Pete Souza

U.S. News


Nuclear Regimes Tested by both the U.S. and Russia

Controversy continues to plague U.S.-Russian relations. In recently disclosed transcripts from a closed-door Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, administrative officials allege Moscow developed and tested new missile capabilities, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). With the transcripts stemming from a November 2012 meeting and the Washington Times covering the exact same story this past June, it is a wonder how this ‘new’ information can be met with anything other than passive acknowledgement and a wave of dismissal. Yet, to ensure no ‘crisis’ is wasted, Senate Republicans have decided that this dated information demands immediate action. An amendment has been drafted that would require the White House to report to not only Congress, but also “NATO and NATO countries” any “information and intelligence…on compliance issues related to the INF Treaty.”

Even the Heritage Foundation – the proponents interested in keeping the Cold War rhetoric alive and well – has entered the fray by pointing out: “Moscow has a poor track record when it comes to upholding its arms control obligations. With the exception of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is still in its implementation phase, Russia has violated every arms control agreement the United States has ever concluded with it. Violations include the INF, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Though their point is accurate, it would hold more weight if the U.S. had not walked away from the 1972 ABM Treaty in 2002, because it was deemed to have hindered America’s ability to respond to new, post-Cold War challenges. Moreover, in 2008, the U.S. initiated a trade agreement with India, which established a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. The deal focused on the sale of nuclear fuel as well as technology and reactors. The nuclear trade agreement threatened to increase tensions on the Indian sub-continent and undermined programs in place to diminish the global proliferation of nuclear arms. The deal violated the NPT because India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

These are not the only violations, but they do signify that willingness on the part of the United States to comply with international agreements is self-serving and haphazard, at best. Due to the information’s classification, it remains unclear what portion of the treaty was violated, though a review conducted this past June found Moscow’s missile tests within the technical and legal guidelines found within the INF. In the end, Moscow has done nothing that would violate the nuclear treaty, so the concern is not what Russia did, but how this over-reaction will impact existing and future agreements.

When the New START was ratified by the United States in 2010, Moscow received the recognition for which it had been waiting. Agreeing to START was a means for the Obama administration to take the first step in its pledge to form “a world without nuclear weapons.” Spanning the next decade, the signatories would focus on developing a UN ban on the construction of fissile material and forge a new defense security measure, thus ensuring material does not fall under the control of nonstate actors – a topic this magazine wrote on in January 2012. Furthermore, nuclear stockpiles and deployment capabilities are to be reduced by one-third. With the size and scope of both countries nuclear stockpiles, there is much work to be done in a very short period of time, as START is only a decade long agreement.

Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in Arlington, Va., June 24, 2010. (Pete Souza)

Guidelines are in place so as not to tie the hands of either power (as long as it stays in compliance with the treaty) while, simultaneously, ensuring that a nuclear strike will not be a first response to any international threat. Outside of nuclear disarmament, the New START was supposed to cast both countries in a more diplomatic light – both countries had been dealt blows to their image in the lead up to the agreement – and provide a better opportunity for consensus building. Moreover, signing this agreement in the lead up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference, in the same year, illustrated that both nations are interested in reinforcing the central tenets of the NPT. The purpose of the START and NPT summits was to paint the nuclear powers in a completely different light and show the international community that both are making good on their promises on anti-proliferation regimes and contemporary inspection guidelines.

With all the gains made, thus far, there is a great deal of work left to be done that hinges greatly on both parties cooperating. In a conversation with the Voice of Russia, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated, “[I am] satisfied with the overall progress with our America partners.” However, “as far as progress goes, there are questions coming up. The questions are related to the fact that we cannot discuss the prospects of further reduction of our nuclear potential until the issues directly linked to our security are resolved: the deployment of the missile defense system by the Americans, the prospects of transferring the arms race into space and a number of other issues.” The U.S. can ill afford to further unravel its relation with Russia during a time of not only great progress, but also during a period in which there is much left to do.

The greater sticking point with Russia is the ballistic missile defense system, which has, time and again, been deemed a violation of international law. This program reflects the West’s inability to comply with the very treaties that it regards as important to global security. For the rest of the world, continuing to expand the missile defense shield is indicative of the West’s establishing guidelines for everyone else to follow, while continually circumventing international law. “Our suspicions,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov to Voice of Russia, “have always been that the U.S uses the alleged Iranian threat as a pretext for advancing its goals that have nothing to do with Iran. Now they are arguing that, first, the threat is still there and that all Geneva accords are temporary and can be rolled back. But in that case anything can be rolled back, you know. If that’s how they prefer to deal with global security, there’s no way we can put through changes in non-proliferation and arms reduction.”

Russia has continuously stated that it is planning on withdrawing from the INF; it has been saying as much for the past thirteen years. The primary reason is that the INF no longer encompasses either country’s fundamental security concerns. The entire agreement is nothing more than a Cold War relic which only applied to the then super-powers and no other country. For Russia, many of its neighbors are incrementally stockpiling short- and medium-range missiles for their defenses; missiles these countries were not developing when the agreement was initially signed. The security environment now is different in Central Asia and for many former Soviet satellite states. Moreover, the security environment of the US is not the same as Russia (with only Canada and Mexico as its neighbors), which means a treaty that benefits American interests will not necessarily work for Russia’s current and future security needs.

It is expected that Moscow will utilize American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty as a precedent for leaving the INF. What worked for the United States – disregarding a relic of the Cold War because it no longer fits within the interests of the country to abide by its guidelines – will no doubt be the reason for Moscow’s departure.

At the end of the day, the U.S. is upset that Russia may have failed to comply with the INF; however, in reviewing the foreign relations and nuclear strategies of each country, it seems that a failure to comply with any treaty is a common hurdle. With Russia looking at stepping away from this agreement, anyway, is testing newly developed missiles worth unraveling all the progress made? Is it a failure to comply the smoking gun that will deconstruct all the current nuclear non-proliferation and reduction processes? Moreover, is it effective for American politicians to continue to, as Sergei Ryabkov put it – perpetuate “stereotypes towards Russia and prefer to cling to outdated approaches to us.”

U.S.-Russia relations have always been a curious development following the Cold War. With Russia ostensibly lacking superpower status, the mere fact that it is a nuclear power deems that Washington will continue to work with the Kremlin in lessening the threat of nuclear Armageddon. While Ryabkov is partially right in his analysis he is wrong on one account: Russia’s internal problems insure that many in the West still view Russia as a state on a development curve. Besides, with Washington needing the Kremlin’s help with Iran and America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is in Washington’s interest to keep a semi-functional relationship with the Kremlin going.