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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Kingston Reif

U.S. Completes Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal


December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States formally withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Nov. 22 despite domestic and international pressure to remain party to the accord, including from President-elect Joe Biden and numerous U.S. allies.

The United States has used OC-135 aircraft to conduct overflights as part of the Open Skies Treaty. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty may trigger plans to dispose of the aircraft. (Photo: Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force)“Today, pursuant to earlier notice provided, the United States withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies is now effective,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet. “America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in noncompliance with its obligations.”

In May, Pompeo issued the six-month notice of withdrawal as required by the treaty, citing concerns over Russian compliance with and implementation of the treaty as grounds for the U.S. withdrawal. (See ACT, June 2020.)

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has violated the treaty and said in a Nov. 22 statement that all options remain on the table regarding its continued participation. The statement followed Nov. 12 remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in which he outlined in stark terms the circumstances in which Moscow might remain party to the treaty.

“If they [the remaining states-parties] want to keep the treaty in force, and if we choose to remain part of it, we will require our partners to legally confirm in writing that, first, they will not prohibit flights over any part of their territory regardless of whether U.S. bases are located there or not,” he said.

He added that the parties must also “strongly commit not to transmit data on flights over Russia to the United States.”

Under the treaty, all imagery collected from overflights is made available to any of the states-parties. During the treaty’s fourth review conference in October, Russia prioritized the provisions of the pact that restrict the distribution of treaty data to states-parties only. (See ACT, November 2020.)

A senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the United States is already moving to dispose of the two Boeing OC-135B aircraft used for treaty overflight missions.

“We’ve started liquidating the equipment,” the official said. The planes “are really old and cost-prohibitive for us to maintain. We don’t have a use for them anymore.”

An Air Force official told Defense News on Nov. 24 that a final decision on the disposition of the aircraft has not yet been made.

Congress appropriated $41.5 million in fiscal year 2020 to continue modernizing the aircraft, and the Air Force was planning to seek $76 million in fiscal year 2021 to replace the planes. But the Defense Department halted the funding earlier this year. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Following the U.S. withdrawal, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) issued a Nov. 23 statement maintaining that the Trump administration broke the law when it neglected to notify Congress 120 days before issuing an intent to withdraw from the treaty as required by the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“President Trump is attempting to burn down our critical institutions on his way out the door,” they wrote. “In doing so, he not only jeopardized U.S. national security, but he blatantly ignored and deliberately broke the law.”

In a Dec. 20, 2019 statement issued alongside his signature of the fiscal year 2020 authorization bill, Trump argued that the NDAA provision on the treaty raised constitutional concerns.

“I reiterate the longstanding understanding of the executive branch that these types of provisions encompass only actions for which such advance certification or notification is feasible and consistent with the president’s exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs,” the president said.

President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty and condemned the administration’s decision to withdraw. But he has stopped short of committing to try to reenter the agreement when he takes office in January or arguing the United States still remains a state-party because the withdrawal was done in violation of the law.

If Biden did want to resume U.S. participation in the treaty, it is unclear whether and how he could do so.

In a statement to Arms Control Today, Monica Matoush, a Democratic spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee, did not address whether Biden should attempt to rejoin the agreement.

“The importance of alliances and confidence-building measures to support strategic stability in Europe in the face of Russian aggression must be a priority for the next administration, despite efforts over the past four years to undermine these relationships and dismantle agreements that uphold transatlantic stability,” she said.

Peter Jones, a former Canadian representative to the Open Skies Treaty negotiations, proposed on Nov. 12 that the remaining states-parties pause the treaty at one minute to midnight on Nov. 21 in order to prevent the Trump administration from withdrawing from the treaty and buy time for a new Biden administration to rescind the withdrawal.

“In effect, they would be ignoring the Trump deadline until the Biden administration was sworn in and could rescind the withdrawal,” he wrote. Although the proposal was reportedly discussed in Vienna, it did not come to fruition.

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The U.S. withdrawal raises questions about the treaty’s future.

New START in Limbo Ahead of U.S. Election


November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia each dismissed last-minute proposals involving a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), leaving the fate of the sole remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement undetermined on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets reporters at the State Department on Oct. 19. Two days later he reaffirmed the U.S. position that New START "is not a good deal for the United States." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)The down-to-the-wire diplomacy appeared to narrow the large gap between the two sides on prolonging the treaty, but no resolution was found, and the failure to close a deal raised questions about whether Russia ever intended to strike a deal with the Trump administration so close to the election or whether the Trump administration ever intended to extend New START. Administration officials have repeatedly criticized the treaty and waited more than three years to begin serious arms control talks with Russia.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration and Russia will seek to continue negotiations later this year regardless of the election result. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November, he will pursue the treaty’s extension without conditions.

New START, which is slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

After several months of talks, Washington and Moscow in mid-October exchanged dueling offers pairing a one-year extension of New START with an undefined one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 20 statement that Russia offers to extend New START for one year and “undertake a political commitment to ‘freeze’ for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses.”

But the statement said that the offer “may be implemented only and exclusively on the premise that ‘freezing’ of warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands on the part of the United States.”

The foreign ministry added that the “time gained” by the New START extension “could be used to conduct comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future nuclear and missile arms control that must address all factors affecting strategic stability.”

Russia had previously called for extending New START by five years without conditions and balked at a warhead-level freeze.

The foreign ministry statement followed direction from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 16 to seek to extend New START “unconditionally for at least a year.” Putin made no specific mention of a freeze on all warhead levels.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded to Putin’s proposal on Twitter later that day, describing it as a “non-starter.” He claimed that Russia had appeared willing to accept a U.S. offer to extend New START and freeze all warhead levels in tandem after he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Oct. 2.

It is not clear whether Russia had agreed in principle to such a two-part deal or whether Russia further amended its position between Putin’s Oct. 16 comments and the Oct. 20 foreign ministry statement.

Regardless, the Trump administration praised Russia’s willingness to agree to a short-term extension of New START and a freeze and said that although a deal was close, more work needed to be done to seal it.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Oct. 21. He criticized the treaty for failing to capture Russia’s large and, according to the Defense Department, growing arsenal of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

“What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic,” Pompeo said. “But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”

O'Brien expressed optimism at an Oct. 28 Hudson Institute event that “if we can get through the verification issues, I think we're going to be able to get to a deal.” “We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of days and weeks,” he said.

If a deal is secured, the administration said it plans to use the ensuing year to translate it into a formal treaty that would also include China.

But Russia rejected the U.S. demand for verification of a freeze and said that such details should be deferred for future negotiations.

“We have the feeling that they [the United States] need verification for the verification's sake,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news outlet Interfax on Oct. 22.

“It may be considered that we’ve made two concessions,” Ryabkov said, referring to Russia’s willingness to agree to a one-year extension of New START and a one-year warhead-level freeze. “Let them make concessions to meet us halfway: let them drop their monitoring demand.”

In a separate interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov said “that the degree of our differences is rather significant” and that he did not see “reasons for strong optimism” that New START would be extended.

He warned that “[r]ejecting this condition will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement” and that Russia would be willing to allow New START to expire if the United States continued to make unrealistic demands.

The warning appeared to be a response to repeated suggestions by Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, that Russia is desperate to extend New START and that Washington would raise the price to extend the treaty if Russia failed to meet U.S. demands.

Ryabkov told reporters on Oct. 27 that Washington and Moscow still “are exchanging documents behind closed doors” and that “Russia is open to continuing the dialogue."

The Trump administration’s October offer of a short-term extension of New START and a freeze marked another shift in the U.S. negotiating position in arms control talks with Russia.

In August, the administration conditioned U.S. consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia agreeing to a politically binding framework deal that would verifiably cover all nuclear warheads, make changes to the New START verification regime, and be structured to include China in the future. (See ACT, September 2020.) The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, which Beijing rejected. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Key details about the U.S. freeze proposal have yet to be clarified by the Trump administration.

According to an Oct. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the United States wants both sides to declare the total number of warheads deployed on delivery systems of all ranges and kept in storage.

To verify that neither side was exceeding the declared number of warheads, the official said Washington wanted monitors to be stationed outside U.S. and Russian warhead production facilities. The official added that such a portal monitoring system, which has featured in past arms control agreements, did not need to be in place immediately but that Russia needed to agree to technical talks on how to eventually implement such an approach.

But Russian officials have called the adoption of such a system a nonstarter, at least in the near term.

In the past, the United States and Russia agreed to politically binding arms control and risk reduction measures without stringent verification protocols.

If Trump is not reelected and does not make a deal with Russia before Inauguration Day, a President Joe Biden would have 16 days before the treaty expires in which to pursue an extension. It is not clear whether he would continue to push for a freeze on all U.S. and Russian warheads.

Billingslea said in an Oct. 20 interview that a potential Biden administration would have to “rethink” its support for an unconditional extension of New START.

According to Billingslea, Trump, “by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

Despite pre-U.S. election maneuvering, prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remain slim.

New START Deal to Wait for Biden


December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness in November to reach a deal involving an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and a freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads following the U.S. presidential election, but the two sides remained at odds about the specific terms of such a deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting in Italy in February. On Nov. 12, he said that the question of extending New START would need to wait for the U.S. presidential election to be resolved.  (Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)As a result, the fate of the treaty likely rests on Russia and the incoming Biden administration resolving the issue. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty’s extension. According to a Nov. 25 Reuters article, there is continued debate among Biden's advisers over how long the extension should be. The treaty allows for an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.

After taking office, Biden would have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

“The Russian Federation is certainly making a calculation based upon whether they want to lock into agreement with an extension now or wait until after Jan. 20 to see if there is a better offer that they can possibly acquire,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Nov. 9. “I think that’s still a little bit of a gamble, perhaps less so than it might have been two weeks ago.”

Biegun said that stumbling blocks include how to define a nuclear warhead under a freeze and the U.S. demand that a freeze be verified. Nevertheless, he said, “as far as this administration is concerned, we’re prepared to go forward with an agreement.”

The following day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated that Russia stands prepared to extend New START and agree to a freeze on all warheads for one year so long as the United States puts forward no additional conditions, particularly with respect to verification of the freeze. But he remained pessimistic that a deal would be reached.

“As of today, as it was before U.S. election, we don’t see a basis to reach such an agreement. There’s nothing new in [the] U.S. position,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Nov. 12 that he has seen “rather fidgety comments from Washington” regarding the fate of New START. “Considering the current commotion in the United States caused by the ongoing vote recount, lawsuits, and other perturbations, we cannot expect any coherent proposals from either [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s people or Joe Biden’s team,” said Lavrov. “So, we will wait until the dust settles.”

In October, the United States proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead levels. Russia, which had previously called for a five-year extension of New START as allowed by the treaty, proposed a one-year extension and the concept of a warhead freeze, but rejected any verification of the freeze, in particular portal monitoring, at this time. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Lavrov said that as part of the warhead freeze, the Trump administration is demanding that Russia “recount” the warheads “and check which category these warheads belong to and immediately establish control over the facilities producing these warheads.”

“We have already been in a situation when American inspectors sat outside the checkpoints of our military plants
in the 1990s,” Lavrov added. “There is no coming back to this system.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to aggressively call on China to join arms control talks with the United States and Russia.

The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, but Beijing repeatedly rejected the demand. The Trump administration later dropped it as a condition for considering an extension of New START. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

“China has stubbornly refused to date to participate in those discussions, but as we approach the review conference of the [nuclear]Nonproliferation Treaty next year, I believe pressure will continue to grow on China to enter those discussions,” Biegun said.

At the EU Consortium on Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 12, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, echoed Biegun.

“It is becoming obvious to everyone that Beijing is not taking seriously its responsibility as a nuclear power to engage in meaningful arms control negotiations, and it continues to shun arms control negotiations with us on effective measures to prevent a new nuclear arms race spiral,” he said.

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied to Ford by saying that Beijing has communicated with Washington by phone, email, and letters.

Fu also said that he had talked directly with Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. special envoy for arms control. “We even had a phone conversation, even though that conversation was not very pleasant,” he said.

He emphasized China’s view that “the immediate priority now is to urge the United States to respond as soon as possible to Russia’s call for the unconditional extension of the New START.” When asked if China would join trilateral arms control discussions if the United States and Russia agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals, Fu replied, “I would say that is a big ‘if’—if the U.S. agrees to reduce.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Despite signs of flexibility in talks on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a deal appears unlikely before the Trump administration is replaced.

Russia Highlights Unresolved Open Skies Issues


November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

Russia has emphasized its concerns with how the remaining states-parties to the 1992 Open Skies Treaty will handle information obtained under the treaty after the likely U.S. withdrawal in late November.

An image taken from a 2007 Open Skies overflight is examined under a viewer. Russia has raised concerns that the United States will continue to have access to such imagery, even after it withdraws from the treaty. (Photo: OSCE)During the fourth review conference for the treaty, which began Oct. 7, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that U.S. allies who remain party to the treaty will face “a conflict of obligations.” The meeting was the first review conference held since the Trump administration on May 21 announced that the United States would withdraw from the treaty six months later. (See ACT, June 2020.) Once the U.S. withdrawal is complete, Moscow is concerned that Washington will maintain access to information collected during the treaty activities through its allies who remain states-parties, particularly those who are NATO members.

Ryabkov specifically pointed to Article IX of the treaty, which stipulates that all information gathered during overflights be made available to any of the states-parties and be used exclusively for achieving the objectives of the treaty. Treaty provisions that restrict the data only to states-parties, Ryabkov argued, should be prioritized.

He said Russia has proposed that U.S. allies express their commitment to uphold the treaty’s provisions through the exchanging of diplomatic notes, but has been “disappointed” in the reaction of other treaty members to this proposal.

“A lack of willingness to clearly reaffirm their contractual obligations raises serious concerns about their true intentions,” he said. “The conversation on this topic is not over.”

In his remarks, Ryabkov said that Moscow has recently shown goodwill under the treaty. Russia allowed, for example, a February 2020 flight over Kaliningrad that exceeded the 500-kilometer flight path restriction that Russia has imposed since 2014. (See ACT, May 2020.) This goodwill by Russia stands in contrast, he alleged, to other countries that have “impede[d] the normal functioning of the treaty,” including Canada, France, Poland, and the United Kingdom.

The review conference was chaired by Belgium, which pledged to “make room for a constructive open dialogue with the aim of reaffirming the importance of the Open Skies Treaty and the engagement of states-parties to continue to implement the treaty.”

Prior to the review conference, Germany moderated an Oct. 5 discussion titled “The Quota Coordination and Deconfliction for Open Skies Flights in 2021.” According to Ryabkov, the distribution of quotas was successful.

Signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, the treaty permits its 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. Since its entry into force, treaty parties have undertaken 1,534 observation flights, according to a Belgian description.

Russia questions whether Washington will continue to receive treaty imagery after the U.S. withdrawal.

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles


November 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested adding “mutual verification measures” to his proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

These measures, he said on Oct. 26, would focus on Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems deployed at NATO bases in Europe and on Russian military facilities in Kaliningrad. Putin claimed that the latter measure would confirm the absence of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the United States says violated the INF Treaty and cited as a reason for U.S. withdrawal from the accord in Aug. 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.)

Putin also reiterated that Russia believes the missile was compliant with the treaty and that Russia will continue “not to deploy 9M729 missiles in European Russia” as long as NATO members do not field similar missiles in Europe.

Thus far, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have acknowledged Putin’s offer, but none have definitely accepted or rejected it. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea called the proposal "a non-starter."

The United States believes that Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729, for a total of about 100 missiles, in areas of the country able to strike NATO countries. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Washington is moving quickly to develop and deploy this type of missile, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about exactly what missiles would be developed and where they would be based. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Putin first proposed the idea of this moratorium in Aug. 2019. NATO rejected it the following month. The United States has also dismissed the idea.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles

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