Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on August 5, 2013.
Article summary below; read the full text here.
On July 12, the US State Department released a major annual report on arms control compliance that has riled up nuclear weapons hawks. In its annual “Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” the Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance assessed whether numerous countries complied with treaty obligations in 2012. Most of the media attention, though, has been on what the report says (and doesn’t say) about Russia. Since the report came out, Republican members of Congress and their supporters have repeatedly accused Moscow of violating arms control treaties, and the State Department of ignoring the problem.
By far the most significant compliance allegation against Russia is that it is testing ballistic missiles that are in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Signed in December 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF Treaty banned all US and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. A June 25 story by journalist Bill Gertz cited two unnamed US intelligence officers claiming that in June, Russia tested a new ballistic missile that flouts that ban. Some members of Congress have pointed to questions about Russian compliance as evidence that seeking new negotiated nuclear reductions with Moscow, as President Barack Obama has sought to do, is a bad idea.
Are fears that Russia is running roughshod over its arms control obligations justified? Not according to the State Department compliance report. According to the publicly available evidence, the claims that Russia is violating the INF Treaty don’t hold water. In fact, the allegations of Russian cheating actually speak to the importance of international agreements. While Washington should continue to press Moscow on compliance issues, we should not lose sight of the tremendous national security benefits of arms control.