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Russia

No Winners in a Nuclear Arms Race, Mr. Trump

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Our response to comments by President Trump on New START

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(Washington, DC) -- In an interview with Reuters published today, President Donald Trump said he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the "top of the pack," saying the United States has fallen behind in its nuclear weapons capacity and he said he thinks the 2010 New START agreement is “one-sided.”

Mr. Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons.

The history of the Cold War shows us that no one comes out on “top of the pack” of an arms race and nuclear brinksmanship. President Trump needs to work with Russia's President Putin to build down, not build up their excessive nuclear arsenals and stop stirring up nuclear tensions. 

New START Data Exchange Number for Deployed Warheads and Deployed Delivery Vehicles (February 2017)In reality, New START has advanced U.S. and global interests by lowering and capping the two nation’s excessive strategic deployed nuclear arsenals, both of which remained poised on "launch-under-attack" alert status, meaning that thousands of nuclear weapons could be launched by the U.S. and Russian leaders within minutes of a presidential order.

Discarding New START would irresponsibly free Russia of any limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal and would terminate the inspections that provide the United States with significant additional transparency about Russian strategic nuclear forces.

A wide-range of U.S. national security leaders from, including Mr. Trump’s own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, support New START. 

With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under New START and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by any other nuclear-armed country. Neither the United States nor Russia comes out of the treaty “ahead” or “behind.” 

Currently, Russia deploys 1,796 strategic warheads, the United States 1,367, but the United States deploys 681 strategic delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers) to Russia’s 508, giving the United States a substantially greater warhead upload potential. 

Both countries will be required to meet the New START limits by February 2018. The agreement expires in 2021 but the two leaders could extend the treaty for another five years and take parallel, reciprocal steps to achieve further nuclear reductions.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet U.S. deterrence requirements.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, 1962-2017Further nuclear reductions would reduce the price—estimated at $400 billion over 10 years by the Congressional Budget Office—to replace the U.S. arsenal at current levels. Expanding the U.S. arsenal with new or additional nuclear weapons would cost billions more.

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

In his final news conference as president, Barack Obama noted that if incoming President Donald Trump can restart the stalled U.S.-Russian dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction measures in a serious way, “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.” 

Mr. Trump must get smart and avoid reckless statements or actions that upend decades of successful efforts to reduce bloated nuclear arsenals and renew dangerous U.S. and Russian nuclear competition.  

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Posted: February 23, 2017

Russia Must Immediately Resolve INF Treaty Noncompliance Issue

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Press Release: Russia Must Immediately Resolve INF Treaty Noncompliance Issue

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For Immediate Release: February 14, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105

(Washington, DC)—The New York Times report based on U.S. government sources that Russia has allegedly deployed an operational unit of ground launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) that violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is extremely troubling and requires the immediate attention of senior policymakers in Moscow and Washington.

According to the report, Russia has not only tested noncompliant systems but has apparently deployed INF Treaty noncompliant missiles, a breach of a key cornerstone of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control architecture that helped to halt and reverse the Cold War-era nuclear arms race and remove a significant threat to Europe.

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty in Washington, DC, December 8, 1987 (Photo:Wikimedia)The INF Treaty required the United States and the then-Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

We call on Russia to immediately decommission the noncompliant missiles systems and return to compliance with the INF Treaty.

We also urge President Donald Trump and administration officials to reiterate U.S. support for the agreement and convene another meeting of the treaty's Special Verification Commission (SVC) to address and resolve the compliance issues.

The SVC was convened in November 2016 at the request of the United States for the purpose of addressing U.S. charges that Russia had conducted several tests of the INF Treaty prohibited system.

We also call upon the administration to seek new ways to provide further details about the nature of the Russian violation, particularly to U.S. allies threatened by the missiles. The inability to share more information has made it easier for Russia to deny a violation exists and harder for U.S. allies and other countries to put additional pressure on Russia.

Retaliating to Russia's violation by withdrawing from the INF Treaty, or stopping U.S. implementation of the successful 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), would be counterproductive and self-defeating.

A wide-range of U.S. national security leaders, as well as U.S. military officials, continue to assess that New START remains squarely in the U.S. national interest and that terminating or withdrawing from the agreement would undermine U.S. security.

Without continued U.S. support for existing nuclear arms control agreements and other types of cooperative nonproliferation engagement, Russian forces would be unconstrained. Not only would the United States have little leverage or basis to constrain Russian forces other than military and economic measures, it would not have verification measures in place to assess what Russia is doing.

The United States should pursue firm but measured steps to reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of these new INF Treaty noncompliant missiles.

But it would not be militarily useful for the United States to deploy new offense missiles in Europe or seek to accelerate or expand U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities in Europe, which would not increase the security of our allies and would only give the Russians a cynical excuse to withdraw from the treaty.

RESOURCES:
1) The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty at a Glance (February 2017)
2) U.S., Russia Discuss INF Disputes (Arms Control Today, December 2016)

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Posted: February 14, 2017

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: June 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.

History

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 took place November 15-16, 2016 and was attended by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The United States called the meeting to raise its concerns about Russia’s violation of the Treaty.

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.

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.

The United States and Russia met in the SVC for the first time in 13 years in November 2016 in Geneva “to discuss questions relating to compliance with the obligations assumed under” the 1987 agreement, according to the State Department. The United States called the meeting over alleged Russian treaty violations, took place in Geneva on November 15-16.

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.

For its part, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded by disputing the accusation and reiterating its own allegations of treaty noncompliance by the United States.

Posted: June 22, 2017

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Posted: February 14, 2017

Trump Ill-Informed About Value of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty

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In his first call with President Putin, Trump denounced the 2010 New START agreement despite not being aware of what the treaty was.

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(Washington, DC)—According to an exclusive Reuters story published this afternoon, President Donald Trump denounced the landmark 2010 New START agreement in his first telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reuters also reported that when Putin raised the option of extending New START, Mr. Trump had to ask his aides what the treaty was.

Signing of Russian-US Treaty on Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. With US President Barack Obama, April 2010. (Photo: Office of the President of Russia)The 2010 New START agreement has advanced U.S. and global interests by lowering and capping the two nation’s excessive strategic deployed nuclear arsenals, both of which remained poised on launch-under-attack alert status, meaning that thousands of nuclear weapons could be launched by the U.S. and Russian leaders within minutes of the go order.

The most important responsibility of any American president is to reduce nuclear dangers and to avoid nuclear catastrophe. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump appears to be clueless about the value of this key nuclear risk reduction treaty and the unique dangers of nuclear weapons.

A wide-range of U.S. national security leaders, as well as U.S. military officials, continue to assess that New START remains squarely in the U.S. national interest and that terminating or withdrawing from the agreement would undermine U.S. security. Ending New START would irresponsibly free Russia of any limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal and terminate the inspections that provide us with significant additional transparency about Russian strategic nuclear forces.

It has been longstanding U.S. policy to seek to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy. The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. During his confirmation hearing last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his support for New START and continued engagement with Russia and other nuclear-armed countries on seeking further verifiable reductions of nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Trump and his team must get smart about New START and the unique dangers of nuclear weapons. Before the end of his term in office, Trump will need to decide whether to invite Russia to extend New START for another five years and/or negotiate a new arms reduction treaty.

The United States and Russia should work together to build down, not build up. With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the 2010 New START agreement and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country.

Further nuclear reductions would also save both countries tens of billions of dollars in their ongoing programs to replace their current arsenals and would strengthen global nonproliferation and nuclear risk reduction efforts.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements.

As President Obama said in his last news conference Jan. 18 “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.”

RESOURCES:

  1. U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START (February 2017)
  2. Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Under New START (October 2016)
  3. New Report Calls for Russia and the West to Move Back from the Brink (June 2016) 
  4. New START at a Glance (August 2012)

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Posted: February 9, 2017

Press Release: U.S., Russia Can And Should Reduce Nuclear Excess, But On Proper Terms

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“The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” Kimball said.

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For Immediate Release: January 18, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 105

(Washington, D.C.) — In his final news conference as president, Barack Obama noted that if incoming President Donald Trump can restart the stalled U.S.-Russian dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction measures in a serious way, “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.” 

President Obama at his final news conference, January 18, 2017 (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)“President Obama is right. The United States and Russia have an opportunity and a responsibility to further reduce their excess nuclear weapons stockpiles,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.

Before the end of his term in office, Trump will need to decide whether to invite Russia to extend New START for another five years and/or negotiate a new arms reduction treaty.

“Trump should choose to build down, not build up,” Kimball said. "With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the 2010 New START agreement and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country,” Kimball noted.

"About 900 U.S. nuclear weapons can be fired within minutes of a presidential decision to do so, and no Congressional approval is required,” he said.

In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements.

Last weekend, Mr. Trump told the Times of London that "nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” but he suggested that such a deal might be linked to the easing of sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russia is a party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, a political understanding that the parties would respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan if they renounced nuclear weapons and joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states.

"Such a linkage would be unwise and impractical,” Kimball said. “The sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and our European allies should only be eased if Russia changes its behavior vis-a-vis Ukraine,” he said.

“We have recommended for some time that the U.S. and Russian sides should seek further, parallel reductions of one-third or more below the New START limits. This approach would not necessarily require that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin negotiate a new treaty,” he said.

“However, any further U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions will most likely need to consider other issues of concern for both Moscow and Washington,” Kimball said. "These include: compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a new understanding about the scope of U.S. and Russian missile defense systems, and concerns about advanced conventional weapons."

“A renewal of the U.S.-Russian strategic dialogue is in the interests of both countries. Further progress in reducing the risk and number of nuclear weapons is possible and necessary and would very much follow in the tradition of past U.S. presidential administrations,” Kimball said.

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Posted: January 18, 2017

Russia: U.S.-Russian Relations and the Future Security of Europe

The arms control dialogue between Russia and the United States is stagnating, and the risk of conflict, whether by intent or miscalculation, is growing.

January/February 2017

By Ulrich Kühn

The incoming Trump administration inherits a U.S.-Russian relationship marked by disagreement and confrontation in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the wars in Syria and Ukraine, the West’s use of economic sanctions, and reciprocal complaints about interferences in domestic affairs. 

The arms control dialogue is stagnating, and the risk of conflict, whether by intent or miscalculation, is growing.

U.S. soldiers participate in a parade on November 23, 2016, in Vilnius, Lithuania, during Iron Sword military exercises. Approximately 4,000 soldiers from NATO countries engaged in the two-week exercises intended to show support for the the three small Baltic states considered at risk from Russia. (Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)From a European perspective, the current confrontation between NATO and Russia and the question of how to preserve the post-Cold War peace in Europe should be a prime concern for the new administration. For President-elect Donald Trump, U.S. commitments to allies might hinge more on transactional considerations than on shared values. That might open up requirements for deeper integration of defense planning and spending among European allies. It also offers the chance for a fresh start on Russia, not in the sense of a bilateral “reset” but in terms of formulating a more focused U.S. strategy toward Russia that recognizes the unpleasant political realities, reminds Moscow of U.S. NATO security guarantees, and avoids possible escalation with Russia.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, have each displayed proclivities that could worsen relations between the two nuclear powers. To avert the more dire outcomes, the new administration should start by reassessing the fundamental Russian and U.S. interests in Europe.

Russia Today

Throughout the last 20 years, Russian leaders have made it abundantly clear that they object to NATO enlargement. As far back as 1997, Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Soviet president, warned that “the eastward expansion of NATO is a mistake and a serious one at that.”1 Since 2008, Moscow in addition has made public its claim to “regions in which Russia has privileged interests.”2 Even though the Kremlin has never clearly specified what that means and to which countries it pertains, it would seem to include all non-NATO post-Soviet states.

Combining these two principles, it becomes clear that any enlargement of Western institutions, be it NATO or the European Union, runs counter to Russian interests.

In order to assert its interests, Russia relies on a strategy of creating a “belt of insecurity and instability” along its southwestern periphery.3 What first sounds illogical from a Western perspective, because stability and security are viewed as inherently worthwhile interests, can only be understood by considering the Kremlin’s perspective. The Russian leadership does not see its foreign policy as “revanchist” or seeking to reverse territorial losses, as it is often described in Western accounts. Instead, it sees Russia as a status quo power that always had special interests in the post-Soviet space and the West, above all the United States, as a status quo challenger.

From Moscow’s viewpoint, Russia is therefore in a defensive position, forced into a constant battle by the West, which relentlessly seeks to expand its influence through NATO and EU enlargement and the export of Western cultural, normative, and informational policies. This battle is all the more threatening because the Russian leadership is well aware that the West has the greater resources and because it is frantically trying to avoid complete international isolation.4

The Russian leadership fights this battle in two geographic theaters and with different means. The first is the post-Soviet space. Here, the Kremlin is only in a stronger position versus the West if it employs force as it did in Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014, and in eastern Ukraine currently. All three cases are forms of direct coercion that are also aimed at deterring other post-Soviet states from drifting toward the West.

In the second theater, comprised of NATO member states, Russia is very much disadvantaged. Because of its comparative weakness, Moscow uses the tactics of cross-domain coercion5 and asymmetric responses below the level of open kinetic hostilities. Cross-domain coercion means that the Kremlin extends its struggle to all possible domains with the aim of dragging the West into a constant low-level conflict in the hope of manipulating its calculus toward accepting Russia’s claims, a tactic also known as “coercive gradualism.”6 This includes frequent NATO airspace violations, close military encounters over the Baltic and Black seas, cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, and support and financing of populist movements in NATO states.

It is here that the nuclear dimension—basically the only dimension where Russia matches the United States—comes into play. Regular instances of Russian nuclear signaling toward Washington and individual NATO member states have accompanied and aggravated the ongoing conflict. Reminders that Russia could turn the United States “into radioactive ash,”7 Putin allegedly pondering putting nuclear weapons on alert during the Crimea takeover,8 the deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, large-scale conventional maneuvers that end with a simulated nuclear strike,9 and the alleged testing and production of a ground-launched cruise missile within ranges forbidden by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty are all aimed at unsettling NATO member states and creating the image of a reckless and unpredictable Russia that one should “best not mess with.”10

Military Balance

NATO member states and the U.S. strategic community are not unified in their assessment of the nature and purview of Russian interests. Is the Kremlin trying to militarily roll back U.S. influence, even in NATO member states? Much depends on what answer is formulated to this question, particularly regarding NATO’s most vulnerable members, the Baltic states.

The Obama administration answered that question by inference and opted to reassure the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—and Poland by low-key military commitments. As part of the European Reassurance Initiative, Washington is in the process of sending one armored brigade combat team of 4,000-5,000 personnel to rotate continuously through eastern Europe, prepositioning additional war-fighting equipment in western Europe, and improving air fields and bases. In addition, U.S. forces will lead a multinational battalion of approximately 1,000 personnel in northeast Poland.

Those measures can hardly be viewed as threatening Russia’s conventional regional superiority in its vast Western Military District, where some 300,000 military personnel are deployed, or as a serious attempt at deterrence by denial. Yet, if the Trump administration comes to a different assessment or if Russia were to increase its conventional forces along the Baltic borders, Washington would basically have to multiply its current military commitment or push allies to step in on behalf of the United States. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech on July 26, 2015, during celebrations for Navy Day in Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad region, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between NATO members Poland and Lithuania. (Photo credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)Russia has largely remained silent about its intentions. The Kremlin reaps benefits from confronting NATO with uncertainty. Even so, some of the facts on the ground are quite revealing. The provocative announcement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that three new divisions would be formed “to counter the growing capacity of NATO forces”11 was actually a reorganization, which represented a certain reversal of Russian military reforms. Those three new divisions will merge already existing and deployed brigades and will be stationed around Ukraine.12 The reshufflings mean that the Russian General Staff deems the scenario of a midsized conventional war possible and that its theater could be Ukraine. For the time being, it does not mean that Russia is preparing for a war against the Baltic states, as some U.S. experts suggest.13

One of NATO’s concerns is securing supply routes in times of an imminent threat. Even though the three Baltic states and Poland have just started the process of connecting their countries with a uniform railway system, NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, as well as additional military equipment, would have to be transported by air or shipped by sea during the coming years.

Complicating the situation, Russia has increasingly invested in a sophisticated network of “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) deployments, causing concern that Moscow could block sea and air routes.14 Because NATO officials are taking the Russian A2/AD capability seriously, Poland ordered 40 highly capable, stealthy Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM) for its F-16 fighter-jet fleet and is reportedly in the process of purchasing 70 JASSM cruise missiles with extended ranges of more than 900 kilometers.15 Those missiles can be considered a significant improvement in NATO’s overall capabilities to hold Russian A2/AD assets at risk. 

The Russian A2/AD deployments notably are not aimed exclusively at suppressing NATO supply routes. They also serve the legitimate Russian interest of defending Kaliningrad, Russia’s enclave on the Baltic Sea, in a scenario where NATO would be the attacker.

The United States faces the question of how to deal with Russia’s nuclear signaling. Some U.S. experts continue to urge NATO to answer the Russian actions.16 They refer to the alleged Russian doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate,” meaning that Russia could employ limited tactical nuclear weapons strikes in order to signal resolve in a conventional confrontation. Their concern is that Russia could present NATO with a fait accompli that the alliance, even if it desired, could not counter. 

In order to “close the credibility gap,”17 they call on NATO to increase the readiness levels of its forward-deployed nuclear assets in Europe, begin integrating conventional and nuclear forces in its exercises again, and further strengthen its declaratory nuclear policy. In fact, the United States is already spending large amounts to increase the perceived utility of its nonstrategic nuclear forces based in Europe through development of a modernized gravity bomb and modernized aircraft to deliver it. 

Calling on NATO to close the credibility gap appears to be an echo of the Cold War debate about Soviet attempts to decouple Western Europe from U.S. nuclear guarantees. For the time being, however, it seems that Moscow is much more convinced by U.S. guarantees than are some Western strategists. Further, there is not much in terms of official Russian documents, posture, or exercises that support the hypothesis of a Russian escalate to de-escalate doctrine confined to Europe.18 In fact, most of the more recent Russian maneuvers end with a simulated strategic nuclear strike.19 The Russian silence about the alleged doctrine appears to signal first and foremost unpredictability, which would fit into the general pattern of ambiguous behavior. 

The new U.S. administration must also consider how much control of the post-Soviet space matters to essential U.S. interests. The outgoing administration did not bow to calls20 for arming Ukraine. Instead, it ceded the diplomatic initiative to Germany and France and pushed the EU to join sanctions on Russia. This policy has harmed the Russian economy and resulted in a protracted, low-level conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Washington is basically confronted with a formidable dilemma. The United States has to try to dissuade Russia from further violating the post-Cold War European security order and to ensure that every country has the sovereign right to choose its economic, political, and military arrangements. Yet, U.S. leverage is limited, and the Kremlin has already de facto achieved its main goal, that is, a halt to further NATO/EU enlargement into the post-Soviet space.

Revisiting the issue of arming Ukraine might make matters worse. Moscow has proven its determination to go to great lengths to prevent Ukraine from regaining control over the Donbas region. Although it could provide more lethal weapons to Kiev, the United States would be likely to end up in a proxy war with Russia, a scenario where Moscow’s incentive to prevail would exceed Washington’s. Moreover, the people of Ukraine would pay most of the humanitarian costs of a full-fledged war with Russia, and the already struggling EU could be confronted with yet another wave of refugees.

Trump’s Conundrum

Trump’s remarks during the U.S. political campaign provide some clues about the new president’s thinking. For instance, he has conditioned U.S. defense of its major allies,21 saying other NATO members must pay more toward their own defense. More unnerving for most European leaders and U.S. foreign policy experts, he has praised Putin’s leadership qualities and even implied recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.22

A Polish Army soldier sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind during exercises of the alliance’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force on June 18, 2015 in Zagan, Poland. The task force is NATO’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Troops from Germany, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Belgium took part. (Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)Although it is too soon to know how the Trump administration will approach Russia and Europe, it is possible to identify challenges he will encounter and offer recommendations on how to meet them.

As some of his remarks suggest, Trump could end up giving the Kremlin what it wants, that is a bilateral modus vivendi of noninterference in the mutual spheres of privileged interest, meaning NATO territory here and the post-Soviet space there, while pressuring NATO allies to pay more of the defense burden. This is highly problematic for NATO member states and for some members of the U.S. Republican establishment for a number of reasons.

•   Further accommodating Russia might be perceived in Russia and other states as rewarding international aggression. The Kremlin could misread any such decision as a sign of U.S. weakness and an opportunity to exert more military pressure.

•   The consensus among U.S. policy-makers and particularly Republican-leaning experts is that the United States is militarily superior to Russia, although some argue that gap is closing, and that concessions should not be granted to a weaker opponent, in particular when that opponent is actively challenging U.S. interests.

•   The U.S. conservative political establishment still has a strong, albeit inconsistent, sense of mission when it comes to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, and Russia has emerged as one of the most vocal challengers of such “Western values.” 

•   Any such understanding would risk alienating European NATO members that feel most threatened by Moscow, potentially splitting the alliance. 

•   Further, a European settlement on Russian terms, in combination with conditioning U.S. defense commitments, may create negative ripple effects in other parts of the world, most obviously in Northeast Asia, where U.S. allies could start fundamentally questioning U.S. extended deterrence guarantees.

Alternatively, Trump, heeding advice from Republican foreign policy hawks, could decide to show he can drive a harder bargain than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.Trump’s latest remarks about his readiness to engage in nuclear arms races could point in that direction.23 In that case, U.S. pushback against Russia could entail regular U.S. exercises close to Russian airspace, more explicit threats of U.S. nuclear weapons use, cyberattacks against Russian infrastructure, and the unilateral abrogation of arms control agreements such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the INF Treaty, or the NATO-Russia Founding Act, the 1997 political accord that conditionally bars the permanent deployment of substantial NATO combat forces to central and eastern Europe.

Such actions would present problems not only to Russia but also to Washington and its NATO allies.

•   Given Trump’s past erratic comments and the fact that the United States already has the most powerful military in the world, Moscow might feel very much threatened. It could prompt Russia to backpedal in order to de-escalate. Alternatively, the Kremlin may misperceive those signals as signs of U.S. offensive intentions and take countermeasures. Russia could even double down, resulting in a risky security dilemma that would be almost impossible to manage.

•   NATO member states might disagree on the logic and expected payoff of such a strategy, creating a schism that threatens alliance coherence.

•   Loose nuclear talk would undermine long-standing principles and norms of international conduct and thus create negative ripple effects beyond the immediate U.S.-Russian relationship, damaging the international reputation of the United States.

There is the possibility that not much changes in U.S.-Russian relations, particularly given Trump’s predisposition to “make America great again” by focusing attention and resources on domestic problems. In that case, the administration would be well advised to prioritize its responses in Europe. Paramount priority must be given to the safety and security of NATO member states and making sure that NATO maintains a unified position. Protecting Ukraine is a related but subordinate interest and should be handled in close coordination with European allies.

Recommendations 

The best way to deal with Russia is to remain calm and patient. In this regard, a good personal relationship between Trump and Putin might be helpful. Washington has already underscored its commitment to NATO’s easternmost members. It should continue to do so through regular and visible high-level visits, consultations, and affirmations of U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5 collective defense provision. 

If the Trump administration feels that some allies are not meeting their defense spending obligations, it should seek ways to encourage deeper military integration, cooperation, and defense planning among European NATO members. In addition, Washington could consider prepositioning additional military equipment in western Europe.

The Trump administration should be ready to publicly denounce Russian nuclear signaling and intimidation attempts whenever they occur. Washington should seek the broadest international support possible for doing so.

As a matter of high priority, Washington should focus on conflict management with the aim of preventing inadvertent or accidental escalation, in particular because Russia is employing high-risk tactics. If the ongoing NATO-Russian talks on military incidents are not yielding tangible results, Washington should seek direct talks with the aim of reinvigorating, modernizing, and perhaps multilateralizing earlier Cold War bilateral agreements.24

Given the high probability of misperceptions and misunderstandings and the Russian strategy of drawing NATO ever deeper into a nonkinetic conflict, Washington should exercise restraint. If Russia is not significantly increasing its military presence along the Baltic borders or the Black Sea periphery of NATO, Washington should not give it an excuse to do so. Instead, it should invest more time in diplomatic efforts to assure allies and lower tensions with Russia.

The United States should leave NATO’s nuclear component untouched, avoid too much declaratory drivel, and leave the Russians in the dark instead.

The United States should not arm Ukraine. Russia will be able to counter militarily almost every step taken. Instead, Washington and its allies should provide Kiev with much more economic support. The gravest political threat to the current leadership in the Kremlin is a prosperous and economically thriving Ukraine.

A cost-saving approach to defense lies in the realm of resilience. Washington should do everything possible to strengthen the resilience of the Baltic states. An eastern Ukraine-like scenario is only likely if their Russian minorities feel deeply disenfranchised or alienated. The United States therefore should keep a close watch on the state of educational, language, cultural, informational, anti-corruption, policing, and rule of law policies and should offer its help in a proactive manner.

On the sanctions policy, Washington should ensure the EU keeps firm because this is one of the only real forms of leverage the West possesses. 

Bilateral Arms Control

All this does not bode well for the bilateral arms control agenda. Arms control policies are built on certain recognition that preserving the status quo is beneficial. The United States and Russia, however, view each other at present as challenging the status quo.

The fact that Russia reaps benefits from its unpredictable behavior makes it necessary to change the Russian calculus so that Moscow views the gains from cooperation as outweighing those from confrontation. Yet, that would mean that Washington would have to be willing to offer something significant that goes beyond the immediate arms control goals of predictability, stability, and transparency.

U.S. sailors salute during the inauguration ceremony for the U.S. anti-missile station Aegis Ashore Romania (in the background) at the military base in Deveselu, Romania on May 12, 2016. Aegis Ashore, staffed by U.S. naval personnel, is the land-based version of the ship-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system. (Photo credit: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)An unofficial recognition of spheres of privileged interest, together with a more respectful relationship under Trump, could be something that interests Putin. Nevertheless, the widely shared disdain for arms control among many Republican policymakers would certainly work against a serious U.S. arms control push.

One of the true concerns of the Russian military is the conventional superiority of the combined forces of NATO. In turn, the regional Russian superiority in eastern Europe, particularly vis-à-vis the Baltic states, is a concern in Washington and at NATO headquarters in Brussels. At the sub-regional level, Russia is concerned about the security of Kaliningrad. This Matryoshka doll-like situation offers at least the theoretical possibility of a quid pro quo arrangement for the wider Baltic region with mutual geographical limitations on manpower, equipment, and reinforcement capabilities, coupled with intrusive and verifiable transparency measures.25 

Another issue Washington should explore is Russia’s alleged breach of the INF Treaty. Since 2014, the U.S. government has accused Russia of violating the treaty by flight-testing a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.26 Meanwhile, a U.S. report claimed that “Russia is producing more missiles than are needed to sustain a flight-test program,”suggesting that deployment may be imminent.27

Russia tabled a number of countercharges, among which was the claim that the U.S.-led Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense launchers being deployed in eastern Europe had been tested with systems banned under the INF Treaty, suggesting that Aegis Ashore could be used for offensive purposes. The scenario of a decapitating strike seems to rank quite prominently among Russian concerns.28

Much depends on Russian intentions. The agreement to address compliance issues by convening the INF Treaty’s Special Verification Commission in November for the first time in 13 years was a positive development. Yet if Moscow continues down the current path of producing and perhaps deploying new INF Treaty-range weapons, Europe risks entering a new Cold War “Euromissiles” crisis, awakening some of the turmoil encountered during the 1970s and 1980s.

If the Russian rationale is really based on fear of a decapitating strike, U.S. officials could consider options to reassure Moscow about the Aegis Ashore launchers deployed in Romania, such as technical consultations and site visits, demonstrating to Russian experts that the United States is ready to undergo hardware changes that make it technically impossible for these launchers to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles.

If much of Russia’s concern stems from third-country nuclear and conventional missiles within the INF Treaty range (e.g., China’s capabilities), Washington and Moscow can consider reviving a 2007 UN General Assembly initiative put forward by Russia and supported by the United States that called for a multilateralization of the INF Treaty. Putin’s latest remarks seem to point in that direction.29 In this way, both sides could take account of emerging technologies and the changing geopolitical landscape, which no longer may be resolved in the traditional bilateral manner.

Either approach would require both sides to pursue a face-saving solution. A grimmer scenario has both sides finding powerful incentives to walk away from the INF Treaty. Trump adviser and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who was among the candidates for secretary of state, has advocated withdrawal from the INF Treaty, referring to states such as China, Iran, and North Korea, which “face no limits on developing intermediate-range weapons.”30

Even though both sides can extend New START for another five years, the U.S. Senate will most likely not give its advice and consent to any follow-on agreement absent a resolution of the INF Treaty issue. The Trump administration might even use Russian noncompliance and nuclear modernizations as reasons to opt out of New START implementation. Moscow might be ready to go down that road as well.

A follow-on agreement to New START is important, particularly in order to understand both sides’ nuclear modernization activities, to preserve transparency, to prevent backsliding into arms race instability, and to convince non-nuclear powers that Russia and the United States take seriously their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament.

Washington and its European allies will need to remind Moscow that, without INF Treaty compliance, further strategic nuclear dialogue and a New START follow-on may be impossible, closing off Russia’s most productive path toward preserving its influence and enhancing its security.

Therefore, the new U.S. administration should engage with Moscow as early as possible on arms control issues. It needs to remind the Kremlin that respect for Russia will be influenced by Russia’s respect for mutual security. It also needs to remember that existing problems will not go away by acting as if arms control talks are a reward for Russia. The reality is just the opposite: arms control talks are in the genuine national interest of all parties—the United States, Russia, and the international community.

ENDNOTES

1.   Thomas W. Lippman, “Clinton, Yeltsin Agree on Arms Cuts and NATO,” The Washington Post, March 22, 1997.

2.   Charles Clover, “Russia Announces ‘Spheres of Interest,’” Financial Times, August 31, 2008.

3.   This belt stretches from the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which Russia fuels and manages at the same time through arms sales and political pressure; along the protracted, open conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova; over the pro-Russian, authoritarian-ruled Belarus; and up to the Baltic states, Poland, and the Scandinavian countries, the latter of which Russia has also repeatedly intimidated throughout the last two years.

4.    President of Russia, “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club,” October 27, 2016, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/53151.

5.   Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, “Cross-Domain Coercion: The Current Russian Art of Strategy,” Proliferation Papers, No. 54 (November 2015), https://www.ifri.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/pp54adamsky.pdf.

6.   William G. Pierce, Douglas G. Douds, and Michael A. Marra, “Understanding Coercive Gradualism,” Parameters, Vol. 45, No. 3 (Autumn 2015): 51-61.

7.   Lidia Kelly, “Russia Can Turn U.S. to Radioactive Ash - Kremlin-Backed Journalist,” Reuters, March 16, 2014.

8.   Adam Withnall, “Vladimir Putin Says Russia Was Preparing to Use Nuclear Weapons ‘If Necessary’ and Blames U.S. for Ukraine Crisis,” The Independent, March 15, 2015.

9.   The end of the most recent Kavkaz (South) 2016 exercise coincided with the Russian military test-firing a modernized Topol intercontinental ballistic missile. Pavel Felgenhauer, “Russian Military Resists Proposed Budget Cuts, Prepares for Major Ground War,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, September 15, 2016, https://jamestown.org/program/russian-military-resists-proposed-budget-cuts-prepares-for-major-ground-war/#sthash.Jmzv79tt.dpuf.

10.   Alexei Anishchuk, “Don’t Mess With Nuclear Russia, Putin Says,” Reuters, August 29, 2014.

11.   Dmitry Solovyov and Lidia Kelly, “Russia Warns of Retaliation as NATO Plans More Deployments in Eastern Europe,” Reuters, May 4, 2016.

12.   Anna Maria Dyner, “Russia Beefs Up Military Potential in the Country’s Western Areas,” PISM Bulletin, No. 35 (885) (June 13, 2016), http://www.pism.pl/publications/bulletin/no-35-885.

13.   Elbridge Colby and Jonathan Solomon, “For Peace With Russia, Prepare for War in Europe: NATO and Conventional Deterrence,” War on the Rocks, April 20, 2016, http://warontherocks.com/2016/04/for-peace-with-russia-prepare-for-war-in-europe-nato-and-conventional-deterrence/.

14.   Giulia Paravicini, “New Chess Game Between West and Russia,” Politico, July 1, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/natos-struggle-to-close-defence-gaps-against-russia-a2ad/.

15.   Ben Judson, “Poland Wants Extended-Range JASSM Missiles,” Defense News, November 29, 2016. http://www.defensenews.com/articles/poland-wants-extended-range-jassm-missiles.

16.   Matthew Kroenig, “Facing Reality: Getting NATO Ready for a New Cold War,” Survival, Vol. 57, No. 1 (2015): 49-70.

17.    Jacek Durkalec and Matthew Kroenig, “NATO’s Nuclear Deterrence: Closing Credibility Gaps,” The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2016): 37-50.

18.   Olga Oliker has illustrated that in a very detailed and convincing study. Olga Oliker, “Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine: What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2016, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160504_Oliker_RussiasNuclearDoctrine_Web.pdf.

19.   Felgenhauer, “Russian Military Resists Proposed Budget Cuts, Prepares for Major Ground War.”

20.   Ivo Daalder et al., “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do,” Atlantic Council of the United States, February 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/UkraineReport_February2015_FINAL.pdf.

21.   Maggie Haberman and David E. Sanger, “Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016.

22.   Nick Gass, “Trump Tries to Clean Up on Crimea,” Politico, August 1, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/trump-clarifies-crimea-ukraine-226497.

23.   Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger, “Trump Says U.S. Would ‘Outmatch’ Rivals in a New Nuclear Arms Race,” The New York Times, December 23, 2016.

24.   Among those could be the 1972 agreement on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas and the 1989 agreement on the prevention of dangerous military activities. For the recommendations of the Deep Cuts Commission on the creation of a Joint Military Incident Prevention and Communications Cell with a direct telephone link to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian General Staff, and SHAPE, see Deep Cuts Commission, “Back From the Brink: Toward Restraint and Dialogue Between Russia and the West,” Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, June 2016, p. 17, http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/Third_Report_of_the_Deep_Cuts_Commission_English.pdf.

25.   I am grateful to Josh Pollack for the Matryoshka doll metaphor.

26.   Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State, “2016 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” April 11, 2016, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/rpt/2016/255651.htm.

27.   Michael R. Gordon, “Russia Is Moving Ahead With Missile Program That Violates Treaty, U.S. Officials Say,” The New York Times, October 19, 2016.

28.   Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Comment by the Information and Press Department on the U.S. Department of State’s Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” April 15, 2016, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/2237950

29.   President of Russia, “Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club.”

30.   John R. Bolton and John Yoo, “An Obsolete Nuclear Treaty Even Before Russia Cheated,” The Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2014.


Ulrich Kühn is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, a fellow with the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, and founder and a permanent member of the Deep Cuts Commission.

Posted: January 11, 2017

U.S., Russia Discuss INF Disputes

The United States and Russia met in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation forum last month to discuss outstanding issues.

December 2016

By Kingston Reif

The United States and Russia met in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty’s implementation forum last month “to discuss questions relating to compliance with the obligations assumed under” the 1987 agreement, according to a State Department press release. 

The Special Verification Commission meeting, which was called by the United States over alleged Russian treaty violations, took place in Geneva on Nov. 15-16, the State Department said. (See ACT, November 2016.) Last convened 13 years ago, the commission was established by the treaty as the forum to discuss compliance disputes and to “agree upon such measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness” of the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at a Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi on October 27, during which he said that almost all of Russia's neighbors possessed missiles prohibited by the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: Russian Presidential Executive Office)The United States continues to stand by the assessment, first made publicly 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.”

Russia denies that it is breaching the agreement and has countered with its own charges of noncompliance by Washington. It asserts that the United States is placing a missile defense launch system in Europe that can also be used to fire cruise missiles, using missiles with similar characteristics to INF Treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles in missile defense tests, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

The United States disputes the Russian charges and maintains it is in compliance with the agreement. 

It is not clear whether the November meeting made progress toward resolving the compliance disputes or whether the parties agreed to meet again. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in a Nov. 17 email that the department had nothing to announce beyond that the meeting took place. The session marked the 30th meeting of the commission since the treaty took effect.

In an Oct. 27 press conference at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that almost all of Russia’s neighbors possess missiles of the range prohibited by the INF Treaty “whereas none of the countries sharing borders with the United States…manufacture such weapons.”

“So, for us” the agreement “is a special test,” Putin said. “But nevertheless, we believe it is necessary to honor this treaty.”

Posted: November 30, 2016

Russia Suspends Plutonium Agreement

An increasingly troubled relationship takes a toll on U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation.

November 2016

By Kingston Reif

Russia announced last month that it is suspending cooperation under a 16-year-old agreement with the United States to dispose of 68 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium as relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate. 

In an Oct. 3 presidential decree, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, citing “unfriendly actions” by the United States and the “inability” of Washington to fulfill its obligations under the agreement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech at the opening session of the newly elected State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, in Moscow on October 5. The Duma on October 19 acted on his call to set conditions that would have to be met for Russia to resume cooperation under a plutonium disposal accord. (Photo credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)Putin also submitted a draft law to the Russian parliament outlining conditions that would have to be met for Russia to resume cooperation. These include lifting all U.S. sanctions against Russia enacted in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, compensating Russia for the damage caused by the sanctions, and reducing the U.S. military presence on the territory of NATO member states that joined the alliance after 2000, which covers eight neighboring countries that were part of the Soviet Union or its Warsaw Pact military alliance. The parliament approved the law on Oct. 19.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Oct. 3 that Russia’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement was “disappointing.” The United States “has been steadfast since 2011 in implementing our side of the bargain, and we would like to see the Russians continue to do the same,” he said.

A Troubled Disposition History

Signed in 2000 and amended in 2010, the plutonium agreement commits the United States and Russia each to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium, or enough material in total for approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons. 

Under the earlier version of the deal, Russia would have turned the plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—for use in Russian light-water reactors to produce electricity. That effort stalled over programmatic, financial, and legal differences. 

Russia’s suspension of the plutonium disposal accord with the United States is a new blow to the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction near Aiken, South Carolina. Completion of the project, shown in a June 20 photo, was already in doubt due to cost increases and schedule delays. (Photo credit: High Flyer/SRS Watch)In 2010 the United States and Russia signed a protocol to the agreement that allowed Russia to dispose of the plutonium using fast-neutron reactors as part of its plan to expand the use of the material in its civilian nuclear power industry. Meanwhile, the United States pledged to continue with the MOX fuel approach at a facility under construction at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.

Under the amended agreement, both countries would begin disposition in 2018. The protocol also called for international monitoring and verification of the disposition process by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There are no indications that, in suspending the deal, Russia intends to abandon its plan to dispose of its share of the plutonium. Putin’s decree stated that the plutonium covered by the deal “is not being used for the purpose of making nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices…or for any other military purposes.”

It remains to be seen whether Moscow will allow international monitoring of the disposition process as called for under the agreement. 

The U.S. effort to dispose of its plutonium via the MOX fuel path has suffered from large cost increases and schedule delays that put the project in jeopardy, and the Obama administration announced earlier this year that it intends to terminate the project and pursue an alternative approach. (See ACT, March 2016.

The alternative “dilute and dispose” process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. That approach can be implemented decades sooner at a much lower cost and with fewer risks, according to the Energy Department. (See ACT, June 2015.)

Despite the Energy Department’s efforts to terminate the MOX fuel project, Congress, led by the delegation from South Carolina, has refused to abandon it. 

Russia argues that the new U.S. plan does not meet the terms of the deal because it does not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons grade to reactor grade and the diluted plutonium could still be retrieved and used again for weapons. The Energy Department disputes this claim, arguing that the technical effort and financial cost required to retrieve the diluted and buried plutonium would be prohibitive. 

The original agreement allows for changes in the method of disposition, subject to agreement by both parties. The United States and Russia had not begun formal talks on the alternative U.S. approach because Moscow was waiting to see whether Congress would require that the MOX fuel project be continued. 

In an Oct. 21 email to Arms Control Today, a spokesperson for the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said Russia’s decision to suspend cooperation on plutonium disposition “only reinforces the administration’s intent to pursue the already proven dilute and dispose approach, which will save tens of billions of dollars while upholding our commitment to dispose of surplus plutonium.” 

Russia Terminates Other Pacts

Russia last month also suspended a 2013 research agreement on nuclear energy and a 2010 deal on the conversion of six Russian research reactors.

The 2013 agreement provided the legal framework necessary to expand cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear research laboratories, institutes, and facilities in a broad range of areas, including nuclear technology, nonproliferation, fundamental and applied science, energy, and the environment. 

The 2010 deal covered feasibility studies for the conversion of six Russian research reactors that use highly enriched uranium, which could be diverted to weapons use, to low-enriched uranium. 

In an Oct. 5 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Russia was suspending both agreements in retaliation for U.S. sanctions imposed regarding the situation in Ukraine. “We can no longer trust Washington in such sensitive areas as the modernization and security of Russian nuclear facilities,” the statement added.

Russia announced in late 2014 that it planned to suspend most cooperation with the United States on the security of nuclear materials inside Russia. (See ACT, March 2015.) In addition, Russia skipped the fourth and final nuclear security summit in Washington earlier this year. (See ACT, May 2016.)

U.S.-Russian Tensions Rise

The demise of the three nuclear cooperation agreements comes amid rising tensions between the two countries over Syria, U.S. allegations of Russian cyber espionage, and Western concerns about more aggressive Russian nuclear rhetoric and behavior.

Putin announced the suspension of the plutonium accord hours before the United States said it was suspending talks with Russia on ending the Syrian civil war. 

In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies assessed last month that Russian government authorities have authorized cyberhacking of U.S. entities such as the Democratic National Committee and linked the WikiLeaks release of documents to Russian efforts to undermine the credibility of the U.S. electoral process.

The future of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty also remains in doubt as the United States and Russia allege that the other is in violation of the agreement. (See ACT, November 2016.)

At their July summit meeting in Warsaw, NATO leaders characterized as “destabilizing” Russia’s “irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture.” Alliance officials have expressed concern over the past two years about Russian actions such as nuclear bomber flights close to the borders of alliance members, aggressive nuclear exercises, and nuclear threats directed at NATO members. (See ACT, September 2016.)

Posted: October 31, 2016

Next Steps on U.S.-Russian INF Treaty Dispute

Sections:

Description: 

Relations between Russia and the West have sunk to an historic low and tensions have worsened across a range of issues, some new and some old.

Body: 

Volume 8, Issue 6, October 25, 2016

Relations between Russia and the West have sunk to an historic low. Since President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and foment a low-level conflict in eastern Ukraine nearly three years ago, tensions between the United States and Russia have worsened across a range of issues, some new and some old.

Several key nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements that helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race continue to serve to constrain nuclear competition and maintain strategic stability.

These include the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan signing the INF Treaty in Washington, DC, December 8, 1987 (Photo:Wikimedia)The INF Treaty was a major breakthrough that helped to halt and reverse the Cold War-era nuclear arms race and remove a significant threat to Europe. It marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to actually eliminate nuclear weapons and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty, which is of unlimited duration, required both sides 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 two sides eliminated 2,692 short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by 1991.

There are growing signs, however, that the INF Treaty is under serious and increasing stress. Failure to resolve the festering compliance dispute could threaten the treaty and impede further efforts to reduce bloated U.S. and Russia nuclear arsenals in the years ahead.

In July 2014, the U.S. State Department officially alleged that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in December that the allegations are “groundless” and the United States has “not provided any proof” that Russia is “allegedly producing and deploying” banned missiles.

Moscow has instead raised its own concerns about Washington’s compliance with the agreement, charging that America 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 treaty-prohibited intermediate-range missiles, and making armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles.

To this point, bilateral political discussions at senior levels have not led to a resolution of the compliance dispute. Neither side had sought to use the dispute resolution mechanism allowed for by Article VIII of the treaty – the Special Verification Commission (SVC).

Until at least January of this year, senior Defense and State department officials said that Russia had not deployed the prohibited missile.

But according to an Oct. 19 The New York Times report, “American officials are now expressing concerns that Russia is producing more missiles than are needed to sustain a flight-test program, spurring fears that the Kremlin is moving to build a force that could ultimately be deployed.”

The report also revealed that the United States has called for a meeting of the SVC to discuss and seek to resolve the U.S. compliance concerns. The U.S. State Department has since confirmed that a meeting has been requested and Russia has indicated that it plans to attend.

Both sides could be facing a new and even more difficult situation if they do not effectively use the SVC to bolster the INF Treaty.

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Immediate Next Steps

Convening the SVC to resolve mutual compliance concerns has been a longstanding recommendation of the Arms Control Association, as well as expert colleagues involved with the 21-member U.S.-Russian-German Deep Cuts Commission, and others.

Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the treaty is a serious matter that deserves a strong and measured response. To date, the United States has imposed diplomatic costs on Russia and has taken some military measures as part of a larger response to concerns about Russian behavior, including the INF Treaty violation.

Washington has properly treated the violation more as a political problem rather than a military one. But that would likely change if Russia moved from testing to actual deployment of INF Treaty noncompliant missiles. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama at the 2015 Group of Twenty summit (Photo: Wikipedia)If it hasn't done so already, the Obama administration should craft a plan for how the compliance concerns of both sides could be addressed in the event Russia engaged and signaled its willingness to return to compliance. This could include consideration of additional confidence-building measure and information exchanges that take into account technological and political developments that have occurred since the treaty’s entry into force.

From a U.S. and European security perspective, the key goal is to prevent Russia from deploying (or conducting further tests of) INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or withdrawing from the agreement entirely.

Meanwhile, the United States should seek new ways to provide further details about the nature of the Russian violation. The inability to share more information has made it easier for Russia to deny a violation exists and harder for U.S. allies and other countries to put additional pressure on Russia.

Both sides should understand and explain why the INF Treaty and the existing bilateral and multilateral arms control architecture continues to serve U.S., Russian, and European security interests and head-off even more dangerous military competition.

Without continued U.S. support for arms control agreements and other types of cooperative nonproliferation engagement, Russian forces would be unconstrained. Not only would the United States have little leverage or basis to constrain Russian forces other than military and economic measures, it would not have verification measures in place to assess what Russia is doing. Overall, the implementation record of these treaties has been highly successful, which is why presidents from both parties have pursued them.

If Russia continues to remain in noncompliance with the INF Treaty and especially if Russia decides to deploy noncompliant missiles or threatens to pull out of the treaty, the United States should pursue firm but measured steps to reaffirm its commitment to the defense of those allies that would be the potential targets of these new missiles.

But it would not be militarily useful for the United States to deploy new offense missiles in Europe or seek to accelerate or expand U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities in Europe, which would not increase the security of our allies and would only give the Russians a cynical excuse to withdraw from the treaty.

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Intermediate Steps on INF Treaty and Cruise Missiles

The current INF Treaty crisis comes at a time when the United States and Russia are building new nuclear and conventional cruise missile systems and a number of states are developing cruise missiles. In addition, the two sides are not currently engaged in talks on further strategic nuclear reductions beyond New START. Russian officials say that U.S. and Russian reductions must take into account the arsenals of the world’s other nuclear-armed states.

Today, only three countries possess nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The Pentagon is pursuing the production of roughly 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles to replace an aging legacy system. Russia is deploying the 2,000-kilometer range Kalibr land-attack cruise missile (LACM) on ships and submarines and the Kh-101 air-launched conventional and Kh-102 air-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile for delivery by bombers. France recently upgraded its nuclear air launched cruise missiles, the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré, and according to President François Hollande currently has 54 ASMP-A cruise missiles. 

In years past, the United States and Russia have both expressed support for “multilateralizing” the INF Treaty, but have devoted scant attention to such a project. In October 2007, President Vladimir Putin said that the INF Treaty should be made “global in scope.” Russia has argued for years that the INF Treaty disadvantages Russia vis-à-vis its neighbors, such as China, that lack the same constraints.

That same year, at the United Nations General Assembly, Russia and the United States issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the INF Treaty and calling upon other governments to renounce and eliminate their ground-launched missiles with ranges banned by the accord. The statement declared U.S. and Russian intentions to “work with all interested countries” and “discuss the possibility of imparting a global character to this important regime.”

The time has arrived for more serious consideration of limits on nuclear-armed cruise missiles worldwide. Given that they are nuclear-capable and increasingly accurate and stealthy, these weapons pose a significant problem for global stability and security.

In the coming year, the Kremlin and the new U.S. presidential administration might explore several possible options, including:

  • As the governments of Sweden and Switzerland proposed in a May 2016 working paper, the United States and Russia could jointly engage with other states on a process to reduce risks associated with nuclear armed cruise missiles. This might include options to limit, prevent deployment of, and ultimately ban all nuclear-armed cruise missiles, regardless if they are launched from the sea, air or ground.
  • The United States and Russia could also address the challenges of horizontal cruise missile proliferation by reinforcing the relevant Missile Technology Control Regime’s restrictions and by endorsing the inclusion of land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles / unmanned combat aerial vehicles in the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
  • Moscow and Washington should exercise restraint in Russian and U.S. nuclear force modernization programs, remaining within the New START limits and acting consistent with the intent of the treaty. The United States should forego development of a new, air-launched cruise missile, and Russia should reciprocate by phasing-out of its own new nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles.
  • The U.S. and Russian presidents should reaffirm that a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. The two sides should also agree to launch early discussions on a possible follow-on strategic arms reduction treaty, given that New START expires in 2021.

Given that each country deploys far more nuclear weapons than is necessary to deter attack, they should be able to envision reductions to a level of 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles (including cruise missiles) and no more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads. To take into account cruise missiles and sub-strategic nuclear bombs in the active arsenals of both sides, they should consider applying any new warhead ceiling to all types of nuclear weapons.

A new U.S.-Russian dialogue on strategic stability and risk reduction should also explore options for new transparency measures and reciprocal restraint measures in other related areas, including missile defenses, precision conventional strike, and sub-strategic nuclear weapons.

Reducing Risks In the “New Cold War”

As was the case during the Cold War, competition, confrontation, and selective cooperation is the new normal.

The U.S. and Russian governments continue to cooperate in some important areas of common concern, including implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and New START, and they continue to meet with the other permanent nuclear-armed members of the UN Security Council to share views on strategic stability and nuclear policy.

"Back from the Brink: Toward Restraint and Dialogue between Russia and the West," the June 2016 report of the Deep Cuts CommissionThe NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which involves 57 participating states in the area from Vancouver to Vladivostok, serves as another mechanism to address specific security concerns.

However, since the conflict in Ukraine the number of Russian and NATO military-to-military incidents in the Baltic region and elsewhere has increased; military-to-military contacts have been sharply curtailed; and there are no active bilateral talks on nuclear arms reductions, missile defense, or conventional arms control and transparency in Europe. Earlier this month, Putin suspended implementation of an already troubled U.S.-Russian agreement on the disposition of excess weapons-grade plutonium.

In addition, U.S. and Russian diplomats have in recent weeks clashed over Syria policy at the UN Security Council. The United States and Western European powers say that Russia’s brutal aerial bombardment of civilian areas in the besieged city of Aleppo in support of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad constitutes a war crime. Making matters even worse, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Russian government authorities have authorized cyber hacking of U.S. entities to undermine the credibility of the U.S. electoral process.

The United States and Russia need to re-engage and move back from the brink of even more serious conflict. The 2016 report of the Deep Cuts Commission “Toward Restraint and Dialogue Between Russia and the West,” outlines several additional practical steps to help address other issues:  

  • In order to reduce current security concerns in the Baltic area, NATO and Russia should initiate a dialogue on possible mutual restraint measures. A NATO-Russia dialogue should aim at increasing the security of all states in the Baltic area by encompassing reciprocal and verifiable commitments. A sub-regional arms control regime could consist of interlocking elements such as restraint commitments, limitations, confidence and security-building measures, and a sub-regional Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.
  • In light of the increasing dangers of military incidents between Russia, the United States and other NATO member states, the United States and Russia should revive a dialogue on nuclear risk reduction measures, capable of addressing risks posed by different sorts of emergencies in near real-time. The United States and Russia could consider creating a Joint Military Incident Prevention and Communications Cell with a direct telephone link between the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian General Staff, and NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Such a cell could be linked to or established in parallel with a new European Risk Reduction Center that would link the Russian General Staff and SHAPE.
  • The 34 signatories to the Open Skies Treaty should pay more attention to the continued operation and unimpeded implementation of Open Skies, which can help provide confidence that each side is taking actions in a manner consistent with their commitments and can help guard against surprise. The treaty allows for short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the territories of other states-parties with the aim of promoting openness and transparency, building confidence, and facilitating verification of arms control and disarmament agreements. Each states-party has quotas covering the number of observation flights a state can actively conduct over the territory of another state and the number it must allow over its own territory. Members of the U.S. Congress should recognize the value of the Open Skies Treaty and upgrades to observation capabilities rather than put roadblocks in the way of its effective implementation.
  • OSCE participating states should consider measures to give effect to the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs. For this purpose, the OSCE could set up a commission that would carefully look into the issue from a legal point of view and explore possibilities for a new OSCE states-based mechanism. OSCE participating States could also pursue a long-term effort leading to a Helsinki-like conference with the aim of reinvigorating and strengthening Europe’s guiding security principles.

As former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry wrote in the introduction to the 2016 Deep Cuts Commission report:

“Today, dialogue and restraint are needed more than ever since the end of the Cold War. In order to prevent misperceptions, miscalculations, and the potential return of a costly arms race, both Washington and Moscow have to rediscover the instruments of diplomatic dialogue, military-to-military exchanges, and verifiable arms control.”

Such an effort can begin with a serious, problem-solving approach to the INF Treaty. –BY DARYL G. KIMBALL, with KINGSTON A. REIF and ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Country Resources:

Posted: October 25, 2016

The Hidden Side of the U.S.-Russian Strategic Confrontation

The Soviet and Russian nuclear mentality has been and remains very different from that of the United States and its allies. The rapid reintroduction of the possibility of nuclear confrontation in U.S.-Russian relations...

September 2016

By Alexey Arbatov

After more than two decades during which Cold War-era visions of nuclear Armageddon faded from public consciousness, alarms are sounding anew as a result of tense relations between Russia and the West. 

At the height of the Ukraine crisis in August 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message to any nations that might seek to challenge Russia: “Let me remind you that Russia is one of the world’s biggest nuclear powers,” he said in remarks during a visit to a state-sponsored youth camp. “These are not just words—this is the reality. What’s more, we are strengthening our nuclear deterrent capability and developing our armed forces.’’1 NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reflected Western concern at such talk, declaring that “Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling is unjustified, destabilizing and dangerous.”2

A Russian RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile is transported through Red Square in Moscow during the Victory Day military parade on May 9. [Photo credit: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images]In light of this, it is worthwhile to explore the context and history of Russia’s thinking about nuclear strategy and its divergence from U.S. and NATO approaches. In the West, there is a tradition of explaining Russian nuclear policy by projecting Western thinking onto Russian defense planners. This often leads to conclusions about an aggressive character of Moscow’s nuclear posture. Yet, the problem is not as simple as that. Its core is that Soviet and Russian nuclear mentality has been and remains very different from that of the United States and its allies. 

After the Cold War, those strategic discrepancies lay dormant in the background of improved political and strategic relations, having never been openly discussed, to say nothing of being mutually adjusted. Now, when the attention of policymakers and the general public has been drawn back to central nuclear issues, the time has come to correct this deficiency. Otherwise, it may lead to dangerous collisions in crisis situations and disintegration of the nuclear arms control system and process.

Official Doctrines

The most recent statement of Russian military doctrine in December 2014 retained the prior version’s restrained wording on employing nuclear arms: “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, and also in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation involving the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is under threat.”3 

Incidentally, the official Russian strategic concept has only two differences from the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review.4 One is that the United States is apparently willing to defend its allies with the use of nuclear weapons if they are attacked by overwhelming conventional forces, whereas Russia does not provide such assurance. The other is Russian readiness to use nuclear arms if facing the prospect of defeat by large-scale conventional aggression, while the United States does not envision such a contingency.

The differences in U.S. and Russian strategic thinking are much deeper than may be construed from official documents. They are related to each nation’s specific way of dealing with nuclear deterrence, which stems from their historical experiences, political systems, decision-making mechanisms, geostrategic positions, and technological developments.

Nuclear Deterrence

Nuclear deterrence was not born together with nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the United States considered atomic and hydrogen bombs dropped from aircraft as the ultimate means to destroy the enemy’s armed forces and urban-industrial assets if the Soviet Union or China were to attack U.S. allies in Europe or Asia. During those years, nuclear deterrence was primarily a fascinating theoretical subject rather than the tool of military strategy. 

Only by the end of the 1950s, following 15 years of nuclear weapons stockpiling and strategic thinking, did the concept of deterrence come to the forefront of U.S. military strategy. This change was the result of Soviet development of intercontinental nuclear weapons capable of reaching U.S. territory. After that, the U.S. political leadership recognized that nuclear weapons were too dangerous and should be used primarily to deter, rather than to defeat, the enemy.

The chief theoretician and practitioner of the “new nuclear thinking” was Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, appointed by newly elected President John Kennedy in 1961. During the 1960s, after exploring a series of concepts (“counterforce-city avoidance,” “damage limitation”), the U.S. nuclear strategy firmly settled on the concept of “assured destruction.” In his famous 1967 speech in San Francisco, McNamara stated that deterrence of a “deliberate nuclear attack” on the United States or its allies is ensured by maintaining a highly reliable ability “to inflict an unacceptable degree of damage upon any single aggressor or combination of aggressors, at any time during the course of a strategic nuclear exchange, even after absorbing a surprise first strike.” At the same time, McNamara acknowledged that “the blunt, inescapable fact remains that the Soviet Union could still—with its present forces—effectively destroy the United States, even after absorbing the full weight of an American first strike.”5 

This kind of mentality and its implications were indeed a monumental strategic reformation. Yet, such public statements were unthinkable on the part of any high Soviet official of that time and actually remain unimaginable in today’s Russia, although this reality had been recognized in Moscow. For three decades, from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, McNamara’s way of thinking remained the foundation of the ideology of mutual deterrence and strategic stability, war prevention, forces sufficiency, and strategic arms control. 

The Soviet Union arrived at similar conclusions about nuclear war much later even at the declaratory level, to say nothing of military planning or arms programs. For the first quarter century of the nuclear age, the fundamental assumption of Soviet military doctrine had been that if a global war was unleashed by the West, the Soviet Union would defeat the enemy and achieve victory, despite enormous ensuing damage.6 Only during the 1970s did Moscow start to change its official declaratory position on the subject and gradually accept the idea of the impossibility of victory in a nuclear war due to its unprecedented destructive consequences. The most important factor shaping this change was the beginning of strategic negotiations with the United States.

Thus, the first major difference in the Russian and U.S. ways of thinking about nuclear weapons is the historical origins. In the United States, the new thinking on nuclear matters was the product of McNamara’s efforts at securing political control over nuclear strategy, arms, and war plans. In the Soviet Union, the “new look” at nuclear war was foremost the product of arms control. The strategic concepts of Moscow and Washington were fundamentally incompatible until the late 1960s. During the 1970s, they edged closer through recognition of parity and the destabilizing effect of anti-missile defenses, reflected in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the interim Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) in 1972 and SALT II in 1979. Those treaties could not be justified in the USSR without recognition of the impossibility of victory in a global war. On this basis, the U.S. and Soviet leaders concluded special agreements and joint statements, which postulated that “nuclear war would have devastating consequences for mankind”7 and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”8

Currently, after a six-year hiatus following the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the two nations are as wide apart as in the early 1980s, which creates a growing threat of a fatal military misunderstanding between them. The stalemate in arms control talks has removed an important channel of strategic communication between Russian and U.S. national command authorities. A prolonged breakdown of regular military-to-military contacts and the arrival of a new generation of commanders, which are more disrespectful and combative toward each other than their predecessors, may result in dangerous collisions when armed forces maneuver in close proximity.

No one explained the danger of this widening gap better than William Perry, who served as defense secretary from February 1994 to January 1997 under President Bill Clinton. In his recent book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, he recalls his experience as a Pentagon official in the late 1970s, at a tense time when the Soviet Union was racing to match then exceed the U.S. nuclear warhead count. He writes that a successful arms control agreement in 1977 could have put a brake on the arms race “but, even more important, it would have engaged us in a dialogue with our deadly foe, given both sides a degree of transparency and, most critically, given us context—a better understanding of our opponent—to inform the awesome decisions we were expected to make in a heartbeat.”9 His observation looking back nearly four decades is relevant today in the context of difficult U.S.-Russian relations.

Nuclear-Strike Authorization

One of the basic attributes of the U.S. political system and, in general, of democratic systems is civilian control over the military. In the USSR and Russia, political and military authorities traditionally have been merged. After the Cold War, there were cautious experiments with the introduction of some civilian elements at the top echelon of the Russian Ministry of Defense, but they had little impact. 

An illustration of this difference is each state’s arrangement related to nuclear strike authorization. At first glance, there are analogous systems providing the state leadership with an exclusive technical capacity to sanction a nuclear strike and prevent unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. In the USSR, a system was introduced in 1985 that emulated the U.S. “football”—the president’s briefcase containing nuclear codes and commands—which was adopted in the early 1960s.10 Still, there is one key difference between the two systems, which has political roots. 

A military aide carries the president’s emergency satchel, often referred to as the nuclear “football,” as President Barack Obama returns to the White House on May 15. [Photo credit: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images]The U.S. president is the only holder of the nuclear briefcase within a legalized chain of successors in case of the president’s incapacitation. (In consideration of that possibility, a backup satchel travels with the vice president.11) In this succession, the defense secretary is low on the list. The Soviet/Russian analogue, called “Cheget,” consists of three “briefcases” held by the president (the general secretary of the Communist Party in the past), the defense minister, and the head of the military General Staff.12 It is a great secret whether these three persons are technically able to give authority to launch missiles only together or two or one of them can do it in case the others are incapacitated. In any case, two out of three decision-makers are the top military officials, while constitutional presidential successors (the prime minister, speakers of the chambers of parliament) are excluded from the chain of command. Despite the revolutionary change in the Russian political system in 1991, this nuclear command model has remained intact.13

Strategic thinking in the West has benefited from the deep involvement of independent legislatures, free discussion between political scientists and military experts, the broad availability of defense information, and the regular movement of civilians and military personnel between government posts and the academic world. This provided for less biased views on the intentions of the opposing side and brought political (rather than military) attitudes to the trade-off between the danger of inadvertent nuclear war and operational advantages of the first strike.

Due to a different political system and historical tradition, neither social or physical scientists nor state officials or military ones could freely discuss such topics in the USSR. Discussions became possible in public, legislative, and executive branches of government only during the second half of the 1980s. During the 1990s and early 2000s, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the situation in Russia changed further in favor of the access, although actual nuclear strategy and operational planning remained the exclusive domain of the military, except for a short period of the late 1990s. Now that the two nations’ political systems are no longer as antagonistic as during the Cold War, better mutual understanding of such matters would be beneficial to both parties. 

Strategic Stability

Another important difference between the two states relates to the notion of strategic stability. In the joint U.S.-Soviet statement of June 1990, stability was defined as a state of strategic relations that is “removing incentives for a nuclear first strike.” This was to be achieved through a mutually acceptable “relationship between strategic offensive and defensive arms,” by “reducing the concentration of warheads on strategic delivery vehicles, and giving priority to highly survivable systems.”14

Nonetheless, this logic was only super-ficially acknowledged by Moscow. In striving to avert nuclear war, the Soviet/Russian leadership has never recognized that some types of the nuclear posture may make war more probable in a crisis situation at least as its own posture was concerned. 

In contrast to McNamara’s assured destruction doctrine, which implied second-strike capability, actual U.S. war plans emphasized attacking Soviet strategic forces and other military sites before hitting urban-industrial centers, which implied first strike. McNamara’s final Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) for nuclear war, adopted in February 1967, included the same basic versions of nuclear attacks as his SIOP-63, and the target list was expanded to 10,000 sites.15 

During the 1970s and 1980s, counterforce options and hard-target-kill capability was an important, even if variable, element of the U.S. nuclear posture. Still, the first-strike implications of counterforce strategy have been a touchy and controversial subject in U.S. defense policy, stirring heated debates in Congress and the strategic community and affecting weapon programs decisions in the Department of Defense during the two decades after McNamara’s “strategic reformation.”

Nothing of the kind took place in the USSR or Russia. The benefit of attacking strategic forces of the opponent was never put in doubt, and such capability was to be enhanced within the limits of technology and budget. Counterforce weapon systems and their employment plans have been and are now considered an indispensable attribute of deterrence posture. Hence, the principles of strategic stability, formalized in the 1990 statement, were considered as guidance for arms control but not of strategic doctrine, operational planning, or weapon programs. 

At the same time, when directed by politically motivated decisions of state authorities, the Russian military had to grudgingly sacrifice counterforce capabilities for the sake of reaching arms control agreements. The first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) forced a 50 percent reduction in Russian heavy, or most powerful, intercontinental ballistic missiles. START II envisioned the elimination of all land-based missiles with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. This is yet another example of the unique role of arms control for Moscow’s strategic policy. 

It is a matter of great uncertainty whether U.S. logic of “nuclear first use and phased escalation”16 or the Russian idea of an “all-out war once deterrence fails” may make a catastrophe more probable. A sign of a Russian attempt to emulate U.S. concepts of selective nuclear use for the purposes of “demonstration of resolve” or “de-escalation” caused a great alarm in the West when political tensions with Russia escalated in 2014-2015.17 Such concepts were perceived as lowering the “nuclear threshold” rather than preventing massive nuclear exchange.

Bridging the Gap

The nuclear rhetoric and armed forces’ activities of Russia and NATO in 2013-2015 have revived the danger of nuclear war that looked totally unthinkable only five years ago. Moreover, after a quarter century pause, Russia and the United States are again on the verge of a massive and multichannel cycle of the arms race, as pointed out by Robert Legvold, a respected U.S. scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet foreign policy: “The United States and Russia, in modernizing all three legs of their nuclear triads, have reopened a potential competition between offensive and defensive systems and introduced new destabilizing technologies, such as conventionally armed strategic missiles theoretically capable of striking the other side’s nuclear weapons, thus blurring the firebreak between conventional and nuclear warfare.”18 

Besides the political split over Ukraine and disagreements on ballistic missile defenses and conventional global hypersonic systems, the two states are now deeply divided in their fundamental views on the role of nuclear weapons, assessments of strategic balance, and perceptions of possible causes of war. These contradictions and their origins should be understood by both powers. Russia and the United States should make an effort to forge a common, up-to-date understanding of strategic stability and enhance it by arms control provisions and through regular military and civilian contacts.

Such common principles should postulate that, despite the end of the Cold War a quarter century ago, the nuclear posture of each side may increase the probability of nuclear war despite their mutual desire to avoid it. U.S. and Russian military programs affect each other and may incite an arms race. Weapon systems that threaten the survivability of each other’s strategic forces and command, control, communications, and intelligence assets imply a first-strike strategy and provoke pre-emption. While undertaking phased reduction of nuclear forces, both sides should reach agreements to alleviate mutual concerns about prompt and slow counterforce systems, even if those are designed against other opponents. Expanding defensive systems to reduce each side’s vulnerability to “rogue states” should only be based on U.S.-Russian agreements. Systems and concepts blurring the line between nuclear and conventional operations are inherently destabilizing and should be subjected to limitations and confidence-building measures. 

There must be a mutual understanding that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is escalatory and should be excluded from bilateral strategic relations. Prevention of conventional aggression should be ensured not by a threat of nuclear escalation, even if called de-escalation, but by sufficient conventional forces or, still better, by mutual reductions of conventional troops and arms, limitations on military activities, and confidence-building measures.

The rapid reintroduction of the possibility of nuclear confrontation in U.S.-Russian relations may serve as a serious warning that peace between great powers should not be taken for granted. Supporting it requires relentless effort and a much deeper understanding of the security outlook and strategic peculiarity of each other. This is one of the main lessons to be drawn from the quarter century that has passed since the end of the Cold War.

ENDNOTES

1.   Vladimir Putin, excerpts from transcript of meeting with Seliger 2014 Forum participants, August 29, 2014, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/46507.

2.    Jens Stoltenberg, “Adapting to a Changed Security Environment” (remarks, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, May 27, 2015), http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_120166.htm?selectedLocale=en.

3.   “Voennaya Doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii” [Military doctrine of the Russian Federation], Rossiiskaya Gazeta, December 30, 2014, http://rg.ru/2014/12/30/doktrina-dok.html.

4.   U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, http://archive.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf

5.   Robert McNamara, The Essence of Security: Reflections in Office (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), pp. 51-67.

6.   Vladimir Tolubko, Raketnyevoiska [Rocket forces] (Moscow: Voenizdat, 1977).

7.   Agreement Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Prevention of Nuclear War, U.S.-USSR, June 22, 1973, 24 U.S.T. 1478.

8.   “Joint Statement on the Soviet-United States Summit Meeting,” December 10, 1987, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=33803.

9.   William Perry, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), p. 53.

10.   David Hoffman, Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 149.

11.   John T. Bennett and Eric Garcia, “Biden: Trump ‘Not Qualified to Know’ Nuclear Codes,” Roll Call, August 15, 2016.

12.   “Chemodanchik nomer odin” [Briefcase number one], Trud, January 11, 2000.

13.   While in the Duma, the author submitted a draft law titled “On the succession of supreme command,” under which the president would be the only holder of the “Cheget” terminal and his successors would be the prime minister and the speakers of the two chambers of parliament. The rest of the Duma and executive authorities refused to promote this draft law. 

14.   “Soviet-United States Joint Statement on Future Negotiations on Nuclear and Space Arms and Further Enhancing Strategic Stability,” June 1, 1990, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=18541.

15.   Milton Leitenberg, “Presidential Directive (P.D.) 59: United States Nuclear Weapon Targeting Policy,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 18, No. 4 (December 1981): 314-315.

16.   For a discussion of these concepts, see Brad Roberts, The Case for Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015), ch. 6; Franklin C. Miller, “Adjusting NATO’s Nuclear Policies: A Five Step Program,” Atlantic Council, March 23, 2016, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/adjusting-nato-s-nuclear-policies-a-five-step-program.

17.   Ministerstvo Oborony, Aktualnie Zadachirazvitiya Vooruzhennykh Sil Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Critical tasks of the development of the armed forces of the Russian Federation] (Moscow: Ministerstvo Oborony, 2003); Markell Boytsov, “Terminologiya v voennoi doctrine” [Terminology of the military doctrine], Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, October 31, 2014, http://nvo.ng.ru/concepts/2014-10-31/10_doctrina.html; Konstantin Sivkov, “Pravo naudar” [Right to strike], Voenno-Promyshlennyi Kur’er, March 5, 2014, http://vpk-news.ru/articles/19370.

18.   Robert Legvold, Return to Cold War (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2016), p. 132.


Alexey Arbatov is the head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations and head of the Nonproliferation Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Moscow Center. He served in the Russian Parliament and was deputy chair of the Defense Committee. This paper is part of a project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the author expresses gratitude for assistance from Robert Legvold.

Posted: September 1, 2016

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