ONE YEAR INTO UKRAINE INVASION, RUSSIA GETS MORE DESPERATE
Russia’s war in Ukraine continues to have policy implications beyond the destruction and suffering being caused in the conflict, which hit the one-year mark on Friday. Western leaders have pledged more aid to Ukraine, but a new Russian offensive is also underway.
Senior Policy Director John Erath spoke with Newsweek about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military strategy. Any country will play to its perceived strengths in such planning, he said, adding that U.S. and Russian military ideology differs in that regard, as the United States emphasizes advanced technology and industrial superiority while Russia tends to rely more on territory and superior numbers.
“That’s how Russia has approached war in Ukraine, by sending in lots of troops and vehicles hoping to overwhelm,” Erath said. “When that didn’t work, they had no plan B. Ukraine understood how Russia would approach a conflict and prepared accordingly.”
He told U.S. News and World Report that Russia has implemented a strategy of leverage for at least the past six months: “Russia’s strategy has been to seek leverage on the West to end its support to Ukraine and suspend the hostilities on terms favorable to Russia.”
Beyond the on-the-ground military effects, the war also continues to carry a nuclear dimension. Putin announced in a speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly that Russia would suspend implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs later released a statement that Russia would continue to adhere to the central nuclear weapons limits of New START. The announcement is politically motivated and largely adds an official stamp to existing Russian misbehavior in the New START context.
Policy Analyst Monica Montgomery told The Hill, “Putin is using the fear of nuclear warfare in a bid to get the U.S. and NATO to back down from continued support [of Ukraine].” She further commented that in an effort to make advances in Ukraine, “Putin is taking one of the last things that is still out there that is in the mutual interest of both countries.”
Erath described Putin’s announcement as “entirely symbolic” to The Washington Post. Erath further warned that overstating the significance of the announcement “might signal to other countries that nuclear weapons are an effective form of diplomatic leverage.”
Putin’s announcement comes on the heels of reports earlier this month that the State Department could not certify Russia’s compliance with New START in an annual report to Congress. The report caused defense hawks on the Hill to question ongoing arms control with Russia and Putin’s announcement has caused further concern.
Erath told CNN that the report “doesn’t mean that they are building vast numbers of nuclear weapons secretly;” rather, they were not found in compliance with verification measures. The suspension of nuclear weapons data exchanges will, however, make verification even more difficult.
Prior to Putin’s announcement, Research Analyst Connor Murray wrote for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the importance of immediately engaging in arms control with Russia as we are now less than three years away from the expiration of the New START agreement between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
“New START is set to expire on February 5, 2026, and Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine has cast a shadow on prospects to negotiate a follow-on to this agreement,” Murray writes. “Retaining New START would be the most desirable outcome, but it would be wise to consider an alternative if no follow-on is agreed to by 2026.”
Further, Research Analyst Matthew Teasdale writes in his latest post on the Nukes of Hazard blog that western nations must take actions to punish Russia for its myriad nuclear threats and to prevent a Fukushima-like disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
“To signal that such threats are unacceptable, western policymakers could threaten sanctions on the Russian nuclear industry as well as facilitate an internationally monitored nuclear safety and security zone. A tactful combination of deterrence and disincentive may convince the Kremlin that menacing a second Chernobyl is no winning strategy.”
CHINESE THREAT PERCEPTION BALLOONING OUT OF CONTROL?
As the country learns about myriad unidentified flying objects from China and potentially other countries, General Michael Minihan, commander of the Air Mobility Command, wrote in a widely circulated memo that he had a “gut feeling” the United States and China would be at war in 2025. Senior Policy Director John Erath reminded readers in a blog post that no party, not China, nor Taiwan, nor the United States has any interest in a global conflict. Rather, military leaders like Minihan are trained for warfighting and his comments reflect the determined readiness of U.S. forces.
“It may not be sensational, but the point to be taken from the hype over General Minihan’s memo should be that if everyone does their job, a war is less likely,” Erath writes. “Hopefully, this is understood not just at the top levels of the Pentagon, but in Congress, as it considers how to provide the means for the other tools to complement those of the military.”
NORTH KOREA BRANDISHES MOST EVER ICBMS
The North Korean armed forces celebrated their 75th anniversary earlier this month during which the country showed off the highest-ever number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). One expert noted that previous military parades had included more nuclear weapons if one counts short-range, submarine-launched, and ground-launched cruise missiles. This shift to show ICBMs could signal an effort to intimidate audiences in the United States compared to rivals close to Pyongyang’s borders.
CHINA SUPPORTS RENEWING JCPOA NEGOTIATIONS
After a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to “constructively participate” in efforts to revive the nuclear deal. In light of a weakening 25-year trade and investment deal that Beijing signed with Tehran in 2021, Xi is looking to lift sanctions on its partner and solve the Iranian nuclear issue. The Center’s Paul Castleman Fellow Samuel Hickey penned an op-ed in Responsible Statecraft arguing for an interim agreement that would cap uranium enrichment, centrifuge development, and re-establish IAEA inspector access.
“Admittedly, such an interim arrangement would look a lot like the original JCPOA,” Hickey writes. “Today, the United States is functionally maintaining the maximum pressure sanctions campaign imposed by the Trump administration, but with a crucial difference: there is a clear off-ramp for Iran to relieve some of this pressure if it reins in its nuclear program.”
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR DEFENSE CUTS?
Senior Fellow John Isaacs recently published a piece in Inkstick calling attention to the surprising calls for cuts in defense spending by major conservative voices. Most unusual was an article by Kevin Roberts, the president of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, who wrote about “out-of-control” military spending.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), chair of the influential House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, asserted that he “is ready for some disruption at the Pentagon.” The deepest cuts have been promoted by former Trump administration acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who called for fundamentally overhauling the Pentagon budget “to the point at which its military spending could be cut in half.”
Whether these views actually produce defense budget cuts won’t be known for months.
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR WAR AUTHORIZATION REPEAL
Congressionally passed authorizations to use military force (AUMFs) have often lived on far after many wars have been over. Twenty years after the invasion of Iraq, the 2002 Iraq AUMF is still on the books and has been used to justify military operations far outside the scope of the original authorization. Now, bipartisan coalitions in the House and Senate have introduced new bills to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF that have a good chance of victory in 2023.
CENTER WELCOMES SPRING SCOVILLE FELLOW
The Center is proud to announce that Sophia Macartney, a graduate of the University of Georgia, is working with us as a Spring 2023 Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow. She will be working on issues related to export controls and sanctions, and will help plan congressional briefings. Learn more about Sophia in her bio and more about the Scoville Peace Fellowship on its website.
What’s in a name? By Senior Policy Director John Erath
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