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

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former IAEA Director-General


Republicans Aim to Produce Banned Missile

Republicans Aim to Produce Banned Missile

By Maggie Tennis
September 2017

Republicans in Congress are advancing legislation to have the United States develop a cruise missile prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, an action that would escalate a dispute with Russia over alleged violations of the only treaty to successfully eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.

House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 each contain provisions that threaten the integrity of the INF Treaty by establishing research and development programs for a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range prohibited by the treaty. The treaty required the two countries to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. It does not prohibit activities related to research and development of this category of weapons.

Ambassador Eileen Malloy, the then-chief of the arms control unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, is pictured May 11, 1990 at the destruction site in Saryozek, (former Soviet Union) Kazakhstan, where the last Soviet short-range missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty were eliminated in spring 1990. (Photo credit: American Foreign Service Association) Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating its INF Treaty commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” an intermediate-range GLCM. Those accusations expanded this year after the United States determined that Russia is fielding the noncompliant system. Moscow denies the allegations.

The House and Senate bills authorize programs and funding for research and development of a road-mobile GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The House version provides $25 million to develop a conventional system, while the Senate version would provide $65 million for a nuclear-capable system.

The House version, which passed on July 14 by a vote of 344–81, also requires the president to submit a report on Russian INF Treaty compliance within 15 months of enactment. According to the bill, if the president’s report finds that Russia is still violating the treaty, then the United States will no longer be bound by it.

The legislation has strong support among Republican lawmakers. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty Preservation Act of 2017 in the Senate in February. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) introduced a companion bill in the House. These pieces of legislation provided much of the text for the section in the authorization bill on the treaty. “The only way to save the INF Treaty is to show the Russians that we will walk away from it if they don’t come back into compliance,” Cotton said July 17 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Yet, Cotton questioned whether to remain a party to the treaty even if Moscow does return to compliance. Specifically, Cotton expressed concern about China’s “complete freedom to deploy intermediate-range missiles” because it is not party to the INF Treaty. The United States needs a ground-based intermediate-range missile system given an “increasingly aggressive China with more than 90 percent of its missile forces falling into the intermediate range,” he said.

Many Democrats and experts in the arms control community say that the legislation puts at risk bipartisan nuclear cooperation and the security of European allies. Steven Pifer, nonresident senior fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an April 26 blog post, “U.S. allies and other countries in Europe and Asia would find themselves under threat from an unlimited number of Russian intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles.” Furthermore, Pifer warns that an end to the INF Treaty would “virtually ensure that no new U.S.-Russia arms control treaty could secure the Senate votes needed for consent to ratification.”

In a July 11 statement on the House legislation, the White House criticized the congressional initiative, saying it “unhelpfully ties the administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options” and “would also raise concerns among NATO allies.”

Christopher Ford, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the National Security Council staff, has stated that the Trump administration is discussing with allies a “very broad” range of measures to pressure Russia into compliance. Further, lawmakers in Congress do not appear to have considered the question of whether European allies, given public opinion, would be willing to host U.S. nuclear-capable intermediate-range GLCMs were they produced.

Soviet inspectors and their American escorts stand January 14, 1989 among several dismantled U.S. Pershing II missiles as they view the destruction of other missile components. The missiles are being destroyed in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./U.S. Department of Defense)The House bill may exceed congressional authority by declaring that the United States would no longer bound by the treaty if Russia does not return to compliance after 15 months. Cotton’s office did not return a request for comment.

Top U.S. military officials say there is not a specific military need for such a GLCM. Responding to Cotton’s comment that U.S. treaty obligations create an “offensive imbalance” with Russia and China, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States under the treaty is “not restricted from fielding ballistic missile or cruise missile systems that could be launched from ships or airplanes.”

In Moscow, Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the nonproliferation and arms control department in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described the INF Treaty-related measures as “provocative” in comments to the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Aug. 5. He dismissed “the strange fuss on Capitol Hill” on this issue as having “more to do with PR than real politics.”

“I would like to hope that after consideration of the bill in the Senate and connection to this process by the U.S. administration, the final version of the document will become more reasonable and acceptable,” Ulyanov said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Kommersant on July 18 that Russia has “no reason to question the viability” of the INF Treaty and “we are very worried by the attempts of the American side, under far-fetched pretexts, under the charge of accusing Russia of alleged deviations from the requirements of the treaty, to question the expediency of its preservation.”

The House legislation ties funding for an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to Russian INF Treaty compliance. Cotton said on July 17 that by threatening New START and the Open Skies Treaty, two accords that Russia hopes to preserve, the United States demonstrates a “firm and unyielding response” to Russian noncompliance.

Democratic lawmakers say that linking INF Treaty compliance to cooperation on other key treaties jeopardizes U.S. national security and further strains the bilateral arms control relationship, especially because Moscow has expressed a commitment to discussing a New START extension.

In an email to Arms Control Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote, “Tying a treaty limiting strategic weapons designed to decimate all life to compliance with a treaty that governs short- and medium-range weapons with serious, though limited, regional impacts is reckless.”

Posted: September 1, 2017

START II and Its Extension Protocol at a Glance

January 2003

Contact: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: January 2003

Russia announced on June 14, 2002, that it would no longer be bound by its START II commitments, ending almost a decade of U.S.-Russian efforts to bring the 1993 treaty into force. Moscow's statement came a day after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and a few weeks after the two countries concluded a new nuclear arms accord on May 24. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which requires the United States and Russia to reduce their deployed strategic arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads apiece by December 31, 2012, effectively superseded START II's requirement for each country to deploy no more than 3,000-3,500 warheads by December 2007. Yet other key START II provisions, such as the prohibition against deploying multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), were not addressed in the SORT agreement.

START II's ratification process began after U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the agreement on January 3, 1993. The United States ratified the original START II agreement in January 1996, but never ratified a 1997 protocol extending the treaty's implementation deadline or the concurrently negotiated ABM Treaty succession, demarcation, and confidence-building agreements.[1] On May 4, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the resolution of ratification for START II, its extension protocol, and the 1997 ABM-related agreements. Russia's ratification legislation made exchange of START II's instruments of ratification (required to bring it into force) contingent on U.S. approval of the extension protocol and the ABM agreements; Congress never voted to ratify the entire package.

Basic Terms[2]:

  • Deployment of no more than 3,000 to 3,500 strategic nuclear warheads on ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers by December 31, 2007.
  • "Deactivation" of all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles slated for elimination under the treaty by removing their nuclear reentry vehicles (warheads), or taking other jointly-agreed steps, by December 31, 2003.[3]

Additional Limits:

  • No multiple warheads (MIRVs) on ICBMs.
  • All SS-18 "heavy" Russian ICBMs must be destroyed.
  • No more than 1,700 to 1,750 warheads may be deployed on SLBMs.
  • Reductions in strategic nuclear warheads, as well as de-MIRVing ICBMs, may be achieved by "downloading" (removing) warheads from missiles. Once removed, warheads may not be restored to downloaded missiles.


1. The START II extension protocol shifted the deadline for completion of START II reductions from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007. The succession agreement formalized the former Soviet republics' status as parties to the 1972 ABM Treaty. The demarcation agreements clarified the demarcation line between strategic and theater ballistic missile defenses. On September 26, 1997, the extension protocol was signed by the United States and Russia and the ABM-related agreements were signed by the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

2. START I definitions, limits, procedures, and counting rules applied to START II, except where explicitly modified. Unlike START I, which substantially undercounts weapons deployed on bombers, the number of weapons counted for bombers would be the number they are actually equipped to carry. Provided they were never equipped for long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles, up to 100 heavy bombers could be "reoriented" to conventional roles without physical conversion, which would not count against the overall limits. The reoriented bombers could be returned to a nuclear role, but thereafter could not be reoriented and exempted from limits.

3. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov codified the deactivation agreement through an exchange of letters in September 1997. Primakov's letter also contained a unilateral declaration that Russia expected START III would be "achieved" and would enter into force "well in advance" of the START II deactivation deadline.

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Posted: July 25, 2017

The Lisbon Protocol At a Glance

March 2014

Contact: Kingston ReifDirector of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 463-8270 x104

Updated: March 2014

A pervasive fear surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union was the uncertain fate of its nuclear arsenal. In addition to Russia, the emerging states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited a significant number of nuclear weapons, raising concerns that the Soviet Union would leave four nuclear weapon successor states instead of just one. Aside from increasing the number of governments with their finger on the proverbial nuclear button, the circumstances simultaneously raised concerns that those weapons might be more vulnerable to possible sale or theft. The Lisbon Protocol, concluded on May 23, 1992, sought to alleviate those fears by committing the three non-Russian former Soviet states to return their nuclear weapons to Russia. In spite of a series of political disputes that raised some concerns about implementation of the protocol, all Soviet nuclear weapons were eventually transferred to Russia by the end of 1996.

When the Soviet Union officially dissolved in December 1991, the newly-independent states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited more than 3,000 strategic nuclear weapons (those capable of striking the continental United States), as well as at least 3,000 tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons. In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union announced the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives to substantially reduce their respective tactical nuclear weapons arsenals. All dispersed Soviet tactical weapons were reportedly back on Russian soil by the end of 1992, but the strategic weapons posed a larger problem.

The United States and Russia reached a solution to this complex problem by engaging Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in a series of talks that led to the Lisbon Protocol. That agreement made all five states party to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which required Washington and Moscow to each cut their deployed strategic nuclear forces from approximately 10,000 warheads apiece to down below 6,000 warheads on no more than 1,600 ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and long-range bombers. The protocol signaled the intentions of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to forswear nuclear arms and accede to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states, a commitment that all three fulfilled and continue to abide by today.


Estimated Warheads in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in 1991



Strategic Warheads

Tactical Warheads










Sources: Robert S. Norris, “The Soviet Nuclear Archipelago,” Arms Control Today, January/February 1992, p. 24 and Joseph Cirincione, et al., Deadly Arsenals, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005, p. 366.


Basic Timeline and Provisions:

  • July 31, 1991: The United States and the Soviet Union sign START.
  • Dec. 31, 1991: The Soviet Union officially dissolves, delaying entry into force of START.
  • May 23, 1992: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the United States sign the Lisbon Protocol.
    • Under the protocol, all five states become parties to START.
    • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine promise to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states “in the shortest time possible.”
  • July 2, 1992: Kazakhstan ratifies START.
  • Oct. 1, 1992: The U.S. Senate ratifies START.
  • Nov. 4, 1992: The Russian State Duma refuses to exchange START instruments of ratification until Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan accede to the NPT.
  • Feb. 4, 1993: Belarus ratifies START.
  • July 22, 1993: Belarus submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • January 14, 1994: The Trilateral Statement is signed by Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, allowing Ukraine to observe the transfer of weapons from its territory to Russia and the dismantlement of certain systems. It also commits Russia to send some of the uranium extracted from the returned warheads back to Ukraine for fuel.
  • Feb. 14, 1994: Kazakhstan submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.
  • Dec. 5, 1994: Ukraine submits its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
    • The five START parties exchange instruments of ratification for START, which enters into force.
  • April 24, 1995: Kazakhstan transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • June 1996: Ukraine transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia.
  • November 1996: Belarus transfers its last strategic weapon to Russia, marking completion of Lisbon Protocol obligations.

Ratification and Implementation:


When the Soviet Union dissolved, the newly-established Republic of Belarus found itself in possession of roughly 800 total nuclear weapons deployed within its borders. Although Russia retained the warhead arming and launch codes, many worried that Belarus might attempt to take control of the weapons. Moreover, President Alexander Lukashenko twice threatened to retain some weapons if NATO deployed nuclear weapons of its own in Poland. However, when a constitutional crisis erupted in November 1996, Lukashenko was finally compelled to finalize the transfers.

Minsk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, ratified it on Feb. 4, 1993, and deposited its instrument of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state on July 22, 1993. By November 1996 all nuclear warheads in Belarus had been transferred to Russia.


After gaining independence, Kazakhstan with extensive U.S. technical and financial assistance disposed of the strategic nuclear weapons that it inherited from the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan’s 1,410 strategic warheads were deployed on several different systems, including SS-18 ICBMs and cruise missiles carried by Bear-H bombers.

Kazakhstan’s parliament ratified START on July 2, 1992. All tactical nuclear weapons had been withdrawn to Russia by January 1992. The parliament approved accession to the NPT on Dec. 13, 1993, and deposited the state’s NPT instrument of ratification on Feb. 14, 1994. The last of the Kazakh-based strategic nuclear weapons were transferred to Russia by April 24, 1995.


When the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became the third-largest nuclear weapons power in the world behind the United States and Russia. Ukraine’s 1,900 strategic warheads were distributed among ICBMs, strategic bombers, and air-launched cruise and air-to-surface missiles. Although President Leonid Kravchuk signed the Lisbon Protocol on May 23, 1992, Ukraine’s process of disarmament was filled with political obstacles. Many Ukrainian officials viewed Russia as a threat and argued that they should keep nuclear weapons in order to deter any possible encroachment from their eastern neighbor. Although the government never gained operational control over the weapons, it declared “administrative control” in June 1992, and, in 1993, claimed ownership of the warheads, citing the potential of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium they contained for creating peaceful energy.

A resolution passed by the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, on Nov. 18, 1993, attached conditions to its ratification of START that Russia and the United States deemed unacceptable. Those stated that Ukraine would only dismantle 36% of its delivery vehicles and 42% of its warheads; all others would remain under Ukrainian custody. Moreover, the resolution made those reductions contingent upon assurances from Russia and the United States to never use nuclear weapons against Ukraine (referred to as “security assurances”), along with foreign aid to pay for dismantlement.

In response, the Clinton and Yeltsin administrations intensified negotiations with Kyiv, eventually producing the Trilateral Statement, which was signed on Jan. 14, 1994. This agreement placated Ukrainian concerns by allowing Ukraine to cooperate in the transfer of the weapons to Russia, which would take place over a maximum period of seven years. The agreement further called for the transferred warheads to be dismantled and the highly enriched uranium they contained to be downblended into low-enriched uranium. Some of that material would then be transferred back to Ukraine for use as nuclear reactor fuel. Meanwhile, the United States would give Ukraine economic and technical aid to cover its dismantlement costs. Finally, the United States and Russia responded to Ukraine’s security concerns by agreeing to provide security assurances upon its NPT accession.

In turn, the Rada ratified START, implicitly endorsing the Trilateral Statement. However, it did not submit its instrument of accession to the NPT until Dec. 5, 1994, when Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States provided security assurances to Ukraine. That decision by the Rada met the final condition for Russia’s ratification of START, and subsequently brought that treaty into force. For more information, see Ukraine, Nucelar Weapons and Security Assurances at a Glance.

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Posted: July 25, 2017

START I at a Glance

January 2009

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: July 2017

START I was signed July 31, 1991, by the United States and the Soviet Union. Five months later, the Soviet Union dissolved, leaving four independent states in possession of strategic nuclear weapons: Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. On May 23, 1992, the United States and the four nuclear-capable successor states to the Soviet Union signed the Lisbon Protocol, which made all five nations party to the START I agreement. START I entered into force December 5, 1994, when the five treaty parties exchanged instruments of ratification in Budapest. All treaty parties met the agreement's December 5, 2001 implementation deadline. START I expired on December 5, 2009.

Basic Terms:

  • 1,600 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers for each side.
  • 6,000 "accountable" warheads on ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, of which no more than 4,900 may be on ICBMs and SLBMs, 1,540 on heavy missiles (the Soviet SS-18), and 1,100 on mobile ICBMs.
  • Ballistic missile throw-weight (lifting power) is limited to 3,600 metric tons on each side.

Counting Rules:

  • Heavy bombers equipped only with bombs or short-range attack missiles (SRAMs) are counted as carrying one warhead each.
  • U.S. heavy bombers may carry no more than 20 long-range air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) each. The first 150 of these bombers count as carrying only 10 ALCMs each.
  • Soviet heavy bombers may carry no more than 16 ALCMs each. The first 180 of these bombers count as carrying only eight ALCMs each.
  • No more than 1,250 warheads may be "downloaded" (removed from) and not counted on existing multiple-warhead ballistic missiles.

Other Provisions:

  • START I ran for 15 years with an option to extend for successive five-year periods. Based on commitments made at the March 1997 Helsinki Summit, the sides agreed in principle to negotiate an agreement making the START treaties unlimited in duration.
  • Separate "politically binding" agreements limit sea-launched cruise missiles with ranges above 600 kilometers to 880 for each side and the Soviet Backfire bomber to 500.
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Posted: July 25, 2017

Brief Chronology of START II

April 2014

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: April 2014

Nearly a decade of efforts to bring START II into force ended in June 2002, a month after the United States and Russia concluded negotiations on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which stipulates a 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warhead ceiling for each of the two countries' nuclear arsenals. The SORT limit effectively supersedes START II's cap of 3,000-3,500 warheads for each side. For more detailed information on the START II agreement, please see START II and its Extension Protocol at a Glance.

June 14, 2002: Russian President Vladimir Putin declares that Russia is no longer bound by its signature of START II, ending his country's efforts to bring the treaty into force.

June 13, 2002: U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty takes effect.

May 24, 2002: Russia and the United States sign the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in Moscow, which calls for each country to deploy no more than 1,700-2,200 strategic warheads.

December 13, 2001: U.S. President George W. Bush issues a six-month notice to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, stating, "I have concluded the ABM Treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue-state missile attacks."

May 4, 2000: Putin signs the resolution of ratification for START II and its extension protocol. The legislation makes exchange of the instruments of ratification (required to bring the treaty into force) contingent on U.S. ratification of the 1997 extension protocol and ABM-related agreements.

April 14, 2000: The Russian Duma (lower house of parliament) overwhelmingly approves the START II ratification legislation 288-131 with four abstentions.

April 2, 1999: The Duma postpones a scheduled vote on START II ratification to protest NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which started March 24 after Serbia refused to halt military actions against Kosovar Albanians seeking autonomy. (Moscow has historically allied itself with Serbia.)

December 25, 1998: In response to the December 16-19 U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq, the Duma postpones a scheduled vote on START II ratification.

April 13, 1998: President Boris Yeltsin submits the START II extension protocol to the Duma.

September 26, 1997: Codifying commitments made at Helsinki, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov sign a protocol in New York extending the deadline for the elimination of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs) under START II from January 1, 2003, to December 31, 2007. In an exchange of letters, Albright and Primakov also agree that once START II enters into force, the United States and Russia will deactivate by December 31, 2003, all SNDVs to be eliminated under the treaty "by removing their nuclear reentry vehicles or taking other jointly agreed steps." Primakov's letter also states that Russia expects that START III will "be achieved" and enter into force "well in advance" of the START II deactivation deadline.

March 20-21, 1997: Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin address a number of arms control issues during their summit meeting in Helsinki. In a "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces," the presidents agree to extend the deadline for SNDV elimination under START II by five years and to immediately begin negotiations on a START III treaty once START II enters into force (subsequently modified to occur once START II is ratified). They also agree that START III negotiations will include four basic components: a limit of 2,000-2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each side by the end of 2007, measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and to the destruction of strategic warheads, extension of the current START agreements to unlimited duration, and the deactivation by the end of 2003 of all SNDVs to be eliminated under START II.

January 26, 1996: The Senate overwhelmingly approves START II by a vote of 87-4.

June 22, 1995: President Yeltsin submits START II to the Duma for ratification.

January 15, 1993: President George H. W. Bush submits START II to the Senate for advice and consent.

January 3, 1993: Presidents Bush and Yeltsin sign START II in Moscow.

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Posted: July 25, 2017

Moscow is ready to discuss New START, but where is Washington?

In a July 18 interview with Kommersant , Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s offer to begin talks with the United States on extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) . Ryabkov’s comments echoed previous statements he and other Russian officials—including President Vladimir Putin—have made in support of starting talks on an extension. The option of extending New START had been broached by the Obama administration in late-2016, but Russia was noncommittal at the time. In a January phone call with President Donald Trump, Putin reportedly...

The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses

The Evolving Russian Concept of Strategic Deterrence: Risks and Responses

July/August 2017
By Anya Loukianova Fink

Over the last decade, Russia has been putting into operation its vision of strategic deterrence, a doctrinal approach built on a demonstrated spectrum of capabilities and a resolve to use military force. Russia’s strategic deterrence is conceptually different from its Western namesake in that it is not limited to nuclear weapons.

This article introduces Russia’s strategic deterrence, highlights its escalatory potential, and discusses challenges in mitigating its dangers.

Russian military analysts describe strategic deterrence as primarily a defensive strategy that seeks to prevent conflict and to control escalation if a conflict breaks out.1 If tested in a military conflict with the West, however, some of its elements could well fuel escalation dynamics. Most notably, Russia’s plans to control escalation by using conventional precision-strike missile systems on an opponent’s military and economic targets raise the risk of unintended escalation, especially when employed alongside cyber- and electronic warfare capabilities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters a hall in the Kremlin March 23 to meet with senior military officers promoted to higher positions. (Photo credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)If a conflict involving Russian and U.S./NATO forces erupts, policymakers on both sides will find themselves unprepared to deal with numerous escalation-management challenges, which include understanding the nature of Russia’s deliberate escalation and mitigating the dangers of unintended escalation on both sides. The most urgent step to curbing the escalation potential of such a conflict is a shared commitment to avoid the unintended use of nuclear weapons. This foundation can help facilitate the management of escalation risks that will persist in the relationship between Russia and the West for the foreseeable future.

Russia’s Approach

Russia’s strategic deterrence approach is grounded in its understanding of internal and external threats and its sense of asymmetry toward the West. 2 Russian military doctrine describes perceived dangers from the United States and NATO readiness to use military force, instability and terrorism that could challenge Russia’s sovereignty, and a local conflict on its vast borders that could escalate, including to the use of nuclear weapons. 3 Russian officials also have concerns about their inability to counter Western military technological developments and the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technologies to state and nonstate actors.

As part of strategic deterrence, Russia developed a spectrum of nonmilitary and non-nuclear and nuclear capabilities intended for continuous employment in peacetime and wartime. 4 On one end of this spectrum are nonmilitary means that Russian leaders see as tools to achieve Russia’s national interests without the direct use of military force. Russia’s political and “information war” activities have received a lot of attention in the West as a Russian innovation. Yet, Russian military officials and analysts have argued that Russia learned this approach from observing Western activities, notably in eastern Europe and the Middle East, since the end of the Cold War. 5 Furthermore, although nonmilitary means are important to Russia’s so-called theory of victory, strategic deterrence is fundamentally a strategy based on convincing an opponent of a credible threat of using military force.

At the other end of this spectrum, strategic nuclear forces remain at the heart of Russia’s strategic stability calculus, intended to prevent a regional or large-scale conflict by deterring the West. 6 Moscow is in the midst of a multiyear modernization of all three legs of its nuclear triad, although Russian experts suggest that some of the systems’ procurement is industry driven and excessive. 7 The doctrine and posture of Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear forces remains opaque, but it has long been linked to the perceived weakness of Russia’s general purpose forces and other conventional capabilities. 8 Some have noted that Russian nonstrategic nuclear forces may also intend to “offset the growing disparities” in regional ballistic missile defense. 9

A Russian Iskander ballistic missile launcher rolls by a soldier during a parade rehearsal near Moscow on April 20, 2010. Recently, Russia reportedly has deployed Iskander-M missiles, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, to its western enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)In between, Moscow has heavily invested in development of conventional capabilities. Russia has extensively exercised its general purpose forces over the last five years, testing their command-and-control systems and improving their equipment, readiness, and mobility for a range of possible conflict scenarios. 10 Russia’s current force posture points primarily to a preoccupation with local contingencies on its borders with non-NATO neighbors. 11 Its concerns also extend to the potential vulnerability of Kaliningrad and Crimea. 12

As part of an effort to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons at early stages of conflict, Russia has developed a range of non-nuclear deterrence capabilities, including conventional precision-strike systems (long-range cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles), air and missile defenses, and various capabilities intended to disrupt an adversary’s command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, what the military calls C4ISR. 13 It has sought to demonstrate these capabilities in Ukraine and Syria.

Tailored Escalation

Russia’s direct and indirect uses of force have fueled debate about the role of deliberate escalation in its strategic deterrence approach. Such escalation could be used to gain military advantage or to get an opponent to halt its actions—an important distinction in escalation management. 14 This distinction is not something that Russian analysts address.

Strategic deterrence is built on Russia’s view of conflicts as defensive, preventive, and just. 15 Russian military writings describe it as an approach with elements of deterrence, containment, and compellence that aims to “induce fear” in opponents. 16 To achieve this and other effects, Russian military theorists focus on the importance of tailoring nonmilitary means and the direct and indirect uses of military force. 17

Such tailoring has proven difficult in practice for Russia. During the Ukraine crisis, Russian leadership highlighted Russia’s nuclear status to signal that Russia’s stakes were higher than those of the West. In addition, Russian diplomats and former officials threatened nuclear use against NATO members and partners. 18 Russian aircraft “buzzed” vessels, risking accidents, and engaged in other hazardous activities. 19 Denials by officials of Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine, as well as the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, also raised questions about Russia’s interest or ability to credibly signal limits or engage in restraint.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks with soldiers during a visit to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Lithuania on May 10. The United States and its European allies have increased their military presence in response to perceived Russian threats to nearby NATO members, such as the Baltic states. (Photo credit: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)In the early phases of a conflict, Russian military writings suggest that Russia would first work to reduce escalation through nonmilitary means. 20 Yet, diplomacy and information activities could be viewed by the West as part and parcel of Russia’s “gray zone” strategies. On the Russian side, Western actions may be dismissed as “information war.” 21 To be sure, Russia’s restraint and bilateral diplomacy proved effective after Turkey downed its fighter-bomber in June 2015. Nevertheless, the absence of effective and credible crisis management mechanisms, including in the NATO-Russia Council, amplifies the danger that both sides will view nonmilitary means as propaganda that paves the way for military force.

Beginnings of a Conflict

Russian political-military analysts have discussed the dangers of unintended escalation given the proximity of NATO and Russian military forces. 22 As conventional postures and plans are adapted to meet perceived threats, the potential for a conflict outbreak due to inadvertent or accidental escalation increases. In turn, Russia’s practical ability to manage such escalation through strategic deterrence is limited.

In a nascent crisis, Russia is likely to engage in deterrence signaling and increase the readiness of selected conventional and perhaps nuclear capabilities. Russian military writings stress the importance of tight political control over and rules of engagement for military forces, especially as they signal intent to deny domains in a conflict and engage in reconnaissance. 23 Russian analysts also focus, however, on denying the opponent escalation dominance and achieving decisive effects in the initial period of war. 24 They further discuss mobilization activities, including of the public. 25 The challenge is that deterrence signaling activities may raise the risk of inadvertent escalation during a critical time, while mobilization activities could contribute to a perception that a conflict is unavoidable.

As the West’s military-political deterrence posture shifts in response to Russia’s deterrence signaling and mobilization, Russia may engage in a crisis response and rush forces to the theater. Military writings point to the likelihood of active use of cyber- and electronic warfare to disrupt Western C4ISR systems. 26 These actions are likely to be reciprocated, resulting in a significant degree of damage and other consequences to both sides that are not yet fully understood. These may further stress policymakers’ abilities to understand escalation dynamics and control the employment of military forces in the theater.

In addition, nuclear forces may be alerted, and warheads will begin to be moved from central storage facilities to bases. Instead of successfully halting the conflict, some Russian writings suggest that these actions may heighten concerns about the vulnerability of nonstrategic nuclear weapons. 27 Managing escalation of the conflict will depend on the mutual ability to maintain control of the use of force and understand critical thresholds.

Conventional Precision-Strike Weapons

As Russia embarked on a modernization of its conventional forces in the early 2000s, Russian military theorists advocated the creation of non-nuclear deterrence capabilities for the strategic deterrence spectrum. 28 Some noted that such capabilities along with a doctrinal foundation could be important due to the “widely accepted consequences of nuclear weapons use and, as a result, the low credibility of nuclear weapons as a deterrence measure at early stages of conflicts among states.” 29 Russia’s 2014 military doctrine introduced a new “forceful” strategic deterrence step that envisaged the use of precision strike weapons to coerce an opponent to halt its military actions. 30

The new Russian multipurpose MiG-35 jet fighter, due to begin entering service in 2019, is displayed on a podium during its presentation at the MiG plant in Lukhovitsy, 90 miles southeast of Moscow, on January 27. (Photo credit: Marina Lystseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia does not have sufficient conventional precision-strike capabilities to credibly threaten the full range of Western counterforce targets. Russian military analysts thus focus on limited strikes to inflict “deterrent damage” on “vitally” important military targets. 31 Targets include “weak spots” of military infrastructure such as C4ISR and transportation nodes. 32 As escalation progresses, they also discuss striking economic targets with, in theory, an aim to limit civilian losses. Such strikes would seek to damage electricity generation and distribution systems, dams, chemical production facilities, and other targets. 33 Russian military doctrine reflects a concern about Western strikes on similar targets. 34

Uncertainties exist as to whether this step will be able to effectively control escalation. As some Russian commentators note, Russian doctrine does not spell out the thresholds or criteria for these strikes or how Russia will attempt to communicate what this step means. 35 Presumably, cyberattacks will also be used to disable operations of some of the intended targets, which could contribute to confusion about the aims of conventional-weapon precision strikes. More practically, strikes on counterforce targets to inflict “deterrent damage” could result in only temporary disruptions. Strikes on economic assets may solidify an opponent’s resolve. Their consequences become even less predictable in an information-war environment.

As some Western analysts point out, Russia’s precision strike systems are dual capable, 36 but Russian writings do not focus on the potential of an opponent’s misperception of a Russian conventional signaling strike as a nuclear one. Presumably, Russia’s inclusion of a step with conventional precision-strike weapons could have been intended as a signal of a higher nuclear threshold. As Russia’s conventional precision-strike capabilities progress, watching doctrinal and employment evolution will be essential for understanding Russia’s critical thresholds. In the meantime, this issue could benefit from bilateral military-to-military contacts and efforts to privately clarify this new doctrinal element with Western counterparts.

Ambiguous Nuclear Thresholds

Russian military writings in the wake of the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo suggested that Russia could have engaged in a single, maybe low-yield nuclear detonation as part of a warning or to press the adversary to back down. This was Russia’s way of coping with a perceived conventional vulnerability at the time, especially regarding Western precision-strike capabilities. The standard line of thinking in Russian writings was that such nuclear reliance would be obviated once credible conventional precision-strike capabilities emerged. 37

Beyond a statement in Russian military doctrine about nuclear use when the “existence of state” is at stake, Russia’s actual threshold for nuclear use remains ambiguous. Russian military theorists view some of this ambiguity as beneficial, even though they extensively discuss what constitutes “unacceptable damage” to would-be opponents. 38 They also outline roles for nuclear weapons at later stages of large-scale conflict in strategic operations. 39 Some note, however, that “deterrence through use (or threat) of nuclear weapons even as limited strikes does not fully guarantee that the conflict would not take the path of escalation with the unlimited (mass) use of nuclear weapons.” 40

Russian political and military officials have expressed persistent concerns about an “aerospace attack” that could inflict damage on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces with conventional precision-strike weapons. 41 This and several related threat scenarios build on Russia’s suspicions about U.S. missile defenses, especially the capabilities of Aegis Ashore launchers that are part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and prompt global-strike systems. 42 Russian military theorists also have concerns about inadvertent nuclear escalation that arises from the synergy of precision strike, cyber, and electronic means in combat. 43 As the development of these capabilities continues to progress and U.S. nuclear modernization begins, it will be important to take advantage of the possibility that Russia will wish to avoid nuclear escalation and look for ways to reduce nuclear risks in a potential conflict.

Reducing Escalation Dangers

If a conflict involving Russia and the West breaks out tomorrow, policymakers on both sides would find themselves unprepared to deal with numerous escalation dangers. In a conflict, managing escalation will be important for the West, but it will also be critical for Russia. Western policy efforts must find ways
to encourage Russia’s exercise of restraint regarding its deliberate escalation and contribute to mitigating the dangers of unintended escalation on its part.

General Stefan Danila (left), chief of the Romanian Army General Staff, shakes hands with General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia and first deputy defense minister, at the NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense chiefs on January 22, 2014. Shortly thereafter, NATO suspended the council in response to Russia’s military actions against Ukraine. (Photo credit: NATO)Ongoing U.S. and NATO efforts to adapt conventional deterrence postures and policies, as well as to improve resilience and strategic communication, are important ways to influence Russia’s deliberate escalation calculus. 44 Furthermore, with regard to Russia’s “forceful” non-nuclear deterrence step, NATO needs to consider cruise missile defense approaches and “point defenses of critical airfields and command-and-control facilities.” 45 Such steps need to be taken in tandem with clarifying thresholds and resolving mutual concerns around the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the European Phased Adaptive Approach approach. 46

In a nuclear crisis, effective U.S./NATO-Russian communication in an environment of cyber-, electronic, and information warfare will be key to credibly signaling limits, including the absence of a threat to the “existence of state” or nuclear forces. From this perspective, the de facto absence of a credible crisis management and communication mechanism poses a significant challenge to successful escalation management. Given the failure of the NATO-Russia Council in past crises, policy efforts need to identify or create such a mechanism.

Russia’s strategic deterrence exploits the attention and fear generated by indirect uses of military force, but Russian analysts have also argued that Moscow must seriously engage Western proposals on transparency of conventional forces. 47 There may be opportunities for the West to pursue efforts to gain further limits and notification requirements on military exercises under the 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures; enhanced military information exchanges, including on naval activities; and subregional risk reduction measures. 48

Managing the risks of accidental escalation that could result from force management errors is also essential. Western policy has allowed Russia to normalize coercive strategic deterrence activities, such as “buzzing” by military aircraft, that raise the risk of accidents involving military forces. Some in the West have advocated a plan of action on avoiding hazardous incidents in the Euro-Atlantic area. This plan provides an omnibus NATO-Russian approach to dated and piecemeal bilateral arrangements among numerous states-parties, including 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. 49 Such a step may help to induce Russian restraint and accountability.

Finally, Western studies have suggested that when faced with a prospect of a nuclear conflict, both sides need to recognize that they share an interest in preventing nuclear use. 50 In line with this, some Russian analysts have called for a high-level statement that would reaffirm U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” 51 To be sure, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently sought to reassure a Western audience that Russia has no intentions of using its nuclear weapons for coercion because that could have escalatory consequences with global implications. 52 Pursuing such a joint U.S.-Russian statement could thus be a useful way ahead. 53


1.   Yu. A. Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis” [Deterrence theory: Beginnings], Vooruzheniye I Ekonomika, February 2016.

2.   Ibid.

3.   Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” June 29, 2015, http://rusemb.org.uk/press/2029 (hereinafter Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation).

4.   Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “Russian Strategic Deterrence,” Survival, Vol. 58, No. 4 (August-September 2016): 7-26.

5.   Timothy Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer: Basic Factors and Contemporary Thinking on the Nature of War,” Foreign Military Studies Office, April 2016, http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Thinking%20Like%20A%20Russian%20Officer_monograph_Thomas%20(final).pdf.

6.   Andrei Kokoshin, “Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present: Theoretical and Applied Questions,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2011, http://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/Ensuring%20Strategic%20Stability%20by%20A.%20Kokoshin.pdf.

7.   “Alexey Arbatov: Yesli tam budet krupnaya voina, to nam budet uzhe ne do tsen na chernoye zoloto” [If there is a large-scale war, we won’t care about black gold prices], Economy Times, February 16, 2016, http://economytimes.ru/kurs-rulya/aleksey-arbatov-esli-tam-budet-krupnaya-voyna-nam-budet-uzhe-ne-do-cen-na-chernoe-zoloto.

8.   Olga Oliker, “Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine: What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), May 2016, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160504_Oliker_RussiasNuclearDoctrine_Web.pdf.

9.   Vladimir Kozin, “Russian Approach to Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Confidence Building Prospects,” n.d. (remarks at workshop in Warsaw held February 7-8, 2013).

10.   Gudrun Persson, ed., “Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2016,” FOI-R--4326--SE, December 2016, https://www.foi.se/report-search/pdf?fileName=D%3A%5CReportSearch%5CFiles%5C5fa9f89b-8136-4b15-9aaf-1d227aee90a0.pdf.

11.   Alexander Golts and Michael Kofman, “Russia’s Military: Assessment, Strategy, and Threat,” Center for Global Interests, June 2016, http://globalinterests.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Russias-Military-Center-on-Global-Interests-2016.pdf.

12.   Anton Lavrov, “Russia’s Geopolitical Fears,” Moscow Defense Brief, No. 5 (May 2016).

13.   V.M. Burenok and O.B Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye” [Non-nuclear deterrence], Voyennaya Mysl, December 2007.

14.   Forrest Morgan et al., “Confronting Emergent Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries,” RAND Corp., 2015, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR900/RR974/RAND_RR974.pdf.

15.   For a discussion of Russia’s defensive logic, see Andrei Kolesnikov, “Do The Russians Want War?” Carnegie Moscow Center, June 2016, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Article_Kolesnikov_2016_Eng-2.pdf.

16.   Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis.”

17.   A.A. Kokoshin, Yu. N. Balueyvskiy, V. Ya. Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo” [Impact of new tendencies in development of technologies and means of arms combat on military art], Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta, Vol. 25, No. 4 (2015).

18.   Persson, “Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective - 2016.”

19.   Łukasz Kulesa, Thomas Frear, and Denitsa Raynova, “Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area: A New Plan of Action,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2016, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2016/11/02/ab4a4c1d/ELN%20Managing%20Hazardous%20Incidents%20November%202016.pdf.

20.   Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

21.   S.G. Chekinov and S.A. Bogdanov, “Evoliutsiya sushnosti I soderzhaniya ponyatiya ‘voina’ v XXI stoletii” [Evolution of the nature and meaning of the concept “war” in the 21st century], Voyennaya Mysl, January 2017.

22.   See “Velichaishaya ostorozhnost i blagorazumiye” [Greatest care and consideration], August 24, 2015, http://www.globalaffairs.ru/number/Velichaishaya-ostorozhnost-i-blagorazumie-17638.

23.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo.”

24.   Ibid.; Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

25.   See S.V. Goncharov and N.F. Artamonov, “Moralno-psikhologicheskoye obespecheniye mobilizatsionnoi raboty” [Moral-psychological support of mobilization work] Voyennaya Mysl, April 2014.

26.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo”; Thomas, “Thinking Like a Russian Officer.”

27.   Kokoshin, “Ensuring Strategic Stability in the Past and Present.”

28.   A.A. Kokoshin, “Strategic Nuclear and Nonnuclear Deterrence: Modern Priorities,” Science and Society, Vol. 84, No. 3 (2014): 195-205.

29.   Yu. A. Pechatnov, “Metodicheskii podhod k opredelniuy sderzhivayushchego ushcherba s uchetom subyektivnykh osobennostei ego vospriyatiya veroyatnym protivnikom” [Methodological approach to determining deterrent damage considering subjective specialties of its perception by likely adversary], Vooruzheniye I Ekonomika, Vol. 3, No. 15 (2011).

30.   Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, no. 26.

31.   Burenok and Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye.”

32.   Kokoshin, “Strategic Nuclear and Nonnuclear Deterrence.”

33.   Ibid.; Burenok and Achasov, “Neyadernoye sderzhivaniye.”

34.   Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, no. 14b.

35.   Konstantin Sivkov, “Pravo na udar” [Right to strike], Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer, March 5, 2015, http://vpk-news.ru/articles/19370.

36.   Pavel Podvig and Javier Serrat, “Lock Them Up: Zero-Deployed Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 2017, http://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/lock-them-up-zero-deployed-non-strategic-nuclear-weapons-in-europe-en-675.pdf.

37.   Andrei Zagorski, “Russia’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Posture, Politics, and Arms Control,” Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, 2011, http://www.unidir.org/files/medias/pdfs/executive-summary-a-zagorski-eng-0-325.pdf.

38.   Dave Johnson, “Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Approach to Conflict,” Fondation Pour la Recherche Stratégique, No. 06/2016 (November 2016), https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/recherches-documents/web/documents/2016/201606.pdf.

39.   Ibid.

40.   Pechatnov, “Teoriya sderzhivaniya: genesis.”

41.   Alexey Arbatov, “Understanding the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Schism,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 2 (April-May 2017).

42.   Vladimir Dvorkin, “Yadernyi psikhoz krepchayet” [Nuclear psychosis is getting stronger], Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, May 19, 2016; Greg Thielmann and Andrei Zagorski, “INF Treaty Compliance: A Challenge and an Opportunity,” Deep Cuts Working Paper, No. 9 (February 2017), http://www.deepcuts.org/images/PDF/DeepCuts_WP9_ThielmannZagorski.pdf.

43.   Kokoshin, Balueyvskiy, and Potapov, “Vliyaniye noveishikh tendentsii v razvitii tekhnologii i sredstv vooruzhennoi bor’by na voyennoye iskusstvo.”

44.   Lisa Sawyer Samp et al., “Recalibrating U.S. Strategy Toward Russia,” CSIS, March 2017, https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/170329_Hicks_USStrategyTowardRussia_Web.pdf.

45.   Dennis M. Gormley, “The Offense-Defense Problem,” Deep Cuts Working Paper, No. 6 (May 2016), http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/DeepCuts_WP6_Gormley_UK.pdf.

46.   Thielmann and Zagorski, “INF Treaty Compliance.”

47.   Sergei Oznobishchev, “Russia and NATO: From the Ukrainian Crisis to the Renewed Interaction,” in Russia: Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security, ed. Alexei Arbatov and Sergei Oznobishchev (Moscow: IMEMO, 2016), https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/SIPRI-Yearbook-Supplement-2015.pdf.

48.   For a good discussion of some of these approaches, see Kimberly Marten, “Reducing Tensions Between NATO and Russia,” Council Special Report No. 79, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2017, https://www.cfr.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2017/03/CSR_79_Marten_RussiaNATO.pdf.

49.   Kulesa, Frear, and Raynova, “Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area.”

50.   Morgan et al., “Confronting Emergent Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries.”

51.   Arbatov, “Understanding the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Schism.”

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

53.   The author would like to thank Lynn Davis and several other reviewers for their feedback on earlier versions of this piece.

Anya Loukianova Fink is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the RAND Corporation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Stanton Foundation or the RAND Corporation.

Posted: July 10, 2017

U.S. May Act on Russian INF Violation

U.S. May Act on Russian INF Violation

July/August 2017
By Maggie Tennis

The Trump administration is considering actions to take in response to Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to senior national security officials.

Christopher Ford, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the National Security Council staff, and Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, signaled in recent comments that the White House may move beyond talks to military measures intended to pressure Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty.

Christopher Ford, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counter­proliferation on the National Security Council staff, addresses the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association on June 2 in Washington. The White House is considering a “very broad” range of options in response to Russia’s violation, he said. (Photo credit Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)Addressing the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting June 2, Ford said that the White House is considering a “very broad” range of options that go beyond just reconvening the Special Verification Committee, the body established by the treaty for dispute resolution. That group, convened most recently in November 2016, has failed to resolve the issue.

“You would be wrong to conclude that this is an administration likely to be content just with another round of finger waving,” Ford said.

U.S. countermoves could add new strains to the U.S.-Russian relationship, already taxed by Moscow’s military action against Ukraine, Russian involvement in the U.S. elections, and NATO’s buildup of defenses in allies closest to Russia, such as the Baltic states. Russia has disputed the U.S. claim that it has developed and deployed a missile banned under the INF Treaty and has countered with complaints of U.S. violations tied to missile defenses in Europe.

The United States will consult with allies in developing a response, according to Ford, who said a resolution of the issue is needed because of the importance of the INF Treaty to “the future of the arms control enterprise.”

Addressing Russia’s treaty violation is a “top priority” for the Trump administration, Soofer said in testimony June 7 to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said the United States needs to understand the military capability that Russia gains from fielding the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), which the United States says violates the treaty ban on ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

“We came to the conclusion that there must be some military capability that outweighs the political repercussions of actually violating the INF Treaty,” he said. “So, for Russia, this has a meaningful military capability, and we need to assess what that is and how to address it.”

Soofer noted two reviews underway, one by the Pentagon as part of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the other by the National Security Council. The latter is examining “steps to place more meaningful pressure on Moscow, both in terms of diplomatic and military measures, to return them to compliance,” according to Soofer.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a congressional hearing in March about the NPR, at which time he publicly confirmed the U.S. view that Russia had deployed the SSC-8 missile. (See ACT, April 2017.)

The Obama administration considered a military response to the Russian violation in 2014, after the State Department initially assessed Russia as having de­veloped and tested a noncompliant GLCM.

In 2014, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, described three possible categories of military action at a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees. These consisted of “active defenses to counter intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles, counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks, and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” Only some of these options would comply with the treaty.

In February, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Republican Reps. Ted Poe (Texas) and Mike Rogers (Ala.), introduced legislation called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Preservation Act. It lists measures that the United States could take to pressure Russia to return to compliance, including funding counterforce, active-defense, and countervailing-strike activities; creating a program for and testing a dual-capable road-mobile GLCM within INF Treaty limits; expanding missile defense assets in the European theater; and coordinating the transfer of INF Treaty-range systems to U.S. allies.

But even if the Pentagon had the budget for these activities, it is not clear that NATO allies, Japan, or South Korea would cooperate with placing these systems on their territory.

Some experts and politicians support developing a long-range standoff cruise missile, capable of penetrating Russian air defense systems and being armed with nuclear or conventional warheads, to re­place the aging U.S. air-launched cruise missile.

In April, the State Department released its annual assessment of Russian compliance with arms control agreements, in which it repeated its accusation that Russia is violating the INF Treaty and stated that it had submitted “detailed information” to Moscow on the nature of the violation. The Russian Foreign Ministry refuted the allegation and maintained that the United States has not provided adequate evidence to back up the claim. (See ACT, June 2017.)

In remarks at the Arms Control Association meeting, Ford noted the administration’s intent to “re-engage on matters that relate to strategic stability” with Russia. He referred to recent talks on that topic between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“On the positive side, in terms of the future of dialogue and engagement on these topics, I believe you probably have seen from the aftermath of the Tillerson-Lavrov meeting in Moscow that there is agreement in principle upon some kind of strategic stability dialogue between the United States and the Russian Federation,” said Ford.—MAGGIE TENNIS

Posted: July 10, 2017

Can the United States and Russia Bridge the Growing Gap on Arms Control?

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said May 14 on Meet the Press that the United States needs to “improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world.” “I think it’s largely viewed that it is not healthy for the world, it’s certainly not healthy for us… for this relationship to remain at this low level,” Tillerson told Chuck Todd. “But I think the President is committed, rightly so, and I am committed with him as well, to see if we cannot do something to put us on a better footing in our relationship with Russia.” If the Trump administration truly desires better...

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions 

June 2017

By Maggie Tennis

Reacting with strong language to a U.S. report alleging arms control treaty violations, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of “creating dangerous conditions” that could trigger a nuclear arms race. Further, Russia warned that U.S. missile defense development may give “hot heads” in Washington the “pernicious illusion of invincibility and impunity” that could lead to misguided unilateral action, as it claims occurred when the United States launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase on April 7.

The annual U.S. report on arms control compliance, which for the fourth consecutive year alleges Moscow’s noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response reflect contrasting views on arms control and nonproliferation issues and demonstrate the precarious condition of the U.S.-Russian bilateral arms control regime.

The State Department’s “Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” dated April 2017, also raised “serious” concerns with Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies and cites Moscow for suspending the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), an accord intended to reduce stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium that had stood as an example of U.S.-Russian cooperation against nuclear proliferation risks.

Russian Complaints

The report asserts that the United States last year remained in compliance with all of its treaty obligations. The Russian Foreign Ministry disputed the alleged violations and countered with what it said are U.S. violations of the INF Treaty stemming from its missile defense and drone programs, as well as citing other actions it said hinder arms control efforts.

The United States contends that Russia has tested and deployed a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 to 5,000 kilometers, a class of weapons prohibited by the treaty. The State Department report details steps Washington took in 2016 to resolve the dispute, including convening a session of the Special Verification Commission, the technical dispute-resolution venue created by the treaty. (See ACT, December 2016.)

Specific Details

The State Department, which previously provided no details of those consultations, disclosed in the new report elements of its evidence. The United States presented information to the Russians that included Russia’s internal designator for the mobile launcher chassis and the names of the companies involved in developing and producing the missile and launcher, the report says. The United States detailed “the violating GLCM’s test history, including coordinates of the tests and Russia’s attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program,” according to the report.

Further, 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.

Through the commission and other formats, the United States has provided “more than enough information for the Russian side to identify the missile in question and engage substantively on the issue of its obligations,” according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry, in its statement April 29, said Washington has failed to provide clear evidence to support its assertions. The United States has put forward only “odd bits and pieces of signals with no clarification of the unfounded concerns,” the ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry statement repeated Russian allegations that the United States is violating its INF Treaty obligations by positioning a missile defense system in Romania. “The system includes a vertical launching system, similar to the universal Mk-41 VLS, capable of launching Tomahawk medium-range missiles,” the ministry said. “This is undeniably a grave violation under the INF Treaty.” Yet, the U.S. Tomahawk intermediate-range cruise missiles are permitted under the agreement as a sea-based weapon. In addition, the Mk-41 has not fired GLCMs, and Washington says the launchers to be deployed in Romania and Poland are different than the ship-based version that has been used to fire Tomahawks.

Russia also cited the United States for testing ground-based ballistic missiles characteristic of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles and developing percussion drones that “fall under the definition of land-based cruise missiles contained in the INF Treaty.” It said Washington has been “simply ignoring Russia’s serious concerns.” The State Department report does not mention those disputes.

The Foreign Ministry statement identified the U.S. missile defense system as the No. 1 “unacceptable action” by the United States on a list of 11 areas of arms control concerns, which includes the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the U.S. failure to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

“It should be understood that the [U.S.] anti-missile facilities placed around the world are part of a very dangerous global project aimed at ensuring universal overwhelming U.S. superiority at the expense of the security interests of other countries,” according to the statement.

Plutonium Disposition

The State Department report found “no indication” that Russia had violated its PMDA obligations, but said that Moscow’s decision to “suspend” the accord “raises concerns regarding its future adherence to obligations” under the agreement. The Foreign Ministry said the report’s finding “does not correspond to reality” because Moscow only suspended the PMDA in response to Washington’s “hostile actions toward Russia” and a “radical change of circumstances” since the agreement was signed in 2000.

The Foreign Ministry said the Obama administration initiated plans to transition to a new method of plutonium disposition without obtaining proper consent from Russia. The statement reiterated Moscow’s position from October that Russia would resume the agreement if the United States adheres “to the agreed method of disposal,” which called for mixing the plutonium with uranium to create mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for power plant use, and reverses the other measures that prompted Russian suspension. Specifically, the ministry called for the U.S. to lift its sanctions against Russia enacted in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, compensate Russia for the damage caused by the sanctions, and reduce the U.S. military presence on the territory of NATO member states that joined the alliance after 2000.”

Posted: May 31, 2017


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