Senior Russian, U.S. Diplomats Meet in Prague to Discuss Arms Control
In the midst of a crumbling U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, the top arms control diplomats for each country met June 12 in Prague in an apparent effort to resume a stalled strategic stability dialogue. But it remains to be seen whether or when the dialogue will resume.
According to the State Department, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met to “build on the discussions” held by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Sochi May 14. The department added that Thompson “raised a range of U.S. national security priorities and strategic security issues on which the United States would like to engage in a more constructive dialogue with Russia.”
Ryabkov was more candid with Russian journalists, stating that the meeting was “a starting point” for further conversations and negotiations. Though the meeting did not produce an agreement on concrete work plans, Ryabkov said the meeting was “positive” and both sides recognized the importance of continued dialogue.
Though a list of specific items on the agenda was not released by either side after the meeting, a June 7 Russian news report quoted Ryabkov as saying that Russia intends to discuss “the [2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START Treaty, the prospects for the NPT review process, the situation with the [1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT Treaty” as well as ”the prospect of the appearance of strike weapons in space, the situation with the unlimited deployment of the U.S. global missile defense system.”
The two sides also discussed the Trump administration’s desire to pursue multilateral arms control talks with Russia and China. Ryabkov noted that while the idea is good in the long term, it also needs to include all member of the five recognized nuclear-weapon states, notably the United Kingdom and France.
Following a May 14 meeting in Sochi, Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov, Pompeo told reporters that the two countries “agreed that … we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.”—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHERVIN TAHERAN, research assistant
Putin Issues Warning on New START
Russia is prepared to let New START lapse if the Trump administration is not interested in extending the agreement Putin told reporters June 6.
Putin said that while renewing the treaty is on Russia’s agenda, he noted that there is “no formal negotiating process.” He added, “We have already said a hundred times that we are ready to do so, but no one is willing to talk about it with us.”
New START, which caps the deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval.
Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability.
Putin said his most recent conversation with President Donald Trump “inspires certain optimism,” as his American counterpart also noted concern about “the amount of arms-related expenses incurred by the United States and other countries.”
Putin also remarked on his personal belief that “all nuclear countries” should be involved in arms control negotiations, “including official and unofficial” countries to “create a broad platform for discussion and decision-making.”
No Decision on New START Until Next Year, Says Senior White House Official
A decision on New START is one that president Trump “will make at some point next year,” said National Security Council senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense Timothy Morrison at a May 29 event at the Hudson Institute in Washington.
Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of New START expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. When asked by a reporter at the event if the United States could rely on national technical means to monitor the Russian strategic arsenal in the absence of either extension or another form of negotiated verification mechanisms, Morrison sidestepped the question to remark that the president “believes we have time to propose more effective arms control.”
Russia’s concerns about U.S. implementation of New START have not been well-received by the White House. “We shouldn’t presuppose that the Russians are interested in extending the treaty,” Morrison said. “If they were, they wouldn’t be creating false narratives about U.S. compliance with the treaty” with respect to the conversion of U.S. submarines and heavy bombers.
White House Describes Goals for Trilateral Arms Control Agreement
The president is interested in looking at the “totality” of Russian and Chinese programs, said Morrison at the May 29 event, and to not “defer the difficult” issues like limiting tactical nuclear weapons. Morrison lamented the fact that New START only covers strategic weapons, and not the arsenal of tactical weapons possessed by Russia, which outnumbers that of the United States.
Trump administration officials to date have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.
Morrison said the administration is considering arms control options that achieve four specific objectives: it must be “in the national security interest of the United States,” allies, and partners; “constrain potential adversaries’ current and planned military capabilities and prevent unnecessary military competition;” have “robust verification measures;” and ensure “timely and substantial consequences for violations of arms control.”
In regard to China, Morrison noted that the administration is “considering inducements” to bring China to the table, but did not offer any specifics as to what those inducements might be.
Morrison said that if China is “interested in being a responsible global stakeholder, then they’ll be interested in talking to us about arms control.” He added that “for China, which is concerned about avoiding an arms race…here's an opportunity to match words with actions for a country that purports to have a minimum deterrence policy.”
“Extend New START,” Urge Congressional Leaders to Trump
Failing to extend New START would be a “serious mistake for strategic stability and U.S. security” according to a bicameral group of Democratic leaders of congressional national security committees. Noting the “robust verification measures and legally binding numerical limitations on strategic delivery systems and warheads,” the lawmakers urged president Trump in a June 4 letter to negotiate a five-year extension of the treaty through 2026.
The letter praised the administration’s “effort aimed at bringing both China and Russia into new arms control talks” but stressed that in light of “the challenges inherent to reaching new agreements with Russia and China, we strongly believe the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs”
The letter also requested responses by June 15 to several questions about the effects on national security, intelligence collection, and global stability if New START were to lapse and the status of treaty extension and new arms control negotiations with Russia and China.
The letter was signed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the House and Senate armed services committees, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and the House and Senate appropriations committee, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).
Russian Duma Approves INF Treaty Suspension
The Russian State Duma has agreed to support legislation submitted by Putin to suspend Russia’s obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Putin submitted the legislation to Russia’s lower parliamentary chamber May 30. Later the same day, Chairman of the State Duma Viacheslav Volodin announced that the Duma would support the bill and would provide the Russian president with the ability to reinstate the treaty “in case the United States changes its position.”
Putin signed an executive order March 4 suspending Russia’s compliance with the INF Treaty with similar provisions.
On June 18, the Duma passed the legislation to suspend the agreement, and according to Russian media reports, the upper house of the Russian parliament (the Federation Council) may consider the legislation June 26.
According to TASS, State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Vladimir Shamanov said May 30 there are no immediate plans to “start manufacturing intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles” following the suspension of the treaty. However, it was reported that at the June 18 vote, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov noted that Russia would be ready if the United States deploys INF Treaty-range missiles, but will not be the first to deploy these missiles “wherever it may be” until Washington makes the first move.
The INF Treaty banned missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,000 km. The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by already developing, testing, and deploying a missile (the 9M729) whose range falls within the prohibited range.
NATO Defense Ministers to Meet in June on Post-INF Options
NATO defense ministers will meet June 26-27 to prepare defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia does not come back into compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a European official told Arms Control Today.
Ahead of the June 26 meeting, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told a Washington thinktank audience May 29 that the NATO alliance is “putting the final touches” on its first new military strategy since the Cold War. According to Dunford, the classified plan was approved by U.S. and European military leaders in May and is being sent to each NATO capital for approval, which could take months.
At an April 4 NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO “has no intention” to deploy “ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.” The Pentagon is currently developing ground-launched conventional INF Treaty-range missile capabilities.
U.S. Alleges Russian Return to Testing
The United States has accused Russia of conducting low-yield nuclear test explosions, in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The accusations came not from the recent, but controversial, State Department arms control compliance report, but rather from the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington May 29.
“The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the “zero-yield” standard,” DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr said, without providing further evidence for his claims, even upon being pressed by reporters. Ashley also claimed that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero-yield,” which is not consistent with statements from treaty negotiators or subsequent statements from Russian officials. Ashley also questioned China’s commitment to the CTBT, saying that China is “possibly preparing to operate its test site year-round.”
The DIA appeared to double down June 13, releasing a short statement stating, “The U.S. government, including the Intelligence Community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the United States’ lack of ratification of the CTBT, which Russia ratified in 2000.
According to the Washington Post, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) sent a March letter to President Donald Trump asking him whether he would consider “unsigning” the CTBT, which the United States signed in 1996, but failed to ratify in 1999 after the Senate did not provide its approval.
If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System (IMS) consisting of more than 300 stations.
According to the Trump administration’s budget request to Congress: “The U.S. receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”
According to the treaty, only state signatories can have access to the IMS monitoring information.
Russia Wants Joint Declaration Reaffirming Nuclear War Cannot Be Won
The United States and Russia should reaffirm “at the top level” that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and therefore it is unacceptable,” as a matter of “fundamental importance,” said Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov June 11. The U.S. and Russian leadership has made this declaration twice, “and we do not understand why this position cannot be reaffirmed under current conditions,” he said. According to Lavrov, the proposal was one of several made by Russia to the United States recently, including during meetings with Pompeo in May. Lavrov said the proposals “cover the entire range of issues of strategic stability and control over nuclear and other strategic offensive and defensive weapons.” This was first reported by Kommersant in April.
New NSC Director for Russia Named
National Security Council director Fiona Hill, the top White House official on Russia, will soon be replaced by Tim Morrison, the current NSC senior director for weapons of mass destruction and close ally of National Security Advisor John Bolton. Hill is reportedly returning to the Brookings Institution after serving in the White House for two and a half years.
Before joining the White House Morrison, was a longtime Capitol Hill aide for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee. He is known for his hawkish views on nuclear policy and arms control issues.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia to Depart Post
The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Jr. is rumored to be leaving his post by the end of the year in anticipation of a run for governor of Utah, according to The Atlantic. Huntsman has served as ambassador to Russia since 2017, and on the outset of his service committed to staying in Russia for two years. He previously has served as the Ambassador to China under President Barack Obama.
The 2019 SIPRI Yearbook includes updated estimates of the size of the arsenals of the states possessing nuclear weapons. Using data from the Yearbook, as well as the work of the Federation of American Scientists, below is an updated version of our most popular fact sheet on “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance.” Russia and the United States were the only two countries to decrease their warhead numbers from the previous year.
On Our Calendar
Key 2019 dates and events relevant to U.S.-Russian arms control and disarmament:
NATO Defense Ministers will discuss Post-INF Treaty issues, Brussels.
G-20 Meeting in Osaka, Japan. Trump, Putin, and Xi likely to meet.
The date by which the United States will formally withdraw from the INF Treaty if the compliance dispute with Russia is not resolved.
NATO Heads of State and Government Meeting, London.
New Resources and Analyses