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

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

European Security

Polish Politician Ponders Nuclear EU

A prominent Polish politician suggested that the European Union consider developing its own nuclear deterrent force. 

March 2017

As President Donald Trump raises the prospect of a diminished U.S. role in defending European allies, a prominent Polish politician suggested that the European Union consider developing its own nuclear deterrent force. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister who is currently chairman of the ruling nationalist conservative Law and Justice Party, told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Feb. 2 that he likes the thought of the EU becoming a nuclear power “able to keep up with Russia.” The idea is unlikely to gain traction in European capitals because it would break the current nonproliferation regime and, as Kaczynski acknowledged, would require “huge expenditures” at a time of difficult economic conditions in the eurozone. 

Nick Witney, a former head of the European Defense Agency and now senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, expressed skepticism regarding the prospect of a nuclear-armed EU. “You would need institutions for that, which the EU doesn’t have,” he told Deutsche Welle. But he said it is “not surprising” the issue arises now because of concerns about Trump’s intentions.

Twenty-six European countries, including Poland, currently fall under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella as part of NATO mutual defense commitments. In addition, France and the United Kingdom have their own nuclear arsenals.

Posted: March 1, 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

A French View on the Iran Deal: An Interview With Ambassador Gérard Araud

The ambassador to the United States and former Iran deal negotiator reflects on how that agreement was reached, possible bumps ahead, and dangers posed by Iranian ballistic missile development...

July/August 2016

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport and Elizabeth Philipp

Gérard Araud was appointed ambassador of France to the United States in September 2014. A career diplomat, his past positions include director for strategic affairs, security and disarmament (2000-2003) and permanent representative of France to the United Nations in New York (2009-2014). Araud served as the French negotiator on the Iranian nuclear file from 2006 to 2009. 

Araud spoke with Arms Control Today in his office at the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., on May 20. 

The interview was transcribed by Elizabeth Philipp. It has been edited for clarity. 

ACT: France has been involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran far longer than the United States—over a decade. Why was achieving an agreement with Iran an important priority for France?

Araud: First, the history is that, in 2002, I was assistant secretary for security affairs and disarmament in Paris and we had the idea of a letter from the three ministers.1 So it was a French idea. When I actually drafted the first letter, there was a choice about the terms in the letter about enrichment. We could say we are asking to suspend enrichment or to stop enrichment. If we had “to suspend enrichment,” the Russians were immediately on board, but the British were not. If we had “to stop enrichment,” the British were on board, but not the Russians. It was the choice to have the British on board rather than the Russians on board. 

In 2002 we discovered the program, and the letter was sent during the summer of 2003. Why? If we had the letter signed by France, Germany and Russia, it would have had absolutely no bearing in Washington, D.C. So the idea was to have the British as a sort of bridge toward the Americans, and I presented the letter to the Americans-—the American was John Bolton, the undersecretary at the time. The Americans told us that it was not a green light, but it was not a red light. So we sent the letter with sort of a yellow light coming from Washington, D.C., and on our side with the promise, the commitment, to [be] totally transparent. Because from the beginning, I knew that there would be an agreement only if the Americans were engaging in the negotiation. So that was the beginning of the story. 

Why negotiate? For us, the issue of Iran nuclear power was twofold. First, it was regional. We were convinced that Israel wouldn’t accept the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and that would lead to a military option, with all the political consequences of the region. Secondly, even without an Israeli military operation, it would mean the end of the nonproliferation system. The countries around North Korea—South Korea, Japan—were restrained enough not to follow the suit of North Korea and become nuclear, while, in the Middle East, such restraint was very unlikely.

There was a strong risk that the neighbors of Iran would follow and become nuclear powers. That would have been the end of the nonproliferation system. 

ACT: What do you think it is about this current period, beginning in 2013, that led to a successful nuclear deal with Iran given this long history of negotiations?

Araud: Actually, the negotiation started with the three European countries; and in 2003, there was suspension by the Iranians of their enrichment capability. But everything stopped in 2005 more or less with the election of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. When I was the French-designated negotiator between 2006 and 2009, I can tell you that there was no negotiation. It was not that our proposals were dismissed as insufficient; it was simply that the Iranians didn’t negotiate. They never entered into a substantial discussion of the terms of our proposals, and really, we tried several formulations, very different formulations. We went to Tehran, and nothing came out of it. It was really the feeling that the Iranians had not taken the decision to negotiate. Eventually they took it in 2013, and it means that the supreme leader made the decision first. I’m convinced—but it’s only a personal conviction, and I have nothing to base it on—that what we were looking at the moment when the regime has decided that the cost of the program was too expensive in terms of the survival of the regime. The sanctions were hurting very much, and the regime has decided at this moment to negotiate. 

ACT: Within the negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, what do you think that France brought to the table to really help that process along? 

Araud: The fact is that we have, since we have been in the origin of the process, we have been very careful about keeping excellent teams of negotiators. We have been very careful about the choice of the people, about not losing the know-how between the negotiators during all these years, and I do believe that we were a very reliable team of negotiators. I heard several times people saying that, at some moment of the negotiation, really everybody was looking at the French team because we had invested a lot into this negotiation in terms of expertise. 

The second point was that we’ve always had a very consistent line. We have had, between 2003 and 2016, three presidents in France—three presidents of very different orientation. There was a Gaullist. After that, there was a more rightist and pro-American, and now you have a Social Democrat. We have always—these three presidents and the governments and the ministers, and there were more than three ministers—have always kept the same line. We have been extremely consistent in this negotiation.

ACT: Speaking of presidential transitions, the presumptive Republican nominee for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump, has said he would tear up the agreement, he would seek to renegotiate it. Are you concerned at all about the impact of U.S. elections on the continued success of the agreement? 

Araud: You know all the Republican candidates were saying that they would tear apart the agreement when they arrive in office. But you know it’s an electoral campaign, and if the candidates were doing everything they promised during the campaign, and that is in all the countries in the world and all the parties, it would be terrifying. So we keep cool, and we will see when it happens and if it happens. 

ACT: Iran, though, has expressed some frustrations about sanctions relief under the deal, saying that businesses and banks have been reluctant to do business with Iran. Do you see prospects for European companies returning? Do you think there’s more that the EU 3+32 could be doing?

Araud: We are not in charge of the Iranian economy. But, nevertheless, when there is an agreement, there is a quid pro quo. The Iranian quid is the limitation of their program, and so far, they have implemented their part of the commitment. The quo is the lifting of the sanctions. But the lifting of the sanctions, it is not only an expression saying, “I lift the sanctions.” The sanctions have to be lifted, which means that the Iranians should first have access to frozen assets and secondly should be able to have a trade relationship with the rest of the world. 

The fact is—and it’s a fact—that because of the American secondary sanctions, the Iranians are saying that relief doesn’t happen. Actually, if you look—I don’t have the figures, but I think the proportion of the assets effectively de-frozen or released is really not that big. There is a lot of money, which is still frozen because since you can’t use the dollar, apparently it prevents a lot of financial operations. The fact is the banks don’t dare to go to Tehran. You can call it overcompliance on their side because, after having some trouble in New York City, they are still afraid to go there. The U.S. administration is aware of it and has said publicly that they will do their best. It’s not a question of helping the Iranians, it’s simply to give to our commitments, their whole significance. So the U.S. administration is trying to clarify the roles. The problem is your system of secondary sanctions is so complicated that even the U.S. administration has some problems really to understand it. 

So the Americans have told us and they have told also [the] business community that they are ready to answer to all the questions that the companies may have. For instance we have the example of Airbus and Boeing who want to sell planes to the Iranians. Planes come with a lot of spare parts. The question is whether it’s legal to sell the planes to the Iranians. Airbus is in contact with the U.S. administration to clarify the situation. But what we feel, and it’s public now, [it] is the will of the U.S. administration to deprive the radicals in Tehran from any pretext to say, “Oh you see, the West is not implementing its part of the deal, we have been trapped, it was a trap, so let’s do the same on our side.” 

ACT: So aside from this question of sanctions, do you see any other challenges that the agreement could face in the coming years? 

Araud: It’s such a complicated agreement—159 pages. When you enter an arms control agreement, you can’t foresee everything or every problem. So it’s obvious that we will have every six months a different interpretation between the Iranians and us, maybe between us and the Russians and the Chinese, of the different points. The Iranians, of course, will try to drag the agreement toward their interests, and we will do the opposite. So there will be disagreements down the road, and that’s the reason why we have created this committee, which will be in charge of trying to solve these disagreements.3 But disagreements are not unusual. When the Americans have an arms control agreement with the Russians, or with the Soviets at the time, there were also these bumps on the road. 

ACT: On the U.S. side, one of the areas that members of Congress in particular have voiced concern about is Iran’s continued ballistic missile testing. The UN Security Council resolution endorsing the deal softens the language on missile tests. Under the new resolution, Iran is “called upon” not to undertake any activity on ballistic missiles that are designed to be nuclear capable. Since the resolution came into effect in January, Iran has continued to test missiles. Are you concerned about the continued missile testing in Iran?

Araud: Our choice was to limit the negotiations to the nuclear issue and not to go beyond that. We consider that the nuclear issue in itself should be really the only topic of the negotiation, considering the seriousness of the issue and also considering that it was certainly in a sense the only issue where the P5+1 would agree.4 So it’s on the nuclear issue. 

The second point is, and I said it publicly, I was expecting the Iranians to harden their position on the other issues after this nuclear deal, in a sense to show or to send a message that they have not caved in front of the West, which is a message toward the outside world but also toward the Iranian public opinion, which is dreaming of seeing the end of the revolution. So I guess what we see now as provocations, unfortunately, were more or less expected. 

On the French side, we have always been in favor of reacting strongly against missile testing in the Security Council, but I think you know the Russians and the Chinese have opposed it. We have said that we have expressed our concern about the missile testing, and we would be willing to go to the Security Council if necessary. 

ACT: Do you think there are any particular steps that countries, like the United States and France, could take to stem Iran’s continued ballistic missile development?

Araud: You have the regimes, [Missile Technology Control Regime] and so on, that we have to implement. We have to work with the usual suspects and implement the regimes and controls. 

ACT: What do you think that reaching this agreement with Iran means for strengthening nonproliferation norms writ large? Are there areas of the deal that you think the international nonproliferation regime could build off of? 

Araud: Yes, but during all the negotiations, especially the Russians but the Chinese also have been very keen on avoiding the impression of creating a precedent. When we negotiated the agreement, there was always this concern coming back, with the Russians and the Chinese basically saying, “No, you are not going to create a new regime.” Having said that, it’s obvious that, during the negotiation, we have faced the problem of enrichment, of uranium enrichment. As a military nuclear power, we know that enrichment is the first step toward a weapon. The militarization side is easier to hide, so the enrichment is really the critical step. The Russians have joined in floating ideas of proposing an international regime for enrichment. There were ideas of having an international bank because countries were saying, “Well, if we give up the right to enrichment, we don’t have any assurance that we will get the enriched uranium that we need for our civilian program.” There was the idea of the Russians saying that they were dedicating a plant for an international bank, and there is the [International Atomic Energy Agency] fuel bank in Kazakhstan.5 

ACT: Are you concerned, though, that other countries, particularly in the region, might choose to pursue enrichment, given that Iran has maintained its capacity?

Araud: Of course. There is the risk because some people can argue that we have created a special status, a sort of new status for Iran. After the agreement, there were some neighbors saying, “Oh, you know we would want the same capabilities.” For the moment, we have not seen any step into this direction. But of course, we have to be vigilant, considering the tensions in this part of the world. 

I do remember when I was in Paris, I was interviewed by our parliament hearing committee on foreign affairs and the chairman of the committee told me, “The nonproliferation system is broken, it’s over.” Actually, when I was assistant secretary now 15 years ago, there were two problems, which were North Korea and Iran. Fifteen years later, there are two problems: North Korea and Iran. 

When I was a student, people were saying, “In 2000 the list of the nuclear powers will be Argentina, Brazil,” and so on, and it’s not the case. So in a sense, the nonproliferation system has quite resisted this, and it has been a success. So we have to be vigilant, especially in terms of enrichment. But now that we have this deal with the Iranians, maybe we could come back to working on it. 

ACT: Speaking to the weaponization concerns, the concern over nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in Iran was a primary driver for deploying U.S. missile defense in Europe. Since that threat has been mitigated by the Iran deal, do you think the plans for keeping Aegis Ashore should be adjusted? 

Araud: That’s a difficult issue because the American administrations have been very insistent on launching this program, keeping this program, and the debate has been raging in NATO for the last 20 years. The Russians have been through the ceiling on this issue. I think eventually we are going to declare the NATO system as operational.6 But my personal opinion would be that what we have done is enough. It’s not really necessary to dedicate so many resources in a situation where we don’t have a lot of resources for such a system for a very hypothetical threat. 

For the French, the starting point is evaluation of the threat, and this is something we should re-evaluate regularly. Given the latest assessment of this threat, heads of state and government decided to move forward with this missile defense, but that doesn’t prevent re-evaluating now or in a few years what is the state of this threat. That’s actually something we, France, would be keen to doing because missile defense is not something we should do out of the blue and not just for itself. It’s to protect us against a threat, and it’s just common sense to link it to the re-evaluation of the threat. That is one of the elements we are looking at. 

There are also few elements which we look at and we said publicly when we agreed to missile defense, for example, the fact that the cost of missile defense should not go overboard. Another element is that, in NATO, missile defense, on a basis of common control, is owned and operated by NATO. These are elements which are important for us in assessing the progress of the missile defense. There are a few other ones, but those are the important ones.

ACT: On that note, France recently withheld its approval from NATO taking control, command and control, of the European missile defense system.

Araud: The problem that we have, and I’m sure it will be solved before the next summit, is we want to have a real, robust NATO command-and-control chain. For obvious political reasons, the Americans want to declare the system operational at the next summit. From the French side, we want to be sure the [command-and-control] system is robust enough. So again, it’s really not a substantial problem. I’m quite sure that it will be solved.

There is an evaluation going on right now actually in NATO on whether the system is sufficient or not. We are in that phase where we see whether or not it is sufficient to declare the system operational at the Warsaw summit. So we are in this phase where we are looking at it, [being] more careful about being sure it’s sufficient, but we are looking at the info right now that NATO is giving us in the next few weeks. 

ACT: Recently in certain disarmament fora, including last year’s [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, the five nuclear-weapon states received some criticism for not fulfilling their Article VI disarmament commitments from the NPT review conference in 2010. What does France think could be done to accelerate the progress on disarmament?  

Araud: I think that if the U.S. and Russia were decreasing dramatically their systems, it will really be very important and very critical. This has been an ongoing criticism for a long time. We do consider on our side, and if you look at the figures, that we have made significant progress in terms of disarmament. We have given up the tactical weapons. We have also made [a] declaration of transparency.7 We have been more transparent in these terms, and we do consider that our systems are very much smaller than the Russians’ and the Americans’. Before talking to us, you have to talk to the Russians and the Americans. 

ACT: Is there anything that you think that France could do to encourage the United States and Russia to take further steps? 

Araud: The [fissile material cutoff treaty] FMCT and the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT are the two main elements we are trying to promote in the international arena, given that it’s very difficult, but we still try to push for it. 

ACT: Are there any particular steps related to either of those treaties that you are hoping to promote or move forward on? 

Araud: There is going to be, in a few weeks, the 20th anniversary of the CTBT. We would like to use this opportunity to promote the CTBT a bit more. For the FMCT, we proposed a draft some time ago, and we are trying to make concrete proposals to promote these treaties. But it’s a slow process. It is a gradual step by step process to go forward. 

ACT: In the United Kingdom, there’s a debate about the salience of its nuclear weapons program and its deterrent. What is France’s view on the UK eliminating its nuclear weapons arsenal, and would that have an impact on France as a sole possessor of nuclear weapons in Europe? 

Araud: No, it wouldn’t have an impact on France. Very often, people don’t understand why France is so much committed to nuclear deterrence. They do believe it’s sort of out of glory. The fact is that, in 1940, when the Germans invaded our country, we were alone. The Americans were not here, and the British were not really here either—they had sent 10 divisions to France. France nearly disappeared. So we have drawn [a] very clear lesson that, to survive, you are alone. So we need nuclear deterrence. 

After this horrendous period for us, when our country nearly disappeared, it has become a sort of ingrained conviction that you are alone to defend your existence. That’s part of our very particular experience that people don’t understand. It’s not because we love nuclear weapons. It’s simply that now the genie is out of the bottle. Nuclear disarmament is difficult because if we get rid of the nuclear weapons you know Kim Jong Un or somebody else may still have the nuclear weapons. What will happen? He will be the master of the world. 

It’s impossible to reach universal nuclear disarmament. What we are trying to do is to limit the numbers of the nuclear-weapon states. Of course it’s unfair for the states which are not. As for the United Kingdom, I would bet everything you want that they won’t get rid of their nuclear weapons. There is a debate, but a debate we don’t have so much in France. Of course there is a fringe left which is in favor of it. But there is not a debate like the British have every decade. The British, maybe there could be debate about modernization, whether you need to modernize or not to modernize, considering the threat. That could be a debate. But on having the weapons, I really don’t see. Compared to the Americans, we Europeans know that history is a tragedy. 

ENDNOTES

1.   Iran’s heavy-water production plant at Arak and its centrifuge plant at Natanz were revealed to the international community in 2002. The first three countries to engage with Iran on the question of uranium enrichment were France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

2.   The EU 3+3 refers to the three EU countries—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—plus China, Russia, and the United States, that were engaged in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

3.   The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action established the Joint Commission as a mechanism for resolving disputes.

4.   P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) plus Germany.

5.   See Tariq Rauf, “From ‘Atoms for Peace’ to an IAEA Nuclear Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2015.

6.   In April 2016, the United States declared the ballistic missile interceptor it built to be operational in Romania and a second site in Poland to be under construction. NATO claims this system is intended to protect against the ballistic missile threat from Iran while Russia claims it is an attempt to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. For more information, see Kingston Reif, “Romania Missile Defense Site Activated,” Arms Control Today, June 2016.

7.   In 2006, France passed the Nuclear Transparency and Security Law. In 2008, under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, France became the first nuclear-weapon state to publicly reveal the size of its nuclear arsenal. For more information, see Bill Richardson et al., “Universal Transparency: A Goal for the U.S. at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit,” Arms Control Today, January 2011.

Posted: July 5, 2016

New Report Calls for Russia and the West to Move Back from the Brink

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Description: 

The West and Russia need to build on existing arms control measures to avoid exacerbation of the increasingly tense relationship between them, according to a group of international security experts.

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For Immediate Release: June 21, 2016

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104; Ulrich Kuehn, Researcher, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg, +49 (1) 76 811219 75

(Mosow, Berlin, Washington)—A new report from a high-level group of international security experts from Russia, the United States, and Germany recommends that the West and Russia build on a number of existing arms control and confidence-building measures in order to avoid further exacerbation of the increasingly tense and dangerous relationship between Russia and the West, particularly along the border between Russia and NATO member states.

The third report of the Deep Cuts Commission describes 15 key recommendations to help address the most acute security concerns in Europe—particularly in the Baltic area—and increase U.S.-Russian nuclear transparency and predictability.

“The prime objective for the next few years should be limiting the potential for dangerous military incidents that can escalate out of control,” the authors argue. “Russia and the West must come back from the brink. They need to better manage their conflictual relationship. Restraint and dialogue are now needed more than ever,” they write.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

    • In order to reduce current security concerns in the Baltic area, NATO and Russia should initiate a dialogue on possible mutual restraint measures. All states should adhere to the NATO-Russia Founding Act. 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, CSBMs, 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. Such a cell could be linked to or established in parallel with a new European Risk Reduction Center.
    • States-parties to the Treaty on Open Skies should pay more attention to the continued operation of Open Skies. They should strengthen its operation by devoting equal resources to upgrading observation equipment.
    • Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States should consider measures to give effect to the principle of non-intervention into internal affairs. For this purpose, the OSCE could set up a commission which would carefully look into the issue from a legal point of view and explore possibilities for a new OSCE states-based mechanism. Beyond, OSCE participating States should prepare for a long-term endeavor leading to a Helsinki-like conference with the aim of reinvigorating and strengthening Europe’s guiding security principles.
    • The United States and Russia should commit to attempting to resolve each other’s compliance concerns with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by supplementing ongoing diplomatic dialogue with technical expertise, either by convening the Special Verification Commission or a separate bilateral experts group mandated to appropriately address all relevant treaty-related compliance concerns. Further on, the United States and Russia should address the issue of supplementing the treaty by taking account of technological and political developments that have occurred since the treaty’s entry into force.
    • The United States and Russia should address the destabilizing effects of nuclear-armed cruise missile proliferation by agreeing on specific confidence-building measures. Together with other nations, they should 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 (UAVs/UCAVs) 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 the LRSO and Russia should reciprocate by phasing-out of new nuclear-armed ALCMs. The United States should show restraint in ballistic missile deployments consistent with its policy of defending against limited threats. NATO should follow through on its commitment to adapt its ballistic missile deployments in accordance with reductions in the ballistic missile proliferation threats.

    • Russia and the United States should work toward early discussions on a possible follow-on strategic arms reduction treaty. They should be able to envision reductions to a level of 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles and 1,000 deployed strategic warheads during the next decade. These discussions should explore options for exchanging measures of reciprocal restraint and seek to address other issues of mutual concern under a combined umbrella discussion of strategic stability.

Beyond these recommendations, the experts identify a number of additional measures which could foster confidence in and maintain focus on the goal of further nuclear disarmament.

The complete report is available online.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Posted: June 21, 2016

U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe: Move the Ball, Not the Goal Posts

Within the last decade, the United States has made several important adjustments to its plans for deploying missile defenses in Europe. In light of the ongoing implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and an objective assessment of Iran’s missile program, it is high time to make another one—suspending the deployment of more advanced Aegis missile defense interceptors to Poland. Defending Europe Against Iran In September 2009, President Barack Obama announced a four-part “European Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to deploying U.S. missile defenses in Europe against the emerging ballistic...

INF Treaty Impasse: Time for Russian Action

If Russia does nothing to address U.S. concerns about Moscow’s compliance with the [INF] Treaty, the current dispute over the treaty could lead to a dangerous action-reaction cycle. 

January/February 2016

By Richard W. Fieldhouse

Eileen Malloy, head of the arms control implementation unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, attends a ceremony marking the destruction of Soviet missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty at the Saryozek site in Kazakhstan on May 11, 1990. (Photo credit: American Foreign Service Association)The U.S. government has determined that Russia has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). So far, the Russian government has simply denied any violation and refused to engage the United States in constructive discussions on the issue.

Moscow has made counteraccusations that the United States insists are intended to divert or deflect attention from Russia’s own violation.1 Despite repeated U.S. efforts to discuss and resolve its concerns with senior Russian officials, there are no signs of progress.

The Obama administration has been developing a response to the violation over the last year, but Congress is pressing for stronger action. With the upcoming presidential election and the pressure from Congress for a forceful, near-term response, the political circumstances in the United States could push the dispute in a direction that makes it more dangerous for both sides, as well as for U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. To avoid such a mutually undesirable outcome, Russia should use the remaining period of the Obama administration to work toward a constructive resolution of this serious problem.

Without visible progress toward a resolution, it seems likely that any future U.S. president, particularly a Republican president, will feel a need to take additional steps to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation. Such moves could increase the risk of a nuclear confrontation of a type that has not been seen since the Cold War ended.

Fortunately, there is nothing inevitable about a deterioration in nuclear security and stability. These are matters that will be decided by the governments.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States each deployed hundreds of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe that the other side saw as an unacceptable security threat. Eventually, that confrontation led the two governments to conclude the INF Treaty.

The potential consequences of the current standoff could include the termination of the INF Treaty or an action-reaction cycle of military deployments that increases the threat of nuclear confrontation and instability. Given these possibilities, it is important to examine the key elements of this dispute to understand why it would likely grow worse over time and to begin considering how both sides might approach resolution to avoid a return to increased nuclear confrontation and insecurity.

The INF Treaty Violation

The July 2014 arms control compliance report by the Department of State contained the first public exposition of the U.S. assessment of Russia’s actions. The report stated that “[t]he United States has determined that the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km [kilometers] to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”2 In its compliance analysis section, the report enumerates each provision of the INF Treaty relevant to the determination of the violation.

The June 2015 compliance report, which reaffirmed the previous determination, included an additional detail: “The United States determined the cruise missile developed by the Russian Federation meets the INF Treaty definition of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, and as such, all missiles of that type, and all launchers of the type used to launch such a missile, are prohibited under the provisions of the INF Treaty.”3 To avoid any ambiguity or disputes about potential differences such as range, capability, or purpose within a prohibited type of missile or its launcher, the INF Treaty says that if any type of missile or launcher meets the definition of a prohibited item, then all such items, regardless of any potential variations or differences, “shall be considered to be” that type of prohibited item, even if they have not been demonstrated or tested for that purpose, and thus must be eliminated.4

The report also stated that “[t]he United States noted concerns about the Russian Federation’s compliance with the INF Treaty in earlier, classified versions” of the compliance report.

Since the details of the violation remain classified, there has been some public uncertainty and speculation about which of several conceivable missile systems constitutes the violation. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has commented publicly to dispel some of the confusion and clarify the nature of the violation. In an interview in June 2015, she said, “At issue is a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500-5,500 kilometers. We are confident that the Russian government is aware of the missile to which we are referring.”5 In a September 2015 interview, she elaborated that she was “talking about a missile that has been flight-tested as a ground-launched cruise-missile system to these ranges that are banned under this treaty.”6 Around the same time, Anita Friedt, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear and strategic policy, said Russia had tested the “state-of-the-art” missile “at ranges capable of threatening most of [the] European continent and our allies in Northeast Asia.”7

On December 1, 2015, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade held a joint hearing on the violation and the administration’s response. The two Obama administration witnesses, Gottemoeller and Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, provided the most definitive description to date of the violation and of the U.S. response.

According to McKeon’s testimony, there “has been some speculation about what missile the United States is referring to and whether we have mistaken its testing for a treaty-compliant sea-based cruise missile.” The INF Treaty prohibits intermediate-range GLCMs but does not limit intermediate-range sea-launched cruise missiles or air-launched cruise missiles, which Russia and the United States each possess.

According to McKeon, “The evidence is conclusive. Russia has tested this ground-based system well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty. We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.”8

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller testified that, in discussions with Russian officials, the United States “made very clear that this is not a technicality, a one-off event, or a case of mistaken identity, but a serious Russian violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.”

Administration Response

The Obama administration’s planned response to the Russian violation of the INF Treaty has evolved over the last year. This is most clearly seen in the differences between congressional testimony of administration witnesses in 2014, the first year the administration made public its determination of Russia’s violation, and their testimony a year later at the hearing described above.

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, shown above in an April 2015 photo, said at a congressional hearing on December 1, 2015, that Russia is committing “a serious…violation of one of the most basic obligations under the INF Treaty.” (Photo credit: CTBTO)At the December 10, 2014, hearing, which was a joint hearing of the same House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services subcommittees, the administration witnesses stated they had two objectives: first, to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty and keep the treaty in force, and second, to ensure that Russia does not gain any significant military advantage from its violation. Gottemoeller testified that because Russia “has been unwilling to acknowledge its violation or address our concerns,” the administration was “reviewing a series of diplomatic, economic, and military measures” to pursue these objectives.9

At the same hearing, McKeon said the United States has been having discussions with Russia on the subject since early 2013. He said he and his colleagues “have conveyed to Russian officials we expect the Russian Federation to cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” He reported that Russia has not provided any information or acknowledged “the existence of such a noncompliant cruise missile.”

He went on to explain that the U.S. Joint Staff had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy an INF Treaty-range ground-launched cruise missile in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment also led the administration “to review a broad range of military response options and consider the effect each option could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system.”

Later in the hearing, McKeon explained that the military response options “fall into three broad categories: 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.” He acknowledged that the administration was looking at “a broad range of options, some of which would be compliant with the INF Treaty, some of which would not be.”

It is noteworthy that the administration is reviewing some options that would not comply with the INF Treaty. Because the administration’s policy is to comply strictly with the INF Treaty and preserve the pact’s viability by bringing Russia back into compliance, the noncompliant options are presumably part of a contingency planning process in the event that Russia does not return to compliance or the treaty is no longer in force and the United States seeks to counter the Russian violation.

Although McKeon’s list of possible responses was focused on Russia’s INF Treaty violation, he indicated that the administration was seeking to develop a comprehensive policy toward Russia regarding the numerous security concerns posed by Russian actions in areas beyond that violation, including Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

At the December 2015 hearing, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said of the alleged Russian violation, “We are talking about a real system and not a potential capability.” (Photo credit: U.S. House Armed Services Committee Webcast)One year later, in his statement for the recent hearing, McKeon explained that the administration had broadened its response beyond the concerns about the INF Treaty violation: “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.… Accordingly, we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”10 It is worth noting that Gottemoeller testified at the same hearing that Russia had begun testing the cruise missile in 2008, but the United States did not determine until late 2011 that it was a GLCM and thus prohibited by the INF Treaty. That indicates that Russia began its noncompliant behavior years before the current challenges McKeon discussed.

McKeon said the substantially broader response, current and planned, includes a number of features to improve the defense of Europe. Such a response, he testified, could serve the purpose of denying Russia a significant military advantage from its violation. He added, “[W]e are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.” In terms of the effect of the broader response on changing Russia’s behavior, including returning to compliance with the treaty, he said that Moscow “will see these activities and they will see them in our budget, and they will start to understand, we believe, that this response is not making them any more secure.”

At the same hearing, Gottemoeller summarized the security risk to Russia if it fails to come back into compliance: “We continue to remind Russia why it signed this treaty in the first place, and why Russia’s continued violation would only lead to a needless and costly action-reaction cycle to the detriment of Russia’s security.”

The significantly expanded Obama administration response will likely become the baseline U.S. response. If a future president wants to indicate increased frustration or resolve, he or she probably will feel a need to take action that goes beyond this baseline, such as developing one or more of the three categories of systems to counter the Russian INF Treaty violation. If there has been no progress toward resolution at that time, such stronger action will likely appear to be politically necessary, particularly if the president is a Republican. In the shorter term, Congress is likely to continue pushing for stronger action on the INF Treaty during the upcoming campaign year.

Congressional Action

As the two joint House hearings indicate, Congress has been heavily involved in this issue. At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said there had been some 60 briefings, hearings, and meetings with Congress on the subject.

Of course, the most important measure of the input of Congress on any issue is the legislation it enacts. In 2014, the year the United States made public its determination of Russia’s INF Treaty violation, Congress enacted two provisions on that subject in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015.

Section 1651 of that act requires the secretary of defense to report to Congress on the “steps being taken or planned to be taken” to respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation, including “research, development, testing, or deployment” of future U.S. military capabilities “to deter or defend against the threat of intermediate-range nuclear force systems of Russia if Russia deploys such systems.”11

Section 1244 of the act requires a comprehensive report on Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty, including a description of the president’s plan to resolve noncompliance issues, and requires prompt notification to Congress if the president determines Russia “has deployed or intends to deploy systems that violate the INF Treaty,” including “any plans to respond to such deployments.”

In November 2015, Congress approved the defense authorization act for fiscal year 2016, which contains a far-reaching provision responding to Russia’s continuing noncompliance with the INF Treaty. The more forward-leaning language in part reflects the increased influence of congressional Republicans, who gained control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections. (They have held the majority in the House of Representatives since 2010.)

Section 1243 of the act requires the defense secretary to submit to Congress a plan to develop “[c]ounterforce capabilities to prevent” attacks from intermediate-range missiles covered by the INF Treaty “whether or not such [counterforce] capabilities are in compliance with the INF Treaty”; “[c]ountervailing strike capabilities to enhance the forces of the United States or allies,” again “whether or not such capabilities are in compliance”; and “[a]ctive defenses” to defend against intermediate-range GLCM attacks.

Although these are the same three categories of potential military responses that McKeon described as being under review in his testimony at the December 2014 hearing, the Obama administration has not pursued a plan to develop these capabilities, let alone begun to develop them.

Section 1243 also directs the defense secretary, if Russia has not begun to return to compliance, to develop any of those specified capabilities if they are recommended by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with priority on those “capabilities that the Chairman determines could be fielded in two years.” (It is possible that the chairman would not make any such recommendation, in which case development would not be required.) Finally, the provision requires the administration to report to Congress on “potential deployment locations” of the military capabilities “in East Asia and Eastern Europe, including any basing agreements that may be required to facilitate such deployments.”

This provision of law pushes well beyond what the Obama administration is planning, even with its expanded response strategy. As the joint House hearings indicated, if there is no sign of progress on this issue when Congress prepares its legislation next year, it is likely that lawmakers will press for even stronger action. The provisions on the INF Treaty will inform the policies of the next president and could form the basis for additional future U.S. actions.

Russia’s Reaction

According to senior Obama administration officials, Russia’s reaction to the INF Treaty dispute has essentially been twofold. First, it has denied violating the treaty. As Gottemoeller said at the December 2015 hearing, Russia “claims that it is in full compliance with the treaty,” and it “asserts its commitment to continue, for the present time, to stay in the INF Treaty.”

Second, the Russian government has accused the United States of violating the INF Treaty with respect to three types of military systems: ballistic missile defense target missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and the Mk-41 launcher planned for the Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Europe, which Russia claims is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles. The INF Treaty prohibits such a capability.

At the December 2014 hearing, McKeon said, “All of Russia’s claims, past and present, are categorically unfounded. The United States has been and remains in compliance with all of its obligations under the INF Treaty. These Russian claims are meant to divert attention from its own violation. We fully addressed each of Russia’s concerns during the September 11[, 2014,] meetings in Moscow, and provided the Russian side with detailed explanations and Treaty-based explanations as to how U.S. actions are compliant with our obligations under the Treaty.”

At the same hearing, McKeon explained why these U.S. systems are in compliance with the treaty. The first two systems—missile defense target missiles and armed unmanned aerial vehicles—are clearly permitted by the terms and definitions of the INF Treaty. The one issue that is not so obvious is the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher because it appears similar to the ship-based Mk-41 launcher, which can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles. If the Aegis Ashore launcher had the same capability as the ship-based version, it would be capable of launching intermediate-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from land, which is prohibited by the INF Treaty. According to McKeon, “The Aegis Ashore Vertical Launching System is not the same launcher as the sea-based Mk-41 Vertical Launching System, although it utilizes some of the same structural components as the sea-based system. Equally important, the Aegis Ashore system is only capable of launching defensive interceptor missiles, such as the [Standard Missile]-3. It is incapable of launching cruise missiles.”

Any Chance for Resolution?

The Aegis Ashore weapons system launches an SM-3 Block IB guided missile from the land-based Vertical Launching System during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency and Navy test from Kauai, Hawaii, on May 20, 2014. (Photo credit: U.S. Missile Defense Agency)So far, there has been no progress toward resolving any of the U.S. concerns about Russia’s noncompliance with the INF Treaty and, according to Gottemoeller, no sign of willingness by Russia to try.12 Under the current circumstances, with so many areas of disagreement between Russia and the United States, it is difficult to imagine a constructive way forward. Yet if this controversy is to be resolved, it is important to begin considering what a mutually agreeable resolution might look like.

To start, Russia would have to be willing to have discussions with the United States to acknowledge and address the U.S. concerns. To resolve those concerns, it would likely have to acknowledge in some way that it has taken actions inconsistent with treaty and must be willing to take the significant steps to convince the United States it has come back into compliance.

The INF Treaty created a Special Verification Commission as a forum to discuss and resolve implementation and compliance issues and to consider additional steps to improve the viability and effectiveness of the treaty, which it did successfully. Although the commission is now a multilateral body that includes the former Soviet states that are parties to the INF Treaty, it is the logical forum for Russia and the United States to confidentially discuss and resolve the U.S. compliance concerns.

It is not clear what specific steps would be necessary to resolve this case. In an earlier compliance case, the United States accused the Soviet Union of violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by building a noncompliant radar at Krasnoyarsk. As McKeon noted at the December 2015 hearing, resolution took some seven years. The Soviet Union eventually acknowledged that the radar was noncompliant and dismantled it. Because Russia has not acknowledged any action in violation of the INF Treaty, resolution would presumably take a different path.

Although it is not possible to “untest” the cruise missile system or eliminate the testing knowledge, it would be essential to preclude its deployment, which is a threshold issue, and meet the U.S. standard enunciated by McKeon, namely to “cease any further development, testing, production, and deployment of this noncompliant system and to eliminate the missiles and launchers in a verifiable manner.” Doing so would require significant transparency and confidence-building steps, including on-site inspections. That was the standard created under the INF Treaty and enshrined in the current New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Given Russian assertions that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore launcher system would violate the treaty and Russia’s long-standing and often-stated anxiety about the Aegis Ashore missile defense system as a threat to Russian strategic deterrent capabilities, it is likely that Russia would seek some degree of transparency and confidence that the system cannot launch cruise missiles.

Although this idea may currently appear politically implausible to the United States and NATO, it is important to remember that the George W. Bush administration proposed to Russia a number of robust transparency measures on European missile defense to assure the Russians that it posed no threat to them. These steps included confidence- and security-building measures such as the presence of Russian military officials at NATO missile defense facilities and cooperation on joint missile defense centers. If it were a necessary step to help bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty, NATO might agree to a transparency process by which the United States demonstrated that the Mk-41 Aegis Ashore system cannot launch cruise missiles and is compliant with the INF Treaty. Such a process might include provision of information about how the Aegis Ashore system differs from the ship-based launcher and tours of the facilities to demonstrate its compliance. An arrangement of this type would require the consent of Poland and Romania, the countries on whose territory the planned Aegis Ashore sites would be located.

In light of the seemingly intractable INF Treaty impasse, the obvious question is how Russia would react to such a resolution idea. The answer depends, at least in part, on whether it sees the INF Treaty as remaining in its continuing security interest, as it says it does, and if it perceives that the U.S. response would diminish its security. If so, then it should be willing to resolve U.S. concerns. If not, Russia may hope the United States will withdraw from the treaty, as the United States did from the ABM Treaty, or take some step that is explicitly inconsistent with the treaty, thus giving Russia an opportunity to free itself of INF Treaty constraints without admitting to a violation. Some Russian officials have raised doubts about the continuing value of the treaty, noting that it limits only Russia and the United States. They have suggested that the treaty should be made multilateral to place similar limits on other countries with intermediate-range missiles. Because those countries are not interested in giving up their missiles, this idea seemed intended to undermine the treaty.

For its part, the United States should pursue actions that will increase the likelihood of Russia returning to compliance with the treaty. In the first instance, that means that Washington should remain in strict compliance with its obligations to the INF Treaty. Additionally, the United States, including Congress, should not take actions that would effectively preclude the option of Russia coming back into compliance, including moving toward withdrawal from the treaty, as long as there is a possibility for resolution. Finally, the United States should continue pressing its case with Russia for resolution.

If Russia does not engage in serious discussions with the United States to resolve its INF Treaty concerns, the results could look like a replay of scenes from the Cold War. McKeon acknowledged this at the December 2014 hearing: “We do not want to find ourselves engaged in an escalatory action/reaction cycle as a result of Russia’s decision to possess INF Treaty-prohibited weapons. However, Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security along with those of its allies and partners. Those actions will make Russia less secure.” At the same hearing, Gottemoeller said she had told her Russian counterparts, “[W]e do not want to go down the road of putting in place the kind of countermeasures that would…raise the kinds of threats that existed in Europe back at the time that [the] INF [Treaty] was first agreed.” After decades of Cold War nuclear confrontation and danger, the Soviet Union and the United States finally learned how to reverse the process and improve mutual stability and security. The INF Treaty was a central accomplishment in that effort.

It would be a historic failure if Russia and the United States forgot those lessons and could not preserve the security benefits of the INF Treaty. To avoid such an outcome, Russia should begin immediately to work constructively with the United States to resolve the U.S. concerns. Waiting will only make matters worse.

ENDNOTES

1.  This article assumes that Russia has taken the actions cited by the U.S. government in violation of Russia’s obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The U.S. government process for assessing and reporting noncompliance with arms control treaties is a comprehensive and exhaustive one, and determinations of violations are made only after a thorough review of the evidence provides high confidence in the assessment. As required by Section 403 of the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, the process involves the coordinated input of all relevant executive branch agencies and components. For the requirements for the annual compliance review and report, see http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=granuleid:USC-prelim-title22-section2593a&num=0&edition=prelim.

2.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2014, p. 8, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/230108.pdf.

3.  U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” June 5, 2015, http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/rpt/2015/243224.htm.

4.   INF Treaty, art. VII.

5.  “Rose Gottemoeller: We Don’t Want to See Action-Reaction Cycle Like We Saw During the Cold War,” Interfax, June 23, 2015, http://www.interfax.com/interview.asp?id=600960.

6.  Mike Eckel, “Impasse Over U.S.-Russia Nuclear Treaty Hardens As Washington Threatens ‘Countermeasures,’” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 16, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-nuclear-treaty-us-threatens-countermeasures/27250064.html.

7.  Anita Friedt, “A Full Spectrum Approach to Achieving the Peace and Security of a World Without Nuclear Weapons” (remarks at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Tiergarten Conference, Berlin, September 10, 2015), http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/2015/246943.htm.

8.  C-SPAN, “U.S.-Russia Arms Treaty,” December 1, 2015, http://www.c-span.org/video/?401252-1/hearing-russian-arms-control.

9.  Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administration’s Responses: Joint Hearing Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, 113th Cong. (2014).

10.  Brian P. McKeon, Statement Before the Joint Hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, December 1, 2015, p. 2, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA18/20151201/104226/HHRG-114-FA18-Wstate-McKeonB-20151201.pdf.

11.  Carl Levin and Howard “Buck” McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, Pub. L. No. 113-291, 128 Stat. 3292 (2014), sec. 1244, 1651, https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-113publ291/pdf/PLAW-113publ291.pdf.

12.  At the December 2015 hearing, Gottemoeller said that if the United States had “some inkling” that Russia were willing to acknowledge and try to resolve U.S. concerns, the United States would convene a meeting to do so. She and McKeon repeatedly said there is no such interest from Moscow.


Richard W. Fieldhouse is president of Insight Strategies, LLC, an independent consulting company. From 1996 to 2015, he served as a professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. He was on the personal staff of Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) from 1991 until 1996.

Posted: January 14, 2016

Poland Backs Away From Nuclear Sharing

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s...

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

One day after a senior Polish defense official told a Polish TV station on Dec. 6 that the country was “actively working on” joining NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, the country’s defense ministry denied that Poland was “engaged in any work aimed at joining” the arrangements.

In its Dec. 7 statement, the ministry said that the comment by Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski “should be seen in the context of recent remarks made by serious Western think tanks, which point to deficits in NATO’s nuclear deterrent capability on its eastern flank.” The statement observed that some of these think tanks have recommended expanding the number of countries that base U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil.

NATO’s nuclear sharing program is currently believed to consist of the deployment of 200 tactical B61 gravity bombs on the territory of five NATO members: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Most of these countries also maintain aircraft to deliver the weapons.

Like all other NATO members except France, Poland already participates in the alliance’s nuclear decision-making as a member of the Nuclear Planning Group, which acts as NATO’s senior body on nuclear matters. In addition, Poland contributes non-nuclear capabilities such as aircraft in support of the alliance’s nuclear mission.

NATO officials have repeatedly stated that the alliance is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

But the alliance has raised concerns about the nuclear behavior and other aggressive actions of Russia over the last year and continues to evaluate whether to formally adjust its nuclear posture in response to these actions in the lead-up to the next NATO summit meeting, scheduled to take place July 8-9 in Warsaw. (See ACT, November 2015.)

In a Dec. 7 blog post, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that as NATO diplomats weigh specific nuclear-related measures, the alliance already “is starting to adjust its nuclear posture in Europe in ways that seem similar (but far from identical) to the Cold War play book,” such as “increased reliance on U.S. nuclear forces” and “more exercises and rotational deployments of nuclear-capable forces.”

Szatkowski’s statement “is but the latest sign of that development,” he added.

Posted: January 14, 2016

Cost Estimates Rise for UK Submarine

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion)...

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

A new defense review by the UK government estimates the cost of building four new ballistic missile submarines to be 31 billion pounds (about $45.5 billion), an increase of 17-20 billion pounds over the last formal government estimate of 11-14 billion pounds nearly a decade ago.

The defense review also announced a new investment plan and deployment date for the new submarines.

The United Kingdom currently possesses four Vanguard-class submarines armed with Trident missiles carrying a total of 120 nuclear warheads. (The submarines sometimes are also called Tridents.) The government is planning to replace these submarines with a fleet of four new ones.

The 2015 cost estimate to build the submarines includes the effects of inflation over the 20 years it will take to acquire the boats. The review said the total cost to design the new submarine fleet would be an additional 3.9 billion pounds, a portion of which has already been spent.

The review is also setting aside a “contingency” fund of 10 billion pounds, apparently to help address potential increases in the manufacturing cost of the submarines.

The review did not include an estimate of the cost to operate the new boats over their expected lifetimes. Reuters reported last October that the cost to build and operate the fleet and its supporting infrastructure will reach 167 billion pounds, citing figures provided to Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament, by the Ministry of Defence.

In 2011 the government approved a five-year preparatory research and design phase for the new submarines. The key set of investment decisions on the program, known as Main Gate, had been scheduled for 2016, to be followed by a vote in Parliament. But the review said the government is “moving away from a traditional single ‘Main Gate’ approach, which is not appropriate for a program of this scale and complexity, to a staged investment programme.”

The review did not detail what this new approach will look like.

It also is unclear whether and, if so, when the Conservative Party, which strongly supports the replacement of the current submarines and currently holds a majority in Parliament, will seek a vote in Parliament in favor of the replacement program.

According to the review, the first new submarine is slated to enter service in the early 2030s. Previous government statements had said the first new submarine would be in the water in 2028. 

Posted: January 14, 2016

U.S. Broadens Response on INF Treaty

The Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a response to Russia’s alleged violation of the [INF] Treaty that goes beyond Washington’s specific concerns about treaty noncompliance. 

January/February 2016

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, the State Department’s Rose Gottemoeller, left, and the Defense Department’s Brian McKeon testify on December 1, 2015, at a hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (Photo credit: C-SPAN)After reviewing a range of military options to respond to Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Obama administration appears to have decided to pursue a broader approach that goes beyond its specific concerns about Moscow’s noncompliance with the treaty.

In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said that “Russia is not violating the INF Treaty in isolation from its overall aggressive behavior; therefore we concluded that our responses cannot focus solely on the INF Treaty.”

“Accordingly,” he added, “we are developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions and are committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.”

Reiterating the public assessment that it first made in July 2014, the State Department said last June 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.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.)

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Dec. 1 statement that the allegations are “groundless” and the United States has “not provided any proof” that Russia is “allegedly producing and deploying” banned missiles.

Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

At a December 2014 hearing held by the same House subcommittees as the recent hearing, McKeon said the Pentagon had conducted a military assessment of the threat “if Russia were to deploy” an INF Treaty-range GLCM “in Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.” That assessment prompted a review of three kinds of response capabilities to ensure that Russia did not gain a significant military advantage from its alleged violation: “active defenses” to enhance the defense of locations the noncompliant GLCMs could reach, “counterforce capabilities” to actually attack these missiles, and “countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.”

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that they were being discussed with allies and that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” but others “would not be.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 29, 2015, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the Obama administration was still in the midst of “negotiating” how to respond to the treaty breach but that if Russia fielded a noncompliant system, he would “expect” the United States to pursue one of the three categories of INF Treaty-focused options McKeon outlined.

At the Dec. 1 hearing, however, McKeon did not mention these options. Instead, he listed a number of broader steps that the United States already is undertaking and plans to undertake to bolster the defense of Europe in the face of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, along with heightened nuclear saber rattling that has included more nuclear exercises.

McKeon’s list included expanding bilateral and multilateral military exercises with European allies, positioning military equipment in central and eastern Europe, improving air defense systems in Europe, modernizing U.S. nuclear forces, and focusing on new threats to Europe, such as Russian cyberattacks.

He said that as the administration evaluates “the changed strategic environment in Europe, we are factoring Russia’s increased cruise missile capabilities, including its INF [Treaty] violation, into our planning.”

Puzzling Move

Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified alongside McKeon at the Dec. 1 hearing and said the administration is “puzzled as to why” Russia thinks it needs a noncompliant GLCM since the targets in range of the new missile could be covered by Moscow’s strategic nuclear forces. Gottemoeller also noted that the Russians have been developing new air- and sea-launched cruise missiles, which are not prohibited by the INF Treaty.

McKeon said the prohibited missile program would create new military threats to the United States and its allies, but did not elaborate, citing classification restrictions.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House strategic forces subcommittee, expressed displeasure with the apparent change in the administration’s approach. He said the specific response options prepared “a year ago for consideration are now going to…just blend in” to the broader response to other challenges posed by Russia. As a result, there will be “no action on the violation of the INF Treaty,” he said.

McKeon said Russian officials would take notice of the broader military capabilities in which the United States is investing and “start to understand” that their treaty noncompliance “is not making them any more secure.” If Russia continues in its noncompliance, he said, “we can always assess whether to take other measures.” McKeon did not specify what those other measures might be or if they would come from the three response categories the administration had originally been considering.

Gottemoeller said that the U.S. “announcement of Russia’s violation…has imposed significant costs on Russia” and prevented Moscow from developing the system “unconstrained.”

She added that the administration continues to “consider economic measures with regard to the INF [Treaty].”

Policy Shift?

One European analyst said McKeon’s testimony marked a clear shift away from the administration’s previous focus on a response that was specific to the treaty and represents “a significant political decision.” In a Dec. 28 email to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said the change is “understandable” because many of the options for U.S. responses “would be relevant for deterrence and defense” of NATO even if Russia returned to compliance, especially defense against different kinds of Russian cruise missile threats. He added that the new framing of the response would also avoid the risk of contentious debate within NATO about how to respond to the violation.

Soviet inspectors and their U.S. escorts stand among dismantled U.S. Pershing II missiles at an unidentified site on January 14, 1989, as part of the regime of destruction and inspections under the INF Treaty. (Photo credit: MSGT Jose Lopez Jr./Defense Department)But he expressed concern that the lack of clear and specific response could call into question the resolve of the United States to respond to arms control violations. Furthermore, he said, Russia might now have little incentive to return to compliance with the INF Treaty because the overall U.S. efforts to strengthen the defense of Europe will be made irrespective of Russia’s compliance status.

In a Dec. 23 interview, Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, said the approach described by McKeon did not necessarily reflect a shift in strategy and seemed to fit in the “countervailing” category of response options that McKeon first outlined in 2014. Pifer also said the approach gives the next administration the ability to pursue additional responses that are specific to the INF Treaty “down the road” if it so chooses.

In a Dec. 15 email, a Republican Senate staffer said, “Treating the INF Treaty violation as part of Russia’s larger pattern of behavior is fine – as long [as] US actions truly address the strategic implications of the violation.” According to the staffer, this “requires the US to adjust its nuclear posture to take into account the new reality of Russia’s increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly cruise missiles.”

The fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Nov. 25, calls for a plan for the development of the three kinds of response capabilities the administration said it had planned to pursue to counter Russia’s new GLCM program and requires the Defense Department to make a recommendation on a response capability. (See ACT, November 2015.)

McKeon said the Defense Department will complete the report required by the bill. 

Posted: January 14, 2016

Avoiding War in Europe: The Risks From NATO-Russian Close Military Encounters

With NATO-Russian relations in their current state, a single event or combination of events could result in a war, even if neither side intends it...

November 2015

By Ian Kearns

A Russian warship moves through the waters near the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol on March 7, 2014, as part of a blockade of Ukrainian ships. [Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]On March 3, 2014, a Russian warplane with its transponders switched off came within seconds of colliding with a Danish civilian airliner carrying 132 passengers from Copenhagen to Rome. SAS flight 737 averted a collision that day only because of evasive action taken by its pilot.1

An almost identical incident occurred nine months later, on December 12, again involving a Russian warplane and a civilian airliner that had just left Copenhagen.

Barely a year after the first incident, in March of this year, Russian Su-30 multirole fighter jets used two NATO warships in the Black Sea as targets in high-intensity training exercises.2 The purpose of the exercise appears to have been to provoke the NATO ships into taking defensive action so that the pilots of the Russian aircraft could observe that action and practice countermaneuvers.

Over the last 18 months, the European Leadership Network has logged more than 60 such dangerous incidents in the Euro-Atlantic area.3 The wider catalogue of events includes mock Russian cruise missile attack runs on targets in North America and Denmark, instances of Russian and Western fighter aircraft coming within meters of each other while on maneuvers, a series of submarine hunts off the coasts of Scotland and Sweden, and the abduction by Russian agents in September 2014 of an Estonian security service operative on Estonian, and therefore NATO, territory. In recent weeks, as Russian air operations have commenced in Syria and instances of Russian violations of Turkish airspace have come to light, the theater of these close and dangerous military encounters and incidents appears to have broadened from the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, and Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East.

There is a wider military and political context to these events that makes them all the more worrying. In addition to the close NATO-Russian military encounters now occurring, a general deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the West has become visible in an action-reaction cycle of military exercises being conducted in Europe. Russia is conducting more exercises than NATO, and the two sets of exercises are dissimilar in scale. A Russian “snap” exercise conducted in March, for example, brought together 80,000 military personnel in operations focused on the Arctic and the Baltic Sea regions whereas NATO’s largest exercise in many years, Trident Juncture, which started last month, drew about 36,000 military personnel. Moreover, while NATO exercises are aimed at reassuring allies in the eastern part of the alliance in the context of Russian support for separatists in Ukraine, Russia is using its exercises at least partly to intimidate and unsettle its neighbors.

Despite these important differences, however, there are similarities in the exercises of the two sides. These similarities say something important about what is occurring.

Both sides are using their exercises to practice a rapid mobilization and redeployment of forces over long distances to strengthen what they perceive to be their most strategically exposed areas. NATO is conducting exercises with a view to being able to protect the Baltic states and Poland. Russia is focusing on its border areas with Latvia and Estonia; Kaliningrad, the Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland; the Arctic; and occupied Crimea. The exercises of both involve ground, air, and naval forces in joint operations and include high-intensity combined arms training, the conducting and repelling of amphibious assaults, and engagements with low-level irregular forces.

Most importantly, despite protestations by both sides that the exercises are aimed at no particular adversary, it is clear that each side is exercising with the most likely war plans of the other in mind. The Russian military is preparing for a confrontation with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a confrontation with Russia. This does not mean either side has the political intent to start a war, but it does mean that both believe a war is no longer unthinkable. Many in NATO believe that the demonstration of resolve that the NATO exercises and additional force deployments in eastern Europe represent is essential to deterring Russian aggression and therefore to keeping the peace in Europe. In NATO’s view, the exercises are not a problem, but a virtue. Whether this view is justified—given Russia’s recent behavior, it may well be—the total effect of the developments described here is to generate a growing sense of insecurity on both sides. Russian exercises are seen as a provocation and a threat in the West, and NATO exercises and new deployments are seen as threatening in Moscow.

The developing situation also has a nuclear dimension. In a documentary made for a domestic Russian audience in March 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he had considered putting Russian nuclear forces on alert during the operation to annex Crimea. Just a few weeks later, the Russian ambassador to Denmark appeared to tell that country that if it took part in NATO’s emerging missile defense shield, it could expect to go on the target list for Russian nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict. These instances of what are seen as nuclear intimidation and nuclear saber rattling are creating pressure for a NATO response.

Last month, in response to Russia’s recent behavior, Adam Thomson, the UK ambassador to NATO, said that since the end of the Cold War, NATO has conducted exercises with conventional weapons and nuclear weapons but not “the transition from one to the other.” Now, however, “[t]hat is a recommendation that is being looked at. It is safe to say the UK does see merit in making sure we know how, as an Alliance, to transition up the escalatory ladder in order to strengthen our deterrence.”4

Meanwhile, Crimea and Ukraine have become flash points of a much more fundamental political disagreement. Not only are there significant policy differences between Russia and the West, but on the Russian side, a growing number of military and national security officials appear to believe Western policy is aimed at overthrowing Putin and weakening the Russian state to the point where it can be effectively destroyed and dismembered. Claims that the removal of the Yanukovych government in Ukraine was a Western-backed unconstitutional coup and a trial run for a “color revolution” in Russia itself are dismissed as rhetoric in the West, but are more deep-rooted in Moscow than some Western policymakers appear willing to acknowledge.5 It therefore seems safe to assume that current Russian behavior is driven as much by a concern for regime survival as it is by a concern for geopolitical advantage or by disagreement with specific policies of the West.

Many in the West at the same time believe that Russia is seeking to change the post-Cold War settlement, or perhaps even the post-World War II settlement, in Europe in a number of ways, including by use of force if necessary. The charge sheet here concerns changes to the borders of the Georgian state since 2008 and events in Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past two years. It also includes the provision of funding and support to nationalist political parties hostile to the European integration project in central and western Europe and the use of energy as an instrument to influence the domestic and foreign policy choices of a number of states in NATO and the European Union. For many, it is becoming apparent that Russia is a revisionist power in western as well as eastern Europe.

Whether or not the current situation amounts to a new Cold War, the upshot is a confrontation in which both sides now perceive their fundamental interests to be at stake.

At the Mercy of Events

Too few appear to recognize that the current cocktail of incidents, mistrust, changed military posture, and nuclear signaling is creating the conditions in which a single event or combination of events could result in a NATO-Russian war, even if neither side intends it. To understand why this is not an exaggerated concern, one might consider the sequence of events that easily could have transpired if the aforementioned SAS civilian airliner en route from Copenhagen to Rome had collided with the Russian warplane.

The outrage and uproar in Western capitals at what would certainly have been a very serious loss of life would have been understandably huge. Media and public pressure to act quickly against Russia would have been irresistible. A demand for an immediate cessation of Russian military flights with transponders switched off, especially in civilian air corridors, would have been issued. If that demand did not elicit an immediate positive response from Moscow, a move that might imply acceptance of guilt, previously routine civil aviation flights in European airspace would have been declared at risk. In that situation, those flights would have to have been suspended, which would have been politically unacceptable and economically very damaging, or NATO would have needed to begin military interdiction of Russian aircraft. Any European government not willing to support such interdiction would have been taking its future in its hands, exposing itself to claims that it was weak in the face of unacceptable Russian behavior or risking a further incident while doing little or nothing to prevent it.

Amid this kind of uproar in the West, Putin would be highly likely to exhibit sadness at the loss of life and to offer full Russian assistance in any inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened. At the same time, he almost certainly would point out that Western military aircraft themselves fly with transponders switched off and that the Russian military aircraft involved in this particular incident was operating in full compliance with international law and was in international airspace. Although not ruling out talks to manage the situation, his domestic political persona would constrain his options. He has invested a lot of time and effort in portraying himself to his own people as a strong leader, capable of standing up to the West while making Russia respected again on the international stage. Capitulating to Western pressure outright would be politically damaging.

Diplomacy might save the day, but that could not be assumed. The scene would be set for the planes, naval vessels, and land forces of a nuclear-armed state and a nuclear-armed alliance to continue coming up against each other. This time, however, the close encounters would not be part of planned exercises or a game of brinkmanship, which is dangerous enough, but would come amid a real standoff over who had the right to fly where and under what circumstances, with everyone’s fundamental interests and full political prestige at stake.

Little or nothing is being done to avert this kind of crisis, which could be triggered by any one of the other dangerous incidents and encounters that have taken place over the last 18 months. This absence of action is shocking. If such a crisis resulted in military hostilities, there would be no telling where those hostilities might lead and, given the nuclear arsenals on both sides, what the end result could be.

Agreements on Avoiding Incidents

The Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, was signed by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev at their summit in Moscow in May 1972. It is a technical military-to-military agreement rather than a statement of political principle. It requires each side to avoid dangerous maneuvers, refrain from mock attacks that might simulate weapons use against aircraft or ships, and avoid dropping objects close to ships to hinder their navigation. It also requires the surveillance ships and aircraft of one side to communicate with the other.

The agreement was a response to a dangerous pattern of military activities, including instances of each side’s warships maneuvering very close to those of the other, and a pattern of dangerous maritime air surveillance involving close overflights of warships. The latter was often perceived as harassment by the ships’ commanders. The agreement proved its worth when, during the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, it helped ensure there were no serious incidents while 150 U.S. and Soviet warships shared the crowded waters of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities was signed on June 12, 1989, and entered into force on January 1, 1990. Like the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it governs the activities and personnel of each side when operating in close proximity to the other in peacetime. It focuses on four categories of military activity: military operations by one side near the territory of the other; the use of lasers, particularly those directed at aircraft cockpits, which could be harmful to personnel; operations in areas of high tension, which either party could designate as a “special caution area”; and interference with command-and-control networks. In each of these areas, the agreement requires caution, communication to avoid dangerous incidents and misunderstandings, and action to terminate injurious activity if a problem is identified by the other side. Unlike the Incidents at Sea Agreement, it incorporates certain operations on land as well as those at sea and in the air. It also sets out agreed communications signals and frequencies to be used by the aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles of each side. A joint military commission was set up to issue an annual assessment of compliance and consider how the agreement could be enhanced.—IAN KEARNs

    Negotiating a New Instrument

    The risk of a serious crisis and the absence of action to prevent one led to a recent paper from the Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, made up of senior figures from Russia and the rest of Europe. This group called for the NATO-Russia Council to be convened urgently to discuss a possible new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between NATO and Russia on rules of behavior in air and maritime encounters between the two sides. This proposal has been signed or endorsed by a total of 78 senior military, political, and diplomatic leaders drawn from across the European continent.

    The task force proposal draws explicitly on an agreement signed by China and the United States in late 2014. This U.S.-Chinese MOU sets out the principles and procedures for communication during encounters between military vessels and aircraft and requires each side to give timely hazard warnings if military exercises and live weapons firing are to take place in an area where the military vessels and aircraft of the other may be operational.6 It also sets out a series of rules for establishing mutual trust. These include a commitment, when conducting operations, to communicate in a timely fashion about the planned maneuvers of military vessels and military aircraft. They also include a list of actions that should be avoided, such as simulation of attacks by aiming guns, missiles, fire control radar, torpedo tubes, or other weapons in the direction of military vessels and military aircraft encountered.

    The agreement specifies the radio frequencies to be used for communication and the signals vocabulary to be used if pilots, commanding officers, or masters of vessels experience language difficulties as they communicate with one another. It also contains a provision for each party to conduct an annual meeting, led by senior military officers, to assess application of the agreement in the previous year and to deal with any problems or issues that have arisen during that time.

    With regard to the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, the 1972 Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on and Over the High Seas, usually known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement, and the 1989 Agreement on Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities (see box) operate in a similar way. These two agreements could serve as the basis for a more multilateralized arrangement involving all NATO members and Russia and even NATO partners such as Sweden and Finland. Russian and NATO officials should pursue this objective with urgency.

    Some apparently still think such a deal is not necessary. In off-the-record conversations, some military commanders stress that close military encounters of the kind now under way in Europe were a fact of life during the Cold War and that well-trained, professional military personnel are more than up to the task of handling them without incident.7

    Furthermore, some diplomats and politicians, particularly in eastern Europe, see the proposal as dangerously corrosive to Western unity with regard to Russia. This latter group sees any attempt to negotiate a mechanism for reducing the risks of close military encounters with Russia as a reward for aggressive Russian behavior and as an unwelcome opportunity for some Western countries, suspected of wishing to return their relations with Russia to “business as usual,” to advance their case. According to this view, a move to negotiate a new instrument would encourage further aggressive Russian behavior and dissipate the message of resolve, deterrence, and a commitment to collective defense that NATO has been trying to construct and maintain since the annexation of Crimea.8

    On the Russian side, there also are some voices arguing against this proposal, seeing in it a Western tactic aimed at distracting attention from matters of greater significance, such as the eastward enlargement of NATO, the failure of the West to engage in dialogue on future arrangements for European security as a whole, and a lack of willingness to address wider Russian security concerns from missile defense to developments in conventional prompt global-strike systems.

    The arguments on all sides are understandable in the context of what is now a total breakdown of trust between NATO and Russia and a lack of confidence among some allies within NATO. Ultimately, however, they are not persuasive.

    The very existence of the recent U.S.-Chinese MOU validates a concern over the risks that are run when the military forces of states that are not allies come into close proximity with one another. That agreement makes clear the importance of having protocols and military procedures in place to manage events in real time rather than relying on agreements to refrain from certain kinds of activity in the first place. Although some military commanders seem less worried about such incidents, many more believe leaving the outcome of close military encounters to chance or the split-second decisions of individual pilots and other military personnel is unnecessarily dangerous.

    The more recent dialogue between Russia and the United States on the subject of “deconflicting” the roles of the U.S.-led coalition and Russian military forces deployed in and around Syria is another timely recognition of the need for and logic of a new multilateral instrument to manage the risks.

    Although there has been some concern about the ultimate diplomatic consequence of negotiating such an instrument in Europe, the necessity of having the conversation with regard to Syria was realized almost immediately once it became clear that the Russian military presence in Syria was being increased and was changing in character and capability. To put it bluntly, it became evident to everyone that U.S. warplanes operating over Syria could be accidentally shot down by Russian air defense systems being deployed there, embedded U.S. special forces on the ground could be the victim of Russian air attacks, and Russian and U.S. military aircraft could be operating in an uncoordinated way in the same airspace. This overall situation and several instances of Russian warplanes entering Turkish airspace from Syria prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to tell a press conference on October 6 that “Russia must deconflict its military activities in Syria” and that “it’s unacceptable to violate the airspace of another country, and this is exactly what we were afraid of, that incidents, accidents may create dangerous situations.”9

    It is difficult to see why dialogue and the negotiation of more-formal arrangements makes strategic sense between China and the United States in the East and South China seas and why deconflicting makes sense in Syria, but neither apparently makes sense between NATO and Russia in Europe.

    Deterrence Is Not Enough

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 6.  [Photo credit: Thierry Charlier/AFP/Getty Images]The argument that an attempt to negotiate a new instrument between NATO and Russia in Europe could weaken deterrence also is not persuasive. It is a reasonable concern, echoing debates on whether to engage in détente and associated steps toward superpower conflict prevention and crisis management during the Cold War. Yet, it is important to recall that the underlying rationale of détente was a lowering of tension with the Soviet Union to avoid the possibility of an accidental conflict and the potential for catastrophic nuclear war. Détente emphatically was not nor was it intended to be the end of superpower competition or of differences between the Soviet Union and the United States.

    The impetus for dialogue in that period, as manifested in the 1972 Incidents at Sea Agreement and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, to cite two examples, was an acceptance of the need for mutual restraint and the adoption of measures to avoid accidental war. This approach was seen as the only basis for mutual survival. The nuclear shadow was ever present, and the fear of nuclear war was the driving force. In essence, what followed the near catastrophe of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was a developing belief that the task of avoiding war between nuclear-armed states could not be left to deterrence alone. Other mechanisms were needed to keep the peace and, no matter what disagreements and confrontations existed, these mechanisms needed to be negotiated and implemented.                 

    Looking at the current absence of dialogue between NATO and Russia and at arguments against negotiating a new instrument to manage close military encounters, one is struck by what appears to be nuclear amnesia, nuclear complacency, or both. If a military confrontation between Russia and NATO were to develop today, for whatever reason, the risks and the potential consequences would be the same as they were during the Cold War.

    For these reasons, the case for a new instrument to help manage the risks in the Euro-Atlantic area, and in particular to manage the risks between NATO members and Russia, is strong. The call for negotiation of such an instrument chimes with the times and with approaches being used in other theaters. Above all, it reflects the lessons of history. To pretend the status quo is safe or acceptable is to abdicate the responsibility of leadership and to leave the security of Europe and potentially of the world at the mercy of events.


    Ian Kearns is co-founder and director of the European Leadership Network. He previously was acting director and deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in the United Kingdom and deputy chair of the institute’s independent All-Party Commission on National Security in the 21st Century.


    ENDNOTES

    1.  “SAS Flight in Russian Spy Plane Near Miss,” The Local, May 8, 2014, http://www.thelocal.se/20140508/sas-plane-in-russian-spy-plane-near-miss.

    2.  Government-owned Russian media even bragged about this incident. See Sputnik International, “Russian Jets Penetrate NATO Ships’ Air Defenses in Black Sea,” March 19, 2015, http://sputniknews.com/russia/20150304/1019036875.html.

    3.  Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network (ELN), November 2014, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/medialibrary/2014/11/09/6375e3da/Dangerous%20Brinkmanship.pdf. For a further update on incidents, see Ian Kearns, Łukasz Kulesa, and Thomas Frear, “Russia-West Dangerous Brinkmanship Continues,” ELN, March 12, 2015, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/russia--west-dangerous-brinkmanship-continues-_2529.html.

    4.  “Britain Backs Return of Cold War Nuclear Drills as NATO Hardens Against Russia,” The Telegraph, October 8, 2015.

    5.  The term “color revolution” is a reference to labels used by the world’s media to describe previous waves of revolutionary change in a number of countries. Examples include the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

    6.  “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Defense of the United States of America and the Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China Regarding the Rules of Behavior for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” November 9, 2014, sec. 1, http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/141112_MemorandumOfUnderstandingRegarding
    Rules.pdf.

    7.  Between March 2014 and October 2015, the author conducted face-to-face, telephone, and e-mail interviews on background with a number of senior military figures from NATO countries and Russia. The statement made in this paragraph reflects the view of a minority of those interviewed.

    8.  Since the publication of the position paper by the Task Force on Greater Europe calling for a new memorandum of understanding, this view has been expressed in August 2015 to the author directly by a former Baltic state defense minister and by several ambassador-level diplomats from the same region.

    9.  “Pre-Ministerial Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg,” NATO, October 6, 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_123471.htm. NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on October 8.

    Posted: November 2, 2015

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