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MAD’s Midlife Crisis: The Impact of US-Russia Rivalry on International Arms Control

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The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), signed between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1987, required both countries to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5,500km. The two sides eliminated 2,692 short-, medium- and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by 1991 — the first time ever that an entire class of nuclear weapons has been eliminated. In July 2014, the US State Department officially alleged that the Russian Federation was violating the INF Treaty by conducting flight tests of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range that is prohibited by the treaty. Since then, Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, and has accused the United States of deploying defense systems in Romania and Poland which could potentially be used to deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km. Indeed, in May 2016, the United States placed into operation the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania equipped with Mk-41 launchers, with a similar system scheduled to be completed in Poland by 2018. Russia has also repeatedly accused the US of producing and deploying armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. In early October 2016, Russia deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad region, the westernmost territory of Russia, as part of its regular military maneuvers. Officials in Washington and Moscow have accused each other of provocations with these deployments which are designed for or capable of undermining the other party’s deterrence capabilities.

Despite the heated rhetoric, up to now neither the US nor Russian allegations indicate that Russia or the United States currently plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty. On 11 October 2016, in his statement on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the vision of Reykjavik was still alive today and urged Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. As for the possible Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty, according to the Russian expert Petr Topychkanov, the action-reaction chain initiated by such a withdrawal would “lead to growing missile threats to Russia in Europe and to further erosion of the arms control regime, if not its total destruction, which is not in Moscow’s interest.” In our opinion, one of the options to settle these disputes could be to engage in confidence-building measures as per the existing provisions under the INF Treaty. It is worth recalling that Article VIII provides for a Special Verification Commission (SVC) to act as an implementation body for the treaty, resolving questions of compliance and a dispute-resolution mechanism. As the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, States Parties can convene the SVC at any time. On 15-16 November 2016, the 30th session of the SVC took place in Geneva and delegations from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the United States discussed issues related to implementing the treaty. The convening of a meeting of the SVC for the first time since 2003 could be a strong sign of the commitment by Russia and the US to resolve the existing dispute through negotiations rather than threats of withdrawal from such an important treaty.

Russian concerns over the compatibility of NATO nuclear-sharing practice with the provisions of the NPT

Another long-standing compliance dispute between Russia and the US is the issue of NATO nuclear-sharing and the perceived incompatibility of this practice with the provisions of the NPT. According to the understanding of Russia, NATO nuclear-sharing violates Articles I and II of the Treaty: Article I prohibits nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT from transferring their weapons to non-nuclear states, and Article II prohibits non-nuclear states receiving nuclear weapons. The question of whether the treaty applies in times of war is a very crucial one to the interpretation of the legality of nuclear-sharing. According to the US interpretation of the NPT, the treaty does not apply in times of war. It means that the non-nuclear NATO partners in effect become nuclear powers in time of war. Following this logic, nuclear-sharing is legal (or at least not explicitly prohibited in the NPT) in times of war. According to the publicly-available data, NATO’s system on nuclear-sharing currently provides between 160 and 200 tactical nuclear weapons (B-61 warheads) with an overall capacity of 18 megatons stored inside six air base vaults across Europe. Stockpiling of US tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) outside the territory of the US has for a long time been a stumbling block in US-Russia bilateral disarmament negotiations. The situation was further exacerbated when the US unveiled its plans to modernize its tactical nuclear arsenal in Europe. The new US weapon, the B61-12, is intended to replace all its older versions and is capable of destroying more targets with increased accuracy and consequently with limited damage to structures and lives nearby. It will be a “smart” bomb which can be guided to hit its target with great precision using exactly the right amount of explosive yield to only destroy what needs to be destroyed. That is why some military experts call these new warheads more “ethical”, stating that their use would have less severe humanitarian consequences. From Moscow’s view, the planned modernization of the US bombs could drop the threshold of using nuclear weapons when US nuclear bombs in Europe could become “battlefield weapons”.

As a result of NATO enlargement up to Russia’s borders, the Alliance has gained a numerical superiority over Russia. In these conditions, Russia considers national TNWs a necessary means to offset such superiority in Europe. It is worth recalling that in response to NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004, Russia partially suspended (in 2007) and then completely halted (in 2015) its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). In our opinion, if the favorable conditions for disarmament negotiations emerge in the future, one of the options would be to link the issue of TNW reductions and revival of the negotiations process on the CFE with measures on limiting NATO further expansion. However, since the conclusion of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, there has been little progress toward further nuclear arms reductions. Even before the 2014 events in Ukraine, US-Russian relations were characterized by a serious deficit of trust and constant reciprocal claims in non-compliance with disarmament bilateral and multilateral agreements.

It is well known that the lack of credible information concerning the status of the armed forces of conflicting parties usually leads to inflated quantitative and qualitative assessments of the opponent’s capabilities and a build-up of one’s own capabilities to a level that would guarantee adequate counter-measures. The current US-Russia saber-rattling has the potential to unleash a new arms race. It would be particularly dangerous in case of strategic nuclear weapons because it would undermine strategic stability, a state of affairs in which countries are confident that their adversaries would not be able to undermine their nuclear deterrent capability. As Russian academic Alexey Arbatov stresses, “the reduction of stockpiles of nuclear weapons over the past quarter century led to an unexpected psychological effect. An understanding that it is impossible to win a nuclear war disappeared. None of the world leaders uses this formula now [“nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought”].”

Disarmament diplomacy in action: Russian and US approaches for strengthening WMD regimes

Certainly, the existing regimes for non-proliferation or prohibition of WMD differ from each other. While the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the NPT have institutionalized specialized agencies and organizations mandated to verify its implementation by States Parties on an international level (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) respectively), another major disarmament treaty — the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) — was agreed upon without including any verification mechanisms to assure compliance. The NPT, unlike the Conventions prohibiting entire classes of WMD — such as chemical and biological — does not prevent the development, production, use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but rather legally formalizes the division of those who have the right to possess nuclear weapons and those who do not. However, all disarmament regimes have one thing in common: a regular review process in which all decisions are made on a consensus basis. At the same time, the severely disappointing outcomes of two recent reviews — the 2015 NPT RevCon in New York, and the 2016 BWC RevCon in Geneva — make it clear that if States Parties fail to find common ground on some initiatives in the framework of existing multilateral treaties, it could lead to a crystallization of unreconciled camps with diametrically opposed views and mutually exclusive initiatives regarding the ways of strengthening the respective regimes.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the NPT

The 2015 NPT RevCon, which ended without consensual adoption of a final document, showed the unwillingness of States Parties to the treaty to find common ground on two main issues: establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and interpretation of disarmament commitments under Article VI of the NPT. Concerning the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, the final draft text included a proposal for the UN Secretary-General to convene a conference on the WMD-free zone no later than 1 March 2016, with all decisions on preparations and on the agenda of the conference to be taken by a consensus. This initiative was supported by the Russian delegation, which took the lead in conducting multilateral consultations and drafting the proposal. However, the imposition of a tight deadline as well as the proposal for deprivation of veto rights on convening the conference were unacceptable for the US delegation, and therefore the US, along with Canada and the UK, did not support the final document.

Regarding the issue of nuclear disarmament commitments, several remarks should be made. The main contradiction stem from a fundamental divergence between Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and most Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) as to what constitutes credible progress of nuclear disarmament and what the obligations Article VI of the treaty entail. Under Article VI, the parties should “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” NWS interpret nuclear disarmament as a gradual process conditioned upon maintaining strategic stability, and therefore, in their view, the preservation of nuclear deterrence. Russia and the United States, along with other NWS, maintained that they are fully compliant with the provisions of the Treaty and resisted the establishment of any concrete timetable for disarmament in their joint statement of P5 at the NPT RevCon.

At the same time, from the view of most NNWS, long-term investments and modernization programs in NWS demonstrate the unwillingness of the P5 to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons. This leads to a situation where the P5 are regarded by more and more states as de facto being in noncompliance with their NPT obligations in Article VI. As the Austrian diplomat Alexander Kmentt said in his closing statement delivered on behalf of 49 states, “there is a wide divide that presents itself in many fundamental aspects of what nuclear disarmament should mean. There is a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap, and a moral gap.” However, none of the P5 accepted the notion that there is any “legal gap” in their fulfillment of efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. This discussion was not closed after the RevCon, and a group of states — supporters of the initiative to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons — continued to pursue a campaign in favor of a nuclear weapons ban. On 27 October 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/C.1/71/L.41 which provides for convening a UN Conference to negotiate a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use. Negotiations were set to take place in March and June 2017 in New York. Unsurprisingly, Russia and the United States voted against this resolution, and both countries warned that adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban treaty would create two legal frameworks with mutually exclusive provisions on the status of nuclear weapons. As Robert Wood, US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) noted, adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban convention “risks creating an unbridgeable divide between states, polarizing the political environment on nuclear disarmament, and effectively limiting any future prospect for achieving consensus, whether in the NPT review process, the UN, or the CD.” Both countries declared that they will not participate in the nuclear-weapons-ban treaty negotiations.

The problem of differential interpretation of Article VI obligations is not a new one. This contradiction was formulated in a lapidary way by the famous Spanish diplomat and writer Salvador de Madariaga in 1973: “Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.” [1] However, as former US diplomat Lewis Dunn notes, the polarization and divisions within the NPT community, especially between the P5 and NNWS are greater and more dramatic than they have been for over 30 years. The problem is that different States Parties to the NPT review process appear increasingly unwilling to compromise or to search for a consensus. As the Russian expert on nuclear weapons Andrey Baklitskiy rightfully notes, there appears to be a “growing temptation to move the discussion on the most contentious issues to the UN General Assembly or to some ad hoc body, where decisions would be taken by a majority rather than consensus. That would enable the majority of the states to ram through their own agenda, ignoring the position of the dissenting states.”

As a result, the 2015 NPT RevCon showed at a glance the main contradictions of this regime. On the one hand, Russia and the United States, as the major nuclear states, unanimously opposed any deadlines for nuclear disarmament as well as the initiative to convene a Conference on a comprehensive nuclear-weapons ban. The US and Russia are also unanimous when it comes to dealing with horizontal nuclear proliferation — the Iranian nuclear deal being very illustrative in this regard. In other words, Russia and the United States show their preparedness and willingness to work hand in hand on nuclear disarmament of other states. On the other hand, given the current stalemate of bilateral US-Russia relations, with political tensions being high and robust channels of communication being blocked, negotiations on further reductions of US and Russian nuclear arsenals seem extremely problematic. Since New START entered into force in February 2011, further progress on nuclear disarmament has stalled. It is not even clear whether New START will be extended for a further 5 years after 2021. From that perspective, the antagonism between the proponents of different viewpoints toward total nuclear disarmament is likely to deepen in the future.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the BWC

The 8th BWC RevCon is another demonstrative example of the weakness of disarmament diplomacy to bridge deep and long-standing divisions. Even though a consensual final document was agreed, the decisions contained in it were minimal, especially when compared with a large number of proposals and innovative ideas put forward to strengthen the Convention. One of the main stumbling blocks was the discussion over the necessity of an international legally-binding verification instrument for the BWC. The issue of a legally-binding protocol under the BWC is not new. During the 1990s, States Parties attempted to develop a legally=binding protocol in the framework of the ad hoc group. In 2001, in the course of the 5th RevCon, this effort fell apart due to the position of the United States, who rejected the draft proposal as well as any further negotiations and claimed that such a protocol would not help strengthen compliance with the BWC and would hurt US national interests. However, the US arguments were not convincing for the majority of States Parties, including Russia. Since 2001, Russia has constantly called for the resumption of negotiations on an international legally-binding protocol as the only credible and sustainable method of strengthening the BWC.

One of the solutions to enhance comprehension among States Parties in the aftermath of the deadlock of the 2001 RevCon was the establishment of an inter-sessional program (ISP). Starting in 2003, the ISP has consisted of two annual meetings (meeting of experts and meeting of States Parties) to address specific topics. It should be noted in that regard that both Russia and the US consider the ISP as a useful mechanism to put forward their initiatives and discuss a variety of BWC-related issues. Not all proposals tabled by Russia and the US at the 8th RevCon were mutually exclusive; therefore, achieving compromise decisions on some issues was feasible. For instance, both countries were in favour of establishing an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) for examining the modalities of a new mechanism aimed to review the progress in science and technologies in the biological sphere. The Unites States put forward a BWC Implementation Review Initiative as a form of peer review exercise to strengthen the Convention at the national level, and supported other voluntary measures intended to promote transparency and confidence in compliance. While Russiaand some other countries — such as members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)- were not convinced that promoting voluntary peer review exercises was the optimum way to strengthen the BWC, it was possible to find a consensual formulation of usefulness of voluntary peer review mechanisms by making a reservation that they are not a substitute for verification. As for other initiatives proposed by Russia, they were also not necessarily doomed to fail. For instance, Russia proposed to examine the operationalization of mobile biomedical units under the BWC to deliver protection against biological weapon, investigate their alleged use, and to suppress epidemics of various etiologies. While the US delegation did not consider this as an effective operative measure, they were, however, ready to give it prominence in the next ISP and discuss this initiative further. However, the 2016 BWC RevCon showed that the option of putting aside diverging views regarding a legally-binding verification instrument was no longer an effective way to tackle issues under the BWC. A certain number of delegations — mainly NAM member-states — were steadfast in their conviction that any voluntary compliance confidence options would be a distraction from the goal of establishing a legally-binding protocol. Concerning the ISP issue, some delegations — again, such as from the NAM — were very resistant to the idea of giving the ISP the mandate to make decisions. From the Iranian point of view, for example, any ISP of the substantive nature being proposed would make governments too comfortable with the status quo and thus inhibit moves towards a legally-binding instrument for verification. Iran reiterated its position in a closing statement by saying that “the best way [for the time being] was not to go ahead and give more power to the ISP, change its format and modalities and create a de-facto secretariat, by giving more mandate and human and financial resources to the ISU [Implementation Support Unit].” As a result, instead of an expanded ISP, States Parties could only agree on the continuation of convening annual meetings of States Parties and preserving the ISU in its current membership.

In all likelihood, any new initiatives with regards to the ISP or voluntary compliance confidence measures will be extremely difficult to implement in the framework of the consensus-based decision-making process. Without any doubts, the current stalemate over the legally-binding protocol will not be resolved without convening comprehensive negotiations on this subject. This mission is not impossible: according to the closing statement delivered by US Ambassador Robert Wood, the US was “prepared to engage in a discussion of the full range of proposals for strengthening this Convention” (emphasis added). Notwithstanding that there are big differences in the US and Russian attitudes toward strengthening the BWC and even mutual allegations in non-compliance with BWC provisions, both Russia and the US were ready to show some flexibility on a number of respective proposals. Neither the US nor Russia was interested in decreasing the value of the ISP. However, a variety of stumbling blocks (including disputes over an international export control regime and legally-binding protocol) made it impossible to conclude the work of the RevCon in a successful way. As the Australian diplomat Ian McConville rightfully noted, in order to avoid a widening split in the BWC community, “we need to break down the existing deep divisions among states parties so that our common goal of strengthening the BWC can continue apace.”

The US and Russian attitudes for strengthening the regime for the prohibition of chemical weapons

Although elimination of the remaining chemical weapons stockpiled in Russia and the United States — the two largest possessors of chemical arsenals — has yet to be completed, the emphasis of the CWC regime is gradually shifting from finalizing chemical weapons disarmament to preventing states rearming with this WMD and preventing non-state actors using chemical weapons. The CWC, as a Convention which eliminates an entire WMD class, is based on a general purpose criterion, which encompasses all toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under the Convention, irrespective of circumstances or perpetrators. The Convention’s prohibitions are comprehensive in scope and future changes in science and technology are taken into account. However, the 24-year old CWC faces limitations related to chemical weapons terrorism. At the time it was decided that the discussion of terrorism-related issues in the scope of the negotiated Convention would have further complicated the already difficult negotiations because of the lack of consensus regarding a universally-acceptable definition of terrorism, which is why the word ‘terrorism’ does not even appear in the Convention. However, it is evident that chemical weapons terrorism cannot be handled with the standard systems that have been established for interstate relations. Although the use and production of chemical weapons are prohibited in perpetuity since 1992, as we see in the Middle East region, chemical weapons are by no means weapons of the past.

On 1 March 2016, at a plenary session of the CD, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed to open negotiations on a Convention for Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism in view of rising evidence of such WMDs falling into the hands of non-state armed groups. Having said that chemical terrorism is now “a grave reality of our time”, Lavrov stressed that it was important to take into account that the CWC does not fully address the challenge of countering chemical terrorism. Legal rationale for the initiative was further developed in an explanatory note to the Russian proposal. It is stated in this document that the fundamental requirement of the Convention not to use chemical weapons in any circumstances, as well as to develop, produce, stockpile or transfer chemical weapons applies to states parties only. The prohibition against non-state actors gaining access to chemical weapons is implied only in Article VII of the CWC, which obliges each state party to ban non-state actors on its territory or in any other place under its jurisdiction as recognized by international law from undertaking any activity prohibited under the Convention and put in place criminal punishment for such illegal activity. From Moscow’s view, UNSC Resolution 1540 addresses solely the implementation of national measures with the aim to prevent chemical weapons or its components from falling into the hands of terrorists. As for the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, its scope is limited: firstly, to the use of “a lethal device”; secondly, to the specified locations of its use; thirdly, to the intent to cause death, a serious bodily injury or extensive destruction of the objects mentioned in the Convention.

Although the Russian initiative was supported by a number of states participants at the CD, other states reacted to Russia’s proposal critically. Some delegations stressed that the Conference was not an appropriate forum to develop international instruments on terrorism issues, even associated with WMD. Other delegations raised the question of different memberships in the CWC and the CD. It was also noted that it might take considerable time before the proposed Convention would reach the universal adherence that the CWC already enjoys. The US was unconvinced that there was significant value to be gained from a new legally-binding convention as there were a number of existing instruments. From the US perspective, if there is a gap, it is the implementation gap. The US also refuted the Russian argument that the issue of chemical terrorism could not be tackled at the national level and should not be scattered under various existing mechanisms. Moreover, they pointed out that Russia’s proposal itself relied on the same mechanisms, i.e. national implementation. In the US view, “negotiations for a new legally binding convention could at best result in a superfluous and unnecessary mechanism, and at worst distract the international community and provide the very actors that they aimed to deter with opportunities for their exploitation.” To date, the CD remains deadlocked and the probability of reaching consensus on the Russian proposal is very low.

It appears that the current discordance between the US and Russia over chemical weapons terrorism is due to the diametrically-opposing views of these countries about who is responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It should be noted that the OPCW and the CWC have neither capacity nor mandate to determine the questions of responsibility and accountability. That is why several international mechanisms have been established to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria (the OPCW Fact Finding Mission) and to identify individuals or entities responsible for use of chemical weapons (the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM]). However, the JIM was not mandated to act and function as a judicial or quasi-judicial body. Moreover, it has no authority or jurisdiction, whether directly or indirectly, to make a formal or binding judicial determination of criminal liability. To date, the JIM found evidence that both the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and non-state armed groups operating in Syria used toxic chemicals as a weapon in several confirmed incidents in 2014-2015. Although Russia recognizes and takes into account the conclusions of the JIM regarding the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups in Syria, it refutes the arguments asserting that chemical weapons were used by Syrian government. As the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin noted, the conclusions contained in JIM reports were not substantiated by sufficient testimonial basis, they were full of contradictions and therefore were unconvincing to draw far-reaching conclusions about the guilt of Syrian government structures in crimes related to chemical weapons.

The 21st annual session of the Conference of the States Parties to the CWC held in The Hague in December 2016 was characterized by an unprecedented level of politicization and polarization among its members due to the Syrian dossier. Prior to the December Conference, the Executive Council (EC) of the OPCW voted in favor of taking further measures against the Syrian government’s illegal possession and use of chemical weapons. The vote was described by many observers as unusual as the EC generally operates through consensus. The text of the decision was supported by 28 members from 41, just enough to reach the required two-thirds majority. Russia voted against this decision and said that “there have been sad precedents in the past when these types of “conclusions” were used to form the basis for the adoption of far-reaching decisions.” One should note that a disregard of consensus could result in the creation of different camps constantly opposing each other regarding the implementa¬tion of the CWC, finally producing a weakening of the legitimacy of the Convention and its implementing organs.

Without pretending to be exhaustive in analyzing the differences in attitudes of Russia and the US for strengthening the regimes against WMD, we tried to understand whether the current US-Russian antagonism constitutes a serious threat for sustainability of existing international disarmament mechanisms. We are convinced that Russia and the US, as countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, should be the ones to initiate major steps to strengthen currently-eroding WMD regimes. Although the NPT, CWC and BWC remain the main bulwarks of the international disarmament regime, we are witnessing nowadays a crystallization of unreconciled camps with opposed views on a variety of long-standing issues. For the most part, Russia and the US find themselves on opposite sides of the barricade by taking the lead for promoting mutually-exclusive initiatives. Even if both countries stand-by-side in opposing horizontal nuclear proliferation in the context of the NPT, Russia and the US are evidently not prepared to further cut their respective nuclear arsenals because of their unresolved compliance disputes and reciprocal claims in undermining strategic stability. Therefore, the US-Russian stalemate over bilateral nuclear disarmament gravely impacts the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deepens the antagonism among states parties to the NPT. As US Professor William Perry rightfully notes, “the fate of civilization hangs in the balance, and it is up to our two great nations, who are the world’s leaders in nuclear weapons, to take the lead in eliminating the existential danger posed by these terrible weapons. That is the spirit of Reykjavik, and it is even more vital today than it was thirty years ago.”

[1] Salvador de Madariaga was also Chairman of the League of Nations disarmament commission in 1922. Salvador de Madariaga, Morning Without Noon, Westmead, UK: Saxon House, 1973,P. 48–49.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Modernization of nuclear weapons continues- number of peacekeepers declines

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The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launched the findings of SIPRI Yearbook 2018, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security. Key findings include the following: all the nuclear weapon-possessing states are developing new nuclear weapon systems and modernizing their existing systems; and the number of personnel deployed with peace operations worldwide continues to fall while the demand is increasing.

​​​​​​World nuclear forces: reductions remain slow as modernization continues

At the start of 2018 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—possessed approximately 14 465 nuclear weapons. This marked a decrease from the approximately 14 935 nuclear weapons that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2017.

The decrease in the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world is due mainly to Russia and the USA—which together still account for nearly 92 per cent of all nuclear weapons—further reducing their strategic nuclear forces pursuant to the implementation of the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START).

Despite making limited reductions to their nuclear forces, both Russia and the USA have long-term programmes under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities. The USA’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), published in February 2018, reaffirmed the modernization programmes and approved the development of new nuclear weapons. The NPR also emphasized expanding nuclear options to deter and, if necessary, defeat both nuclear and ‘non-nuclear strategic attacks’.

‘The renewed focus on the strategic importance of nuclear deterrence and capacity is a very worrying trend,’ says Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board. ‘The world needs a clear commitment from the nuclear weapon states to an effective, legally binding process towards nuclear disarmament.’

The nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles as well as developing new land-, sea- and air-based missile delivery systems. China continues to modernize its nuclear weapon delivery systems and is slowly increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal.

In 2017 North Korea continued to make technical progress in developing its nuclear weapon capabilities, including the test of—what was claimed to be—a thermonuclear weapon, in September. North Korea also demonstrated unexpected rapid progress in the testing of two new types of long-range ballistic missile delivery systems.

‘Despite the clear international interest in nuclear disarmament reflected in the conclusion in 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the modernization programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states indicate that genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament will remain a distant goal,’ says Shannon Kile, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.

* ‘Deployed warheads’ refers to warheads placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces. ** ‘Other warheads’ refers to stored or reserve warheads and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.

Total figures include the highest estimate when a range is given. Figures for North Korea are uncertain and are not included in total figures. All estimates are approximate.

Number of peacekeepers falls globally, despite increasing demand

There were 63 multilateral peace operations active during 2017 (one more than in 2016): 25 operations were deployed in Africa, 18 in Europe, 9 in the Middle East, 6 in Asia and Oceania, and 5 in the Americas.

The total number of personnel deployed in multilateral peace operations decreased by 4.5 per cent during 2017, from 152 822 to 145 911. Nearly three-quarters of all personnel were based in Africa. The decrease in the number of personnel is explained by the fall, by 7.6 per cent, in deployments by the United Nations, whereas the number of personnel in non-UN operations increased by 2.3 per cent to 47 557.

Although the UN clearly remains the principal actor in peace operations, African actors are claiming an increasing role in African peace and security matters. This is reflected in the establishment in February 2017 of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Joint Force (Force Conjointe des Etats du G5 Sahel, FC-G5S).

UN peacekeeping reform remained high on the international agenda in 2017. However, these discussions were overshadowed by two other significant developments during the year: the greater insecurity of personnel deployed in UN peace operations; and the efforts—particularly by the US administration—to drastically reduce the UN peacekeeping budget.

In 2017, UN missions witnessed a dramatic escalation in fatalities linked to hostile acts—in both absolute terms (from 34 in 2016 to 61 in 2017) and as a ratio of the number of uniformed personnel deployed (from 0.31 to 0.61 per 1000 uniformed personnel). Whereas in preceding years most fatalities occurred in the UN mission in Mali, in 2017 the UN operations in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo also faced substantial losses.

‘An independent review into the security of peacekeepers released in 2017 (2017 Cruz Report), suggested that UN peacekeeping operations should adopt a more robust and less risk-averse force posture,’ says Timo Smit, Researcher with the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme. ‘However, this raises the question, which was not addressed by the Cruz Report, as to how the UN should generate sufficient forces that are both willing and capable of adopting such a posture.’

In 2017, UN peace operations—like African peace operations—could no longer be certain of predictable and sustainable funding. The budget cuts and related troop reductions meant that the UN had to rethink its strategy in many operations. ‘Is it realistic to expect the UN to continue to do more with less, and is it worth taking the risk?’ says Dr Jair van der Lijn, Director of SIPRI’s Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.

‘A number of finance-contributing countries hoped that budget cuts might be used pragmatically to strengthen peacekeeping reform. However, the actual effects of resource reduction on some operations might put peacekeepers at further risk and leave populations more vulnerable,’ says Van der Lijn.

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NSG Expansion for Non-NPT States: India and Pakistan’s Case

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The ascent of the NSG as one of the critical and influentialcartel groups promoting the cause of non-proliferation intends to urge India to become part of it by passing the chronicled reality that the NSG was created against the Indian nuclear weapons tests. The Great Powers possessing nuclear weapons have already given certain exemptions to India in terms of trading in the field of nuclear technology transfer. However, these special exemptions by the NSG members are not consistent with the purported arrangements of the NSG that does not permit a state unless it is party to the NPT.

Albeit Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was made against the Indian atomic test, it is astonishing to note that even the NSG’s revised guidelines of June 2013 did not name India specifically, whose nuclear weapon test wound up in the creation of NSG.

NSG works on the consensus by following the two prominent sets of its normative posture. Firstly, it is responsible to strictly follow the guidelines for nuclear exports. Secondly, it also relates to nuclear related exports. It is imperative to note that the first set of NSG’s guidelines deals with elements such as a) nuclear materials, b) nuclear reactors and equipments, c) non- nuclear materials for reactors, d) plants and equipments for the reprocessing, enrichment and conversion of nuclear material and, e) nuclear technology for each of the above nuclear export elements. Whilst, the second set of NSG guidelines largely deals with nuclear export related materials such as fuel cycle and nuclear explosive for industrial purposes only. Both of these two sets of NSG guidelines are consistent with the provisions of internationally binding treaties in the field of nuclear non-proliferation such as the NPT and many other.

Since the NSG rises up as one of the important cartel groups in the field of non-proliferation, it is not free from the critical issues it confronts. For instance, the Indo-US nuclear deal and the NSG’s nuclear exemptions to India has become a critical issue for the NSG in terms of sustaining its credibility. This indicates that NSG may drift away from the provisions it sets and undermine its own set of guidelines.

However, there can be certain plausible options that the NSG may undertake to restore and enhance further its normative posture and credibility as one of the rising cartels in the field of international non-proliferation like the NPT would recognize both India and Pakistan as nuclear weapons states before they think of joining the NSG. Presumably, as India and Pakistan enhance their nuclear maturity, the NPT and NSG could eventually recognize these nuclear weapons states with the ultimate motive to strengthen the non-proliferation regime

It is also encouraging that the NSG could expand its membership by inducting more states that may include those states which are either Party to the NPT or those who have not yet joined the NPT. If in case India is embraced before Pakistan, it could have critical consequences for regional arms race and increased over reliance on nuclear weapons in the South Asia.  Alternatively, the NSG could relax its provisions unanimously agreeing that it could eventually pave the way for both India and Pakistan to join the NSG. However, both would remain legitimate and responsible nuclear weapons states by following the essential parameters of the international non-proliferation regime including that of the additional protocol of the IAEA. Furthermore, the NSG might adopt tostrictlystand by its provisions without showing any flexibility by not allowing both India and Pakistan to become part of the NSG unless they fully satisfy the guidelines of the NSG particularly joining of the NPT.

In a nutshell, this may not be favorable to the NSG as this would show NSG too rigid, discriminatory, and limited by not increasing its membership. Plausibly, expanding its membership and promoting the cause of non-proliferation, the NSG could enhance its credibility in the field of non-proliferation by making both India and Pakistan obligatory to the essential parameters of the non-proliferation.

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Defense

NATO–Russia Council: What Are the Outcomes?

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The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council (NRC) held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. The Council had been planned for the eve of the next NATO summit scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the Council and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

Unlike the previous sessions of the Council, the results of these recent meetings were not made public. The websites of official agencies ran only short communiques. Today, Russia has taken a serious and well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to practical progress, to help achieve a productive dialogue and to restore a practical agenda.

The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. While it was NATO that proposed holding the consultations, it was unclear what the real agenda would be and what practical outcomes were to be expected. And these are the key issues. Russia continues to emphasize the need for tangible results, particularly in the current political crisis. On the other hand, it is also noteworthy that the Council was planned for the eve of the next NATO summit, which is scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context. Despite the apparent stalemate in the NRC, the opportunity to compare notes in the run-up to the most important event on the NATO calendar, which will be attended by heads of state and government, should not be squandered. The Russian side largely took these very circumstances into account.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Although the participants of the NRC round table did not plan to discuss anything new, they naturally took the new realities and the military and political situation into account. The emphasis at the previous NATO–Russia Council was on the WEST 2017 joint strategic military exercise between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus. This time, in discussing transparency, reducing risks and tensions and preventing military incidents, Russia was primarily interested in the upcoming large-scale Trident Juncture 2018 exercise.

Clearly, this will be a major exercise with the participation of up to 45,000 people, including representatives of partner countries. And Russia is understandably interested in the relation of the military activity to the declared functions of containing Russia. At the time, it is apparent that a sufficiently substantive discussion of the issues of reducing military threats and risks and developing joint steps in that direction cannot be considered without stepping up the inter-military dialogue, and that dialogue still does not work in the NATO–Russia Council format. Contacts have been established between NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, but that is not enough. It is obvious that discussing Risk Reduction – the problems of cutting risks, preventing and neutralizing military threats – requires a systemic dialogue, not only between military leaders, but also between specialized military experts. NATO does not agree to this: since April 1, 2014, all practical contacts have been cut, and practical cooperation and interaction have been blocked.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the NRC and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

It is not easy to confirm such sentiments in current conditions, particularly since seven diplomats from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to NATO were stripped of their accreditation in March 2018. Russia does not merely view this as an unhelpful step; it sees it as narrowing the options for dialogue. But Moscow nevertheless agreed to the Council meeting, thus putting the ball in NATO’s court. Moving away from diplomatic parlance, this is a gift from the Russian side, since NATO will need to report on the second track of its relations with Russia at the July summit: balancing “effective containment” with “successful dialogue.” This task had become all the more pressing for the Alliance in the run-up to the summit. Its headquarters would like to demonstrate that the adopted formula had been productive, and Moscow did not want to exacerbate relations and give grounds for more anti-Russia rhetoric. Jens Stoltenberg can now quite responsibly report at the July summit that the dialogue is developing, without focusing attention on the difficulties and its practical ineffectiveness. Yet, if Russia sends such a signal and “gives a gift” to NATO before the summit, then NATO should consider the issue of how to pragmatically develop the dialogue with Russia in the future. Of course, it is also a very important test for Russia. NATO’s future policy will be clearer after the summit: whether the alliance will use the very fact that the NATO–Russia Council took place as a propaganda tool for reporting on the successes of its policy regarding Russia, since the latter is prepared to maintain a dialogue. Conversely, Russia’s signal could be interpreted differently, and NATO may consider and discuss the prospects and contents of its future dialogue with Russia in a pragmatic and consistent manner.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal.

Another nuance that is also a fairly important circumstance is the fact that the results of the Council’s meeting were not made public. Communiques on the websites of NATO and the Russian mission were very brief. They stated the agenda and briefly listed the issues under discussion. Moreover, the parties abstained from talking to journalists, and that makes the current Council different from its previous sessions, which were invariably followed by political commentary – including comments from the NATO Secretary General on the alliance’s website and answers to questions from the media. Now there is nothing of the sort, and this reticence means that the situation is unclear, and we should look at how NATO will react in the future and what discussions surrounding the Russian question at the summit will mean.

The topic of Russia at the upcoming summit is especially important against the background of events that may have an unfavourable impact on the general atmosphere of the summit. For example, the major complications in Euro-Atlantic relations, with Trump trying to stress the rather unpopular tenet of the “Old Europe” and showcase the successes of New Europe, which follows Washington’s politics and policies. Trump believes that “Old Europe,” primarily Germany, which has rather unsuccessfully laid claim to European leadership, is moving in the “wrong” direction.” This context is highly unfavourable for the summit itself, and possibly for Russia–Europe relations. A number of specific events, such as the attack perpetrated by the United States, the United Kingdom and France against military facilities in Syria, the publication of U.S. plans to deploy permanent military bases in Poland, etc., could also have a negative effect. This is all very serious and should be taken into account by both NATO and Russia. Today, Russia has made a serious, well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to tangible progress, help achieve a productive dialogue and restore a practical agenda.

First published in our partner RIAC

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