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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
U.S., Russia Sign New Hotline Pact
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Timothy Farnsworth

At a time when relations between Russia and the United States have seemed to chill, the two sides have signed an agreement updating a 1987 accord establishing a communications hotline between the two countries in order to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear exchanges.

According to an Oct. 7 State Department press release, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the agreement in Indonesia during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The agreement was originally prepared for the Russian-U.S. summit in Moscow that was scheduled for Sept. 4 but did not take place, Lavrov said during an Oct. 7 press conference after the signing.

“The Cold War is now long over, but thousands of nuclear weapons remain, and we both recognize a responsibility to do everything possible to keep each other [informed] of important developments in order to avoid misunderstanding and potentially catastrophic consequences,” Kerry said at the press conference.

The new agreement mostly upgrades the technology that the two Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, located at the State Department and the Russian Defense Ministry, use to communicate with each other. The new agreement replaces old encrypted fax lines with new encrypted digital lines, allows the centers to use “commercial communications channels,” and removes language associated with references to floppy disks.

Although the centers originally were established to prevent accidental nuclear war, they are also used as a means of transmitting and receiving data to ensure compliance with more than a dozen arms control treaties and agreements, including the exchange of more than 5,000 notifications under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty since its entry into force in 2011.

The centers are also used to increase transparency on a range of arms control issues involving conventional, nuclear, and chemical weapons. As a result of a June 17 agreement between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the centers will also be used to mitigate misperceptions that could take place in cyberspace