Gambit or Endgame? The New State of Arms Control

Gambit or Endgame? The New State of Arms Control
While nuclear arms control is enjoying a renaissance of late, whether that momentum dissipates or leads to further agreements will require a painstaking effort by U.S. and Russian diplomats and experts to move past Cold War prejudices and the mistakes and misunderstandings of the post-Cold War era.
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The pursuit of nuclear arms control has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently, with the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in spring 2010 in Prague. Whether that momentum will dissipate after New START or lead to further nuclear arms control agreements depends on several factors:

  1. The new U.S. and Russian nuclear doctrines. While there is always some distance between a state’s declared policy and that policy’s implementation, both documents show that, behind their more ambitious disarmament rhetoric, the United States and Russia maintain conservative nuclear policies that make radical nuclear disarmament unlikely— to say nothing of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
  2. The peculiarities of the recently signed and ratified New START agreement. Among these are the modest cuts stipulated by the treaty relative to its predecessors; the acrimonious ratification debates in both the U.S. and Russian legislatures; and the dim prospects for a follow-on agreement (in sharp contrast to the mood prevailing after past START agreements).
  3. The dynamics of obsolescence and modernization of U.S. and Russian strategic offensive forces. The United States should have little problem cutting its forces to get below New START’s limits. Russia, however, will have problems, not in reducing its numbers, but in raising them to treaty ceilings, due to their removal of obsolete weapons from service and slow deployment of new systems. Either Russia can negotiate a New START follow-on treaty with even lower ceilings or it can accelerate the development and deployment of new systems. While the former is obviously a more attractive alternative, it would require the United States and Russia to resolve many thorny arms control issues, such as ballistic missile defense, conventional strategic weapons, and tactical nuclear weapons.
  4. Ballistic missile defense. President Obama’s decision to modify the Bush administration’s ballistic missile defense plans in Central Europe opened the way for New START and eased Russian concerns, even if they could never have been allayed entirely. Moscow believes that U.S. ballistic missile defense programs are ultimately designed to degrade Russia’s nuclear deterrent, and it is far from clear that U.S. proposals to jointly develop such capabilities with Russia would allay those concerns—or that the idea even makes any sense.
  5. Russia’s perceptions of U.S. conventional strategic weapons. Russian officials are especially concerned about the U.S. Prompt Global Strike concept and do not trust American assurances that such capabilities are only directed at terrorists and rogue states. There has already been some progress made in dealing with these weapons in negotiations, and future progress on this issue will likely depend on legal agreements and confidence-building measures to scale U.S. capabilities in ways that would threaten Russia’s (or China’s) strategic deterrent.
  6. Joint development of ballistic missile defenses with Russia. This issue could seriously complicate Washington’s and Moscow’s strategic relations with China and India. Officials on both sides would do well to start small and proceed step-by-step, using incremental successes to build the momentum necessary to work through more difficult issues.
  7. Non-strategic—that is, tactical—nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, the United States and Europe relied on tactical nuclear weapons to counterbalance Warsaw Pact superiority in conventional forces in Europe; today, the situation is reversed, with Moscow relying on tactical nuclear weapons as a counterbalance not only to NATO conventional superiority but also to U.S. strategic nuclear superiority and long-range precision-guided weapons. No one now knows which weapons systems should be categorized as non-strategic, and how limits across regions could be accounted for and verified. In addition, reviving the moribund Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty is essential to dealing with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons.

Working through these complicated factors will require painstaking effort by U.S. and Russian diplomats and experts. They will have to move past not just Cold War habits and prejudices but also the mistakes and misunderstandings of the past two decades of post–Cold War history. Commitment to this task will determine whether New START goes down in history as a mere gambit or as the first step of an endgame for U.S.-Russian security competition.

End of document

U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission

Eurasia Outlook

In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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