Login/Logout

*
*  

The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
United States

An Interview with Rep. Brad Sherman: Strengthen Oversight of U.S. Nuclear Trade


April 2019

In a March 7 interview with Arms Control Today, U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, describes his efforts to bolster congressional oversight of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with other nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, to ensure that sensitive nuclear technologies and nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons programs.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) speaks to constituents at a 2016 town hall meeting. He has introduced legislation to increase congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear technology transfers. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)First elected to the House in 1996, Sherman became chairman of the subcommittee in January 2019. It oversees the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements that must be negotiated before a foreign country can receive U.S. nuclear technology. These agreements are called “123 agreements” after the section of the Atomic Energy Act that mandates adherence to several nonproliferation criteria to enable fast-track congressional review. Some technology recipients, such as Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, have exceeded these criteria by agreeing to the so-called gold standard of 123 agreements, in which they have pledged to abstain from enriching uranium or separating plutonium and to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

By law, 123 agreements take effect 90 days after they are submitted to Congress unless it objects. In light of growing concerns about Saudi Arabia’s interest in dual-use nuclear technology and statements by senior Saudi officials that they may consider developing nuclear weapons if Iran does, Sherman has introduced legislation that would require Congress to approve any Saudi 123 agreement.

Arms Control Today: What is the appropriate role for Congress in overseeing U.S. nuclear commerce?

Sherman: You mention the word “commerce.” It appears in Article I of the Constitution, which establishes the Congress and empowers it to regulate commerce with foreign nations. We
have seen a process over the last 60
years of power being vested in the executive branch that would have appalled the founders.

The proper role is twofold: First, for Congress to make it plain that when a country has a nuclear energy program and does not have a 123 agreement with the United States, the United States will treat it like North Korea and Iran, which are both hostile powers that pursued nuclear programs without 123 agreements with the United States. The second thing is that a 123 agreement needs to be approved by Congress, and where we are concerned about proliferation, Congress should always insist that a nation receiving U.S. nuclear technology adopt the gold standard with an additional protocol [to its IAEA safeguards agreement].

ACT: Are you concerned about Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and its possible interest in making its own nuclear fuel? How should this affect the U.S. approach to negotiating a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Riyadh?

Sherman: First, we have to question the economics of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program to generate electricity when it’s a country that has so much natural gas. The economics would say the last place that you would put a nuclear plant to generate electricity, the last place in the world, would be in a place like Saudi Arabia, which has lots of sun for solar [power] and lots of natural gas.

Workers extract gold from Saudi Arabia's al-Amar mine. Saudi Arabia is currently assessing "uranium resources that can be used to produce nuclear fuel for future national power reactors and for uranium international market," according to the nation's nuclear agency. (Photo: Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images)Second, Saudi Arabia has broadly hinted that it wants to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case the ayatollahs, when it comes to a nuclear program. We know that the Iranian program is not merely for electricity, and Saudi Arabia wants to be just like the Iranians. So, I think they’ve told us why they want to have a nuclear program: they want to master the fuel cycle, they want to position themselves so that they can develop a nuclear weapon. And if there’s a government that you can’t trust with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons. We don’t need more nuclear powers in the world. We certainly don’t need any more in the Middle East.

Even if they’re going to have nuclear power generation, they don’t need to control the whole fuel cycle. You know, I eat sandwiches, but I don’t slaughter the cows, I just buy what I eat. So, we have to ask, Why do they want to have reprocessing? Why do they want to
have enrichment?

Also, we have to ask if Saudi Arabia wants to have a peaceful nuclear program, why isn’t it interested in an additional protocol? What does it have to hide?

ACT: What is your sense of the status of the negotiations between the United States and Saudi Arabia at this stage, and has the administration been keeping Congress apprised of the talks?

Sherman: Many times, the executive branch has honored in the breach its obligation to keep Congress informed. It isn’t shocking that this administration is even less faithful to such requirements than other administrations. That’s why we need a statute that says, “Negotiate what you’re going to negotiate, show it to us, and we’ll vote it up or down.”

ACT: Could rigorous U.S. nonproliferation standards drive Saudi Arabia to other suppliers?

Sherman: First, it’s not clear what the United States would get as far as jobs even if this program went forward. It looks like it would simply be a matter of licensing U.S. technology to South Korea. So, the upside to the United States is modest.

Second, if Saudi Arabia wants to go full speed ahead—without a 123 agreement, without an additional protocol, without the gold standard—if it wants to imitate Iran, then we have to duplicate for Riyadh what we’ve given to Tehran, which has not been good for the Iranian economy. If they want to act like Iran, we have to treat them like they’re acting like Iran.

Saudi Arabia has to understand that its entire relationship with the United States is at stake. It can’t say, “We’ve got oil, we’ve got money, we’re going to have a giant nuclear weapons program, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.” No. If they want to act like Iran, fine. We can play that game stronger with Saudi Arabia than we did with Iran, and by the way, it was pretty strong with Iran.

ACT: If the Trump administration presents Congress with a Saudi Arabian 123 agreement with inadequate nonproliferation safeguards, what steps could Congress take to condition any approval of the agreement?

Sherman: Congress is in a weak legal position. We have abrogated and punted to the point where the president at least believes that he can build a wall with funds that we appropriated for other purposes.

So that’s why I have introduced legislation with Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to increase congressional oversight over any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. The president could veto this bill that has bipartisan support, but he would be vetoing a bill that has Rubio and Sherman as its chief proponents, and there’s no other legislation with such a broad coalition.

If the president submits a bad 123 agreement, Congress could pass resolutions of disapproval, they could be passed by both houses, but he could veto those. We have a lot of Republican support for the idea that we do not want a Saudi nuclear weapons program, there’s a good possibility that a veto could be overridden.

ACT: What other steps can you take if your oversight bill does not succeed?

Sherman: In part, we would continue to focus on public awareness. Even if no statute is enacted, presidents tend not to do things that the bulk of the interested public thinks are just plain wrong. I don’t need a poll to tell me that Americans do not want Saudi Arabia to have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Also, if Saudi Arabia pursues its nuclear ambitions without a 123 agreement, we would move to limit or prevent any future arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is now treated like an ally, but it can’t act like Iran and be an ally of the United States.

ACT: What are the implications of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s interim staff report on the White House push for nuclear commerce with Saudi Arabia?

Sherman: It just illustrates that there are many reasons why the administration might make a mistake, and it would be a mistake to green-light an inadequately safeguarded nuclear program in Saudi Arabia.

You have two possible corrupting influences on the decision-making processes. One relates to the IP3 firm with [former National Security Advisor Michael] Flynn. The other influence is with [senior adviser to the president Jared] Kushner, Brookfield Asset Management, and its involvement with [the Kushner family-owned building at] 666 5th Avenue, and Brookfield’s involvement with the Westinghouse nuclear company. Again, we have to understand that Westinghouse has technology that can be licensed. That doesn’t mean there are any jobs in this for the United States. Well, perhaps a few jobs for lawyers.

ACT: In the past, you have co-sponsored legislation to require 123 agreements to meet the gold standard in order to qualify for fast-track approval. Why is such a reform necessary?

Sherman: The discussion of Saudi Arabia is not the last time that we are going to be concerned about a country developing nuclear weapons while claiming that its focus is the generation of electricity, so Congress needs to be involved and evaluate any agreement that doesn’t meet the gold standard. Today, congressional involvement is too limited and the standards in the Atomic Energy Act are too minimal. So, we need to ensure that if an administration wants a fast track, it must negotiate a 123 agreement that includes the gold standard and an additional protocol.

Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) discusses congressional oversight of U.S. nuclear commerce and his concerns about providing U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

New START Extension Debated


April 2019
By Shervin Taheran

Prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) appeared to dim in March as U.S. and Russian officials threw cold water on the idea of a quick or easy extension process. The treaty capping deployed strategic nuclear weapons in both countries is due to expire in February 2021, but it could be extended for up to five years by mutual agreement.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, testifies to Congress in 2017. He recently described himself as a supporter of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)U.S. officials have avoided expressing a public position on extending the treaty and have expressed concern about Russia’s strategic weapons plans. Yleem Poblete, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva on March 19 that Russia “remains in compliance” with the treaty, but she questioned whether Russia’s development of new nuclear weapons were the actions of a “responsible stakeholder.” One week earlier, Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a Washington nuclear policy conference that the remaining two-year period offers plenty of time to review the pact.

For their part, Russian officials have expressed concerns about U.S. compliance with New START and have suggested that lengthy talks may be needed to resolve them. Russia has questioned U.S. procedures to convert some weapons launchers from nuclear to conventional roles. The two nations need to “solve the problem” related to the conversion procedures, which Russia “cannot certify,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Geneva conference one day after Poblete spoke. (See ACT, March 2019.)

According to Lavrov, Russia has put forth “possible solutions,” adding that “it is a question of political will in Washington.” Any such talks would require significant time, Russian officials have said, quashing the hopes of some that the treaty could be extended quickly by a new U.S. president if President Donald Trump fails to win re-election in November 2020.

“It is clear for us that first you have to have a dialogue,” said Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, at the Washington conference. “We hope to find solutions before we put our signature on any document.”

Introducing potential further complications, Lavrov said the deterioration of arms control agreements such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty shows that nuclear arms reductions “can no longer be sustained in a bilateral U.S.-Russia format” and that a multilateral process should be launched.

Meanwhile, the international community has strengthened calls for the treaty’s extension. Notably, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the Feb. 25 opening of the CD’s 2019 session to urge the United States and Russia to extend the pact. The treaty is “the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals,” he said, praising the agreement’s confidence-building and inspection measures.

Contributing to the Trump administration’s consideration of New START, a senior U.S. military official expressed support for the treaty during Feb. 26 congressional testimony.

U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the treaty allows him to “understand what [Russia’s] limits are and…position my force accordingly.” New START also provides “unbelievably important” insight about Russian nuclear weapons activities, he said, adding that the United States has “very good intelligence capabilities, but there’s really nothing that can replace the eyes-on, hands-on ability to look at something.”

Hyten’s support was not unconditional, as he also expressed concerns about planned Russian strategic weapons, including a new underwater torpedo, a globe-circling nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a hypersonic glide vehicle. None of these would be constrained by the treaty, and Hyten said the State Department is “reaching out to the Russians and the Russians are not answering favorably.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Hyten’s remarks by saying that U.S. concerns “outside of the purview of the New START Treaty could be considered in the context of a strategic dialogue” but “Washington stubbornly avoids this dialogue and prefers to whip up hysteria in the public space.”

 

U.S. and Russian officials see no quick and easy extension to New START.

U.S. to Test INF Treaty-Range Missiles


April 2019
By Shervin Taheran

Just weeks after declaring its intent to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States announced plans to test two missiles this year with ranges that exceed the treaty’s limits. The tests are scheduled to take place after Aug. 2, when the U.S. treaty withdrawal is set to take effect, Defense Department officials told reporters March 13.

The United States plans to test a ground-based variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, shown here in 2003. (Photo: Christopher Senenk/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)First, reportedly in August, the Pentagon plans to test a mobile, ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, with a 1,000-kilometer range. The new cruise missile could be deployed within 18 months, according to defense officials.

Next, a mobile, ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers, is likely to be tested in November. The officials said this new weapon will not be ready for deployment for at least five years.

The United States announced on Feb. 2 that it would immediately suspend its adherence to the INF Treaty and withdraw completely from the pact in six months, citing Russian deployments of cruise missiles that U.S. officials said violated the treaty’s range limits. (See ACT, March 2019.) The Pentagon would cancel the scheduled U.S. tests if Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty before the U.S. withdrawal, the defense officials said March 13.

There have been no discussions with allies in Europe and Asia about hosting the new missiles, the officials said, but one speculated that the new ballistic missile could be deployed in Guam, a U.S. territory located about 3,000 kilometers from China.

The Defense Department has not yet indicated the cost of developing the new weapons. Last year, Congress approved $48 million for research and development on “concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems” in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Russia has disputed U.S. claims that its 9M729 cruise missile violates the treaty, but reacted to the U.S. treaty suspension by announcing its own plans to develop weapons that exceed treaty restrictions and by officially matching the U.S. treaty suspension on March 4.

The same day the U.S. suspension was announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered preparations for the development of a ground-launched adaptation of the Kalibr nuclear-capable, sea-launched cruise missile. He added that Russia would “not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else, until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has yet to develop plans to prevent Russia from building more ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in the absence of the INF Treaty, according to a senior military leader.

“I don’t know that we have a plan today. I know we’re working on what we think that plan might be,” said U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of the U.S. European Command and the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, in March 5 congressional testimony.

When dealing with peer competitors such as Russia, he added, “we should look toward treaty capabilities in order to provide some stability.”

Treaty-prohibited missiles to be tested after INF Treaty termination.

U.S. Seeks New Space-Based Capabilities


April 2019
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 defense budget request contains unexpected proposals to fund space-based missile defense weapons. Submitted to Congress in mid-March, the request seeks funds for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop and test by 2023 a prototype space-based laser weapon to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles during their boost and midcourse phases of flight. The budget submission includes $34 million for the new program in fiscal year 2020 and $380 million over the next five years.

“The addition of the neutral particle beam effort will design, develop, and conduct a feasibility demonstration for a space-based, directed-energy intercept layer,” the budget documents state. “This future system will offer new kill options for the [ballistic missile defense system] and adds another layer of protection for the homeland.”

In addition, the budget request for the new Space Development Agency includes $15 million to “develop a government reference architecture for a space-based kinetic interceptor layer for boost-phase defense.”

Critics have argued that space-based interceptors are an unaffordable, ineffective, and destabilizing form of defense. Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, warned in a Jan. 17 statement on the Missile Defense Review that “a space-based interceptor layer…has been studied repeatedly and found to be technologically challenging and prohibitively expensive.”

The administration’s Missile Defense Review report, released on Jan. 17, proposed a six-month feasibility study “of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses.” (See ACT, March 2019.) The report gave no indication that the MDA would pursue the neutral particle beam.

Overall, the budget submission would sustain increased funding levels for missile defense. The administration is asking for $13.6 billion for missile defense efforts in fiscal year 2020, an increase of $700 million, or 5.4 percent, above what the administration requested for fiscal year 2019. Of that amount, $9.4 billion would be for the MDA.

The request for the MDA is $1.1 billion less than Congress appropriated in fiscal year 2019. In a March 12 Pentagon press briefing, Comptroller Elaine McCusker disputed claims that the reduction is inconsistent with the Missile Defense Review’s call for an expansion of missile defense capabilities. She said the reduction was planned and reflected a surge in missile defense capabilities in 2018 and 2019 that is winding down.

She added that the Pentagon is investing an additional $1.3 billion in technologies outside of the MDA budget.

The program to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited, long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, would receive about $1.7 billion under the budget proposal, a decrease of about $160 million from last year’s spending level.

Notably, the request proposes to delay by two years the previous plan to increase the number of ground-based interceptors deployed in Alaska from 40 to 60 by 2023, citing the need to refine the design of a more reliable kill vehicle that would arm the additional interceptors. The Government Accountability Office had raised several red flags about the new kill vehicle program. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

On March 25, the MDA conducted a successful intercept test of the GMD system against an intercontinental-range ballistic missile target. For the first time, the test involved firing two interceptors against one target. In a real-world scenario, multiple interceptors would be fired at an incoming missile.

The MDA has now conducted 19 intercept tests of the system, of which 11 have been reported as successful.

Pentagon asks for big increase to develop orbiting missile defenses.

U.S., Saudi Arms Transfers Top Global Trade


April 2019
By Izabella Czejdo and Jeff Abramson

Persistent regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, have fueled continuing growth in the global trade of major conventional weapons systems, according to a March study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The United States, long the world's top arms supplier, has increased its share of the global arms trade, and Saudi Arabia has become the world's largest customer of major conventional weapons systems over the past five years.

A Yemeni boy waters plants and cleans tombstones in a Sanaa cemetery in March.  More than 17,000 civilians have died in the fighting that began in 2015, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Photo: Mohammed Hawais/AFP/Getty Images)The March 11 SIPRI report, which uses five-year periods to study global arms transfers, found that these transfers have steadily risen since 2003. SIPRI measures the volume of trade with a trend-indicator value, a metric based on actual deliveries of military equipment rather just financial value, making the measure more conducive to comparing trade over decades.

Since the 1990s, the United States has remained the world’s leading arms exporter, and the gap between it and the second-largest exporter, Russia, has grown steadily. Together, they supply nearly 60 percent of all major conventional weapons systems exports, with 98 nations importing U.S. weapons, about double the number of Russian customers. Adding French, German, and Chinese transfers brings the exports of the five countries to 75 percent of the global market.

Accounting for just more than one-third of global arms imports as a region, Middle Eastern countries increased weapons purchases by 87 percent from the 2009–2013 period to the 2014–2018 period. The United States supplied 54 percent of weapons to the region, which is wracked by ongoing conflicts and is increasing its weapons imports faster than any other region.

Saudi Arabia, which has nearly tripled its weapons imports over the past decade, now accounts for 12 percent of global imports and has replaced India as the largest global importer. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq were also top 10 global importers from the region.

Arms transfers to the region have grown increasingly controversial, especially to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are leading the air and ground forces fighting Houthi forces in Yemen. The conflict there has become a major humanitarian crisis. More than 17,000 civilians have died in the fighting as of August 2018, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which estimated that 60 percent of those deaths resulted from airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Regional arms imports have enabled the coalition to blockade Yemeni ports, halting the inflow of commercial goods. About 24 million people, 80 percent of the Yemeni population, require humanitarian assistance, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The European Parliament has approved numerous nonbinding resolutions prohibiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with countries such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden taking steps to restrict exports to Riyadh. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have continued to provide Saudi arms, although a UK court is expected to resume consideration of a case in April, challenging the legality of London's sales to Riyadh.

U.S. Sales

Already the top arms exporter, the United States has recently sought to boost its sales. SIPRI reports that Washington now accounts for 36 percent of global exports, up from 30 percent in the prior five-year period.

The misuse of U.S. arms transferred by recipient countries has drawn recent scrutiny after reports that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had provided U.S. weapons to al Qaeda militias in Yemen. Separately, Indian leaders raised allegations that Pakistan had misused U.S.-supplied fighter aircraft during recent border tensions.

In implementing U.S. conventional arms transfer policy moving forward, “we are examining our procedures for evaluating allegations of misuse,” Laura Cressey, State Department deputy director of the Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers, told Arms Control Today March 18.

That policy, overdue for a quarterly implementation update, currently states the intent to “facilitate ally and partner efforts…to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

The policy has received criticism for justifying arms transfers to “maximize the ability of the United States industry to grow and support allies and partners” in the face of competition from other exporters.

SIPRI “does not support this narrative” of stiff competition as a rationale for U.S. policy, said report co-author Aude Fleurant in a press statement. “The United States is “by far the largest exporter…[and] has increased its gap with Russia,” she added. Noting that changes in broader patterns take time, she also cautioned that “the policy was adopted in 2018, it is a bit early to see its potential impacts.”

Global arms transfers are expected to experience continuing growth, Fleurant said, despite somewhat lower transfers in 2018 than the previous year. “Outside of a major economic downturn like the 2008–09 crisis, I don’t think we will see a reversal of the upward trend,” she said.

U.S. is top-seller again as questions simmer over where its weapons end up.

“Proposed Small Arms Transfers: Big Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy”

Testimony by Jeff Abramson, Senior Fellow Arms Control Association The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations “Proposed Small Arms Transfers: Big Implications for U.S. Foreign Policy” March 26, 2019 Good morning, Chair Bera and Ranking Member Zeldin. It is a privilege to testify before this Committee and discuss concerns about how the United States exports some of the weapons most used in violence around the world and proposed changes that I fear could lead to greater human suffering. 1 To sum up my forthcoming remarks in just a few lines: The weapons and...

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, March 20, 2019

U.S. Plans Flight Tests of INF-Treaty Range Missiles Defense Department officials told a group of reporters March 13 that the Pentagon is planning to test two types of conventional missiles currently prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by the end of this year. The announcement comes just over a month after the Trump administration announced Feb. 2 that it would withdraw from the treaty Aug. 2 unless Russia returns to compliance with the agreement. The first missile, a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of roughly 1,000 km (600 miles), will likely be...

The INF Treaty Crisis: Filling the Void With European Leadership


March 2019
By Nikolai Sokov

The pending demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty indicates the larger deterioration of the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship. The chances that the parties will resolve their disagreements are extremely low or, more realistically, nonexistent.

Russia displays a purported canister and launcher for the disputed 9M729 cruise missile January 23. The gesture of transparency may have been intended to demonstrate Russian willingness to save the INF Treaty, but both the United States and Russia suspended their adherence to the treaty several days later. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States and Russia have each announced they will suspend adherence to the treaty, and Washington has formally announced its plans to withdraw from the pact in early August.

The next likely victim is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). All signs suggest Washington and Moscow will not be able to engage in constructive dialogue on arms control for a long time, perhaps years. Others must fill that void to prevent an unregulated arms race, and key European nations are best positioned for that role.

There is little doubt that the gap between the U.S. and Russian positions can be bridged as long as the two nations view their differences as technical issues, but the problems are virtually insurmountable at the political level. The United States will continue to insist that Russia admit to violating the INF Treaty by deploying a missile that can fly farther than the treaty allows, but Russia will never concede such a violation, even if it were to agree to remove the offending 9M729 missile. Similarly, Russia could drop its concern that the U.S. MK-41 missile defense launcher could be used to fire treaty-prohibited missiles, but the United States has so far refused to treat that issue as a valid concern or allow Russia to inspect the launcher. In other words, broader foreign policy and domestic political impulses are prevailing over substantive arms control or security considerations.

Some technical discussion was initiated, but too late. At a January 15, 2019, meeting in Geneva, Russia reportedly offered a demonstration of the 9M729 missile while the United States outlined procedures for the verifiable elimination of that missile. Predictably, the United States said the Russian demonstration would not be enough to prove the missile’s range, and Russia rejected both U.S.-proposed procedures for such a demonstration and the procedures for the verified elimination of the missiles as excessively intrusive. Such disagreements are natural at an early stage of negotiations, but the remaining time is short, and political conditions are not conducive for mutual concessions.

Worse still, the situation concerning the extension of New START, which expires in early 2021, is almost identical. Russia has declared it would agree to such an extension only if its concerns about the U.S. implementation of the treaty are addressed. Moscow says it is not able to confirm the irreversibility of the conversion of missile tubes on U.S. strategic submarines. The United States has denied any wrongdoing and rejected any additional verification measures. This conflict has remained overshadowed by the INF Treaty crisis so far, but after that treaty’s demise, New START will move to the forefront.

Given these developments, it will be vital to begin consultations on possible new arms control measures without delay because an unregulated, nontransparent, and unpredictable military balance is simply too dangerous. The collapse of arms control regimes is driven primarily by political factors, so the prospects of new consultations will depend primarily on how the INF Treaty will end, namely, whether relevant actors demonstrate, even if only indirectly, that they are prepared to start looking beyond the INF Treaty. After all, in diplomacy, signals and appearance matter as much as substance, sometimes even more.

The prospects for a renewed arms control effort will be defined by answers to two related questions: Who will agree to talk to Russia, and with whom will Russia agree to talk?

Who Will Negotiate With Russia?

The likelihood of serious U.S.-Russian bilateral engagement seems minimal. Interaction in the remaining months of the INF Treaty’s existence will continue to be rancorous, an atmosphere that will likely persist as the deadline for an extension of New START approaches. The political atmosphere in the United States is not conducive to a serious dialogue with Moscow, and the issue of INF Treaty compliance, which will remain unresolved, is bound to generate strong opposition to a new exercise in arms control because Russia will be seen as untrustworthy by definition. Resumption of a serious bilateral dialogue will likely take years.

One alternative would be for Europe to take a larger role in engaging Russia on arms control issues. Although a more proactive European role is feasible and desirable, certain challenges must be understood and addressed to ensure success.

The first is the potential risk of undermining Atlantic solidarity and having such a new role be seen as a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the concern is certainly valid, Atlantic solidarity is not synonymous with providing unquestioning support of the United States or of taking the most unyielding position possible on Russia. Solidarity presupposes consensus on policy decisions, but at the stage of policy development, debates are feasible and welcome.

Second, the probability of Europe becoming a single actor appears low (members of both NATO and the European Union differ considerably on handling Russia), so the burden of new arms control initiatives will have to be borne by individual countries. This will become particularly vital if the United States decides to deploy new intermediate-range weapons in Europe under bilateral agreements rather than joint NATO arrangements.

The better option is for Germany or other key European nations to take the leadership reins. Germany has been increasingly active in promoting new approaches to arms control, marked in  2016 by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s initiative to launch a structured dialogue with Russia within the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.1 More recently, Germany has become even more active on these issues under Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose call for a renewed dialogue on arms control, rather surprisingly, has enjoyed the support of the United States and Russia.2

Third, European countries will likely find it difficult to include China in a future dialogue. Engaging Chinese experts is possible, but the prospects are not particularly encouraging. Nonetheless, the value of restarting serious arms control dialogue will overshadow that shortcoming. If that endeavor succeeds, China could be integrated at a later date.

Areas for European Discussion

Given the challenges of Europe-wide representation, Germany and other European nations could play this vital role in several ways in the coming months and years. First, they can provide a platform for a wide-ranging discussion about a new framework for arms control. The German initiatives for renewed dialogue move in the right direction, but conferences cannot provide answers; they are good primarily for formulating questions. Perhaps even more vital is making such a platform sustainable. That will require creating a series of back-channel discussions, often called Track 1.5 and Track 2 meetings, to enable nongovernmental experts as well as national officials in unofficial capacities to begin to formulate solutions to technical, political, and legal issues on a broad variety of outstanding issues.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet the press after discussing INF Treaty issues in Moscow January 18. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)Options for regulating weapons with nuclear and conventional capability. NATO in the 1960s and 1970s and Russia from 2000 to 2014 relied on nuclear weapons to balance their adversaries’ conventional advantage. It seems increasingly likely that the United States and NATO could respond in a similar way to the acquisition and deployment of more conventionally armed weapons by Russia. Consequently, arms control no longer can be limited to nuclear weapons.

Tactical, or short-range, nuclear weapons. The traditional arms control approach, which has emphasized counting launchers and missiles, not warheads, does not apply well to this category of weapons, so it will be necessary to count warheads for limits on tactical nuclear weapons. Any breakthrough on this issue will help reframe strategic nuclear weapons arms control in the direction proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 to address strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and nondeployed nuclear weapons.3

Sea- and air-launched intermediate-range weapons in and around Europe. None of these weapons were limited by the INF Treaty, an omission that was a major Soviet concession during the treaty’s negotiation and will not be repeated. Today, Russia has similar weapons of its own, and their number is rapidly growing along with their capabilities, especially with the planned introduction of hypersonic weapons.

The role of missile defense in European security and options for regulating it. Missile defense remains an untouchable topic for the West, but that situation is not sustainable. Russia will refuse to conclude new arms control agreements that exclude missile defense, and its own defense capability is growing. U.S. and NATO concerns about Russian defensive weapons deployments in Kaliningrad is an indicator of a much larger problem that cannot be addressed without putting Western defense assets on the table.

Confidence-building and transparency measures between military forces deployed on land, sea, and air in Europe. Although not directly weapons related, this issue is timely, given the deterioration of the security environment and the growing likelihood of unintended confrontations with escalation potential. The need to address these risks in new regimes is acute. Luckily because they are easier to achieve, they should be made an independent avenue for early action.

Developing Verification Tools

In addition to these discussions, an independent role of European countries could emphasize technical issues, especially accounting and verification. Nongovernmental and international organizations have done much forward-looking work in that area—the UN Institute for Disarmament Research has been particularly productive—but that work needs to be transferred to at least a semiofficial dialogue. Arms control negotiations have shown that these issues are particularly challenging and may take a very long time. It would help if at least some relevant work is done outside formal negotiations. There is even a vehicle that could be used for focused work in that area: the European Nonproliferation and Disarmament Consortium, which consists of a network of European think tanks and research centers.

Nongovernmental work can be complemented by groups of technical experts, which are a time-honored, efficient tool for this kind of work beginning with the development in the 1950s of measures to verify limits or a ban on nuclear testing. Such groups could be initiated and sponsored by European countries, and they could pave the way for diplomats and politicians.

European Treaty Crafters

Another role for European nations could involve developing European positions or drafts of future arms control agreements. Although there was a long-term decline in arms control expertise after the end of the Cold War, interest in these issues has surged in recent years, and there is a new generation of arms control experts. In fact, a close look suggests that the arms control community in Europe is growing as fast or faster than in the United States. European countries might produce a well-developed foundation for future agreements, including possible treaty language, and negotiate them separately with the United States and Russia so that the two Cold War superpowers would come to the negotiating table with ready text proposals.

Such an endeavor would be a long shot—Europe is simply not accustomed to that role—but it is not unthinkable. The young generation of arms controllers in Europe seems to be professionally and psychologically ready to cross the traditional boundaries that Europe has set for itself and take a more proactive and central role in arms control.

Russian Acceptance of Negotiating Partner

The second major question then is with whom Russia may be prepared to seriously engage. It is not enough for Europe to assume a leading role for interacting with Russia; it is also necessary for Russia to agree to talk with Europe in a serious, professional way without trying to utilize them for other purposes. Attempts to split NATO are, in the end, one possible goal for such interaction, and it will be vital to make such interaction focused on arms control rather than on unrelated policies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces the U.S. suspension of its INF Treaty obligations at a Febuary 1 press briefing in Washington. The following day, the State Department also formally notified Russia that the United States would withdraw from the treaty in six months. (Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)There is little reason to believe that Russia will want to engage in an arms control dialogue with the United States, although it will declare its readiness to do so. The likelihood of such dialogue was further reduced by Putin’s announcement that Moscow will no longer take a proactive approach, although all its earlier initiatives will remain on the table.4 Effectively, he has said that Russia will sit patiently and wait for others to come to it to ask, even beg, for arms control. The delay in arms control interaction will be driven not just by Washington, but equally by Moscow.

Whether Russia may be interested in a meaningful dialogue with Europe will be largely determined by Europe’s behavior during the remaining months of the INF Treaty and New START. Russia offered a positive response to German initiatives when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met his German counterpart, Maas, on January 18 in Moscow expressing readiness to “jointly consider” development of new norms on nuclear weapons and, more broadly, strategic stability.5 A closer look, however, suggests that Russian post-INF Treaty interaction with Europe is far from assured.

Europe has become a meaningful player in the INF Treaty conflict rather recently, after a briefing conducted last fall by the United States for its NATO allies to explain the U.S. position. Obviously, NATO supported this position and has tried to pressure Moscow to accept everything the United States wants. Germany has been particularly active in this regard; Maas has been making relevant statements on an almost weekly basis.

Russian Outreach

A series of events launched after the failed U.S.-Russian consultations on January 15 in Geneva apparently were intended primarily for European consumption. Russia held two such events: a briefing for diplomats stationed in Moscow on January 18, which was held by the Foreign Ministry, and the display of the controversial 9M729 cruise missile—rather the purported missile in its canister and its associated launcher—by the Defense Ministry on January 22. The former was confidential, the latter was public, and significantly, Moscow disclosed new details about that missile system, which never been seen in the public domain. On January 25, Russia presented its perspective at the NATO-Russia Council, this time again behind closed doors.

This activism can be interpreted in different ways. Some see it as evidence that “pressure is working” and that the INF Treaty could be saved with more pressure by the unified West to eventually force Moscow to accept U.S. demands before the treaty’s six-month withdrawal period. Such a development, which is not impossible but highly unlikely, would require a major Russian retreat and effectively return its policy to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s era, which is perceived today in Russia as bordering on high treason. More likely, Moscow will declare, “Well, we tried,” and happily allow the INF Treaty to end.

Another explanation for Russia’s recent outreach entails a two-fold goal. The first is to demonstrate that Moscow had “gone the extra foot”—it would be too much to say “extra mile”—so that the collapse of an important arms control treaty could be blamed on Washington. This will hardly succeed. Alternatively, Russia’s recent engagements could be an attempt to find a better interlocutor in the West, one capable of listening to Russia. It is difficult to say whether Moscow truly hopes to split the West—such an endeavor is doomed to failure—but an attempt to open a new channel for dialogue on arms control cannot be ruled out. At the very least, Europe could transfer Moscow’s messages to Washington even if it refuses to develop its own, independent approach. In other words, the recent steps might indicate that Russia is already looking beyond the INF Treaty.

Europe’s Next Steps

Moving forward, Europe will need to fashion its statements and actions in such a way that they signal Atlantic solidarity and open-mindedness about future arms control regimes. As long as the latter is present, the former will hardly be seen in Moscow as discouraging.

To achieve a proper balance between the two goals, Europe must demonstrate its ability and willingness to listen. Therefore, the decision by the majority of NATO members, including Germany, to decline the invitation to Russia’s January 22 missile demonstration was a mistake. It would have been better to attend and then criticize the insufficient transparency. After all, diplomacy is not about acceptance but about engagement. Refusal to talk does not improve prospects of an agreement; it makes agreement less likely.

A riskier but still tenable proposition for Europe would be a demonstration of some understanding of Russian concerns about the implementation of the INF Treaty, in particular by hearing Russian complaints about the MK-41 launcher and maybe others. During U.S. President George W. Bush’s first term, Moscow proposed to address armed unmanned aerial vehicles through an amendment to the INF Treaty, which would have excepted them from the definition of cruise missile, but that proposal was rejected. It is not too late to return to
that option.

With today’s U.S.-Russian animosity, illustrated by the almost-dead INF Treaty and the similarly fated New START, the only actor who can successfully talk to Russia and with whom Russia may talk is Europe or, more precisely, certain individual European countries. They have the capacity to play that role.

They can translate capacity into real action on two conditions. First, they need the political will to emerge from their traditional place on the margins to a more proactive role. Second, they need to start sending the correct signals now, without waiting for the end of the INF Treaty. The manner in which the treaty ends will determine how long the world must wait for renewed arms control. The longer the security environment is unregulated, the lower the chances for survival. During the Cold War, arms control efforts resulted from the Cuban missile crisis. Waiting for a similar stimulus is not the wisest course of action, as the world might not survive this time.

 

ENDNOTES

1. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “More Security for Everyone in Europe: A Call for a Re-launch of Arms Control,” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, n.d., https://www.osce.org/cio/261146?download=true (article originally published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on August 26, 2016).

2. “National Statement by Heiko Maas, Member of the German Bundestag, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the OSCE Ministerial Council,” MC.DEL/25/18, December 7, 2018, https://www.osce.org/chairmanship/405665?download=true.

3. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. 47, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

4. “Meeting With Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoigu,” February 2, 2019, http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/59763 (in Russian).

5. Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Statement and Answers to Media Questions During a Joint News Conference Following Talks With Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas,” January 18, 2019, http://www.mid.ru/ru/vizity-ministra/-/asset_publisher/ICoYBGcCUgTR/content/id/3478159?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_ICoYBGcCUgTR&_101_INSTANCE_ICoYBGcCUgTR_languageId=en_GB.

 


Nikolai Sokov is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a program of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. A former official in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he participated in negotiations for the first and second strategic arms reduction treaties.

 

In the absence of active U.S.-Russian efforts to resolve disagreements over the INF Treaty, other nations may be
able to lead the way toward preventing a new arms race.

As INF Treaty Falls, New START Teeters


March 2019
By Kingston Reif

Following President Donald Trump’s announcement last October that he planned to “terminate” the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the chances were remote that the United States and Russia could achieve an 11th-hour diplomatic miracle to save the treaty and reduce the growing risk of a renewed missile race in Europe.

Russia displays a purported canister for the 9M729 cruise missile near Moscow on January 23. The United States has charged that the missile can fly farther than allowed by the INF Treaty. (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)German Chancellor Angela Merkel persuaded Trump to hold off on withdrawal for 60 days to give diplomacy one last chance, but Washington and Moscow spent more time assigning blame for the crisis than discussing ways to resolve their concerns. Those issues revolve around the years-old U.S. charges that Russia developed and deployed a treaty-prohibited, ground-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile, known as the 9M729, and Russian countercharges that the United States is violating the treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

It came as no surprise, therefore, that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally declared on Feb. 2 that the United States would withdraw from the treaty effective in August. Pompeo also stated that Washington would immediately suspend its obligations under the pact. The announcement reflected National Security Advisor John Bolton’s long-held opposition to the INF Treaty and other negotiated arms limitation agreements.

Russia immediately reciprocated by announcing that it too would suspend its treaty obligations.

To make matters worse, as the INF Treaty draws its final breaths, the future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is increasingly uncertain. If New START is allowed to expire without a replacement in 2021, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Pompeo left open the possibility that the United States would return to the treaty if Russia verifiably eliminates “all 9M729 missiles, their launchers, and associated equipment in this six-month period.”

Russia, however, has given no indication that it would meet U.S. demands for an inspection of the missiles; and the United States is similarly unwilling to address Russia’s concerns about U.S. treaty compliance, notably the fielding of U.S. missile defense interceptor launchers in Europe that Moscow says could be used to launch offensive missiles in violation of the agreement.

New Missile Deployments in Europe?

Although apparently eager to end the treaty, the White House has yet to articulate a strategy to prevent Russia from building more and new types of land-based, intermediate-range missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a Feb. 2 meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that Russia would retaliate to the U.S. abrogation of the agreement by beginning research and development on “land-based modifications of the sea-based Kalibr launching systems” and “land-based launchers for hypersonic intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.”

Putin added that Russia would “not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons, if we develop weapons of this kind, neither in Europe nor anywhere else, until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.” If there were such U.S. deployments, however, Putin vowed Feb. 20 that Russia would “be forced to respond with mirror or asymmetric actions” such as Russian “weapons that can be used not only in the areas we are directly threatened from [Europe], but also in areas that contain [U.S.] decision-making centers for the missile systems threatening us.”

In his Feb. 6 State of the Union address, Trump alluded to negotiating a new intermediate-range missile agreement that would also include China, but the administration has not yet raised the issue with China, which possesses hundreds of land-based, intermediate-range missiles. Joining the INF Treaty would mean that China would have to eliminate 95 percent of its missile arsenal.

Some European leaders have suggested diplomatic options that could avert a new missile race that would undermine European security.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto proposed on Feb. 16 at the Munich Security Conference that the United States and Russia could agree to keep Europe “free” of INF Treaty-prohibited missiles.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said before Feb. 12 meetings with NATO defense ministers that the alliance is “planning for a world without the INF Treaty.”

“Any steps we take will be coordinated, measured, and defensive,” he added. “We do not intend to deploy new ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe.” Stoltenberg did not say whether the alliance, which has expressed support for the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, would also forgo the deployment of conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles.

Congress approved $48 million in fiscal year 2019 to research and develop concepts and options for such conventional missile systems. (See ACT, November 2018.) The status of the development work is unclear.

Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told PBS NewsHour on Feb. 7 that the United States is not currently planning to deploy banned missiles in Europe, but noted that “when we develop next steps, it will be in consultation with partners and allies.”

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2020 budget request, due for release in mid-March, is likely to include additional funding for developing new ground-launched missile systems.

Even if the United States were to develop such weapons, they would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles. If one did, a bilateral arrangement that circumvents NATO decision-making would likely be controversial.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said at the Munich conference on Feb. 15 that Poland is “against” hosting U.S. ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. If a decision is made to deploy such missiles, he added, “it will be a decision of all the [NATO] alliance.”

Consequences for Strategic Arms Control

In the likely event that the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years by mutual agreement.

The Trump administration has yet to formulate the U.S. position on New START’s future. (See ACT, September 2018.) Thompson said on Feb. 7 that the administration “has an interagency process addressing that.… We will see what 2021 holds.”

Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty, 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.

Thompson last year described the Russian concerns about U.S. implementation of New START as manufactured and raised concerns about Russia’s development of new strategic-range nuclear weapons systems, such as globe-circling, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, and very long-range nuclear torpedoes. Russia claims that these systems would not be limited by New START because they do not use ballistic flight trajectories.

In an 11-page paper sent to members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last December, Russia described the U.S. conversion procedures as “unlawful” and warned that “these problems might potentially disrupt prospects” for New START’s extension after 2021.

New START gives each party the right to formulate its own conversion procedures. The treaty does not require conversions to be irreversible or that the other side agree with the conversion procedure.

According to the Russian paper, the Trump administration in December 2017 proposed two steps to address Russia’s concerns, including “a cabinet-level written political commitment that the United States does not intend to reverse the conversion of any of the converted Trident II SLBM launchers or B-52H heavy bombers for the duration” of New START. Russia characterized these proposals as “a step in the right direction,” but ultimately deemed them insufficient. It is not clear if the U.S. proposals remain on the table.

Pranay Vaddi, a former State Department official and now a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a Feb. 19 email that this Russian concern “is a silly issue to stand in the way of a potential extension of the treaty, but can be resolved with minimum effort if the sides have the will to do it.”

“The United States and Russia should focus discussions on increased transparency using existing treaty mechanisms as a model, rather than attempting major changes to the [conversion] procedures, or to the regular operations of U.S. submarines and bombers,” he added.

The White House appears to believe that there is plenty of time left for the two sides to make a decision on an extension, but Russia is warning that time is short.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow on Feb. 7 “that there is almost no time left” to discuss Russia’s continuing concerns about U.S. implementation of the treaty and other issues necessary to pave the way for an extension.

“It gives reason to suspect our American counterparts of setting ground to…just let the treaty quietly expire,” Ryabkov said.

 

How Did We Get Here? Documenting the Demise of the INF Treaty

On Feb. 2, the United States formally issued its notification of withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, to take effect in six months, and it also announced the immediate suspension of its treaty obligations, raising concerns about a renewed missile race in Europe and beyond.

Russia immediately followed the U.S. announcement by declaring that it would also suspend its treaty obligations.

The treaty’s withdrawal clause sets a six-month waiting period before a party’s withdrawal takes effect, and the Trump administration stated that it would reverse its decisions if Russia returns to “full and verifiable” compliance with the pact during that time.

After a Dec. 4, 2018 announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the United States had found Russia in “material breach” of the treaty and that the United States would suspend its treaty obligations unless Russia returned to compliance within 60 days, U.S. and Russian officials held several discussions. Most notable were a two-hour Jan. 15 meeting in Geneva between Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, which came to no conclusion, and a Jan. 31 meeting at the same level on the sidelines of a major powers meeting in Beijing, again to no resolution.

Although the United States rejected Russian offers to demonstrate and exhibit the contentious 9M729 cruise missile in exchange for U.S. demonstrations of its MK-41 missile launchers in Europe, Russia went ahead and held a Jan. 23 event to display equipment purportedly related to the 9M729 for an audience of foreign military attachés. No U.S. or NATO officials attended, and Thompson argued later that a static display would not address questions of the missile’s flight range.

For some time, the U.S. intelligence community, reinforced by NATO findings, has charged that the Russian missile exceeds the INF Treaty’s range limits and Russia has violated the treaty by testing and deploying the missile.

Russia has refused to acknowledge any noncompliance and has countered with questions about U.S. treaty compliance. Chief among those concerns is Russia’s assertion that the MK-41 missile launchers of the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, currently deployed in Romania and under construction in Poland, can be easily converted to launch treaty-prohibited ground-launched missiles. The United States has refused to address the Russian concerns and has not appeared interested in reciprocal transparency site inspections, as several U.S. allies have proposed.

Following the Feb. 1 U.S. public announcements that official notice of suspension and withdrawal would occur the next day, NATO’s North Atlantic Council, quickly said that “allies fully support” the U.S. withdrawal. Some key NATO partners, however, showed less enthusiasm for the official statement. The French Foreign Ministry said Feb. 1 that France “regrets reaching a situation” that resulted in the withdrawal, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted Feb. 16 that the treaty’s termination was the “really bad news this year” for Europeans. Non-NATO allies shared similar sentiments, with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stating that due to the historic role the treaty played in arms control, it was “undesirable” for the agreement to end.

Responding to the U.S. decisions, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his foreign and defense ministries “not to initiate talks” on disarmament matters “until our partners are ready to engage in equal and meaningful dialogue.” He further directed that Russia “will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons…neither in Europe nor anywhere else until U.S. weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.” This promise may have been undermined by The Wall Street Journal reporting on Jan. 31 that Russia currently has four deployed battalions of the 9M729 system, estimated to be nearly 100 missiles, including some within range to strike NATO countries.

In his Feb. 6 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty and raised questions of U.S. post-treaty military and diplomatic plans. “Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t, in which case we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” Trump said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said several times, including after a NATO defense ministerial meeting on Feb. 13, that NATO has no plans to deploy ground-based “nuclear missiles,” leaving open the possibility of deployments of conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries.

Meanwhile in Congress, public reactions to the Trump administration’s treaty withdrawal announcement have fallen along partisan lines, with Republicans supporting the withdrawal and Democrats opposing the action. Democrats have also rallied behind several pieces of legislation to restrict funding for ground-launched, INF Treaty-range missiles unless several specific conditions have been met, the key one being a requirement that any deployment of such a missile in Europe come from a NATO-wide decision, not a bilateral agreement.

The “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019” was first introduced in the Senate on Jan. 31 by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and 11 Democratic co-sponsors, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), plus Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A companion version was introduced on the House side Feb. 14 by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and co-sponsored by fellow Democrats Ted Lieu (Calif.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.). Separately, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) introduced legislation Feb. 14 limiting funding for INF Treaty-range missiles with Democratic colleagues Ilhan Omar (Minn.), James McGovern (Mass.), and Mark Pocan (Wis.).—SHERVIN TAHERAN

The INF Treaty crisis threatens far more than the INF Treaty.

U.S. Firearms Export Changes Meet Challenges


March 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration proposed changes in February to how the United States approves exports of certain firearms, a move that triggered quick responses from some congressional leaders who argued that the approach would be dangerous and reduce oversight. They warned that semiautomatic and military-style weapons, as well as 3D-printed "ghost" guns, would more easily end up in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers if the rules were to take effect.

Japanese police confiscated this batch of 3D printed guns in 2014. The Trump administration is seeking to modify how the United States oversees exports of some firearms, including plans for 3D printed weapons. (Photo: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)Under the proposed rules, semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition are deemed to "no longer warrant control under the United States Munitions List (USML)," a State Department-administered list of weapons. Instead, they would be transferred to a list administered by the Commerce Department, the Commerce Control List, an indication of the administration's view that these are "essentially commercial items widely available in retail outlets and less sensitive military items."

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored legislation Feb. 12 that rejected the rationale for the change and would prohibit the transfer to Commerce Department oversight. The proposed new rules would “defy common sense,” Menendez said in a statement. He added, “Small arms and associated ammunition are uniquely lethal. They are easily spread and easily modified and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world.”

The Senate measure also focused on the danger of 3D gun printing, with Menendez saying, “Every terrorist and criminal that wants to hijack an airplane with Americans onboard will more easily be able to smuggle 3D-printed, virtually undetectable guns aboard.” Because online plans for 3D-printed guns currently controlled by the USML are deemed an export, a move to the Commerce Department would likely deregulate their control. The Commerce Department is not expected to impose licensing restrictions on what 3D print advocates are trying to make open-source information. An administration decision last year to allow the organization Defense Distributed to publish 3D plans online met an outcry and has been delayed in ongoing court cases.

On Feb. 26, Menendez sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placing a hold on the proposed rules change, but whether the administration will honor the hold remains to be seen. It could choose to publish the final rules this month, when the 30-day clock for congressional review that began Feb. 4 expires. Such changes typically then have a six-month implementation phase-in period.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) co-sponsored a measure with Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) on Feb. 9 that would also block the change. In his statement about the rules, Engel warned that Congress would lose its oversight role, which is needed "so we can step in and make sure these weapons aren’t sent to bad actors, including terrorists, drug cartels, human rights abusers or violent criminals."

In 2002, Congress amended notification requirements so it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML Category I when they were valued at just $1 million, but no such notifications exist for items on the Commerce Control List.

Data compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor indicates that the Trump administration requested Congress to approve at least $746 million in firearms sales to a total of 14 countries in 2018, more than two-thirds of which was for Saudi Arabia. The value of transfers that would be subject to the new rule is not clear as that data cannot be disaggregated from the automatic and other firearms that would remain on the USML.

The rules were considered during the Obama administration as part of a broader export control effort that transferred portions of the larger USML to Commerce Department control. Changes to firearms and ammunition in the first three USML categories were never formerly introduced, in part due to a different sensibility related to gun violence.

The Trump administration first introduced the rules for public comment in May 2018, garnering thousands of public responses. (See ACT, June 2018.)

These military-style weapons, although more tightly controlled in many other countries, have been sold domestically and used in many mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Human rights and gun control groups have backed the legislative efforts to stop the change. Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign, stated on Feb. 8, "While the corporate gun lobby is no doubt thrilled to be able to take their products to a wider audience, we need to be taking steps to reduce gun violence at home, rather than exporting it.”

 

The Trump administration is trying to change bureaucratic oversight rules for U.S. exports of selected conventional weapons.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - United States