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Translating Goals Into Agreements: An Interview with Pavel Palazhchenko

July/August 2019

Pavel Palazhchenko has witnessed historic arms control efforts from a unique position: the interpreter’s seat next to top Soviet leaders as they negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In the arms control community, he is instantly recognizable because of his consistent presence in images of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meeting with U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. Palazhchenko’s experience offers an unusual perspective on the process of arms control negotiations and the value of U.S.-Russian engagement today. He spoke with Arms Control Today on June 8 by phone from Moscow.

Arms Control Today: How did you get your start as an interpreter for the Soviet Foreign Ministry?

Pavel Palazhchenko: I graduated from what is now called Moscow Linguistic University, which at that time was called Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, where I majored in English and French. I then studied for a year at the UN language training course in Moscow, which trained simultaneous interpreters for the UN Secretariat.

Soviet interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko (center), supports a conversation between President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of their 1986 summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo: Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)Then I worked in New York at the United Nations from 1974 to 1979, and when I returned to Moscow, I was kind of lucky because at that time they were expanding the linguistic services of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. So, there were vacancies, and I was accepted to work there. Interestingly, one of my first assignments was to work at the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] negotiations that started in 1981.

Those first INF Treaty negotiations, which were not successful, lasted for a little more than two years, and I basically did the entire process from beginning to end. There were several rounds of negotiations. Ultimately they were not successful, but they were still useful because it was a discussion of the conceptual basis of intermediate-range nuclear forces, the balance of arsenals on both sides, the format of a future agreement, all of those things. Of course, it was quite a bit frustrating.

The Soviet side was led by Yuli Kvitsinsky, at that time a rising star in the Soviet Foreign Ministry. On the American side, it was Paul Nitze, who was a veteran. They were two very different individuals, but they were able to work together quite well. They respected each other, and they really wanted some kind of an agreement, but politically of course, it turned out that that was not possible.

ACT: Did Soviet interpreters, and now Russian ones, receive diplomatic training and education and status? In the United States, interpreters are selected for their linguistic skills. Is it the same in Russia?

PP: We are also chosen as linguists, but in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, once you start working as a linguist, you also are a diplomat. There is no separation between different categories. You are a diplomat, and you are supposed to have that diplomatic awareness. I suspect that even though in the United States it’s kind of two separate categories, it’s still the same: you really need certain diplomatic skills. Above all, you have to be very much aware of the subject matter of negotiations. You have to have access, sometimes limited, but very often quite wide-ranging access to the diplomatic material. So even though it’s a little different in the U.S. tradition and the Russian tradition, I suspect that it’s basically quite similar.

ACT: What are the professional norms of the interpreter? Are you expected to sit and translate, or are your opinions sought?

PP: The opinions would not normally be sought because the status of the interpreter is different from the status of official members and advisers in the delegation. But of course, later when I was working with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze and with [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, informally, yes, they might seek your opinion. In the arms control delegations, perhaps not so much. But you know, a delegation is a kind of environment in which you socialize, you communicate, you interact with diplomats, so you learn a lot, even though your official status is not the same as the status of the members of the delegation.

The actual work of the interpreter, specifically in arms control negotiations, is that you interpret the official statements that are delivered during the meetings of the delegations. Also, the delegation heads then talk separately, and I was interpreting their discussions. Then at the lower level, the senior military representatives talk, advisers from the foreign ministry and from the defense department talk, and there are interpreters who take care of that.

Then a couple of days later, we would exchange official translations of the formal statements that had been made at the meeting of the delegations. That is done to make sure that the terminology is correct, that we interpret the terms and understand the terms in a similar way, and that was of course useful.

The rest of it is quite informal, and to some extent, it depends on the rapport and the informal interactions within the delegations. There are official receptions where everything is quite informal and the value of what is being said is less than what is being said during the formal meetings. A lot of the talk and discussion is exploratory. It is something that can later be denied, or you can back out of some of those things, and interpreters are also involved in that type of discussion as well.

ACT: There are reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki summit in 2018, where only interpreters were present, and Trump asked his interpreter not to share or discuss the meeting with anyone in the U.S. delegation. In your experience, what are the normal standards for an interpreter in record-keeping and in sharing information with their delegation?

PP: There can be no standards to apply here because it’s a matter of government service in this case. Of course, interpreters do have a standard of confidentiality. You are not supposed to talk out of school. Whenever the president, or whoever else is the main interlocutor in a negotiation, says that something is not to be revealed to others, I would assume that’s an order, that’s something that interpreters have to obey.

ACT: You are well known, you have a higher profile than most interpreters
have achieved.

PP: That began in 1985, and it began with the first meeting that Shevardnadze had with [U.S. Secretary of State] George Shultz. That was the first formal, official meeting of foreign ministers where simultaneous interpretation was used. That is to say not the consecutive interpretation where a person speaks and then you interpret what he has said, but simultaneous interpretation with the proper equipment, microphones, and headphones. The U.S. side actually proposed this, and after some initial hesitation, this was accepted. I was asked to interpret at that meeting because I had had a lot of previous experience in doing it at the UN and elsewhere.

Interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko (right) continues to work with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, here in Berlin in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Photo: Target Presse Agentur Gmbh/Getty Images)That was a bit of luck. I was fortunate that I was asked to do it. Then I continued both with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev. I interpreted Shevardnadze’s first meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in September 1985, so the profile was high because at that time it was quite unusual. It was after a period of deep freeze in U.S.-Soviet relations, so there was a lot of media interest, so I guess that’s the reason.

ACT: You wrote a book about your experience. Given this principle of confidentiality, was it difficult to get the book cleared by Russian officials?

PP: I was not asked to submit it for review because everyone assumes, at least in Russia I guess, that a person who had access to truly confidential information would not reveal something that remains confidential. When I was writing the book, a lot of the material from those conversations and negotiations had been declassified either on one side or both sides. Today, the memorandums of conversation from those negotiations have been made public on both sides; and even then, when I was writing the book and particularly when the book was published, a lot had already been declassified. Of course, there were certain things that were still confidential and perhaps some things that still are, but it is assumed that people that had access to those things are responsible individuals and that they will not reveal anything that will cause problems.

ACT: Looking back at the INF Treaty talks, can you describe how the negotiators from both sides worked together?

PP: The completion of the INF Treaty was the result of agreements that were achieved at the summit level. It was in Reykjavik that Gorbachev and Reagan agreed on a zero-option agreement in Europe with a limited number of INF Treaty missiles elsewhere. Ultimately, for reasons that were good and legitimate, they decided that it would be best to have a global zero. That agreement was reached, I think, in February 1987.

That was the difference. Once there is an agreement at the summit level, it’s a lot easier for diplomats to work out the details. Whereas during the first negotiations, the unsuccessful negotiations of 1981 to 1983, there was no common basis agreed at the highest level for negotiating the details and actually drafting the treaty.

ACT: You referred to a deep freeze in U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, and we may be in a similar period now, with the two countries struggling to talk to each other, including about the INF Treaty. Are there parallels between what you saw firsthand to what could happen today?

PP: The main lesson is simple: If there is dialogue, then there is a chance that some kind of an agreement will be achieved. If there is no dialogue, then there is no chance that an agreement will be achieved. That’s why when the dialogue resumed between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States in November 1985 in Geneva—and when they established a process of discussions about all issues, the so-called four-part agenda to discuss arms control and security, regional issues, bilateral relations, and human rights—once that started, the chance for an agreement emerged.

Unfortunately, today’s leaders of Russia and the United States have not established such a process. It’s not guaranteed that a process of dialogue and negotiations will actually bring success, but at least there is a chance.

Right now, our leaders have had only one proper meeting in Helsinki. It didn’t go well. They have not had a real summit since then, and even worse, there is no diplomatic process, which to me is really a mystery why that is so. A normal process of diplomatic discussion probably would not cause political problems for either Trump or Putin, so why they have not established that kind of process, I really cannot understand. So, that may be something that they might finally want to achieve, to establish.

ACT: Perhaps when tensions are high, that is the time to talk?

PP: Well, if you look at the history of U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian relations, unfortunately that is not the case. It is often when tensions start that the process of negotiations stalls or is interrupted or is even abandoned. That was the case, unfortunately, after the U-2 episode between [Soviet Premier Nikita] Khrushchev and [U.S. President Dwight] Eisenhower. That was the case after the entry of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. That is often when negotiations stall, and that’s unfortunate.

To the great credit of Gorbachev and Reagan, they never interrupted the negotiating process even though there were bumps on the road, unfortunate incidents, spy scandals, and expulsions of diplomats. Nevertheless, they persevered, and they continued the talks.

ACT: Former President Gorbachev continues to promote dialogue and arms control. Is he heard in the Russian government?

PP: I have not heard the president or the foreign minister of Russia ever quoting Gorbachev, but sometimes it seems to me they do listen.

ACT: Right now, there’s a very popular television show about Chernobyl. Did the accident at Chernobyl affect Soviet thinking about nuclear weapons issues? Did that affect any negotiations?

PP: Gorbachev has said on many occasions that the disaster at Chernobyl reinforced his view that the arsenals of nuclear weapons should be cut to a minimum, that a nuclear war is unthinkable, that it must never be fought. It strengthened his intention and his desire to work hard on some kind of agreement that would start the process of nuclear disarmament. He has stated that on a number of occasions, both when he was president and afterward.

ACT: Can the INF Treaty experience still contribute to the future?

PP: First of all, it’s very unfortunate that the United States decided to withdraw from the INF Treaty. The treaty was a great achievement. We lived in a better and safer world for over 30 years as a result of the INF Treaty. I believe that the philosophy and the legacy of that treaty need to be preserved, even though both sides have now decided to withdraw from that treaty.

Nevertheless, I think there is a good chance that an arms race, an intermediate-range nuclear forces arms race, can be avoided because I do not see any great appetite in European countries to deploy those weapons. I don’t know much about Asia, but I’m not sure that there is appetite there either.

The philosophy of the INF Treaty is that ground-based missiles of that range are dangerous because they could trigger an all-out nuclear war. That philosophy was right. The legacy of the treaty remains in the minds of many experts, in the minds of many members of the military. I believe it’s very much alive in Europe, which remains, I think, the place where we should really focus on security issues.

We are currently at a difficult crossroads, but I still think that there is a chance to preserve both the philosophy and the legacy of the INF Treaty. That’s the connection that I see between that time and now.


Arms Control Today interviews Mikhail Gorbachev’s interpreter about his experience with arms control negotiations and the INF Treaty.

U.S. Questions Russian CTBT Compliance

July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

A top U.S. intelligence official publicly accused Russia in May of not complying with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), raising concerns that the Trump administration may be considering withdrawing from another multilateral arms control agreement. The allegation is a significant shift from recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies to Congress on January 29. Speaking at a May event in Washington, Ashley accused Russia of not adhering to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the CTBT, said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in remarks to the Hudson Institute May 29.

Article I of the treaty requires its parties “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,” and the issues of low-yield, zero-yield, and subcritical tests were debated at length during the treaty’s negotiation.

The new allegation veers from recent U.S. assessments. In December 2015, for example, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons...in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” More recently, no charge of a Russian CTBT violation was made in the State Department’s annual compliance report released in April.

The allegation raises a number of key questions and poses significant new challenges for states that support the CTBT, including how the Trump administration plans to address the compliance concern and whether officials believe low-yield nuclear explosions to be militarily significant.

Following the charges, some Republican U.S. senators urged the administration to remove the United States from the list of 184 signatories of the treaty, an action that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior State Department position in 2002. Whether the Trump administration will seek to exit the CTBT, which it has already said it does not support, is not yet clear. Unlike Russia, the United States has not ratified the pact, a step needed for the treaty to enter into force.

Ambiguous Charges

Asked by a journalist at the Hudson Institute briefing if Russian officials have only “set up at their test site at Novaya Zemlya in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or have actually conducted nuclear test explosions, Ashley said only that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

He also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT, saying that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raises questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent” with the treaty. He did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

A White House official sought to clarify Ashley’s comments later at the same event. “I think General Ashley was clear,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council. “We believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Responding to a flurry of inquiries sparked by Ashley’s comment, the DIA said in a statement June 13, “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement did not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, how much confidence the community has in the assessment, or if the charge is based on very recent intelligence findings or is a new interpretation of older intelligence.

Russia, which signed the CTBT in 1996 and ratified it in 2000, has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the U.S. failure to ratify the treaty. “We are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests,” he said on June 12.

Treaty Status and Verification

The United States signed the CTBT the day it opened for signature in 1996, but the Senate declined to provide its advice and consent for ratification in 1999 after a short and highly partisan debate. In 2009, President Barack Obama said his administration would pursue reconsideration of the pact, but he concentrated early arms control efforts on the negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. By 2012, Republicans regained control of the Senate, making CTBT ratification unlikely.

The United States plans to spend nearly $500 billion to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal over the next decade—a level of spending that is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe. Learn more.

To enter into force, the treaty requires ratifications from 44 specific states, and eight of those (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States) have still not taken that step. Nevertheless, the treaty has established a de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing; and the treaty’s verification tools, the International Monitoring System (IMS) and the International Data Center, have been completed and are fully operational.

The treaty drafters anticipated that the pact would need additional means to detect and deter violations, particularly involving nuclear test explosions at very low yields. If and when the treaty formally enters into force, a state-party may request a short-notice, on-site inspection to investigate a possible violation. The request can be based on information collected by the IMS or through national technical means. Such inspections require the approval of at least 30 members of the treaty’s 51-nation Executive Council, which must decide on inspection requests within 96 hours. An inspection team would arrive at the suspected nation within six days of the council’s receipt of the inspection request.

Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this treaty.” Such measures could involve mutual confidence-building visits to U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address compliance concerns.


The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes longtime charges by test ban opponents that Russia does not share the U.S. interpretation of what the treaty prohibits and may be conducting extremely low-yield nuclear tests in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In his May 29 remarks, Ashley said the DIA assessment was partly based on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero yield.” This assertion contradicts State Department fact sheets published in 2011 that report that Russia and all other nuclear-weapon states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have publicly affirmed the CTBT prohibition on all nuclear test explosions, no matter the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a September 2011 publication from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

“The United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” according to the document. “Public statements by national leaders confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

Under this zero-yield interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests, which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are banned by the treaty. Subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999, that Russia and the rest of the NPT nuclear-weapon states had committed themselves to the zero-yield standard.

For example, a March 1996 statement from Sha Zukang, the lead CTBT negotiator for China, said that “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy.” The future CTBT, he said, “will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. On July 29, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that, “under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

In an April 2017 essay, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.” Ashley said at the Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

‘Unsigning’ the Treaty

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a letter in March to Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT, The Washington Post reported June 13.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), speaks at the U.S. Capitol April 4. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and two other senators, Cotton asked President Donald Trump in March to consider “unsigning” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, consisting of more than 300 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide sensor stations.

According to the Trump administration’s 2017 budget request, the United States “receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to CTBT rules, only treaty signatories can access IMS monitoring information, and only treaty signatories have voting rights in meetings of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

A decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT would lead to international condemnation. In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT that “urges all states that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified...to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1 with four abstentions. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted against the resolution. The United States abstained.


U.S. accusations raise concerns that the Trump administration may withdraw from another multilateral arms control pact.

Bolton Declares New START Extension ‘Unlikely’

July/August 2019
By Shervin Taheran and Daryl G. Kimball

Prospects for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) dimmed in late June as U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton criticized the pact that is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks outside on the White House on April 30. In a June interview, Bolton said “it’s unlikely” that New START will be extended. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)“There’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely,” he told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview published June 18. His comments came less than a week after top U.S. and Russian arms control diplomats met in Prague to discuss the resumption of talks on strategic stability and the future of New START.

In his interview, Bolton said most Republican senators who voted to approve New START in 2010 actually opposed the treaty, primarily because the pact has no provisions or limitations on tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons. “That flaw remains today,” he said, “so simply extending it, extends the basic flaw.”

The treaty was negotiated to last 10 years after its entry into force, but it can be extended by up to five years by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on June 6 that Russia is prepared to let New START lapse if the Trump administration is not interested in extending the agreement. Russia has “already said a hundred times that we are ready to do so, but no one is willing to talk about it with us,” he said. Putin and President Donald Trump are expected to briefly meet at a late-June Group of 20 summit in Japan.

U.S. and Russia Reach ‘Starting Point’ for Dialogue

A June 12 meeting in Prague between Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was their fourth meeting this year, but the first where “strategic security issues on which the United States would like to engage in a more constructive dialogue with Russia” were discussed, according to the State Department.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials last met for a dialogue on strategic stability in Helsinki in September 2017, but a subsequent conversation scheduled to take place in early 2018 was canceled. (See ACT, October 2017.) The previous meetings between Ryabkov and Thompson this year were largely focused on the narrower issue of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The recent discussion followed a May meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Putin in Sochi. Pompeo told reporters after the meeting that the two nations would soon “gather together teams” to discuss New START and its potential extension, as well as “a broader range of arms control issues.” (See ACT, June 2019.)

After his latest meeting with Thompson, Ryabkov told Russian journalists that it was a “starting point” for further conversations and negotiations and that both sides recognized the importance of continued dialogue. Prior to the meeting, Ryabkov said on June 7 that Russia intended to discuss New START, prospects for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, U.S. allegations about Russian compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the prospect of space-based weapons and U.S. missile defense systems.

The two diplomats also discussed the Trump administration’s recently stated desire for a more comprehensive nuclear arms control agreement that would include China, according to Ryabkov’s June 12 statement to reporters. (See ACT, June 2019.) He added that although a multilateral process was a good idea, it must involve all five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the NPT, including France and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Russia had sent several proposals to the United States over the past year on strategic stability and arms control, according to Lavrov. Russia “expects specific responses” to proposals that “cover the entire range of issues of strategic stability,” as well as “control over nuclear and other strategic offensive and defensive weapons,” he said, adding that one of the proposals “of fundamental importance” is for both countries to reaffirm “at the top level” that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and therefore it is unacceptable.”

Congress Urges New START Extension

Eight Senate and House Democratic committee leaders sent a June 4 letterto Trump encouraging him to extend

Forgoing “the benefits of New START by failing to extend the agreement would be a serious mistake for strategic stability and U.S. security,” they wrote.

The letter praised the administration’s “effort aimed at bringing both China and Russia into new arms control talks,” but stressed that, in light of “the challenges inherent to reaching new agreements with Russia and China, we strongly believe the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

The letter was signed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); the House and Senate armed services committees, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.); the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.); and the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Engel and the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), also continue to pursue House approval of their bill which expresses the sense of congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. Their bill would also require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

Eleventh Hour for the INF Treaty

The United States and Russia have continued to set the stage for the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, slated to expire Aug. 2 after the U.S. announcement of its withdrawal plans in early February.

The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 billion in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty, but the Democratic-led House of Representatives has expressed concern about the rationale for the missiles.
The House versions of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bill zeroed out the Pentagon’s funding request for the missiles. On June 18, House Democrats defeated an attempt by Republicans on the floor of the House to restore the funding by a vote of 225–203.

On June 18, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s position that it will not deploy INF Treaty-range missiles until the United States does. The United States alleges that Russia has already deployed the treaty-noncompliant 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8. (See ACT, March 2019.) Ryabkov made his comments as the Russian State Duma supported legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspend Russia’s participation in the INF Treaty. The upper parliamentary body, the Federation Council, is expected to approve the legislation soon.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on June 26 to discuss defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia fails to resolve U.S. allegations of treaty noncompliance. In remarks to reporters June 25, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Russia has until 2 August to verifiably destroy its SSC-8 missiles, which violate the treaty. But unfortunately, we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so.”

Stoltenberg said the ministers “will decide on NATO’s next steps, in the event Russia does not comply. Our response will be defensive, measured and coordinated. We will not mirror what Russia does. We do not intend to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. We do not want a new arms race. But as Russia is deploying new missiles, we must ensure that our deterrence and defense remains credible and effective.”—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control prospects are fading despite new talks between senior diplomats.

TAKE ACTION: Thank you for writing!


Thank you for writing and urging your Representative to support H.R. 2529 and the extension of the New START agreement.

This is a critical effort if we are to prevent a new arms race between the United States and Russia.  

We hope that you'll help us keep up the momentum by sharing this opportunity with your friends and colleagues on social media.

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are ready to support New START's extension and need to hear from their constituents if we are to ensure that the limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons arsenals—which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race—remain in force.

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

    Dear Friend,

    Subject: Send a letter: Save Nuclear Arms Control 



    I have just written a letter to my Representatives in support of the Arms Control Association’s campaign to “Save New START”—a critical nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia.

    New START is set to expire in 2021. But the U.S. and Russian presidents can extend the treaty—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for a period of up to five years at any time.  

    Yet the Trump administration is busy arguing that the treaty is insufficient and must include more of Russia's nuclear arsenal and include China. But such a negotiation, if Trump is serious, would be complex and time-consuming.  The first step should be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

    A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing support for the treaty's extension, including the leaders of key congressional national security committees. 

    Please join me in asking your Representative to ensure the limits under New START, which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race, remain in force by cosponsoring H.R. 2529, the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" today.

    In peace,

Thank you!


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Urge Your Representative to Help Save New START


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with John Bolton, National Security Adviser to the US President, during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Maxim Shipenkov/AFP/Getty Images)

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)—a critical nuclear disarmament agreement between the United States and Russia—is set to expire in 2021.

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin can extend the treaty—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for a period of up to five years at any time. 

The Russian president has noted his support for doing so. Yet the Trump administration is busy arguing that more of Russia's as well as China's nuclear arsenal be included. Such a negotiation, if Trump is serious, would be complex and time-consuming.  The first step should be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

National Security Advisor John Bolton stated this month that he believes it is "unlikely" that Trump will agree to extend the agreement. 

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress, including the leaders of key congressional national security committees, are worried about the administration's position and are voicing support for the treaty's extension

Now we need your Representative to join them.

The “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) will express the sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START agreement so long as Russia remains in compliance.

Please use the form below to urge your Representative join their colleagues in cosponsoring H.R. 2529.

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

Senior Russian, U.S. Diplomats Meet in Prague to Discuss Arms Control In the midst of a crumbling U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, the top arms control diplomats for each country met June 12 in Prague in an apparent effort to resume a stalled strategic stability dialogue . But it remains to be seen whether or when the dialogue will resume. According to the State Department , Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met to “build on the discussions” held by Secretary of State Mike...

Trump Arms Control Plans Draw Criticism

June 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

Amid growing concern about the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control efforts, the Trump administration is still evaluating a potential extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and appears to lack a clear plan to achieve a newly announced goal of negotiating more comprehensive agreements with Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. The two agreed that the United States and Russia will hold meetings to discuss a broad range of arms control issues. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)A decision on whether to extend New START is one that President Donald Trump “will make at some point next year,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council, in May 29 remarks at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of the treaty expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. They also have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters following a May 14 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, that the United States and Russia “agreed that…we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.”

It remains unclear when such talks will begin, how frequently they will take place, who will lead the negotiating teams, what the Trump administration would be willing to offer for concessions from Russia and China, and whether New START would be extended in the absence of progress on a more comprehensive deal.

New START, which caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers each, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval.

U.S. officials, notably National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized New START because it limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons only. Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

“What we need to focus on is the comprehensive nuclear threat,” Morrison said. “The higher priority is the totality of the Russian and Chinese [nuclear] programs, because we have so much time left on the clock for New START.”

New START Review Ongoing

Several issues would affect the administration’s treaty extension decision, said Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 15. They include Russia’s development of new types of strategic weapons systems and modernization of its large stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, its “record of being a serial violator and selective implementer of the arms control obligations and commitments that it undertakes,” and “China’s lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program” and unwillingness to discuss nuclear weapons issues with the United States.

Thompson and David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, largely refused to provide the administration’s views on what the implications would be for U.S. security without New START. Trachtenberg testified alongside Thompson at the May 15 hearing.

Asked by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the committee, whether Russia could target the United States with “hundreds or perhaps thousands of additional nuclear warheads” in the absence of the treaty, Thompson replied, “That is a great question for Russia.”

The testimony from Thompson and Trachtenberg on New START disturbed the Democratic committee members.

“Extending New START would be, in my mind, an easy decision,” said Menendez. “It's very difficult to understand why the administration would discard the robust constraints, transparency, and verification measures of New START with nothing to replace them.”

Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized any treaty extension. “Under present circumstances with [Russia’s] cheating and other things that they do, I'm opposed to extension,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. (See ACT, March 2019.)

“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said on May 6 at the University of Pennsylvania. “Serious issues must first be settled.”

These concerns have not been well received by the White House. “We shouldn’t presuppose that the Russians are interested in extending the treaty,” Morrison said. “If they were, they wouldn’t be creating false narratives about U.S. compliance with the treaty.”

Broader Talks Scrutinized

The Trump administration’s desire to negotiate new arms control agreements with Russia and China has drawn criticism.

Russia has expressed a willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States on arms control and strategic stability, but it has its own list of concerns about U.S. policies and weapons systems, including missile defense systems, cyberweapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms.

The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia or China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

Trump told reporters on May 3 that he had already spoken to China about a trilateral nuclear arms control deal and that “they very much would like to be a part of that deal.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on May 6, however, that China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

China is estimated to possess about 300 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. In contrast, the United States and Russia are believed to possess more than 6,000 warheads each. China has never been a party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry.

In a May 6 interview in Finland, Pompeo acknowledged that a trilateral deal involving China and that covers all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons might be “too ambitious.” He noted that there are “just a couple years left before New START expires” and that it may be necessary to address the expiration of the treaty “on a bilateral basis.”

Asked at the May 15 hearing why he believed that China would want to engage in disarmament talks with the United States and Russia given Beijing’s much smaller nuclear arsenal, Trachtenberg replied that he could not “get into the mind of the Chinese leadership.” He said that “China should accept the responsibilities of a major power in the world today” by “engaging with respect to its nuclear arsenal.”

Menendez welcomed the administration’s interest in expanding the scope of arms control, but warned that “the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

New START Bills Proposed

Democrats and one notable Republican have proposed several pieces of legislation in support of extending New START.

On May 9, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s top Republican, introduced a bill titled “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces.” The bill expresses the sense of Congress that New START should be extended by five years unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement or the treaty is replaced by a pact that contains equal or greater verifiable constraints on Russian nuclear forces.

The legislation also would require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

The bill mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduced in March by Menendez and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) titled “New START Policy 5 Act of 2019.”

In addition, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on May 2 called “Save Arms Control and Verification Efforts (SAVE) Act” that calls for extending New START and would specifically prohibit any funding to increase the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenal above the treaty limits through Feb. 5, 2026, if the president does not extend or attempts to withdraw from the treaty.

Opponents of New START have also introduced legislation on the treaty. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill on May 13 that would prohibit the use of funding to implement an extension of New START or any successor agreement unless the agreement includes China and covers Russia's entire inventory of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The Trump administration has expressed interest in new strategic arms control talks, but specific suggestions remain unknown.

NATO Ministerial to Discuss INF Treaty

June 2019
By Shervin Taheran

NATO defense ministers will meet June 26 to prepare defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia does not come back into compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to a European official speaking with Arms Control Today.

The meeting will come just weeks before the United States is expected to withdraw from the treaty, alleging that Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile constitutes a treaty violation. NATO believes the missile can strike targets in Europe. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The INF Treaty bans the testing and deployment of land-based missiles that can fly distances of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. The agreement, concluded by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, significantly eased tensions in Europe over Soviet and U.S. deployments of these systems, which can reach their targets rapidly and with little warning. The likely termination of the treaty on Aug. 2 opens the door to the possible redeployment of INF Treaty-range missiles in Europe, which experts say could increase escalation risks and the potential for miscalculation in a crisis.

In an April 4 press statement following a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington, the ministers discussed “Russia’s ongoing violation” of the INF Treaty, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO “has no intention” to deploy “ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.” This does not preclude deploying conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries, which is what the Trump administration has announced it is seeking to develop. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The United States is “moving forward with developing ground-launched INF [Treaty]-range missile capabilities,” senior administration officials reiterated on May 15 to Congress. The work is “designed to be reversible should Russia return to compliance by verifiably destroying its INF Treaty-violating missiles, launchers, and associated support equipment,” said David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also noted that the system ultimately developed would be “driven by our assessment of military requirements and in consultation with Congress and with our allies
and partners.”

Although the annual congressional funding process is ongoing, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee already released its version of the fiscal year 2020 budget, which effectively eliminated the requested funding for the three new INF Treaty-range missiles that the administration announced it would be pursuing following its withdrawal from the treaty. The House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), is expected to follow suit in the annual defense authorization process, but Senate Republicans are expected to support the administration’s plans.

NATO defense ministers are set to discuss how to handle the impending termination of the INF Treaty.

A Response to Claims of Illegal Russian Nuclear Testing




For Immediate Release: May 29, 2019

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

(Washington, DC)—In prepared remarks delivered Wednesday at a Hudson Institute event, Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr., the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, stated that “The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Any violation of the CTBT by Russia, which has signed and ratified the agreement, would be a serious matter. But when pressed on the allegation in the question and answer session of the event by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Gordon, Ashley would only say that Russia had the "capability" to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty, a capability which Russia, China, and the United States have long had. He did not say that Russia has conducted or is conducting such tests.

The CTBT prohibits any nuclear test explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction and creates a robust international verification regime.

The United States has signed but not ratified the treaty.

Critics of the CTBT and arms control more broadly, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, have long claimed that the treaty does not adequately define a nuclear test, that Russia and China have a different interpretation than the United States of what the treaty prohibits, and that Moscow and Beijing have conducted nuclear tests in violation of the treaty.

But no public evidence has ever been provided to support the claim of illegal Russian testing and Gen. Ashley didn’t provide any Wednesday. Former Undersecretary of States for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told the House Armed Services Committee in December 2015 that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons ... in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” This begs the question of what, if anything, has changed since then that would support a different conclusion.

Gen. Ashley also claimed that Russia has “not affirmed the language of zero-yield.” But Russia has repeatedly affirmed publicly that they believe the treaty prohibits all nuclear test explosions. For example, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov noted in a 2017 op-ed that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.”

The most effective way for the United States to enforce compliance with the zero-yield standard is for the Trump administration and the U.S. Senate to support ratification of the treaty and help to bring it into force, which would allow for intrusive, short-notice, on-site inspections to detect and deter any possible cheating. In the meantime, if the U.S. has credible evidence that Russia is violating its CTBT commitments, it should propose, as allowed for in Article VI of the treaty, mutual confidence building visits to the respective U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address concerns about compliance.


The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated Wednesday that the United States believes that Russia "probably" is not adhering to its obligations outlined in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but offered no public evidence to support the claim of illegal Russian testing.

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U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, May 2019

U.S.-Russian Arms Control Talks to Begin Amid Uncertainty Following a May 14 meeting in Sochi, Russia with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the two countries “agreed that … we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on [the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] New START and its potential extension but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.” But it remains unclear when such talks will begin, who will lead the U.S. negotiating team, what the Trump...


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