Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Malcolm Chalmers*
This conference report outlines the main findings of the workshop on ‘European Security’ organised by RUSI and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in February 2021 as part of the UK–Russia Security Dialogue. The dialogue is a proven format that has provided an opportunity for RUSI and RIAC to bring together experts from the two countries to discuss key questions, including sensitive security issues, at a time when this kind of interaction is the exception rather than the rule.
UK–Russia relations have become increasingly strained over the past decade, notably from 2014 following Russia’s actions in Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, which together marked a turning point in the bilateral relationship. In the subsequent years, there have been a series of efforts by Western European leaders, including from the UK, to reset relations with Russia. Despite these efforts, relations have continued to deteriorate. Against this background, the prospect for a reset of the sort that was pursued between the US and Russia in 2009 seems, at present, dim.
Given this environment, the focus of the current dialogue workshop was on how to reduce the chances for open military confrontation between NATO and Russia, especially in Europe, and on maintaining mutual engagement in the spheres where it is absolutely crucial.
The UK’s position in Europe has undergone significant evolution in recent years, although European security remains a core focus in the ‘Global Britain’ agenda. Previously preoccupied with Brexit, the UK government has started to move beyond negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU to fashion a revised foreign and security policy. Even though EU–UK relations might remain tense for some time, it is clear that the UK is committed to working closely with both the EU and major European powers on foreign and security policy. Equally, the transatlantic relationship will remain a core part of the UK approach to European security. As a result, UK approaches to Russia will be closely aligned with its European and North American allies.
Indeed, in contrast to the apprehension about the reliability of the US as a security partner under Donald Trump, cooperation with President Joe Biden’s administration is likely to give a new momentum to transatlantic ties. These ties are based on mutual interests and reflect largely similar approaches to Russia. Following Brexit, the UK has ensured that sanctions relating to Russia continue to operate effectively by replacing the existing EU legislation with national measures.
For Russia, it is of paramount importance which mode of interaction the Biden administration will opt for in relations with Moscow. President Biden might be a more difficult partner, but the Russian view is that opportunities for some positive moves by NATO should not be ruled out. The integration of military-to-military contact into the political discussions of the NATO–Russia Council could be an important initial step to help promote stability and manage relations. From a Russian perspective, such a move should not be seen by the Alliance as a step to appease Russia or as a departure from NATO’s established approach, but rather as a step that would lay the ground for more dialogue.
Moderate optimism can be expressed about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) regarding measures to overcome its institutional crisis and Sweden’s chairmanship in 2021, which may bring new opportunities. Russia chairing the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023 provides a further opportunity to open the space for cooperation in some areas that affect the security situation in the High North.
With UK–Russia relations likely to be difficult, it is imperative that efforts remain focused on the realistic goal of developing a ‘new normalcy’ to stabilise the situation. Moves from confrontation to cooperation are unlikely given that both sides have irreconcilable visions of the essence of the international system and cite the lack of trust as an underlying impediment to normalisation. In this situation, it is important that efforts to exchange information and views continue and that there is further work on confidence-building measures to manage confrontation to lower risks and costs.
Summary of the Discussion
This UK–Russia dialogue workshop explored the various political and security issues affecting the contemporary European security landscape and provided an opportunity to share threat perceptions and consider the potential to mitigate security risks. The participants presented their countries’ strategic priorities and perspectives on the evolving nature of European security, including the prospects for arms control. The workshop also introduced the sub-regional perspective by focusing on the security complex in the Baltic Sea, Northern Europe and the Arctic.
The discussion focused on: the challenges that the European regional security order faces; the dangers stemming from its fragmentation; the erosion of much of the post-Cold War arms control regime; and the ebbing of the credibility of the OSCE, which faced a deep institutional crisis in 2020.
UK contributors noted that there have been a number of factors that have strained the UK–Russia relationship, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea and the military incursion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian interference during the 2016 Brexit referendum, the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko on UK soil in 2006, the 2018 Salisbury chemical weapons attack and the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny in 2020. Some of these actions have led to the introduction of UK sanctions against Russia. Against this backdrop, the resumption of cooperative ties between the governments does not look feasible and the restoration of direct military cooperation is unlikely.
Citing this environment, the overarching idea of the discussion shared by most participants was that the status quo in relations between Russia and the UK – a ‘new normalcy’ – is not desirable but sustainable, is ‘not acceptable but bearable’. This perception about the potential for relations is likely to continue to inform the policy responses by both sides in the foreseeable future. Participants noted that the current state of affairs appears to be characterised by a situation in which both parties have reciprocal expectations that the steps towards normalisation need to come from the other side.
At the same time, participants underlined the importance of measures to reduce the chances of open confrontation. A key theme to emerge from the discussion was, thus, the need to maintain engagement in the spheres where it is most crucial.
A Russian participant expressed his concern that the decision taken by NATO in April 2014 to sever ties with Russia had grave repercussions in terms of increasing the risks of unintended military escalation. In the absence of an appropriate venue for discussions, many in the Russian expert community would like to see the governments of Russia and NATO countries start to discuss imminent threats in order to anticipate areas of tension and to set in place the means to de-escalate confrontations.
It was recognised that, at present, communication tends to start only when the risks become unacceptable, like in Syria. With important, but narrow, mechanisms for preventing dangerous military incidents already in place, there is no incentive to conduct political talks on the factors that could lead to confrontation.
It was noted that a key role for expert discussions such as the UK–Russia dialogue should be to alert governments to the possibility that ‘acceptable risks today can become unacceptable tomorrow’. The prevention of tensions or even resolution of some areas of dispute is thus crucial to managing the current difficult relations and avoiding a further dangerous deterioration. A Russian participant noted, however, that the West seems not to be ready for a selective approach to Russia which would allow for the compartmentalisation of the bilateral agenda into independent areas.
UK participants observed that while relations with Russia are difficult, the current status quo is viewed as sustainable and there are many other issues on the international security agenda for the UK to focus on beyond relations with Russia. At the same time, it was noted that if Russia does not shift its approach in the coming years, which was deemed unlikely, the transatlantic community will increasingly focus on deterrence and risk management in their relations with Russia.
It was noted that following a series of unsuccessful outreaches to Russia by NATO members, the Allies do not feel they should be the demandeurs in terms of the reset with Russia or for arms control initiatives. A UK participant observed that recent efforts by Western European states to reach out to Russia, including President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative and the visit to Moscow by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, bore no fruit and did not generate a positive response from the Russian side.
Thus, for any reset to occur, it was suggested that Russia would have to take the first steps. This would need to involve addressing the issues that have strained relations between Russia and the West, notably the annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Ukraine and actions in the Middle East, as well as Russian activities in the cyber domain. At the same time, the widespread view in the UK is that the Russian government does not believe that it is currently in its interests to make substantial concessions in relation to eastern Ukraine, over the joint management of the Syrian issue or in regard to its cyber activities.
The Challenges Facing Arms Control in Europe
The significant risks for a new arms race emerging in Europe were discussed at length. Participants were sceptical about the prospects of another golden age for arms control emerging, comparable to the one in the 1960s after the Cuban and Berlin crises, or in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union sought a radical change in its policies towards NATO and the West. Conventional arms control in Europe – based on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Vienna Document and the Open Skies Treaty – is in demise and the existing regimes are no longer considered adequate to address contemporary security threats.
There was consensus that the erosion of the nuclear arms control architecture between the US and Russia poses a serious threat to European security, even if the UK and other European states are not direct participants in US–Russia treaties. Following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the extension at the beginning of 2021 of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Moscow and Washington was met with relief. This positive step to renew the last remaining arms control agreement was hailed by Russian and UK participants, albeit a deal reached in an emergency rather than as a result of a wide r détente.
The collapse in recent years of the last remaining confidence- and security-building measures in Europe was noted as emblematic of the rapid deterioration of Russia–West relations. The US under the Trump administration withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty in November 2020, accusing Russia of treaty violations that made continued US membership impossible. In January 2021, Moscow announced it would follow the US and withdraw from the Treaty, citing the failure of NATO signatories to agree to its demands not to share information from the Russian surveillance flights with the US.
Though the future of the agreement remains uncertain, a Russian expert welcomed the possibility of the Biden administration returning the US to the Treaty. It was opined that Russia actually launched the withdrawal procedure to send the signal to the US that renewing its participation should be considered an urgent matter.
Workshop participants indicated that it is unlikely that there will be progress towards Europe-wide conventional arms control, along the lines of the adapted CFE treaty, in the foreseeable future. Russian participants expressed support for consultations to address the risks around sensitive areas where NATO and Russia border with each other – in the Baltic and the Black Sea regions. The aim should be to, at minimum, establish the sub-regional arrangements that could prevent unintended security escalations.
It was also noted that it should be a priority to extend confidence-building measures into the Barents and Norwegian Seas, which are the overlapping areas of operations by the Russian Northern Fleet and the recently re-established US Second Fleet. Participants recognised, however, that NATO did not accept the idea of concluding separate sub-regional agreements with Russia. One of the benefits of re-establishing NATO–Russia military-to-military dialogue was identified as providing a more credible notification arrangement on ground forces and, thus, a means to improve transparency and trust.
On the arms control regime in Europe, Russian participants indicated that Moscow would welcome European initiatives on arms control mechanisms but noted that Russia assessed that European capitals are wary of Washington’s reactions to such initiatives and oversensitive to potential criticism.
At the same time, the Russian perception of Europe as lacking strategic autonomy on security issues loomed in the discussions when a Russian discussant expressed the belief that for the Russian defence establishment, talking to Europeans about arms control when the US is not at the table has no practical sense.
The fate of the Chemical Weapons Convention was discussed. A UK participant raised the issue of the large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria, where Russia is supporting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The use of banned chemical agents for attempted assassinations was also noted. These actions were identified as policies that seriously erode trust in Russia’s commitment to adhere to legally binding treaties.
Against the background of the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury in 2018 and the attempted poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 using a prohibited nerve agent, restoring the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Russia’s adherence to its provisions were seen as a cornerstone for improving relations with the West.
The deterioration of arms control arrangements was seen as reflective of the wider breakdown of the crisis management functions of the OSCE. Experts agreed that there were some improvements at the end of 2020 with agreement on the appointment of the organisation’s institutional heads and with the stable hand of the Swedish chairmanship guiding this process. But the continuous tensions around these institutions, which embody the comprehensive security concept at the core of the OSCE, and the lack of significant progress around the organisation’s regional conflict management activities, were raised. The limited levers available to the OSCE during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war were also highlighted.
A Russian expert opined that Moscow does not see a bigger independent role for the OSCE in crisis management and arms control, since it views the organisation as an instrument that has been privatised by the West. The Russia–NATO relationship was identified as a better-placed format to discuss arms control issues.
Perspectives on the Security of Northern Europe
In the session devoted to discussing Northern Europe and the Arctic, the Baltic sub-region was identified as the most dangerous environment. At the same time, the Arctic can no longer be considered as a region insulated from tensions. The vision of the Arctic as a region of peace and cooperation may no longer hold true as the security mechanisms of the past are losing their relevance.
The discussion highlighted differences in perceptions between UK and Russian specialists on the military dynamics in the region. Russia sees Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea as two distinct regions, while the UK – together with the other states of Northern Europe – increasingly see these areas as a single security space.
A Russian participant contended that assessments that Moscow is militarising the region are exaggerated; there is force modernisation, rather than the creation of new offensive capabilities. These modernisation programmes, it was argued, do not violate the military balance or provoke an arms race in the region, and are aimed to make the Russian armed forces better prepared to deal with non-traditional security threats.
A British discussant noted, however, that Russia’s increased sense of security is creating a growing sense of insecurity among its neighbours. Russia has extended its capabilities in air defence and other areas beyond its borders in order to protect its strategic forces located in the north. With new capabilities, it is able to project power beyond the Arctic into the North Atlantic.
As a result of Russian activities in the region, the transatlantic community assesses that the security environment has changed substantively. NATO, including the UK, has developed a much keener interest in the region, and NATO Arctic states that were previously resistant to the Alliance having a regional role are shifting to accept that it can be an interlocutor on Arctic military questions. There is a perception that there needs to be an Alliance response to Russian activities with a growing focus on the Greenland–Iceland–UK gap.
With new actors, including China, coming into the region, Russia is on the defensive. Responding to a question about whether Russia is prepared to talk to NATO about the Arctic and managing military tensions, it was noted that Russia is opposed to seeing more NATO engagement in the region, and security dialogue should be conducted among the five littoral states directly.
The workshop highlighted the importance of maintaining a channel for candid talks between Russia and the UK’s expert communities. There were a number of areas of consensus, in the sense that both sides recognised the need to maintain a dialogue without illusions in order to, at minimum, better understand each other’s perspective and positions. Participants agreed that the UK and Russia should be aware of the real potential risks of any further deterioration in European security at the cost of an arms race, or even unwanted confrontation. Dialogue participants also highlighted that, despite the bilateral difficulties, there are ways that both parties can manage the risks of the ‘new normal’ situation. There is, thus, an urgent need to explore how this can be achieved effectively.
A realistic assessment of UK–Russia relations points to the need for both sides to recognise that the focus of bilateral ties should be on developing pragmatic and limited areas of cooperation. Discussion of a wholesale reset, which is not feasible at present, should be avoided. Some of those pragmatic areas could be talks about how to make progress on arms control, ways to strengthen military-to-military contacts, and maintaining the discussions on threat perceptions and regional security.
*Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
From our partner RIAC
Hot air messaging: Iran floats reports of imminent Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership
Eager to enhance its negotiating leverage with the United States and Europe, Iran is projecting imminent membership of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in much the same way it pushed the signing of a much-touted 25-year cooperation agreement with the People’s Republic that has yet to have any real legs.
Converting Iran’s SCO observer status into full membership is likely to be a long shot but would also constitute an important geopolitical victory for the Islamic republic in terms of its positioning vis a vis Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.
It could further kickstart putting flesh on the skeleton of the Chinese-Iranian cooperation agreement. Iran and China signed the agreement in March after a year of Iranian assertions that the accord was finally happening after first being plugged in 2016, so far largely remains a piece of paper with no practical consequence.
Founded in 2001, the SCO counts China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan as its members. Besides Iran, observers include Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Against the backdrop of improved relations with Iran, Tajikistan, the only non-Turkic state in Central Asia that four years ago opposed Iranian membership, has this time around taken up the Iranian cause as host of an upcoming SCO summit in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in September.
“That Iran becomes a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready,” said Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador in Iran.
The SCO decides on membership by consensus rather than a majority vote.
Iran and Tajikistan agreed in April to establish a joint military defence and military committee that would further security cooperation between the two countries.
Tajik backing of the Iranian bid is driven in part by the fact that the landlocked country needs access to ports. Iranian ports, including sIndian-backed Chabahar at the top of the Arabian Sea, offer the cheapest and shortest transportation options.
That, in turn, enhances Iran’s potential attractiveness to the Belt and Road, China’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven initiative to connect the Eurasian landmass to Beijing.
The SCO has long been able to sideline the Iranian bid for membership on the grounds that it does not qualify as long as it was sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN sanctions were lifted after the signing of a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
Former US President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and Iran has since gradually moved away from compliance with its obligations under the agreement. The United States and the other signatories, including Iran, have been negotiating a US and Iranian return to the agreement since US President Joe Biden came to office in January.
Revival of the accord would involve lifting of US sanctions imposed since 2018 by the Trump administration. China, while frequently skirting US sanctions, has been careful not to run afoul of the United States with regards to Iran.
Sanctions likely were a convenient way of deferring the Iranian membership application. China and the SCO have multiple reasons to refrain from entertaining an Iranian bid.
Having learnt a lesson from allowing India and Pakistan to become members without some resolution of their differences, China and the SCO are unlikely to want an admission of Iran without at the same time inviting Saudi Arabia. Beijing and the group, moreover, would not want to give Iran a de facto veto over membership of its archrival.
The same may be true concerning Iran and Turkey. Turkey has exploited last year’s Azerbaijani victory in its Caucasus war against Armenia to expand relations with the four Turkic Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
China has so far refrained from comment on reports that appear to be Iranian in origin about Iran being on the verge of SCO membership.
It is a pattern that fits the evolution of the 25-year Iranian Chinese cooperation agreement with one difference. Iran and China were able to sign an agreement without having to act on it. That formula will not work with the SCO. Iran is either a member or it isn’t.
China furthermore appears in contrast to the Iranian push for the cooperation agreement less interested in exploiting Iran’s SCO public diplomacy to send discreet messages to Washington and Riyadh.
Nonetheless, the experience of the cooperation agreement suggests that there is mileage for Iran in hot air messaging even if potential membership is not generating beyond Iranian media the kind of headlines that the 25-year accord did.
As a result, Iran wins irrespective of whether or not it becomes an SCO member in a matter of months.
For one, like with the cooperation agreement, it projects a greater tightening of relations with China than may be the case. It does so at a time that the United States and other Western nations are taking China to task for its aggressive policies and human rights abuses.
Reporting on potential membership of the SCO further counters the Western narrative that Iran is internationally isolated.
Analysts note that the cooperation agreement was signed just before the United States announced that it was about to enter into talks with Iran on a return to the nuclear agreement. Iran appears to be banking on a similar sequence of events before the SCO summit in September.
Nuclear Black Market and India’s Expanding Weapons Program
The threat around nuclear and radiological material has become acute in India with its expanding nuclear weapons program. There exist huge vulnerabilities at the storage, control and transport of nuclear weapons and materials in India. As India attempts to integrate with the international nuclear community, the rising and recurrent episodes of illicit uranium possession and sales in India is worrisome. This is the second such event happened within less than 30 days as on 7th May 2021 Indian authorities had seized 7.1kg of natural uranium and arrested two persons from Nagpur. Similar theft incidents have been reported in the past as well. Such events point out that there exists a poor control in India to regulate its such facilities which do not have even satisfactory security and safety mechanism. Given the context, it is equally important to unearth the black market for nuclear material inside India.
When focusing upon security aspect, the safety of India’s nuclear and radiological materials and facilities, intensified weapons development program is also worrisome. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has produced wildly divergent estimates in its Annual Year Book-2020 while assessing the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security. The report appears to be generously misleading and politically motivated while ignoring the higher estimates of Indian nuclear stockpile, where, rapidly expanding Indian nuclear arsenal portends regional and global catastrophe.
In contrast, 5 years ago, the Institute for Science and International Security estimated that India’s stockpile of fissile material was only sufficient to make approximately 75-to-125 nuclear weapons. Whereas in 2016, a study published titled as “Indian Unsafeguarded Nuclear Program: An Assessment” specified that there existed sufficient material for New Delhi to produce between 356 and 492 plutonium-based nuclear weapons.
In May 2017, Dr. Mansoor Ahmed in his research “Indian Nuclear Exceptionalism” came up with the estimates that India has enough capacity to produce up to 2,686 nuclear weapons. Along with this, Dr. Mansoor, way back in 2013, estimated that New Delhi enjoys a huge advantage in existing stockpiles over Pakistan with a stockpile of 2.4 ± 0.9 tons of HEU (30-40 enriched=800 kg weapon-grade HEU); 750 kg of weapon-grade plutonium and 5.0 tons of weapon-usable reactor-grade plutonium produced by India’s Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors. This stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium has been designated as “strategic” and would therefore remain outside safeguards.
The 2018 arsenal of India is thought to contain 130 to 140 nuclear warheads, which may expand to 200 by 2025. Kristensen and Norris listed five locations in India where nuclear weapons may be stored, but they estimate that there are others whose physical locations have not been identified.
Interestingly, New Delhi’s expansion in fissile material production infrastructure, particularly its uranium enrichment program using gas-centrifuge technology, has been greatly facilitated with the availability of the country’s entire domestic uranium ore deposits and reserves for the nuclear weapons program. The expansion began with the signing of Indo-US nuclear deal which helped India to meet all nuclear fuel requirements. We all know that such favoritism has made South Asian region more prone to arms race and instability.
While assessing Indian nuclear motivations, the twin questions of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy have been masterfully engineered by India to further its weapons capability. Even with all this help at present and in the past, Indian Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) failures were stark and many. In the year 1962, Homi Bhabha the father of the Indian nuclear program predicted that by 1987 nuclear energy would constitute 20,000 to 25,000 megawatts (MW) of installed electricity generation capacity but failed in achieving these numbers. His successor as the head of DAE, like him, never came close to meeting any of these goals. Dr. M V Ramana a physicist who works at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Program on Science and Global Security, both at Princeton University, explained that this history of failure explains the escalating demands from the DAE and other nuclear advocates used as a bogey to gain access to international nuclear markets.
India is expanding its uranium enrichment capacity keeping in mind the Rare Materials Plant (RMP) centrifuge facility in Rattehalli, Karnataka. This revelation in 2015 highlighted the lack of nuclear safeguards on India under new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In this research it was suggested that Rare Metals Plant would boost India’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium to twice the amount needed for its planned nuclear-powered submarine fleet. One potential use of this facility was for development of thermonuclear weapons. Similar reports came in later years that identified Indian buildup of secret nuclear enrichment complex in Challakere, which most likely will covertly triple the number of nuclear warheads in the coming years from what India possesses today.
Historically, India has the capability to utilize reactor grade plutonium to build nuclear weapons. Dr. M V Ramana in 2005 suggested that:
“Over the years, some 8,000 kg of reactor-grade plutonium may have been produced in the power reactors not under safeguards. Only about 8 kg of such plutonium are needed to make a simple nuclear weapon. Unless this spent fuel is not put under safeguards–i.e., declared to be off-limits for military purposes, as part of the deal–India would have enough plutonium from this source alone for an arsenal of about 1,000 weapons, larger than that of all the nuclear weapons states except the United States and Russia.”
This is further evident from the study carried out by David Albright in 2015 of the Institute of Science and International Security where he stated that:
“Although generally India is not believed to use reactor-grade plutonium in nuclear weapons, Indian nuclear experts are reported to have evaluated this plutonium’s use in nuclear weapons and India may have decided to create a reserve stock of reactor-grade plutonium for possible use in nuclear weapons.”
After careful assessment one can reasonably conclude that India in the last two decades through exceptional favoritism ingeniously proliferated its weapon program vertically. These massive increments in India’s capabilities to produce weapons at a large pace are intrinsically dangerous and pose an unparallel threat to the region keeping in mind the loose state control over its nuclear facilities.
Will The US-Russia Arms Control Be Continued After The Biden-Putin Geneva Summit?
Authors: Alexander G. Savelyev and Olga M. Naryshkina*
On February 3rd, 2021, Russia and the United States exchanged diplomatic notes of an agreement extending the New START Treaty (Russia calls it START-3) for the next five years. The Treaty was signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in April 2010 and entered into force on February 5, 2011. The Treaty itself, in Article XIV, provides for the possibility of a one-time extension for a period “not exceeding five years” following joint consideration and agreement. It should be noted that until the end of the US presidential election and the Biden administration came to power, the prospects for extending the Treaty looked more than dubious. Throughout most of 2020, the Trump administration linked its consent to the extension on such terms that even optimists came to the sad conclusion that Russia and the United States would be left without the last agreement in the field of strategic nuclear arms control for an indefinite period of time in the future. Now, at least for the next five years, the parties will have a high degree of predictability in the development of their strategic nuclear arsenals, with a real opportunity to verify that their commitments under the current Treaty are being fulfilled.
The extension of the New START raised new questions for politicians and experts in the two countries. The main one is whether this achievement should be regarded as the beginning of a new period in Russia-US relations in the field of arms control, or whether it should be regarded as the end of the process and no new agreements in this area should be expected. There are opposing views on this issue. Without claiming to cover all the nuances of the problem, we will try to assess what approaches might underlie future nuclear arms control agreements and how acceptable they might be to each of the participants.
* * *
Arguments against the extension of the New START in the US
The extension of the New START has drawn a line under the debate about the extent to which the United States was interested in maintaining the agreement. However, the fact itself does not mean that the arguments of the New START opponents have completely lost their force and ceased to have an impact on US security policy. On the contrary, the Biden administration may have to take into account the sentiments of part of the political and military establishment in the near future when elaborating its position on further steps in the nuclear arms control area, taking into account that the new US administration made it clear from the very beginning that arms control would be among its priorities. Both President Biden and Secretary of State A. Blinken have stated this [Blinken 2021].
It should be noted that while in Russia the extension of the New START was generally received positively both in official and expert circles, in the United States doubts were expressed as to whether it was worth agreeing to its unconditional extension without any additional demands. On 3 February 2021, the US Department of State published a document in which the arguments of those opposed to the extension of the Treaty were referred to as “myths” [The New START…2021]. Among the list of such “myths” which were cited and “debunked” by the State Department, there are clearly far-fetched and incomprehensible opinions, such as that the New START is allegedly a Cold War relict and does not correspond to the current strategic situation. In addition, the State Department argues with the argument of the treaty’s opponents that the extension of the treaty allows China to continue building up its nuclear arsenal while allowing Russia to retain superiority in non-strategic nuclear weapons. It is not difficult to see that such “myths” have nothing to do with the New START Treaty itself or with the fact of its extension. It is therefore not difficult for the US diplomatic establishment to debunk them.
Nevertheless, a number of arguments of the Treaty opponents demanded from the State Department fairly reasonable objections and even a partial acknowledgement of their validity. One of these serious objections was the reproach to the American leadership for not making full use of the Russian Federation’s agreement to freeze all of the parties’ nuclear arsenals “in exchange” for a one-year extension of the New START. As it is known, such a consent was expressed in a Russian Foreign Ministry document published on October 20th 2020 [Foreign Ministry Statement…2020]. Russia made it quite clear that on its part it was a political commitment that should not be accompanied by any additional requirements. Despite Moscow’s position, the US side interpreted it as Russia’s willingness in principle to conclude a separate agreement to “freeze” the number of all nuclear warheads of the parties. This agreement, according to the United States, should have included the provision of the relevant exchange of information and the elaboration of the measures to verify the fulfillment of such an obligation. The refusal of the Biden administration to continue pressure on Russia in favor of such an agreement is now being blamed by its rivals.
The US State Department claimed that there was not enough time to work out such an agreement, as there were only a little more than two weeks between the inauguration of the new US president and the expiration of the New START. The State Department also said that Russia had refused to negotiate on the issue, arguing that a verification agreement was “an additional condition” for reaching an agreement on the New START extension, which was “unacceptable” to Russia. According to the State Department, the New START extension gives the United States the necessary time to address the concerns in this area.
Interestingly enough, the State Department makes no mentioning of the issues that may be (and are) of concern to the Russian side. All the “myths” it exposes are directly related to US security interests. The State Department does not even hint that the U.S. side would be willing to at least consider the Russian position on a number of issues that Moscow has repeatedly raised in official and unofficial contacts over the years. These concerns are reflected in a number of official Russian documents – the Military Doctrine, National Security Strategy, and others.
It is not yet clear how seriously the US leadership is prepared to engage in constructive negotiations on the whole range of strategic stability issues. Nevertheless, if any discussions on possible new nuclear arms control agreements do begin with the new U.S. administration, the sides will in any case have to not only discuss, but also take seriously mutual interests and concerns in order to find the necessary compromise in order to achieve practical results. Otherwise, there is no prospect for a successful continuation of the arms control policy.
Possible approaches to nuclear arms control by the Biden administration
According to initial statements by the representatives of the new US administration, it intends to focus its nuclear arms control policy on two main issues. The first one is to reach an agreement with the Russian Federation on the control of all nuclear arsenals of the parties, including tactical (or, more correctly, non-strategic) nuclear weapons. The second is to engage China in bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control negotiations in order to establish control over China’s nuclear arsenal in some form ensuring full information about its status and prospects for development. [Renewing America’s … 2021].
It is symptomatic that neither the first, nor the second option yet have the objective of reducing nuclear arsenals. It is primarily a question of agreeing on a verification system and ensuring predictability of the development of Russia’s and China’s nuclear forces. In his seminal paper ‘Binarization of Foreign Policy Conduct’, although discussing the other world’s theater, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic gives an accurate diagnosis for this issue too: “Confrontation is what you get, and cooperation is what you are fighting for.“
Despite the apparent logic and even simplicity of the approach to controlling all Russian and US nuclear arsenals, success in reaching such an agreement is more than doubtful. Before entering into a formal dialogue with the Russian Federation, the United States will have to address a number of difficult issues directly related to the country’s initial position to be brought forward as the subject of discussions.
Putting aside the political context of the issue and assuming that Russia and the United States agreed in principle to establish control over all nuclear warheads in their arsenals, the parties will have to solve a number of extremely difficult problems. These problems are not only of a technical nature but also of a military-political and military-strategic nature. In particular, the authors believe that before the beginning of negotiations the sides should agree on whether tactical (or non-strategic) nuclear weapons should be “equated” to strategic ones in a new agreement and if not, by what criteria should these weapons be divided into the two categories? On the basis of the yield of the warhead, or on the characteristics of the vehicle on which this warhead can be deployed?
In all previous nuclear arms control treaties, including the New START, the reference was primarily made to delivery vehicles, which from a military strategic point of view is quite reasonable and accepted by both sides. But the question remains open; whether the same logic can be applied to non-strategic systems. In the field of strategic weapons, parties have identified intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers (HB) as such carriers. These systems are mainly the ones to be controlled. In the case of NSNWs, the range of nuclear weapon delivery vehicles to be controlled will expand dramatically and may include many missiles (both ballistic and cruise missiles) and a significant list of aircraft which normally perform conventional missions, i.e., are “dual-use”. Until a certain period of time, heavy artillery could also perform “nuclear functions”. Thus, control of NSNWs should imply control over a wide spectrum of conventional arms of the parties capable of carrying nuclear weapons. From a practical point of view, the approach seems unrealistic.
Proceeding from the above, the authors of this article come to the logical conclusion that there is only one way for the parties to establish control of NSNWs – to control only nuclear warheads and to give up the control over delivery vehicles. In such a case it would be no longer a control of “nuclear weapons”, but the control of nuclear warheads. Hence, the whole system of “nuclear arms control” breaks down into at least two parts – strategic arms control and nuclear warheads control. Clearly, the transition from the control of nuclear weapon delivery vehicles to the control of nuclear warheads represents rather a complex task, which would require considerable time to generate and agree upon specific measures allowing the parties to be fully assured of compliance with their obligations.
Even with the strategic arms covered by the New START, issues are not straightforwardly sorted out. Thus, in accordance with the established practice of US-Russian arms control agreements, all of the parties’ nuclear weapons are divided into two major categories: deployed (i.e. ready to use) and non-deployed. Separate limitations are imposed on each of these categories. For example, the New START Treaty sets 700-unit levels for deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed heavy bombers, as well as a separate 800-unit level for deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles. There is also a level of 1,550 for warheads on deployed strategic launchers. However, the Treaty is silent about the permitted number of non-deployed warheads. This raises another question: which nuclear warheads are to be controlled: all, separately strategic and separately non-strategic, or separately deployed and separately non-deployed? Or is it necessary to introduce separate sub-levels for these categories of nuclear warheads? The Russian side proposes to focus on the “deployed part” of the nuclear arsenals of the sides [Introductory remarks … 2021]. The US position on this issue is still unclear.
The issue of drawing the line between strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads seems likely to be the most difficult. Probably it is impossible to do this at all. For example, the same nuclear bomb can be deployed on both heavy and other types of bombers that are not strategic. It should be added that low-yield nuclear warheads are already deployed on strategic nuclear weapon carriers, the Trident II SLBMs. In addition, the United States arsenal contains nuclear warheads with a variable yield. Hence, the criterion of yield to divide warheads into “strategic” and “non-strategic” is unacceptable. Therefore, dividing nuclear warheads into these two categories could only be done on the basis of other parameters.
In case the parties agree on controlling nuclear warheads on a deployed – non-deployed basis, they also would have to solve a number of important problems. One of them is how to count nuclear bombs and cruise missiles ready for deployment on the parties’ heavy bombers. In “real life”, these weapons are not deployed. Russian and US heavy bombers implements their missions on a regular basis in various regions of the world. According to public reports, they do not carry nuclear weapons on board. In other words, weapons that can be deployed on HBs should be included in the category “non-deployed nuclear warheads”. The same should apply to US NSNWs stored at bases in five European NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), although they are ready for immediate deployment on combat aircraft. The appropriate drills for transporting U.S. nuclear weapons from underground bunkers and placing them on aircraft are regularly conducted by NATO forces as part of the Steadfast Noon military exercise. [Samozhnev 2020].
On the other hand, under the New START, each heavy bomber is counted as one launcher and one warhead and is thus “partially” included into the “deployed” category in terms of the number of warheads allowed. This seemingly unimportant issue still needs to be resolved and could have an impact on the success of a future agreement. It is directly related to the issue of “upload capacity” – the ability to quickly build up the number of deployed nuclear warheads on strategic and other carriers through the availability of nuclear bombs and missile warheads in storage facilities ready to be mounted on carriers. Thus, if the “deployed – non-deployed” nuclear warheads approach is adopted for the purpose of an agreement, the parties will most probably have to introduce at least one more sub-level of warheads that are “in active reserve”, which would further complicate such negotiations.
In our view, there is no point in saying that an agreement can be reached on the overall level of nuclear warheads without dividing them into deployed and non-deployed ones. After all, according to the U.S. side, such an agreement must be “verifiable,” that is, accompanied by an appropriate control system. However, such a system will differ sharply in relation to the same deployed and non-deployed nuclear warheads, to the warheads that are in “active reserve” and to those that are in storage (in storage facilities) awaiting shipment to the troops or to the plant for dismantlement. Accordingly, parties will in any case have to introduce separate categories for “non-deployed” systems, both according to their individual types (warheads, bombs, etc.) and according to the stage of the life cycle they are in. In addition, it will be necessary to develop a system for controlling the movement and transportation of nuclear warheads to different destinations and by different modes of transport.
Again, we emphasize that the above reasoning refers to a scenario where both sides have reached a full understanding of the desirability of working out a “verifiable” agreement on the control of the nuclear warheads. It should also be noted that the authors have touched upon only a small part of the problems that the sides will face in trying to achieve this goal. Not to mention a host of technical issues, the sides will have to overcome many organizational hurdles related to the high level of secrecy in the nuclear sphere, as well as to achieve an unprecedented level of trust, which was not present even in the “best days” of U.S.-Russian relations.
Consequently, the enthusiasm of the previous US administration, who thought that such an agreement could be worked out in two or three months, is completely incomprehensible. In our estimation, two to three years would not be enough, given the fact that the basic control provisions have to be tested by experimentation and only then fixed “on paper”. All negotiations are likely to take even longer. Thus, statements by the new US administration regarding a five-year extension of the New START (which it believes gives enough time to prepare a new agreement) can also be considered overly optimistic. Under the current circumstances, the authors believe that parties could return to the idea of freezing their nuclear arsenals in the form of a “political commitment without additional conditions”, as Russia proposed in 2020. Such statements by the United States and Russia are the realistic maximum that the parties can count on in the foreseeable future in moving towards nuclear arms control.
The prospects for the second, the Chinese track of nuclear arms control policy announced by the new US administration, are not encouraging for a considerable part of the expert community. It should be noted that despite the best efforts of the previous US administration Russia refused to join the US in pressuring the Chinese leadership to engage the PRC in the nuclear arms negotiations. In his speech in February 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated this position: “We will never persuade China”. He also said that Russia could not imagine multilateral talks without the participation of Britain and France. [Speech by the Minister … 2021].
As for the United States, it remains to be seen what approach it might take to meet the challenge. The Trump administration mainly tried to use “forceful” methods in its attempts to “bring China to the negotiating table”. The U.S. accused China of seeking to dramatically increase its nuclear arsenal, to acquire the capability to wage a “controlled” nuclear war, to increase the counterforce capabilities of its nuclear forces, and to be reluctant to disclose information on the status and plans for development in this area. In the United States there existed (and still exists) a view that the creation of additional military threats to China, such as the threat of the deployment of US medium-range missiles in the region, may play a role in changing China’s position on the negotiations. The United States also put pressure on Russia, literally demanding that it “force” the PRC to enter into negotiations (Gertz 2020). Some experts suggested other “soft” ways to put pressure on China, including recognizing its “great power” status, opening up the prospects of improving strategic relations with the US while negotiating on nuclear arms, and making attempts to prove that China’s joining the nuclear arms control system could generate serious military and political benefits for the country.
As it is known, all the US attempts have yielded no success. China stubbornly refused not only to engage in nuclear arms control talks, but also to be transparent in that area, including in sharing data on the conditions of its nuclear arsenal and even in providing official information on the number of its nuclear forces. China’s leadership did not give reasons for its refusal, but it may be assumed that it has its roots in the decades-long nuclear policy of the country dating back to the time of Mao Zedong. In particular, there is the principle of no first use of nuclear weapons, which China would most probably have to abandon if it chooses to negotiate and to disclose full information about its nuclear forces, thus sharply increasing their vulnerability to a hypothetical nuclear strike [Savelyev 2020].
China’s condition for joining the talks has been repeatedly expressed by its officials – to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US to a level comparable to that of China. It appears that China will continue to adhere to this position, and it is unlikely that the US could find serious tools to fundamentally change this situation. Therefore, one can conclude that the nuclear arms control priorities announced by the new US administration, both in the Russian and Chinese sectors, do not yet have serious prospects. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Russia has its own views on arms control priorities, which in many cases do not coincide with the American vision of the problem.
After the New START was extended, there were almost no spheres of “congruent” interests left in the field of arms control in terms of their priorities between Russia and the US. However, this discrepancy does not appear to be an insurmountable obstacle for continuing nuclear arms control dialogue, or even negotiations, with the Biden administration. In any case, both Russian and American sides do not rule out this scenario.
The basic contours of a possible Russian position on nuclear arms control negotiations were outlined in the abovementioned statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry of October 20, 2020 and in a number of other documents published after the new US administration came to the White House [Opening address …2021; Statement by the Minister …2021]. These and other official documents talked about the possibility of “comprehensive bilateral negotiations on future nuclear missile arms control, with mandatory consideration of all factors affecting strategic stability” [Statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry …2020]. This wording cannot be said to give complete clarity about the possible negotiating position of Russia, especially since the statement was “linked” to the proposal to extend the New START for one year and the “freezing” of nuclear arsenals of the parties. Since the issue of “freezing” was virtually removed from the agenda of U.S.-Russian relations, and the New START was extended for five years without additional conditions, the said position of the RF, according to the authors, can be substantially adjusted in the future. Nevertheless, one can make a number of conclusions on the basis of the Foreign Ministry’s Statement, albeit tentatively.
First of all, we should note that in contrast to Russia’s position stated earlier that after the New START “further steps in nuclear disarmament should be comprehensive in nature and all nuclear-weapon states should be involved in the process…” [Vladimir Putin…2012], Russia now also allows for bilateral negotiations with the United States. However, the wording “talks on future control” is not quite clear. If to approach it “strictly”, we cannot talk about the negotiations themselves with the aim of working out a specific agreement, but about “negotiations about the future negotiations”. In our view, it would then be appropriate to speak of bilateral consultations or discussions on the parameters of such negotiations.
Nor does the wording “nuclear missile arms control” provide complete clarity. This category could include both strategic and non-strategic means of nuclear attack. However, it does not cover all nuclear weapons, e.g. nuclear torpedoes, bombs, nuclear-armed underwater drones, which the Russian President spoke about on March 1st, 2018. [Address…2018]. Consequently, one can conclude that the question of the Russian Federation agreeing to control all of the parties’ nuclear weapons remains open.
It is not quite clear what meaning is embedded in the notion of “comprehensive negotiations”, and in what exactly should this “comprehensiveness” manifest itself? The country’s official position on these issues is formulated only in very general terms. Still, examples of a comprehensive approach to security issues can be found in the history of Soviet-American negotiations. Thus, the very first strategic arms limitation treaty, SALT-1, was so comprehensive. From 1969 to 1972, the parties simultaneously worked out two agreements: the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty (ABM Treaty) and the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures with Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Both documents were signed at the same time, on 26 May 1972, and went down in history as SALT-1.
This is not the only example. Thus, in the second half of the 1980s, the USSR and the US were engaged in comprehensive negotiations in three areas – strategic offensive weapons (START), intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles (INF) and defense and space. The Soviets insisted that all three agreements must be signed simultaneously, establishing a clear link between the three “building blocks” and stressing the need to reach agreement on defense and space as a condition for signing the START-1 and the INF treaties. Initially, the US accepted this condition, on which the negotiations themselves were dependent. However, as we know, the INF Treaty was negotiated much earlier than the other documents. After serious consideration, the USSR leadership decided to withdraw this treaty from the general “package” and sign it earlier, in 1987. Then, a few years later (in 1991), the START-1 was negotiated, while the defense and space negotiations saw no progress. Given the lack of any prospect of an agreement on space-based missile defense systems and “space strike weapons”, and the fact that the ambitious SDI program by that time was virtually ceased to exist and had been replaced by the more modest Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), the USSR once again removed the “linkage” of the remaining two parts of the negotiating “package”. At the same time, the Soviets made a statement regarding the need to retain the ABM Treaty as a condition for reductions under START I.
Thus, there do not appear to be any formal obstacles to holding “comprehensive bilateral negotiations”. All that remains is to determine what part this “complex” might consist of. In the aforementioned statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry puts forward a condition for future negotiations on “nuclear missiles”. They can only take place “with mandatory consideration of all factors affecting strategic stability”. As in previous cases, the above wording does not give complete clarity about how Russia believes the talks should be conducted. After all, any arms control negotiations have an explicit subject matter. In this case it is “nuclear missiles”. Strategic stability does not fit within the framework of such talks. The only thing that can be done is to agree on the wording that the concluded agreement promotes strategic stability and to fix it in the preamble of the future treaty. It seems unlikely that this approach would suit the Russian side.
Another option would be to insist on a comprehensive approach to negotiations that would cover the whole range of factors that, in Russia’s view, affect strategic stability. Once again we emphasize that what has been written above does not constitute a specific proposal by the authors on the formulation of Russia’s approaches and position on this issue. The authors’ reasoning is just an attempt to follow the logic of statements made by Russia’s top leadership on the issues of strengthening security and strategic stability, including those represented in official documents adopted at the highest level, including the Military Doctrine and the National Security Strategy of the RF (as mentioned above). It follows from these documents that the main factors affecting strategic stability, apart from nuclear weapons, include missile defense, strategic long range high-precision non-nuclear weapons (including non-nuclear prompt global strike weapons) and space weapons. Thus, an “integrated” approach to negotiations could be to conduct several negotiations in parallel – in each of these areas under a single title. For example, “Negotiations on (missile and) nuclear arms limitation and strengthening strategic stability”.
The likelihood of such negotiations is negligible, which refers primarily to the three “building blocks” of factors affecting strategic stability. Nevertheless, it seems to make sense to consider, at least in general terms, some aspects of imposing limitations on the named weapons systems in order to assess the possibility of such negotiations, if not at present, then in the future.
Strategic high-precision non-nuclear weapons
From the verification point of view, the most “promising” is the resolution of the issue of strategic high-precision non-nuclear weapons. With the extension of the New START, a number of such systems are directly subject to it. This is particularly true for the replacement of nuclear warheads with non-nuclear warheads in existing ICBMs and SLBMs. In other, less clear-cut cases (e.g., deployment of new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles in open positions, which has been suggested as one of the options for building a non-nuclear US prompt global strike system) [Myasnikov 2010], the issue may be addressed in the Bilateral Consultative Commission operating within The New START framework. In any case, according to the authors, the conclusion of a separate treaty on strategic non-nuclear weapons is not required, since many limitations of such weapons are already covered by the provisions of the acting New START Treaty.
With regard to the issue of space-related arms control, it is even more problematic, in our view, than for non-strategic nuclear weapons, to reach any comprehensive agreement in this area. What the authors have in mind here is not the difficulty of making a political decision to carry out such negotiations, but rather the definition of the subject matter of the negotiations themselves and the issues of verification. For example, whether such negotiations will deal with “space weapons” issues in general or go through three possible tracks: anti-satellite weapons, space-to-Earth weapons and the space element of advanced BMD systems.
If it comes to “space weapons,” the parties should understand that a complete ban on “space weapons” is unfortunate due to the fact that many existing weapons systems (for example, ICBMs and SLBMs) have the potential to engage satellites in orbit. But before that the parties must come to a joint vision of what they understand by the terms “space weapons,” “weapons in space” and a number of other concepts, including “weapons” as such. Without such an agreement, it is almost impossible to negotiate any restrictions or bans on an activity when the subject matter of the negotiations itself is not clearly outlined.
Here it should also be kept in mind that a number of possible “space weapons” systems, unlike NSNWs, do not currently exist, and such negotiations can only talk about preventing (prohibiting) their creation or development. But here the negotiators can expect another “technical trap”, which the Defense and Space Talks fell into in the second half of the 1980s. The parties spent quite a lot of time trying to draw a clear line between “creation” and “development”. The parties tried to became clear what is “experiment” versus “test”, “experimental device” versus “prototype”, what is a “laboratory” (a room with or without walls) and whether it could be in space, as well as a host of other technical issues. Solving a set of these questions is an extremely difficult task. In any case, many of these remained open after six years of concrete discussions in Geneva (1985-1991). As the practice of such negotiations shows, it is impossible to avoid discussing all these technical problems. Otherwise, lack of clarity on certain aspects of a future agreement leads to increased suspicions between the parties and, as a consequence, undermines the treaty itself.
The list of problems to be solved if an agreement to enter into “space negotiations” is reached could go on and on. Not all of them will be easy to solve, even if the parties have the political will to conclude such an agreement. Inevitably there will be the issue of “space weapons” of the third countries, in particular China and some NATO states, of “dual-use” assets such as “space debris collectors” and maintenance and repair satellites, and a whole range of others. It remains to be seen whether it is even possible to agree on all these issues from a purely technical point of view.
It is obvious that for Russia the problem of missile defense is the most pressing in terms of ensuring its national security. Almost immediately after the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Russia made persistent attempts to return to at least some limitations on defensive means or to neutralize the effectiveness of US missile defense systems, increasing the potential for missile defense penetration during the development and modernization of strategic offensive systems. It appears that should the U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue resume, the Russian position will in some form require that defensive systems to be taken into account in the strategic balance of the parties. Such limitations are believed to contribute to strategic stability, and consequently to security at all the levels of confrontation – from regional to global.
The ABM Treaty was supposed to place restrictions on systems “to counter strategic ballistic missiles or their elements in flight paths”. All other missile defense systems were not subject to limitations. In 1997, the parties were able to agree on specific characteristics of BMD systems (the so-called “New York Protocols”) that would allow these systems to be classified as “strategic” and “non-strategic”. That had to be done in order to strengthen the ABM Treaty regime, which the Russian side viewed as a prerequisite for the entry into force of START II. And while both sides did not formally accept this “separation” of strategic and non-strategic BMD systems, it was nevertheless present in discussions of issues connected with the consequences of US deployment of BMD in Europe and Asia. In any case, US representatives have repeatedly stated that “theatre missile defense” in Europe “does not threaten” the deterrence potential of Russian strategic forces, is not capable to intercept ICBMs and SLBMs, and is intended exclusively to protect US allies from threats from such countries as Iran and North Korea.
However, the situation with the issue of this “separation” changed dramatically in November 2020 after the successful test of the US SM-3 Block IIA anti-ballistic missile, which for the first time shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile target from a ship equipped with the AEGIS anti-missile system [US Successfully….2020]. The anti-missiles are being built as a part of a joint US-Japanese project [Tosaki 2019]. They are designed to be fired from the Mk 41 all-purpose launchers that equip US cruisers and destroyers of certain classes and Aegis Ashore ground systems in Poland and Romania.
This test made it very difficult, if not impossible, for Russia and the U.S. to reach any kind of agreement on limiting their missile defense systems. Thus, Russia had every reason to demand that theater missile defense systems be taken into account in the overall balance of such armaments of the parties. Russia’s position could apply not only to missile systems directly tested as strategic missile defense, but also to missile launchers without regard to what kind of missile system they contain. In addition, the system of control of such weapons is dramatically complicated because they are deployed not only on US ships, but also on the territories of other countries. One can only speculate whether the U.S. conducted this test solely to test the technical capabilities of the new anti-missile system or whether it was a deliberate step aimed at eliminating any prospect of reaching an agreement in this field.
* * *
The above brief overview of the main arms control areas that can contribute to confidence-building, strategic stability and international security shows the dramatic complexity of the “technical side” of control, which may require enormous effort by the parties and a considerable period of time to agree on all provisions of the future agreements. The divergence of Russian and US interests regarding arms control priorities is quite obvious. Thus, for the US, the main focus is on establishing control of all nuclear arsenals of the parties (including China). For Russia, it is the control of strategic offensive and defensive weapons (both nuclear and non-nuclear), addressing the problem of “space weapons” and some others. In such a situation, it would seem possible to seek a compromise solution, including comprehensive and interrelated negotiations on a number of the above areas simultaneously. Consequently, both Russia and the United States would have to make mutual concessions, the nature of which could be determined both during the negotiations themselves and even before they began. However, in the current situation of strained relations between the two countries, one can hardly expect any progress in this area in the near foreseeable future.
We can conclude, that arms control can no longer play the role of a “driving force” to improve international relations. On the contrary, without such improvement, arms control negotiations are hardly feasible, since arms control steps require a very high level of trust between the parties. Hence, the focus should, in our view, be on the unconditional fulfillment of all the obligations undertaken by the parties under the extended New START, using this agreement as a “point of reference” in US-Russian relations and without waiting for its expiration date, trying to continue on the nuclear disarmament path.
* Olga M. Naryshkina – Senior Tutor, Department of International Security, Faculty of World Politics, Moscow State University.
(This text was originally published in Russian language in “SOCIAL SCIENCES AND CONTEMPORARY WORLD” magazine, 2021, № 2, pp. 7–20: A.G. SAVELYEV, O.M. NARYSHKINA. “The New START Extension: The End or the Beginning?”)
 Hereinafter the authors use the terminology adopted in international treaties. It differs slightly from the “military” terminology, which, for example, adopts the term “rapidly deployed” weapon systems.
 Another option is a dramatic buildup of China’s nuclear arsenal to the level of Russia and the US. Such an option is in principle not excluded if China implements a major program for the deployment of additional nuclear weapons, while Russia and the US continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals.
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