasing the risk of accidental nuclear war," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 3, 2016. Amy F. Woolf,"Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons," Congressional Research Service, February 21, 2017. Matthew Kroenig,"The Renewed Russian Nuclear Threat and NATO Nuclear Deterrence Posture," Atlantic Council, February 2, 2016.

55 United States European Command, EUCOM 2017 Posture Statement, March 23, 2017.

56 Kroenig, 2016.

57 Pavel Podvig,"Early warning," Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, Aug. 15, 2017."Шойгу: по периметру России создано сплошное радиолокационное поле систем предупреждения" (Shoigu: a continuous radar field of warning systems has been created along the perimeter of Russia)," Defence.ru, Dec. 22, 2016.

58 Pavel Podvig,"No gaps in early-warning coverage as three radars to begin combat duty in 2017," Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, Dec. 23, 2016.

59 "Основная продукция военного назначения (Major military products)," Концерн ВКО «Алмаз – Антей. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/catalogue/millitary_catalogue/

60 Correspondence with Pavel Podvig

61 "Основная продукция военного назначения (Major military products)," Концерн ВКО «Алмаз – Антей. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/catalogue/millitary_catalogue/

62 "Основная продукция военного назначения (Major military products)," Концерн ВКО «Алмаз – Антей. http://www.almaz-antey.ru/catalogue/millitary_catalogue/

63 Correspondence with Pavel Podvig

64 Ibid.

65 Dmitry Gorenburg,"Valdai Club 3: Touring the Don-2N Radar Facility," Russian Military Reform blog, June 2, 2011.

66 Pavel Podvig,"Russia Tests Nudol Anti-Satellite System," Russian strategic nuclear forces blog, April 1, 2016.

67 Hans Kristensen,"Targeting Missile Defense Systems," Federation of American Scientists, July 19, 2007.

68 Alex Lockie,"Why Russia’s ballistic-missile defense works and the US’s kinda doesn’t," Business Insider, July 21, 2017.

69 "The last frontier of defense: what is strategic missile defense in Russia capable of," Ria Novosti, March 30, 2017.

70 "The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance," Arms Control Association Fact Sheet, updated June 2017. https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty

71 Steven Pifer,"Multilateralize the INF Problem," Brookings Institution, Marcy 2017.

72 Paul N. Schwartz,"Russian INF Treaty Violations: Assessment and Response," Center for Strategic and International Studies, Oct. 16, 2014.

73 "The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance," Arms Control Association Fact Sheet, updated June 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty

74 U.S. Department of State,"2017 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," April 2017.

75 Maggie Tennis,"INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions," Arms Control Today, June 2017.

76 U.S. Department of State,"Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Factsheet INF Treaty: At a Glance," Dec. 8, 2017.

77 Steven Pifer (@Steven_Pifer)."Amb Antonov says #Russia will meet New START limits, which take effect in Feb 2018. New START = positive item on troubled US-Russia agenda." Dec. 1, 2017, 5:35 PM. Tweet.

78 Steven Pifer and James Tyson,"Third-Country Nuclear Forces and Possible Measures for Multilateral Arms Control," Brookings Institution, August 2016.

79 "Nuclear Disarmament Russia," Nuclear Threat Initiative Factsheet, updated Apr. 6, 2017. Pifer and Tyson, 2016.

80 President Vladimir Putin, Address at Expanded Meeting of the Defence Ministry Board.

81 Tom O’Connor,"Russian Officials Say U.S. Global Missile Defense Could Lead to Nuclear War in Europe," Newsweek, Apr. 27, 2017. Olga Oliker,"U.S.-Russian Arms Control: The Stakes for Moscow," Arms Control Today, May 2017. Alexey Arbatov,"The Hidden Side of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Confrontation," Arms Control Today, September 2016.

82 Wolfgang Richter,"Sub-regional Arms Control for the Baltics: What is Desirable? What is Feasible?," Deep Cuts Commission Working Paper no. 8, July 2016.

83 "Founding Act," North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), May 27, 1997, last updated Oct. 12, 2009.

84 Kingston Reif and Victor Mizin,"A Two-Pronged Approach to Revitalizing U.S.-Russia Arms Control," Deep Cuts Commission Working Paper No. 10, July 2017.

85 Hans Kristensen, et al.,"Preserving the INF Treaty" Deep Cuts Commission Special Briefing Paper, April 2017.

86 Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference, October 20, 2017.

Country Resources:

Posted: January 31, 2018

Are We Nearing the End of the INF Treaty?

As relations between the West and Russia deteriorate, a key Cold War arms control accord has come under threat.

January/February 2018
By Steven Pifer and Oliver Meier

As relations between the West and Russia deteriorate, a key Cold War arms control accord has come under threat.

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan shake hands December 8, 1987 at their Washington summit, as dignitaries give a standing ovation after the two leaders signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The ceremony was held in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)The United States charges that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by deploying a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) having a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Moscow rejects the charge and instead claims that Washington has violated the agreement. The Trump administration has announced several steps in response to the Russian violation, including beginning research and development of options for U.S. intermediate-range missiles.

If the treaty unravels, it will open the door to an arms race in production and deployment of these missiles, which would weaken security in Europe and Asia. It would undermine support for other arms control treaties, such as the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and make it difficult to reach new accords. That would not be in the interest of the United States, Russia, Europe, or Asia.

Washington and Moscow should work to preserve the INF Treaty and its benefits. If the United States and Russia desire to maintain the treaty, there are ways to resolve their compliance concerns. If they do not act to save the treaty, its days are likely numbered.

INF Treaty History

The Soviet Union began deploying the SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missile in the late 1970s. The SS-20’s mobile launcher, three independently targetable warheads, and estimated range of 5,000 kilometers made it a significant improvement over older Soviet intermediate-range missiles and provoked alarm in Europe.

Washington at first downplayed the concern, but NATO agreed in December 1979 to the “dual-track” decision: The United States would seek to engage the Soviet Union in a negotiation aimed at reducing and limiting intermediate-range ground-launched missiles. In parallel, the U.S. military would develop and, beginning in late 1983, base GLCMs in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom and Pershing II ballistic missiles in Germany, provided that an arms control agreement did not obviate those deployments.

Dutch protesters demonstrate October 29, 1983 in The Hague against deployment of U.S. Pershing cruise missiles. The Soviet Union quit negotiations on a ban on such intermediate-range nuclear missiles in late 1983 but returned to talks in 1985 that concluded successfully with the INF Treaty eliminating a whole class of weapons.  (Photo: HERMAN PIETERSE/AFP/Getty Images)U.S.-Soviet negotiations began in 1981, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced the “zero-zero” proposal under which the United States would forgo its planned deployments if the Soviet Union eliminated its SS-20 and other intermediate-range missiles. Moscow rejected zero-zero, and the first two years of negotiations yielded little common ground between the sides. When the first U.S. GLCMs and Pershing IIs arrived in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets broke off the negotiations.

The Kremlin seemed to hope that public opposition within NATO countries would derail the U.S. missile deployments. Although it appeared a near thing at times, leaders in the five basing countries held firm despite significant domestic opposition, and the alliance moved forward with deployment. In 1985 the Soviets agreed to resume negotiations.

The negotiations made progress in 1986-1987 along the lines of the zero-zero proposal. Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, signed the INF Treaty on December 8, 1987. The treaty banned the production, flight-testing, and possession of all ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles having ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 and 3,300 miles) and required the elimination of all such existing missiles. When the treaty’s reduction period concluded in 1991, the United States and Soviet Union had destroyed some 2,700 missiles, as well as launchers and other support equipment.

Following the Soviet Union’s collapse at the end of 1991, Russia and several other post-Soviet states assumed the Soviet INF Treaty obligations. The treaty’s inspection period ended in 2001. The Special Verification Commission (SVC), established by the treaty as a venue for discussing the treaty’s implementation and compliance concerns, with the participation of the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, had its last meeting in 2003 before a 13-year hiatus.

In 2005, Russian officials expressed interest in withdrawing from the treaty and suggested to the United States to jointly terminate the accord. Washington refused. In February 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that, although the United States and Russia were banned from having intermediate-range missiles, third countries were developing and fielding such systems, and those countries tended to be in close proximity to Russia.

The following October, Putin proposed making the INF Treaty “global in scope.” The United States and Russia at the UN General Assembly jointly called on third countries to eliminate their intermediate-range missile systems. Moscow did not seriously pursue its proposal, although Russian officials continued to express concern about the proliferation of intermediate-range missiles.

Treaty Violation Charges

During the Obama administration, reports began to circulate that Russia was violating the INF Treaty. In July 2014, the U.S. government publicly charged that Russia had violated the accord. Washington offered few public details, but press reports indicated that Russia had tested a prohibited intermediate-range GLCM. The INF Treaty does not ban development per se, but draws the line at testing. In March 2017, a senior U.S. military officer said Russia had begun to deploy the missile, confirming press reports that had appeared two months earlier.

USS Florida launches a Tomahawk cruise missile during a test in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas in January 2003. (Photo: U.S. Navy/Getty Images)U.S. government officials have made little information available publicly on the specifics of the Russian violation. This stems from their desire to protect sources and methods, that is, how the U.S. government learned of the violation. They have been consulting with allies on INF Treaty questions and the Russian violation.

The Trump administration says the Russian system of concern is the SSC-8 GLCM, which the U.S. government says uses the Russian designator 9M729. This missile appears to be an extended-range version of the SSC-7 (Iskander-K) cruise missile. The Iskander-K is an INF Treaty-permitted cruise missile with a range of less than 500 kilometers. The SSC-8/9M729 reportedly uses a launcher that differs from the Iskander-K launcher. Deployment of SSC-8 missiles is expected in all four Russian military districts, that is, in the European and Asian parts of Russia.

Russia has denied the U.S. charge and asserted that U.S. officials had not produced enough information for it to identify the system of concern. U.S. officials flatly rejected that, saying that Moscow has all the information it needs. The U.S. Department of State’s 2017 compliance report notes that, during several meetings, the U.S. side provided “more than enough information for the Russian side to identify the missile in question,” including “[i]nformation pertaining to the missile and the launcher,” such as “Russia’s internal designator for the mobile launcher chassis and the names of the companies involved in developing and producing the missile and launcher,” as well as data on “the violating GLCM’s test history, including coordinates of the tests and Russia’s attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program.”1 Russian officials recently acknowledged that the 9M729 (SSC-8) is the missile in question, but they maintain that it is fully compliant with the INF Treaty.

Russian officials charge the United States with violating the INF Treaty. The primary Russian concern appears to center on the Mk-41 vertical launch system for the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in Romania, soon to be deployed in Poland, which are part of NATO’s missile defense program. Russian officials note that Mk-41 vertical launch systems on U.S. Navy warships can launch sea-launched cruise missiles, which are quite similar to the now eliminated GLCMs, as well as SM-3 interceptors and other missiles, and say that the launchers in Romania and Poland can contain cruise missiles.

Moreover, the Russians charge that the United States uses intermediate-range ballistic missiles as targets in missile defense tests and operates armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) that are equivalent to GLCMs of intermediate range.

U.S. and Russian officials discussed the charges in political channels for several years before convening the SVC in November 2016. The commission met again in mid-December 2017. Thus far, it has not reported progress toward resolving the compliance questions.

Resolving Compliance Issues

From a technical perspective, parties to the INF Treaty could resolve these concerns through a combination of political-level talks and technical exchanges in the SVC. A group of nongovernmental experts, the
trilateral Deep Cuts Commission, has developed a number of proposals on how the SVC could tackle these noncompliance concerns.2

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis holds a press conference November 9, 2017, at NATO headquarters in Brussels during talks that included discussion of the alleged Russian INF Treaty violation. (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)If Moscow were prepared to address the U.S. charge seriously, the SVC could agree on procedures under which the Russian side would exhibit the SSC-8 and its launcher to U.S. experts and explain the missile’s characteristics, particularly its range. If that exhibition satisfied the U.S. side that the missile was consistent with the INF Treaty, the matter would be put to rest. If there were further questions, they could be discussed in the SVC. Another option for addressing the problem would be to create a new panel of technical experts from the United States and Russia to discuss ways to resolve noncompliance concerns.

If it turned out that the SSC-8 had a range in excess of 500 kilometers but not in excess of 5,500 kilometers, the issue would be more difficult to resolve. All missiles and their associated launchers, including all launchers from which the missile was tested, would have to be eliminated in a verifiable manner in order for Russia to return to compliance with the treaty. The INF Treaty contains precise verification procedures, but they were developed and tailored to certify the destruction of U.S. and Soviet systems in existence as of 1987. Those procedures would require adaptation for the SSC-8 and its launcher, which could be agreed in the SVC. In any case, the sooner that detailed discussions on the violation commenced, the easier it would be to find solutions to tackle the compliance problems raised by Washington and Moscow.

With regard to the Russian charges, the dispute over the U.S. use of booster stages in target missiles for ballistic missile defense tests should not prove difficult to resolve. The INF Treaty makes an allowance for such missiles, and the sides’ technical experts could work out language in the SVC to distinguish between prohibited intermediate-range ground-launched ballistic missiles and allowed target missiles for missile defense tests. In addition, they might agree on language restricting target missiles to production facilities and sites associated with missile defense tests.

The second dispute regards whether armed UAVs, which the United States deploys and Russia is developing, are covered by the agreement. Armed UAVs did not exist when the United States and Soviet Union concluded the INF Treaty. UAVs differ from cruise missiles because they can return to base after their mission is completed. This clear distinction between GLCMs and UAVs should enable experts in the SVC to agree on language to clarify the scope of the INF Treaty.

The more serious Russian charge concerns the Mk-41 vertical launch system deployed in Romania and scheduled to become operational in Poland in 2018. Experts could address that in two ways. One would be modification of the land-based Mk-41 system with an observable difference—ideally, a functionally related observable difference—to distinguish the launchers in Romania and Poland from Mk-41 vertical launch systems on U.S. warships.

The second approach would employ transparency measures to reassure Russia that the launchers in Romania and Poland did not contain cruise missiles or weapons other than SM-3 interceptors. With the agreement of NATO and, in particular, Romania and Poland, U.S. officials could invite Russian inspectors to periodically visit the SM-3 sites, where they could randomly choose two or some other agreed number of the 24 launch tubes in the vertical launch system to be opened, allowing confirmation that they contained SM-3 interceptors.

The SVC would work out procedures for such inspections, as well as the particulars for observable differences for the vertical launch systems in Romania and Poland. Given the concerns of NATO member states, it might make sense to include European experts on visits to the SM-3 interceptor sites or to any Russian exhibition of the SSC-8.

The Politics of Compliance

The political obstacles to resolving the INF Treaty issues appear more difficult to overcome than the technical hurdles. The INF Treaty dispute happens at a time when a number of other arms control and transparency agreements, including the Open Skies Treaty, are increasingly affected by the crisis in U.S.-Russian relations. These accords may lack the strong supporting constituencies in Moscow, Washington, and, to some degree, Europe that they used to have.

A number of Russian military and civilian officials seem to favor withdrawal from the INF Treaty. They argue that it is a Cold War relic that has been overtaken by technological advances. These include the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe and the growing number of intermediate-range missiles in the inventories of third countries. China, for example, deploys hundreds of intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles. North Korea, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel also possess intermediate-range missiles.

Those Russians who support continued adherence to the treaty worry about a new arms race and the prospect of the deployment of new U.S. precision-guided weapons systems in Europe. Moscow’s official position remains that it has not violated the treaty and remains committed to it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia remains willing “to discuss the concerns of both parties.”3

U.S. Attempts to Bring Russia Back Into Compliance

While charging Russia with violating the INF Treaty, the Obama administration made clear its interest in maintaining the treaty and sought to bring Russia back into compliance. It failed. The Trump administration conducted a review of the agreement while senior administration officials spoke in the fall of 2017 of looking for leverage to bring Russia back into compliance with the accord.

Also at that time, Congress agreed on language in the National Defense Authorization Act that authorizes up to $58 million to respond to the alleged Russian INF Treaty violation, including by the establishment of a program of record to develop an intermediate-range GLCM.4

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in remarks October 20, 2017, at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference that Russia is willing to “discuss the concerns of both parties.” (Photo: C-SPAN)On December 8, 2017—the 30th anniversary of the signing of the INF Treaty—the Trump administration announced what it called an integrated strategy for dealing with the Russian violation. The strategy reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to preserving the treaty and said the United States would (1) continue efforts to seek a diplomatic settlement of the Russian violation, including through the SVC; (2) begin research and development on options for conventionally armed intermediate-range ground-launched missile systems; and (3) impose economic sanctions on Russian entities that had taken part in development and production of the SSC-8.

Development of a new U.S. intermediate-range ground-launched missile, although not a violation of the treaty as long as the United States did not proceed to flight-testing, would be at odds with the purpose of the INF Treaty. After all, it was negotiated with the goal of eliminating all land-based intermediate-range missiles from Europe and globally. The Russians undoubtedly will attempt to exploit the contradiction between U.S. words and actions if Washington were to pursue development of a new intermediate-range ground-launched missile while insisting on the value of a prohibition of those weapons.

The push for a tough response is based on the hope that the United States and NATO can pressure Russia to come back into compliance. Congress, which distrusts the Trump administration’s Russia policy, may also hope to make sure that the president does not paper over the INF Treaty issue. Proponents of a tit-for-tat response recall that deploying GLCMs and Pershing IIs in the early 1980s helped to trigger a discussion in Moscow that eventually led to the agreement to eliminate all INF Treaty-covered missiles.

Could a second dual-track decision, including a decision to deploy new U.S. intermediate-range systems in Europe, push Moscow back to the negotiating table? A number of factors appear to lower the likelihood that such a policy would work. First, finding consensus within NATO for such a course would prove difficult. In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union’s military position relative to NATO was significantly stronger than that of Russia today relative to NATO. Second, the relationship between Moscow and Washington 30 years ago was on an upward trajectory, whereas today U.S.-Russian relations are in a downward spiral. Arguably, the leaderships in Moscow and Washington in the 1980s were pursuing more consistent and predictable policies and were more interested in reversing the nuclear arms race than their successors are today.

Moreover, a program that moved beyond early research and development to flight-testing and production of a new U.S. intermediate-range ground-launched missile would cost billions of dollars at a time when the Department of Defense budget already faces major shortfalls. Fielding a new missile system would take years and not provide a timely response to Russia’s current violation.

The Alliance Dimension

The U.S. and NATO military responses to Russian deployment of a new GLCM should primarily aim at reassuring allies. Although allies may not object to U.S. development of a new intermediate-range ground-launched missile, proceeding to flight-testing and deployment would severely stress NATO solidarity.

Deploying U.S. conventionally armed air- and sea-launched cruise missiles to Europe would offer an alternative action. Temporary deployments of conventional B-1 heavy bombers combined with Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, as well as more frequent deployments to northern European waters of U.S. warships and submarines carrying conventionally armed sea-launched cruise missiles, could also signal the U.S. commitment to Europe. Deployment of the USS Georgia or USS Florida—converted Ohio-class submarines that carry up to 154 sea-launched cruise missiles—to seas near Europe would also underscore that any attempt by Moscow to create zones of different security are not going to be successful.

Steps such as these would be easier, faster, and cheaper than building a new ground-launched missile. They might affect Moscow’s calculation and encourage the Kremlin to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. If Russia did so, these steps would be readily reversible.

Such moves are also less likely to provoke a crisis within the alliance about its response to Russia’s actions. It is by no means certain that NATO would agree to deploy U.S. missiles now, as it did in its 1979 decision. The development of new intermediate-range ground-launched missiles will inevitably bring back memories of contentious debates within NATO about moving forward with the deployment of GLCMs and Pershing IIs in the early 1980s.

NATO members favor maintaining the INF Treaty. The communiqué of the 2016 NATO Warsaw summit termed preservation of the agreement “crucial to Euro-Atlantic security” and called on Moscow “to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty through ensuring full and verifiable compliance.”5

At a November 2017 NATO defense ministers meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis again briefed allies on Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation. Mattis reportedly urged allies to craft a joint position to force Russia back into compliance by the time of the next NATO summit in July 2018, suggesting that Washington would otherwise react unilaterally.6

On December 15, NATO allies took note of the U.S. decision to begin development of a new GLCM but stopped short of collectively endorsing it by stating that “our actions, including national measures taken by some allies, seek to preserve the INF Treaty, strengthen the alliance, and incentivize Russia to engage in good faith.” NATO also stated that “allies have identified a Russian missile system that raises serious concerns,” yet allies did not jointly affirm the U.S. finding of Russian non-compliance.7

That silence frustrates U.S. officials, particularly because a Russian intermediate-range GLCM would be designed and built to strike targets in Europe and Asia, not the United States. To improve alliance cohesion, Washington should inform the alliance in more specific detail about its intelligence on the SSC-8. It should consult with allies on the way forward. Any attempt to force allies to support U.S. military deployments could well increase skepticism in Europe about the reliability of Washington’s nuclear policies under President Donald Trump.

Given that Congress has become a driving force behind the U.S. push to respond in kind to Russia’s policies, a parliamentary dialogue on how to respond to the INF Treaty violation would be important. NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly, which regularly brings together legislators from alliance members, might be a good place to have discussions about a response to Russia’s actions. This could be complemented by bilateral dialogues between parliamentarians.

Any division among allies on how to act on the INF Treaty question would play into Moscow’s hands. In any event, it would make no sense for Washington to withdraw from the treaty unless it can present compelling evidence of Russia’s violation. Absent such information, the United States likely would get the blame for the treaty’s end, and Russia would be free to deploy intermediate-range missiles without any treaty constraints.


The INF Treaty is fundamental to European security and important to the security of U.S. allies and others in Asia. The treaty’s collapse would open the way for an arms race in intermediate-range ground-launched missiles, with unpredictable strategic and political consequences for relations between the West and Russia.8 It would also weaken the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control regime. Indeed, although their proposal did not survive congressional conference committee negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act, some Republicans had proposed to deny funds for extension of New START beyond 2021 if Russia was not in compliance with the INF Treaty.

The INF Treaty has made a significant contribution to security in Europe and Asia over the past 30 years. It should be preserved. That will require smart decisions by the Trump administration and concerted action with NATO members, which will otherwise find they are confronting a new Russian missile threat.

Saving the INF Treaty will also require a change in the Kremlin’s current course. The West should do what it can to encourage such a change.


1 Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State, “2017 Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” April 2017, pp. 13-14, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/270603.pdf.

2 See Hans Kristensen et al., “Preserving the INF Treaty: A Special Briefing Paper,” April 24, 2017, http://deepcuts.org/files/pdf/Special_Brief_-_Deep_Cuts_INF.pdf. For information on the Deep Cuts Commission, see http://deepcuts.org/.

3 Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Remarks and Answers to Media Questions at the Moscow Nonproliferation Conference,” October 20, 2017, http://www.mid.ru/en/press_service/minister_speeches/-/asset_publisher/7OvQR5KJWVmR/content/id/2913751.

4 Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, “Analysis of Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Bill: HR 2810,” n.d., https://armscontrolcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/NDAA-conference-analysis-111417.pdf.

5 “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” NATO press release no. (2016) 100, July 9, 2016, para. 62, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133169.htm.

6 Matthias Gebauer, Christoph Schult, and Klaus Wiegrefe, “Alleged INF Treaty Violation; U.S. Demands NATO Action on Russian Missiles,” Spiegel Online, December 8, 2017, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/us-delivers-ultimatum-to-nato-regarding-russian-missiles-a-1182426.html.

7 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “Statement by the North Atlantic Council on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty,” NATO Press Release (2017) 180, December 15, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_150016.htm.

8 For example, see Ian Anthony, “European Security After the INF Treaty,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 6 (December 2014-January 2018): 61-76.

Steven Pifer is a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. Oliver Meier is deputy head of the International Security Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Both are members of the Deep Cuts Commission, a nongovernmental group of German, Russian and U.S. experts.


Posted: January 10, 2018

Turkey Signs Missile Deal With Russia

Turkey Signs Missile Deal With Russia

Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for Moscow to supply Ankara with advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, according to a Dec. 29 Turkish government statement. The deal is controversial because Turkey is a NATO member and normally would buy weapons from allied-country suppliers that could be integrated with NATO’s defense architecture.

A Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system is displayed on August 22, 2017 during the first day of the International Military-Technical Forum Army 2017 near Moscow. NATO-member Turkey announced it is buying the Russian system, which is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture.  (Photo: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The deal reportedly is valued at $2.5 billion and has been in the works for more than a year, Reuters reported. On Dec. 27, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, told the Kommersant that Russia would supply Turkey with four S-400 batteries. In a statement, Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries said that an initial delivery is planned for the first quarter of 2020. The Turkish government said the deal covers two S-400 batteries, with one being optional, and added the systems would be used and managed “independently” by Turkish personnel, rather than Russian advisers, according to Reuters. Turkish newspapers cited President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying Turkey would get a Russian loan in rubles to help finance the purchase. Russia’s English-language RT news service headlined the deal as a “Blow to NATO?”

The Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported in December that Moscow is close to a deal for Saudi Arabia, another U.S. ally, to buy the S-400 system. A sale to India is also close to completion, according to Russian officials cited by Tass.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: January 10, 2018

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance

History of the INF Treaty between the United States and Russia and details on potential violations by Russia

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107; Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: December 2017

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

The United States first alleged in July 2014 that Russia is in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” Subsequent State Department assessments in 2015, 2016, and 2017 repeated these allegations. In March 2017, a top U.S. official confirmed press reports that Russia had deployed the noncompliant missile. Russia denies that it is in violation of the agreement. On December 8, 2017, the Trump administration released a strategy to counter alleged Russian violations of the Treaty.


U.S. calls for the control of intermediate-range missiles emerged as a result of the Soviet Union's domestic deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range missiles in the mid-1970s. The SS-20 qualitatively improved Soviet nuclear forces in the European theater by providing a longer-range, multiple-warhead alternative to aging Soviet SS-4 and SS-5 single-warhead missiles. In 1979, NATO ministers responded to the new Soviet missile deployment with what became known as the "dual-track" strategy-a simultaneous push for arms control negotiations with the deployment of intermediate-range, nuclear-armed U.S. missiles (ground-launched cruise missiles and the Pershing II) in Europe to offset the SS-20. Negotiations, however, faltered repeatedly while U.S. missile deployments continued in the early 1980s.

INF negotiations began to show progress once Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet general-secretary in March 1985. In the fall of the same year, the Soviet Union put forward a plan to establish a balance between the number of SS-20 warheads and the growing number of allied intermediate-range missile warheads in Europe. The United States expressed interest in the Soviet proposal, and the scope of the negotiations expanded in 1986 to include all U.S. and Soviet intermediate-range missiles around the world. Using the momentum from these talks, President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev began to move toward a comprehensive INF elimination agreement. Their efforts culminated in the signing of the INF Treaty on December 8, 1987, and the treaty entered into force on June 1, 1988.

Elimination Protocol

The INF Treaty's protocol on missile elimination named the specific types of ground-launched missiles to be destroyed and the acceptable means of doing so. Under the treaty, the United States committed to eliminate its Pershing II, Pershing IA, and Pershing IB ballistic missiles and BGM-109G cruise missiles. The Soviet Union had to destroy its SS-20, SS-4, SS-5, SS-12, and SS-23 ballistic missiles and SSC-X-4 cruise missiles. In addition, both parties were obliged to destroy all INF-related training missiles, rocket stages, launch canisters, and launchers. Most missiles were eliminated either by exploding them while they were unarmed and burning their stages or by cutting the missiles in half and severing their wings and tail sections.

Inspection and Verification Protocols

The INF Treaty's inspection protocol required states-parties to inspect and inventory each other's intermediate-range nuclear forces 30 to 90 days after the treaty's entry into force. Referred to as "baseline inspections," these exchanges laid the groundwork for future missile elimination by providing information on the size and location of U.S. and Soviet forces. Treaty provisions also allowed signatories to conduct up to 20 short-notice inspections per year at designated sites during the first three years of treaty implementation and to monitor specified missile-production facilities to guarantee that no new missiles were being produced.

The INF Treaty's verification protocol certified reductions through a combination of national technical means (i.e., satellite observation) and on-site inspections-a process by which each party could send observers to monitor the other's elimination efforts as they occurred. The protocol explicitly banned interference with photo-reconnaissance satellites, and states-parties were forbidden from concealing their missiles to impede verification activities. Both states-parties could carry out on-site inspections at each other's facilities in the United States and Soviet Union and at specified bases in Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

The INF Treaty Today

States-parties' rights to conduct on-site inspections under the treaty ended on May 31, 2001, but the use of surveillance satellites for data collection continues. The INF Treaty established the Special Verification Commission (SVC) to act as an implementing body for the treaty, resolving questions of compliance and agreeing on measures to "improve [the treaty's] viability and effectiveness." Because the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, states-parties can convene the SVC at any time, and the commission continues to meet today. The most recent SVC session, called by the United States, took place December 12-14, 2017 and was also attended by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. 

The INF ban originally applied only to U.S. and Soviet forces, but the treaty's membership expanded in 1991 to include successor states of the former Soviet Union. Today, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine join Russia and the United States in the treaty's implementation. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan possessed INF facilities (SS-23 operating bases) but forgo treaty meetings with the consent of the other states-parties.

Although active states-parties to the treaty total just five countries, several European countries have destroyed INF-banned missiles since the end of the Cold War. Germany, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic destroyed their intermediate-range missiles in the 1990s, and Slovakia dismantled all of its remaining intermediate-range missiles in October 2000 after extensive U.S. prodding. On May 31, 2002, the last possessor of intermediate-range missiles in eastern Europe, Bulgaria, signed an agreement with the United States to destroy all of its INF Treaty-relevant missiles. Bulgaria completed the destruction five months later with U.S. funding.

In recent years, Russia has raised the possibility of withdrawing from the INF Treaty. Moscow contends that the treaty unfairly prevents it from possessing weapons that its neighbors, such as China, are developing and fielding. Russia also has suggested that the proposed U.S. deployment of strategic anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe might trigger a Russian withdrawal from the accord, presumably so Moscow can deploy missiles targeting any future U.S. anti-missile sites. Still, the United States and Russia issued an October 25, 2007, statement at the United Nations General Assembly reaffirming their “support” for the treaty and calling on all other states to join them in renouncing the missiles banned by the treaty.

Reports began to emerge in 2013 and 2014 that the United States had concerns about Russia's compliance with the INF Treaty. In July 2014, the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement by producing and testing an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance. Moscow is charging that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using targets for missile defense tests with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act approves funds for the Defense Department to develop a ground-launched cruise missile that, if tested, would violate the Treaty.

U.S. Defense and State Department officials had publicly stated that they believe that the Russian cruise missiles at issue have not been deployed. But an October 19, 2016 report in The New York Times cited anonymous U.S. officials expressing concern that Russia is producing more missiles than needed solely for flight testing, raising fears that Moscow may be on the verge of deploying the missile.

A February 14, 2017, report in The New York Times cited U.S. officials declaring that Russia had deployed an operational unit of the treaty noncompliant cruise missiles. On March 8, 2017, General Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed press reports that Russia had deployed a ground-launched cruise missile that “violates the spirit and intent of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. According to Selva, the Pentagon believes that the Russians deployed the missile in question as a signal to NATO forces in Eastern Europe. The Trump administration is reportedly considering measures to pressure Moscow to return to treaty compliance.

In April 2017, the U.S. State Department released its annual assessment of Russian compliance with key arms control agreements. For the fourth consecutive year, this report alleged Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty. The 2017 State Department report lists new details on the steps Washington took in 2016 to resolve the dispute, including convening a session of the SVC, and providing Moscow with further information on the violation.

The report says the missile in dispute is distinct from two other Russian missile systems, the R-500/SSC-7 Iskander GLCM and the RS-26 ballistic missile. The R-500 has a Russian-declared range below the 500-kilometer INF Treaty cutoff, and Russia identifies the RS-26 as an intercontinental ballistic missile treated in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report also appears to suggest that the launcher for the allegedly noncompliant missile is different from the launcher for the Iskander. The United States has now published both its own designation for the missile (SSC-8) and what it believes is the Russian designation for the missile (9M729).

The Trump administration's stated strategy to respond to alleged violations comprises of three elements: diplomacy, including through the Special Verification Commission, research and development on a new conventional ground-launched cruise missile and punitive economic measures against companies believed to be involved in the development of the missile.

Russia continues to dispute the accusations and reiterate its own allegations of treaty noncompliance by the United States.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Subject Resources:

Country Resources:

Posted: December 22, 2017


Subscribe to RSS - Russia