Russia and the United States - time to end the strategic deadlock

Alexei Arbatov

Alexei Arbatov

In compliance with the Treaty, Russia and the United States each reduced their strategic nuclear forces to 6,000 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles and introduced a complex set of qualitative and structural limitations on this most destructive class of arms. The Treaty was to be succeeded by the Moscow Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in 2002, which set a ceiling on strategic nuclear forces at 1,700-2,200 nuclear warheads. But Rus¬sia and the United States failed to reach agreement on counting rules (the number of warheads assigned to each type of missiles and bombers) and verification rules, leaving the treaty up in the air.

Nonetheless acting in the spirit of SORT, Russia and the U.S. have moved in parallel to further reduce their strategic nuclear forces (to 4,100:5,900 warheads and 850:1,200 delivery vehicles respectively, using the START-1 counting rules 1), but without agreed counting and verification rules these reductions can only be considered as unilateral and unregulated steps. The broad verification system established by START-1 means that both sides have a detailed picture of each other's strategic nuclear forces, but once START-1 expires, they will only be able to depend on national technical verification means, which will essentially leave SORT with no foundation to rest on.

The Disarmament Vacuum

For the first time in 40 years 2 Russia and America will face a legal vacuum and be increasingly less well informed about each other's strategic capabilities and intentions in this area of military and political security of such paramount importance for both countries and the world as a whole. A new treaty to replace START-1 would help to avoid this situation, but after several rounds of negotiations it seems that the two sides have given up attempts to reach agreement, at least as long as the current U.S. administration remains in place.

This situation did not arise overnight. In the fifteen years since START-1 was signed, Russia and the United States have not implemented a single agreement in this vital area. This is the case with nuclear disarmament in general. The military security system based on treaties and agreements reached through long decades of exhausting and unbelievably complex negotiations has been all but completely dismantled today. In 2002, the United States denounced the fundamental 1972 ABM Treaty. The 1993 START-2 Treaty did not come into force, nor did the START-3 Framework Treaty, the 1997 Agreement on Confidence Building Measures Related to ABM systems, or the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and work on the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) has very much ground to a halt. Once the START-1 Treaty expires in December 2009, the Moscow Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty will also cease to exist, leaving only the decades-old partial nuclear test ban treaties of 1963 and 1974 and a few symbolic documents on this subject.

It is hardly surprising in this situation that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) should be cracking at the seams and that the eighth NPT review conference in 2010 risks being the last. If this happens, the proliferation of nuclear weapons would become inevitable with a growing probability of their actual use by states or terrorists. To complete the WMD picture, the 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of Biological and Toxin Weapons still does not have a verification system due to U.S. refusal to sign the verification protocol, and the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will not be implemented according to its schedule by Russia and the United States for financial reasons (table 1).

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Alexei Arbatov is a doctor of history, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, director of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for World Economy and International Relations and member of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Expert Council.

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