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Daryl Kimball

Will Biden and Putin Restart Talks on Strategic Stability & Arms Control?

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For Immediate Release: June 14, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, 202-463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Shannon Bugos, research associate, 202-463-8270 ext 113

The June 16 summit in Geneva between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin is a pivotal opportunity to begin to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict, enhance stability, and get back on track to reduce their bloated and very dangerous nuclear stockpiles.

Amid rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the world’s two largest nuclear-weapon states, nuclear risk reduction and disarmament discussions have been pushed to the back burner. Both countries are spending tens of billions a year modernizing and upgrading their massive nuclear stockpiles. Russia has wantonly violated several arms control and nonproliferation agreements, is developing new nuclear weapons delivery systems that echo some of the worst excesses of the Cold War, and may be increasing its total warhead stockpile for the first time in decades.

The strategic relationship has been further complicated by the development and fielding by each side of emerging technologies, such as offensive cyber and hypersonic weapons, and new advances in U.S. missile defense systems.

In February, Biden and Putin wisely agreed to extend for five years the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals: the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). But unless Washington and Moscow make progress in the next few years on new nuclear arms control agreements, there will be no agreed-upon limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons for the first time since 1972.

Mutual Interest in "Strategic Stability"

While there are many areas of disagreement between the two governments, both sides have expressed a common interest in renewing a serious dialogue on maintaining “strategic stability.”

As established in earlier bilateral agreements and previous summit communiques, such dialogue aims to ensure that neither side has an incentive to use nuclear weapons first or has an incentive to build up its nuclear forces.

Today, however, each side has a different view on what threatens strategic stability and what issues should be the focus of such talks and future potential arms control arrangements.

On June 10 National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: “We believe the starting point for strategic stability talks should be the very complex set of nuclear arms issues that face our two countries….Whether additional elements get added to strategic stability talks in the realm of space or cyber or other areas, that’s something to be determined as we go forward.”

Conversely, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated this month Russia’s support for “a comprehensive approach and taking into account all, without exception, factors influencing strategic stability in our dialogue with the United States. I mean nuclear and non-nuclear, and offensive and defensive weapons.”

To be effective, the discussions need to amount to more than brief exchanges of grievances, as was the case during the Trump years. Instead, as many nuclear security and disarmament experts and organizations, including the Arms Control Association, have suggested, the dialogue needs to be regular, frequent, and comprehensive. It should set the stage for actions and agreements that meaningfully reduce the nuclear risk.

As a tangible step to help defuse tensions and provide some positive momentum, a wide range of experts and former senior officials are also calling on the two presidents to reaffirm the common-sense statement issued by Gorbachev and Reagan at their 1985 summit that: “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Next Steps on Arms Control

Initiating strategic stability talks is overdue and essential. Achieving new agreements to reduce nuclear excess will be even more challenging.

To make progress before New START expires in 2026, they will need to pursue solutions that:

  • achieve deeper, verifiable reductions in the total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems;
  • address nonstrategic (i.e., tactical) nuclear weapons;
  • put in place constraints on non-nuclear weapons that impact the strategic balance, such as long-range missile defenses; attempt to mitigate the negative impacts on stability that could ensue from the collapse of the INF Treaty; and
  • seek to broaden the arms control and disarmament dialogue to include other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, and the United Kingdom.

In 1979, during the depths of the Cold War, then-Senator Joe Biden told an Arms Control Association gathering that “pursuing arms control is not a luxury or a sign of weakness, but an international responsibility and a national necessity.”

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Background for Reporters Covering the Geneva Summit

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High-Level Group Issues Appeal to Biden and Putin to Reduce Nuclear Weapons Dangers

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For Immediate Release: June 8, 2021

Media Contacts: Ira Helfand, past president, IPPNW (1-413-320-7829); Sergey Batsanov, Pugwash Conferences (+41-791-554-610); Rachel Bronson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1-312-404-3071); Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association (1-202-463-8270 ext. 107).

(Washington, D.C./Moscow)—In advance of the first summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joseph R. Biden in Geneva on June 16, a group of more than 30 American and Russian organizations, international nuclear policy experts, and former senior officials have issued an appeal to the two Presidents calling upon them to launch a regular dialogue on strategic stability, to take meaningful steps to reduce the risk of nuclear war, and to make further progress on nuclear arms control and disarmament.

The statement was organized by leaders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Pugwash Conference on Science and Global Affairs, the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Peace, and the Arms Control Association.

In the statement, which was delivered to the two governments on June 7, the signatories urge the two presidents to: "Commit to a bilateral strategic dialogue that is regular, frequent, comprehensive and result-oriented leading to further reduction of the nuclear risk hanging over the world and to the re-discovery of the road to a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Sergey Batsanov of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs emphasized that the summit "could be a launching point for talks on strategic stability in all its aspects. Stability is being eroded by multiple factors—geopolitical, technological, military, doctrinal, and others—raising the threat of nuclear war and undermining the security of all states. Addressing this issue would also facilitate new nuclear arms control and disarmament negotiations.”

Ira Helfand, past president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said: “It is urgent that President Biden and President Putin reaffirm the ground-breaking statement issued by Gorbachev and Reagan in 1985 that 'a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’”

“U.S. and Russia are still armed with thousands of nuclear weapons. It is by no means certain that the two sides will continue to have enough good luck, responsible leadership, and managerial competence to avoid catastrophe,” warned Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “We urge the two presidents to seize the opportunity their summit provides to put us back on the road toward a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Among the other signatories of the Appeal are: Peter Buijs, M.D., chair of the Netherlands IPPNW, who initiated the Appeal; Igor Ivanov, former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation; Academician Alexandre Dynkin, Chair, Russian Pugwash Committee; William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense; Amb. Sergio Duarte, president of the Pugwash Conferences; General Vyacheslav Trubnikov, IMEMO (Institute of World Economy and International Relations); Joan Rohlfing, president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative; Edmund G. Brown Jr., former Governor of California Executive Chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; and Colonel General Victor Esin, former chief of staff, Russian Strategic Missile Forces.

The full text of the appeal and the complete list of signers is available online at the websites of the Arms Control Association, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the Pugwash Conference.

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In advance of the June 16 summit between Presidents Biden and Putin, more than 30 American and Russian organizations, international nuclear policy experts, and former senior officials have issued an appeal to the two Presidents calling upon them to launch a regular dialogue to reduce the risk of nuclear war.

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Biden and Putin Summit: A Chance to Move Back from the Brink

This week’s summit meeting in Geneva is a pivotal opportunity for the leaders of the world’s two largest nuclear weapons possessors to reduce the growing risk of nuclear conflict and get back on track to reduce their bloated nuclear stockpiles. For months and weeks, we’ve been working hard to highlight and explain what can be done on strategic stability and arms control and to build political support for meaningful post-summit follow-through actions by President Biden and President Putin. Last week, our board chair Tom Countryman and I met with NSC staff at the White House and delivered a...

Engage China on Arms Control? Yes, and Here’s How


June 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

For more than six decades, the United States has been worried about China’s regional influence, military activities—and nuclear potential. For instance, in 1958, U.S. officials considered using nuclear weapons to thwart Chinese artillery strikes on islands controlled by Taiwan, according to recently leaked documents. Then, as now, a nuclear conflict between the United States and China would be devastating.

 (Photo by TEH ENG KOON / AFP/Getty Images)“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, warned in February.

Worse yet, as tensions between the United States and China continue to grow, many members of Congress, along with the U.S. nuclear weapons establishment, are hyping China’s ongoing nuclear weapons modernization effort as a major new threat.

During testimony before Congress in April, Richard claimed that China’s military is engaged in a “breathtaking expansion” of its arsenal of some 300 nuclear weapons. He argued that this requires fortifying the U.S. nuclear armory, which is already 10 times larger than China’s.

Instead, U.S. policymakers need to avoid steps that stimulate nuclear competition with China and pursue serious talks designed to prevent miscalculation and reduce the risk of conflict. The United States also needs to develop a realistic strategy for involving China and the other major nuclear-armed states in the nuclear disarmament process.

According to U.S. projections, China could increase the size of its arsenal. It is deploying new solid-fueled missiles that can be launched more quickly than its older liquid-fueled missiles, increasing the number of its long-range missiles that are armed with multiple warheads, putting more of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on mobile trucks, and continuing to improve its sea-based nuclear force.

These moves, while concerning, do not justify alarmism. China is not seeking to match U.S. nuclear capabilities. Rather, it is clearly seeking to diversify its nuclear forces so it can maintain a nuclear deterrent that can withstand potential U.S. nuclear or conventional strikes.

Beijing’s nuclear plans are also likely designed to hedge against advancing U.S. missile defense capabilities, such as the sea-based Standard Missile-3 Block IIA system, which could potentially compromise China’s nuclear retaliatory potential.

Although China’s arsenal may be smaller, it is still dangerous. Beijing’s nuclear modernization efforts make it all the more important to pursue meaningful progress on nuclear arms control.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed that the Biden administration will “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal,” but has not explained how it will do so.

Leaders in Beijing claim to support nondiscriminatory disarmament and minimum deterrence, yet they have said they will engage on arms control only when U.S. and Russian leaders achieve deeper cuts in their much-larger nuclear arsenals. The United States and Russia can and should do more to cut their bloated nuclear stockpiles. But as a nuclear-weapon state party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, China is also obligated to help end the arms race and achieve disarmament sooner rather than later.

Yet, simply demanding, as the Trump administration did, that China join the arms control process is a recipe for failure. Instead, the Biden administration should adopt a more pragmatic approach that takes into account China’s concerns, and Chinese leaders need to be prepared to respond with constructive ideas.

To start, U.S. President Joe Biden could propose a new bilateral nuclear security dialogue designed to clarify each other’s nuclear postures and establish better lines of communication that could reduce the risks of miscalculation in a crisis.

The U.S. State Department should invite Chinese diplomats to join in developing a plan for fortifying the existing dialogue on nuclear weapons policy and risk reduction among the five nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For instance, these states could consider joint arms control verification exercises based on the U.S.-Russian experience and negotiate a common system for reporting on their respective nuclear weapons holdings. They could also formulate a joint understanding that cybercapabilities will not be used to interfere with other states’ nuclear command and control.

An even more ambitious approach would be for Washington and Moscow to propose that China, France, and the UK freeze the size of their nuclear stockpiles so long as the United States and Russia continue to achieve deeper verifiable reductions in their arsenals.

At the same time, the Biden team must resist calls for new U.S. weapons deployments, including land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Asia, that would compound nuclear tensions with China and give Beijing a cynical excuse to expand its arsenal.

Engaging China on effective arms control and disarmament will be difficult and will take time, but it is necessary because there are no winners in an unconstrained arms race.

For more than six decades, the United States has been worried about China’s regional influence, military activities—and nuclear potential.

States Finally Settle on Next Leader for CTBTO

June 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

After an unusually contentious process that lasted for months, representatives from the member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) finally agreed to appoint Robert Floyd of Australia to serve as its executive secretary.

After a contentious months-long contest, Robert Floyd, who heads Australia's safeguards and nonproliferation office, will succeed Lassina Zerbo, a geophysicist originally from Burkino Faso, as executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission (CTBTO). (Government of Australia)Floyd, who is currently the director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, said in an April 12 statement on Twitter in which he outlined his candidacy that he was “hopeful for new opportunities for the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)] in 2021, a year marking the 25th anniversary of the treaty’s opening for signature.”

“I am looking forward to opportunities such as the upcoming NPT Review Conference to stress the importance of the CTBT for international peace and security and to move us closer to the goal of entry into force,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of engaging all member states and putting the organization “on firm financial footing in difficult economic times.”

Floyd will become the fourth executive secretary of the organization, succeeding Lassina Zerbo, who was seeking a third term. Zerbo’s second four-year term will expire July 31.

The process for selecting the next executive secretary has been more controversial than in the past, in part because Zerbo was seeking an unprecedented third term. Although there are no rules against that, many states, including the United States, have stressed the general practice of heads of international organizations serving two terms. Some states argued that Zerbo would provide needed continuity through the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but others disagreed. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Floyd’s appointment was secured when he won the support of 96 states, exactly two-thirds of the states voting, in a fifth round of balloting held on May 20. Through the earlier rounds of voting, which began May 17, Floyd won the support of more than 60 percent of the member states voting, while Zerbo was supported by less than 40 percent.

The organization, with an annual budget in excess of $100 million, is responsible for maintaining and operating the test ban treaty’s global verification regime, including the International Monitoring System (IMS) and International Data Centre (IDC). It is also responsible for developing and demonstrating on-site inspection capabilities in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, as well as for promoting entry into force of the agreement.

To date, the CTBT has been signed by 185 states and ratified by 170 states, but the treaty has not entered into force due to inaction by eight holdouts, including the United States and China.

Following an inconclusive voting process in December 2020 involving Floyd and Zerbo that left the Australian just one vote short of securing two-thirds approval (see ACT, January/February 2021), the CTBTO chair for 2020, Faouzia Mebarki of Algeria, set a Feb. 5 deadline for new nominations. 

On Jan. 8, Australia resubmitted Floyd’s nomination. Despite lagging far behind Floyd in the vote totals, Zerbo on Feb. 2 confirmed for a second time his “ability and commitment to continue working and contributing as executive secretary.” Through early 2021, the new CTBTO chair, Ivo Šrámek of the Czech Republic, engaged in intensive informal consultations aimed at reaching consensus on the selection process. 

The CTBTO decided by consensus on March 26 that all member states that had taken part in the December 2020 voting, as well as new CTBT signatories and states that had paid their assessed financial dues, would be invited to cast votes. The member states also authorized Šrámek to facilitate a process leading to a first round of balloting no later than May 17.

Zerbo, a geophysicist originally from Burkina Faso, has made a significant impact on the CTBTO. He first joined the organization in 2004 to head the IDC and was chosen to be executive secretary in 2013. Since then, he has led work to complete the monitoring and verification system by bringing key monitoring stations in China online and strengthening the connections between the CTBTO and the global scientific community. 

Zerbo also improved access to IMS-generated data on seismic events for member states, thus providing real time data for tsunami early warnings, as well as for nuclear detonations. Zerbo and his team provided detailed updates on North Korean nuclear test explosions. He also succeeded in keeping the CTBT in the international nonproliferation conversation despite the slow pace of the treaty’s entry into force.

Robert Floyd, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, was chosen to replace incumbent Lassina Zerbo after a contentious process.

Reinforcing the Norm Against Chemical Weapons: The April 20-22 Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention

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May 10, 2021
10:00 AM Eastern Time

The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, in cooperation with the Arms Control Association, hosted this briefing to review the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime. 

Opening remarks were provided by H.E. Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW. Following, we heard from 

  • Amb. Lisa Helfand, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OPCW
  • Amb. Gudrun Lingner, Permanent Representative of Germany to the OPCW
  • Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, independent disarmament and security researcher at The Trench
  • Dr. Paul Walker, moderator, Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition

KEY QUOTES

Director-General Fernando Arias:
“The civil society community of non-governmental organizations, researchers, scientists, and other relevant stakeholders are essential partners in achieving the OPCW’s mission and raising awareness about the risks posed by certain chemicals. The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition has played a critical role in this regard by coordinating and supporting civil society engagement with the OPCW through the Conference of the State’s Parties.”
“The report of the Fact Finding Mission related to the incident in Douma on the 7th of April 2018 is still the object of discussion between some member states. The Fact Finding Mission released its report on the 1st of March, 2019. In its report, the Fact Finding Mission concluded reasonable grounds that the use of chlorine as a weapon likely took place. ... None of the 193 member states of the organization have challenged the findings of the Fact Finding Mission that chlorine was found on the scene of the attack in Douma.”
“As we count down to mark the 25th anniversary of the organization in 2022, we need to acknowledge that our world today is very different to the one in 1997 when it was founded. To meet the challenges, it is imperative for us to keep adapting and evolving in an ever changing global landscape. Preventing re-emergence will require the commitment and the efforts of all stakeholders - civil society, government, and chemical industry.”

RESOURCES
The following resources provide supplemental information on the topic of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and strengthening the norm against chemical weapons use. 

If you wish to remain informed on this or other topics, including future webinars, please sign up and indicate your interests at www.armscontrol.org/get-the-latest

 

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 this briefing on the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime.

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Arms Control and Russia

News Date: 
April 30, 2021 -04:00

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