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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Sept 13, 2019

U.S. Tests Ground-Launched Cruise Missile On Aug. 18, less than two weeks after the official collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States tested a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the treaty. The test was a clear signal that the United States can and will pursue such systems in the absence of the INF Treaty. In a statement, the Defense Department said the “test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data...

If Trump Ends Another Nuclear Treaty, it Will Be the Height of Folly

During his first two and a half years in office, President Donald Trump and his administration have laid waste to numerous international agreements originally designed to strengthen US security, bolster US alliances, and constrain US adversaries. The toll has been particularly high with respect to deals concerning nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Over the past 14 months, the administration has withdrawn from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and abandoned the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty . Both of these valuable agreements have been discarded without a viable plan to...

Risky Business: Four Ways to Ease U.S.-Russian Nuclear Tension


September 2019
By Sarah Bidgood

The era of traditional U.S.-Russian arms control appears to be ending.1 The latest casualty of the crisis in relations between the two nuclear powers, the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, was suspended in February when Washington declared it would withdraw from the pact because of alleged Russian noncompliance. Moscow made no great effort to resist U.S. intentions, and with surprisingly little fanfare, the treaty expired in early August.

From left to right, Andrea Thompson of the United States, Fu Cong of China, and Nicolas Roche of France attend a Jan. 31 panel discussion following a P5 nuclear powers meeting in Beijing. P5 representatives could not agree to reaffirm the Reagan-Gorbachev Cold War motto: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” (Photo: Thomas Peter/AFP/Getty Images)This leaves just one bilateral arms control agreement in place, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is itself due to expire in 2021. The treaty could be easily extended for up to five years, thus ensuring a vital degree of transparency and stability in U.S.-Russian relations, but the Trump administration has shown little outward enthusiasm for this step. If the clock is allowed to run out on this crucial element of strategic stability, it will mark the first time that the United States and Russia have not had an arms control treaty in place or under negotiation in nearly five decades.

The potential lack of treaty constraints on nuclear arms increases the need for other tools to minimize misunderstandings, avoid accidents, and build confidence between the United States and Russia. Such risk reduction measures have contributed to maintaining stability in the past, and they are needed now more than ever as U.S.-Russian arms control falters.

Arms Control in Trouble

The depth of the demise was illustrated in January 2019 when the P5—the five nuclear powers recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—convened in Beijing for the eighth meeting of the P5 process.2 China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States identified three measures to strengthen their coordination and safeguard the NPT, but they could not agree to endorse the simple motto established in 1985 by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”3 What should have been a relatively easy lift, delivering a joint statement capturing this sentiment, was torpedoed when only China was prepared to endorse it. In a climate where agreeing to this most basic principle is no longer tenable, it is not surprising that more ambitious actions required to sustain bilateral arms control now appear to be out of reach.

These circumstances make a return to nuclear arms racing more likely not only by established nuclear powers, but also by nations that have forsworn such weapons. Although Moscow and Washington worked closely to prevent new parties from acquiring a nuclear capability during the darkest days of the Cold War, these joint efforts have all but halted.4 Their disengagement has contributed to the turmoil within the nonproliferation regime, where past commitments are left unfulfilled and the way forward is far from clear.5

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shake hands after signing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague on April 8, 2010. If the treaty expires in 2021, there will be no negotiated limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)The degree to which the United States and Russia are now at odds in this domain has been impossible to ignore during the run-up to next year’s NPT review conference. Russia has accused the United States of violating the NPT through its NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement, while the United States has lambasted Russia for undermining the norm against the non-use of weapons of mass destruction and allegedly violating the INF Treaty. The two sides certainly have not seen eye to eye on all nonproliferation issues in the past, but they placed such a premium on presenting a united front to the other NPT states that they were often accused of “superpower collusion.”6 Today, however, there seems to be little interest in maintaining even the pretense of alignment on key issues. This development is revealing of the state of the bilateral relationship today, and it does not portend well for global security.

A less visible consequence of the collapse of U.S.-Russian nuclear engagement is the precipitous decline in opportunities for routine interaction between diplomats and policymakers from the two countries. The result is an erosion of trust that could make accidents, miscommunications, or misinterpretations more likely to escalate into nuclear use because there is no assumption of benign intent on either side. This development is especially problematic when reviewing the litany of close nuclear calls in U.S. and Soviet/Russian history.

That these have not culminated in nuclear use in the past is, in many cases, thanks to human decision-makers who determined, for example, that automatic missile warning systems were giving false alerts. This past January marked 25 years since one such scenario, in which Russia’s early-warning system misidentified a research rocket launched off the coast of Norway as a U.S. Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile. Russian nuclear attack response procedures were reportedly triggered, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin ruled out the likelihood of a surprise U.S. nuclear strike and decided not to retaliate.7 Were there to be a replay of this incident today, is it realistic to assume that decision-makers on either side would act in a similar fashion? It is only a matter of time before this hypothetical is put to the test.

In the absence of cooperation on arms control and nonproliferation and faced with urgent crises that require U.S.-Russian efforts, the challenge for the nuclear policymaking community today is twofold. It must find and support feasible opportunities for U.S.-Russian engagement on nuclear issues so that more ambitious efforts to shore up strategic stability and the nonproliferation regime are possible in the future. It must also actively pursue steps to prevent a nuclear catastrophe while the two sides get their relationship in this domain back on track. Fortunately, these two goals are mutually reinforcing and served by a renewed focus on nuclear risk reduction.

Practical Steps to Reduce Nuclear Risk

The United States and Russia could pursue at least four meaningful risk reduction measures that would contribute to these efforts. Even more significant steps than these are needed, but this menu comprises points of entry that may be feasible under the current circumstances.

A Parallel Risk Assessment
U.S. and Russian officials could engage in a parallel risk assessment, where both sides would identify independently the technologies, behaviors, and past and future scenarios they believe are most likely to lead to nuclear use and then compare their answers.8 This exercise would lay the groundwork for determining what types of risk reduction efforts are most needed. It could also serve as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions about the other’s capabilities or practices, including with respect to the alleged Russian policy of “escalate to deescalate.” The 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review report states that Russia might conduct a limited nuclear first strike to end a conventional conflict on its terms, but this strategy is not described in any official Russian documents pertaining to its nuclear doctrine. Determining conclusively that this policy is not part of Russian strategy would free up both sides to focus on mitigating actual, rather than assumed, nuclear risks.

The P5 process presents a useful forum to operationalize this recommendation, at least initially. Not only is it already in place, but conducting a parallel risk assessment in this setting would contribute to the nuclear-weapon states’ attempts to better understand each other’s nuclear doctrines. The fact that all five delegations committed to making the “utmost efforts” to prevent nuclear risks at their 2019 Beijing meeting suggests that this recommendation might be welcomed as a concrete first step.9 Furthermore, this exercise could appeal to states with different perceptions of risk because its focus would be on identifying similarities and differences in their views, rather than on a preordained list of concerns with which all states might not agree.

Revive Consultations on Nuclear Risk Reduction
While many channels for U.S.-Russian nuclear engagement have now shut down, recent strategic security meetings held by Russian and U.S. officials raise the prospect of renewed high-level dialogue on arms control, nonproliferation, and related topics.10 Washington and Moscow should capitalize on this opening to initiate regular consultations on nuclear risk reduction. The United States and Russia are destined to cooperate on this issue by virtue of their vast nuclear arsenals. Their shared responsibilities are even greater under the present circumstances, in which mutual suspicion, acrimony, and instability in their bilateral relationship increase the likelihood of nuclear use, intentionally or by mistake.

Bilateral dialogue has always been recognized as a key component of risk reduction. It is mandated in the 1971 USSR-U.S. Agreements to Reduce Risk of Nuclear War, which obliges the two sides to “hold consultations, as mutually agreed, to consider questions relating to implementation of the provisions of this agreement, as well as to discuss possible amendments thereto aimed at further implementation of the purposes of this agreement.”11

Reviving these consultations would contribute to international security while paving the way for more routinized and wide-ranging dialogue in the future. Not only would they provide a forum for officials to interact, which could itself reduce the likelihood of nuclear use, but they would also facilitate discussions on risks associated with emerging technologies, which have significant implications for the future of strategic stability. Given this orientation, these consultations would benefit from the involvement of scientific and technical experts, as well as policymakers and government officials. Cooperation on technical issues can flourish even during difficult moments in the bilateral relationship. Emphasizing this dimension of these consultations could increase the likelihood that they would generate meaningful results.12

The initial agenda for these consultations could focus on reviewing Cold War-era nuclear risk reduction measures and identifying ways to update and multilateralize them. Aside from the 1971 USSR-U.S. Agreements to Reduce Risk of Nuclear War, other relevant agreements include the 1972 U.S.-USSR Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents on the High Seas,13 the 1973 U.S.-USSR Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the 1987 Agreement Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Establishment of Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers. They could also meaningfully include risk reduction measures that were considered in the past but never formalized or adopted, such as this recommendation itself, which was borrowed from a similar proposal put forward by the Soviet delegation to the UN General Assembly in October 1977.14

Updating and multilateralizing U.S.-Soviet risk reduction agreements could open the door to engaging other nuclear-armed states in these efforts, particularly China. Doing so could introduce greater stability and predictability into the trilateral relationship while reducing the likelihood that nuclear entanglement in the three countries will escalate into nuclear exchange.15 Although Beijing has established its own crisis hotlines with Moscow and Washington, a host of other risk reduction measures are part of past agreements and could be meaningfully implemented today.16 Exploring opportunities to do so would represent a more realistic way to deliver President Donald Trump’s desire to include Beijing in a future arms control agreement with Moscow, which is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon.

Despite these advantages, revisiting U.S.-Soviet proposals carries risks of its own, which include the potential for past points of contention to resurface with detrimental outcomes. For example, Russia could reprise failed Soviet calls for the United States to remove forward-deployed nuclear weapons from Europe in the name of preventing their accidental or unauthorized use.17 Although U.S. experts have made similar proposals in recent years, Washington may suspect Moscow of using risk reduction to advance its national interests, which could cause talks to fail. Similarly, efforts to multilateralize past agreements could falter if Russia and China press for limits on U.S. ballistic missile defense as a step toward reducing the risk of nuclear use.18 Avoiding these pitfalls will require thoughtful compartmentalization, where participants find ways to work around larger strategic stability concerns without dismissing them as illegitimate in the process.

Ban on Cyberattacks on C3 Systems
The United States and Russia could conclude an agreement that cyberattacks on nuclear command, control, and communications (C3) systems are off-limits.19 Such an agreement would be consistent with recent Russian and U.S.-sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions that emphasize the need for rules to govern state behavior in cyberspace. Although Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections has made cooperation in the cyber domain exceptionally difficult in recent years, the potential risks posed by the cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear systems are significant enough to warrant treatment in a separate category. An agreement not to exploit these vulnerabilities would contribute significantly to reducing nuclear risk while complementing ongoing efforts to articulate and codify cyber norms in other areas of international security.20

Concluding such an agreement could be complicated by the reliance of many C3 systems on at least some dual-use assets. Because early-warning satellites are used to detect nuclear and non-nuclear missile launches, for instance, a cyberattack intended to limit an adversary’s ability to defend against a conventional strike would also constitute an attack on its nuclear C3 system.21 The United States and Russia would need to determine how to disentangle these assets in a way that still addressed their potential to precipitate nuclear escalation. In this process, the two sides should consider how best to make use of the cyber hotline, which was installed in the U.S. and Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in 2013. The hotline was designed to allow both sides to “make inquiries about cybersecurity incidents of national concern.”22 It could provide invaluable crisis stability during a cyberattack without requiring significant changes to existing infrastructure.

Joint Statement at the 2020 NPT Review Conference on Risk Reduction
The United States, Russia, and potentially the other nuclear-weapon states should issue a joint statement at the 2020 NPT Review Conference reaffirming the importance of nuclear risk reduction and reporting on any concrete measures they have adopted during the review cycle. Considering that the five countries will likely have little progress to report on nuclear disarmament, doing so would demonstrate some progress toward fulfilling the commitments they made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of the updated U.S. Nuclear Risk Reduction Center at the State Department on Oct. 24, 2012. The center and its Russian counterpart are operational at all times and intended to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. (Photo: State Department)A particular selling point of this recommendation is the importance of nuclear risk reduction in avoiding the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from nuclear use. From this vantage, nuclear risk reduction may constitute one of only a small handful of issues on which nuclear-weapon states, proponents of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and supporters of the humanitarian initiative could agree. The nuclear-weapon states would need to be careful not to frame risk reduction as a substitute for nuclear disarmament in the NPT setting, but if they succeed, this issue could represent an opportunity to find common ground at a time when few others exist. A focus on risk reduction would also align with the NPT preambular language, which recognizes the “devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war.” Reaffirming the shared assumptions that underpin the NPT would be appropriate at the 50th anniversary of its entry into force.

Little Risk in Risk Reduction

These recommendations represent four steps that the United States and Russia could take to reduce nuclear risks today. They appear to align with both countries’ national security interests, which should increase their appeal among policymakers and may make it possible to implement them in spite of the current crisis in relations. In Washington, at least, these proposals may benefit from the lack of constraints they would place on U.S. military flexibility. Their narrow scope could help them gain traction with the current U.S. administration when more far-reaching and effective measures such as the defunct INF Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and New START have not.

If these recommendations nevertheless prove too ambitious, the United States and Russia could take a host of other, more modest steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use. Indeed, because bilateral relations are in such a deep state of crisis, virtually any activity that fosters dialogue or lends predictability to the two countries’ interactions would likely hit this mark. Moreover, risk reduction, unlike arms control, can take many different forms, from treaties to confidence-building measures to the installation of dedicated crisis-management infrastructure.23 This flexibility provides scalable options that may appeal to decisionmakers in both Moscow and Washington.

The latitude afforded by nuclear risk reduction may help explain why some U.S.-Russian engagement in this domain continues, albeit on an insufficient scale. The National Risk Reduction Centers in Washington and Moscow still operate 24 hours a day, providing an uninterrupted channel for crisis communication as they have for the last three decades. Likewise, the United States and Russia continue to co-chair the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, where they have overseen efforts to prevent unauthorized nuclear use for more than 15 years. These operational channels reinforce the notion that, if expanded, risk reduction measures could preserve what is left of the bilateral relationship while laying the groundwork for closer cooperation. In a quickly deteriorating environment with few other alternatives, this argument is as good as any for seeing where these efforts could lead.

 

ENDNOTES

1. See Steven Pifer, “Nuclear Security, Arms Control, and the U.S.-Russia Relationship,” American Ambassadors Review, Spring 2019, https://www.americanambassadorslive.org/post/nuclear-security-arms-control-and-the-u-s-russia-relationship.

2. The P5 process was established in 2009 with the goal of identifying transparency and confidence-building measures leading toward progress on nuclear disarmament. See Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers, “The Art of the Possible: The Future of the P5 Process on Nuclear Weapons,” Arms Control Today, October 2014.

3. Li Song, “Briefing on P5 Beijing Conference,” February 5, 2019, https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/2A29BA6AFFA30F6CC125839B0051305C/$file/China_for+website.pdf (presented to the Conference on Disarmament); Jerry Brown and William Potter, “Open Forum: Time for a reality check on nuclear diplomacy,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 2019 <https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Open-Forum-Time-for-a-reality-check-on-nuclear-13793344.php?psid=ftMG0>

4. For examples of cooperation, see William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood, eds., Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies [IISS], 2018).

5. Paul Meyer, “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament: Striding Forward or Stepping Back?” Arms Control Today, April 2019.

6. William Potter and Sarah Bidgood, “The Good Old Days of the Cold War: U.S.-Soviet Cooperation on Nonproliferation,” War on the Rocks, August 7, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-good-old-days-of-the-cold-war-u-s-soviet-cooperation-on-nonproliferation/.

7. Patricia Lewis et al., “Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy,” Chatham House Report, April 2014, p. 17, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20140428TooCloseforComfortNuclearUseLewisWilliamsPelopidasAghlani.pdf.

8. For more, see William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood, “Chapter 8: Lessons for the Future” in Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, ed. William C. Potter and Sarah Bidgood (London: IISS, 2018).

9. Song, “Briefing on P5 Beijing Conference.”

10. “Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s Participation in Strategic Security Dialogue With Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov,” U.S. Department of State, July 17, 2019 < https://www.state.gov/deputy-secretary-sullivans-participation-in-strategic-security-dialogue-with-russian-deputy-foreign-minister-sergey-ryabkov/>

11. “Agreement on Measures to Reduce the Outbreak of Nuclear War Between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” September 30, 1971.

12. For examples, see Siegfried S. Hecker, ed., Doomed to Cooperate (Los Alamos, NM: Bathtub Row Press, 2016).

13. The continuing relevance of this agreement was underscored by the near collision of U.S. and Russian warships in the Pacific Ocean in June 2019. See “U.S. Navy: Russian Warship’s ‘Unsafe’ Move Nearly Caused Collision With Cruiser,” National Public Radio, June 7, 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/06/07/730593184/u-s-navy-russian-warships-unsafe-move-nearly-caused-collision-with-cruiser.

14. “32 UNGA: New Soviet Initiative,” October 18, 1977, https://aad.archives.gov/aad/create
pdf?rid=252139&dt=2532&dl=1629
(cable from secretary of state to U.S. Mission to NATO).

15. For a definition of entanglement and an explanation of how it could precipitate nuclear use, see James Acton, Tong Zhao, and Li Bin, “Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Entanglement,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 12, 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/09/12/reducing-risks-of-nuclear-entanglement-pub-77236.

16. Avery Goldstein, “First Things First: The Pressing Danger of Crisis Instability in U.S.-China Relations,” International Security, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Spring 2013): 49–89.

17. Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Semenov issued this call in an October 1974 meeting on SALT II. “Deputy Minister Semenov’s Statement of October 4, 1974,” October 4, 1974, https://aad.archives.gov/aad/createpdf?rid=221079&dt=2474&dl=1345 (cable from U.S. delegation to SALT II to the secretary of state).

18. Laura Grego lays out arguments both countries could reasonably make. See Laura Grego, “The Faulty and Dangerous Logic of Missile Defense,” Scientific American, April 24, 2018, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-faulty-and-dangerous-logic-of-missile-defense/?redirect=1.

19. Wilfred Wan also makes this proposal in Nuclear Risk Reduction: A Framework for Analysis (Geneva, Switzerland: UNIDIR, 2019), p. 29, < http://unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/nuclear-risk-reduction-a-framework-for-analysis-en-809.pdf>

20. See Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace, “Norm Package Singapore,” November 2018, https://cyberstability.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/GCSC-Singapore-Norm-Package-3MB.pdf.

21. For an overview of the challenges that dual-use command-and-control assets create for risk reduction, see James M. Acton, “Inadvertent Escalation and the Entanglement of Nuclear Command-and-Control Capabilities,” International Security Policy Brief, October 29, 2018, https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/inadvertent-escalation-and-entanglement-nuclear-command-and-control-capabilities.

22. The White House, “Fact Sheet: US-Russian Cooperation on Information and Communications Technology Security.” June 17, 2013 < https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/17/fact-sheet-us-russian-cooperation-information-and-communications-technol>

23. Joseph Nye made a similar point in 1984. See Joseph S. Nye Jr., “U.S.-Soviet Relations and Nuclear-Risk Reduction,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Autumn 1984), p. 404.


Sarah Bidgood is director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) in Monterey, California. She also leads the Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative at CNS.

Risk reduction measures are needed more than ever as just one U.S.-Russian treaty limits the size of the two nations’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

New U.S. Intermediate-Range Missiles Aren’t Needed for Precision Strike in Europe

With the Aug. 2 withdrawal of the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which ended the deployment of intermediate-range missiles by NATO and the former Soviet Union in Europe, plans to develop a new generation of treaty-noncompliant missiles have led to fears that they will return to the continent. Defense Secretary Mark Esper referred that same day to the need for “proactive measures” to develop new intermediate-range capabilities in the European theater. The Department of Defense requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new...

China’s Stance on Nuclear Arms Control and New START

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia is set to expire in February 2021. Although the two nations could extend the treaty by up to five years (and there is bipartisan congressional support for such a step), the future of New START remains uncertain, in part because the Trump administration wants to include China in any future arms control deal. Integrating China further into international nuclear arms control efforts is a worthy goal, but extending New START should not hinge on China’s participation. Given China’s relatively minimalist...

Thank you!

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Thanks for writing to your Senators and Representative urging their engagement on extending the New START agreement with Russia by cosponsoring the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" bills in the House and the Senate.

These bills are a step in the right direction if we are to prevent a new destabilizing nuclear arms race with Russia.

More Senators and Representatives need to hear from us on this. 

Can you spread the word to keep up our momentum?

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  • Copy and paste this letter in an email to your friends:

    Subject: Send a letter: Tell Congress to Extend the New START Agreement

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    Dear Friend.

    I have just written a letter to my members of Congress in support of the Arms Control Association’s campaign urging them to support an extension of New START, a crucial nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia.

    In early August, President Trump officially withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which since it was signed in 1987, has led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 nuclear-armed missiles from our respective arsenals and helped to end the Cold War.

    Now, New START is the only piece of arms control limiting the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles. Under this treaty, the United States and Russia are each confined to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 bombers and missiles.

    New START is set to expire in February 2021, but Presidents Trump and Putin can choose to extend it by five years.

    However, National Security Advisor John Bolton has long been critical of the treaty, and he recently said that, although a final decision has not yet been made, an extension is “unlikely.”

    A growing number of key Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. There are bills in each the House and the Senate—both named, “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces”—that express support for extending New START until 2026.

    Will you join me by writing to your members of Congress today and urging them to support these pieces of legislation?

    Can you join me and write a letter? Click here: 
    https://www.armscontrol.org/take-action/extend-new-start

    Thanks!


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P.S. If you can help us with a small donation, this campaign will spread even further. Or better yet, become a card-carrying member of the Arms Control Association and receive 10 issues of Arms Control Today to keep abreast of this and other arms control challenges. Join here.

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TAKE ACTION: Extend New START

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With the Aug. 2 termination of the INF Treaty, the New START agreement is now the only treaty putting limits on the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and it too is in jeopardy.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher and Sen. Dick Lugar relentlessly pursued steps to reduce nuclear risks and to enhance strategic stability during their time in Congress and afterwards. New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is set to expire in 2021, although the U.S. and Russian presidents can extend it—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for up to five years if they choose.

But given the Trump administration’s demonstrated antipathy toward important arms control treaties, it may be up to Congress to save it.

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. For instance:

  • In the House, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) bill, which expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance.
     
  • In the Senate, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill, also named the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (S. 2394). This bill expresses the same as the House bill.

Instead of working toward an extension of New START, the Trump administration is busy arguing that China and Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons must be covered in the treaty as well.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states, like China, and limits on all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming.

The first step should, therefore, be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Use the form below to urge your senators and representative to support these bills.

We need your members of Congress to support these efforts to make sure that the limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal—which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race—remain in force.

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U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, August 8, 2019

U.S. Withdraws from INF Treaty; Missile Tests to Begin This Month On Aug. 2, 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prompting harsh reactions from Russia and China and concerns about the beginning of a new, more dangerous phase of global military competition. This treaty , signed in 1987, led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing,...

The Post-INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

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Volume 11, Issue 8, August 7, 2019

*(Updated Aug. 19)

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated and signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of the most far-reaching and successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet missiles based in Europe. It helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The pact served as an important check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

Despite its success, the treaty has faced problems. A dispute over Russian compliance has festered since 2014, when the United States first alleged a Russian treaty violation, and has worsened since 2017 when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling in the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer range.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.The Trump administration developed a response strategy in 2017 designed to put pressure on Russia to address the U.S. charges, but in October 2018, President Trump abruptly shifted tactics and announced the United States would leave the agreement.

On Feb. 2, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the United States would immediately suspend implementation of the INF Treaty and would withdraw in six months if Russia did not return to compliance by eliminating its 9M729 missile.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia was still in “material breach of the treaty” and announced the United States had formally withdrawn from the INF Treaty.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russians possess four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles are “nuclear-capable,” according to the Director of National Intelligence, but they are probably conventionally armed.

Without the INF Treaty, the potential for a new intermediate-range missile arms race in Europe and beyond becomes increasingly real. Furthermore, in the treaty’s absence, the only legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals come from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

Reactions to the U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

Following the U.S. withdrawal announcement Aug. 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another.”

A few days later, Aug. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes. “Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats…by relying on the means that we already have,” he said. Putin also ordered “the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said in a statement: “A situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.”

At the same time, some European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have expressed regret over the termination of the treaty and concerns about potential new U.S. missile deployments.

On Aug. 2, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the end of the INF Treaty meant that Europe was “losing part of its security.” Maas also told Germany’s Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: “We cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”

Also Aug. 2, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO “will respond in a measured and responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence and defence.” Stoltenberg suggested that NATO will increase readiness exercises programs; increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and bolster air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities in response to the termination of the INF Treaty.

According to press reports, the NATO response strategy may involve more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and the repositioning of U.S. sea-based missiles.

What Missiles Could Each Side Now Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

With the treaty’s termination, each side is now free to develop, flight test, and possibly deploy previously banned INF-range systems in Europe and in Asia.

President Putin stated Dec. 18 that in the event of U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Russia would be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could involve additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers, as well as its Kaliber sea-based cruise missile system.

Even before the Aug. 2 termination date, the Trump administration was seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

Last year, Congress approved a Defense Department request for $48 million in fiscal year 2019 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.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department requested nearly $100 million for fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would violate the range limits of the treaty.

One new missile program of interest to the Pentagon is a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. On Aug. 19, the Department of Defense announced it conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight." The missile was reportedly launched from a Mk. 41 mobile launcher.

Another option under consideration is a new intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to strike targets in China. The day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later,” but “those things tend to take longer than you expect.”

China’s reaction has been negative. “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” said Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China's foreign ministry, speaking to reporters Aug. 6. “I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of the INF Treaty

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. They are also militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies or U.S. allies in Asia given that existing air- and sea-based weapons systems can already hold key Russian and Chinese targets at risk.

Any U.S. moves to actually deploy these weapons are likely to prompt Russian and Chinese countermoves and vice-versa. The result could be a dangerous and costly new U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese missile competition.

Therefore, the U.S. Congress can and should step forward to block funding for U.S. weapons systems that could provoke a new missile race—and provide the time needed to put in place effective arms control solutions.

In January 2019, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019,” which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile—with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—until the Trump administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. These include identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system and, in the case of a European country, demanding that all NATO countries agree to that ally hosting the system.

In July, the House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The amendment prohibits funding for missile systems noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Trump administration demonstrates that it exhausted all potential strategic and diplomatic alternatives to withdrawing from the treaty and unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.

In addition, with the end of the INF Treaty now official, it is critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control arrangements to prevent a destabilizing new missile race:

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any missiles in Europe that would have been banned by the INF Treaty so long as Russia does not field once-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

    The United States and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be expected to insist upon additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed in Romania as part of the Aegis Ashore system and, soon, in Poland. (Russian officials have long complained to their U.S. counterparts about the missile-defense batteries’ dual capabilities.)

    This approach would also mean forgoing President Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no military need for such a system.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other—ideally including a means of verifying the commitment—that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range) capable of striking each other’s territory.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Be Worse.

With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles is New START. Signed in 2010, this treaty limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. It is due to expire Feb. 5, 2021, unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it for up to five years, as allowed for in the treaty text.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on the record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

In addition, the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 includes bipartisan efforts to preserve New START. The House bill includes legislation proposed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for the administration to extend New START and require reports from the secretaries of state and defense plus the director of national intelligence on the possible consequences of the treaty’s lapse. For its part, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include an provision calling for the extension of the treaty, though in May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling for the administration to consider an extension of New START and begin discussions with Russia. On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation calling for an extension of New START until 2026.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton may be trying to sabotage this treaty. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks. In June, Bolton also said in an interview with The Washington Free Beacon that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” that the administration will move to extend the treaty. In late July, he further said that the treaty “was flawed from the beginning” and that, “while no decision has been made,” the administration needs “to focus on something better.”

Extension talks should begin now in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would then be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Bottom Line

Without the INF Treaty and without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, Congress as well as other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary in order to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and advance progress on nuclear disarmament.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

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Without the INF Treaty—or new proposals from Washington and Moscow—creative and pragmatic solutions are needed to advance progress on nuclear disarmament.

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Statement on U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

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Statement from Daryl G. Kimball, executive director

For Immediate Release: August 2, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104

“The loss of the landmark INF Treaty, which helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race, is a blow to international peace and security. Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But President Trump’s decision to terminate the treaty will not eliminate Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missiles — and is a mistake.

“Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute arms control plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.

“INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally-armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

“It is now critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control options to avoid a new Euromissile race. 

“One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

“This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system.

“The loss of the INF Treaty makes extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) all the more important.

“With less than two years to go before New START expires, Washington and Moscow need to begin working immediately to reach agreement to extend the treaty by five years. Despite their strained relations, it is in their mutual interest to maintain verifiable caps on their enormous strategic nuclear stockpiles.

“Without New START, which limits each side to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly five decades.

“Extending New START would provide a necessary foundation and additional time for any follow-on deal with Russia that addresses other issues of mutual concern, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range weapons, and understandings on the location and capabilities of missile defense systems and advanced conventional-strike weapons that each country is developing.

“A treaty extension could also help put pressure on China to provide more information about its nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. China also might be more likely to agree to freeze the overall size of its nuclear arsenal or agree to limit a certain class of weapons, such as nuclear-armed cruise missiles, so long as the United States and Russia continue to make progress to reduce their far larger and more capable arsenals.

“In the absence of the INF Treaty, we need more responsible arms control leadership on the part of all sides.”

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