In an interview with Japan’s Asahi Shimbun last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke at-length about an array of nuclear issues, ranging from the value of nuclear weapons, to unilateral nuclear US reductions, to the threats posed by the Chinese, North Korean, and Iranian nuclear programs.
President Obama’s recent Berlin speech, during which he called for further US nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, was roundly criticized by Russian elites for its insensitivity to Russian concerns about American conventional weapons and missile defense cabilities, as well as for insisting that Moscow reduce the number of its tactical nuclear weapons. The trajectory of Russian defense policy increasingly makes future bilateral nuclear arms cuts between Washington and Moscow difficult; however, it is too early to write off another round of arms control with Russia just yet.
The Kremlin practices a version of zero-sum realpolitik in international affairs antithetical to effectively confronting its own security challenges. Moscow attempts to legitimize its “great power” status through a number of antiquated methods which make nuclear weapons reductions challenging, including the maintenance of the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. Russia generally lacks soft power mechanisms to project power – remaining committed to its own “special path,” and possession of cumbersome, ill-equipped armed forces. The bases for Russian power in today’s world have more in common with North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan than those of great powers.
The Kremlin’s misguided principals are codified in the 2010 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation (MDRF), which establishes deterrence as the primary goal of defense policy; standing in contrast to the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, which puts nuclear proliferation and terrorism at the top of the policy agenda. Conversely, these two issues are mentioned in the sixth, tenth, and eleventh places on the list of the “main external military dangers” in the Russian defense document.
Southern Russia sits on the threshold of the Middle East, while the Russian North Caucasus region is a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. The departure of forces from Afghanistan in 2014 as well as the ongoing Syrian conflict will also have a significant impact on stability in the Russian periphery. In addition, seven states other than the United States possess nuclear armed missiles capable of striking Russia. However, the MDRF identifies NATO enlargement, Western interference in the affairs of Russia and the post-Soviet space, missile defense, the development of non-nuclear precision weapons, and the “militarization of outer space” as the main threats to Russia.
In 2010, then-President Dmitry Medvedev told the Federal Assembly that strengthening air-space defense, integrating ballistic missile defense, air defense, early warning, and space control systems were “one of Russia’s highest priorities.” It is no surprise then that Russia is developing a new heavy ICBM, new ballistic missile submarines, and a new air-launched nuclear cruise missile.
While Russian leaders justify these modernization programs as a necessary response to the perceived threat from the United States and NATO, this buildup is also driven by personal economic and power interests inside the Russian military industrial complex and the Kremlin. As a result, the Russian military will likely look at the end of this project much like it does today – lacking strategic mobility and dependent on nuclear weapons for its first and last line of defense. This in turn will perpetuate Moscow’s seeking of conventional arms restrictions from nuclear weapons reduction negotiations.
In response to Obama’s Berlin speech, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov stated that U.S. missile defense and the participation of other nuclear powers (i.e. China) in future arms control are concerns of Moscow. However, Russian experts have stated that no current or near-future American missile defense system will be capable of having “any significant impact” on the Russian nuclear deterrent potential. In addition, while Russia shares a 5,000-kilometer border with China, Russia has the capability to effectively deter any Chinese nuclear first-strike. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has bungled attempts to address the root cause of its fears of China’s rise, namely, Russia’s shrinking population in Siberia. This has locked in Russian reliance on tactical nuclear weapons to deter Chinese aggression.
And yet, the New START negotiations almost broke down over Russian demands for meaningful limits on U.S. missile defense programs. The latest round of Russian hostility to further nuclear arms cuts could also represent a negotiating tactic ahead of the September meeting between Obama and Putin. Furthermore, Russia does have incentives to engage the United States on further nuclear arms cuts, as Steven Pifer and Michael O’Hanlon have pointed out, such as saving money from not having to build up to New START limits as well as constraining U.S. reserve strategic warheads, where America has a “significant numerical advantage.”
While the road to a new round of nuclear arms reductions will be bumpy given the distance between the defense priorities of the United States and Russia, it is not yet impassable and certainly worth pursuing.
Nunn-Lugar in Russia, we hardly knew ye.
Well, that’s not entirely true – in fact, we knew ye fairly well. For more than twenty years, under the auspices of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, the United States partnered with Russia to secure, protect, and dismantle weapons of mass destruction throughout the former Soviet Union. However, this past Sunday saw the expiration of the US-Russian “umbrella agreement” that made this program possible.
In its stead the two sides have negotiated a successor agreement that will discontinue some US-Russian WMD cooperative efforts while allowing others to continue.
CTR in Russia arose in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse in the early 1990s, when Russia inherited most of the former Soviet Union’s massive nuclear weapons complex. However, in this chaotic period, the Russian government lacked the funds to maintain the security of its nuclear facilities, materials, and weapons. What resulted was the stuff of WMD security nightmares – accounts of this period reveal stories of vital security upgrades being ignored, salaries for personnel going unpaid, and “sheds [of] world-ending supplies of [highly-enriched uranium] protected by padlock only.”
Enter CTR. Founded in 1991, through legislation sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, CTR saw significant success in securing and dismantling excess Russian nuclear weapons. US-Russian cooperation resulted in the elimination of more than 7,600 warheads, 900 ICBMs, and 680 SLBMs from the Russian nuclear complex, as well as the implementation of important security upgrades at more than two dozen nuclear weapons facilities.
Since its inception, CTR has expanded beyond the realm of former Soviet states, broadening its mandate in order to to provide assistance to governments in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. Meanwhile, under the terms of legislation proposed by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in May 2013, the program’s presence in the latter two regions would be stepped up significantly, in an effort to prevent WMD from falling into the hands of non-state actors.
Why, then, did the US and Russia allow the aforementioned “umbrella agreement” to expire? In October 2012, the Russian government announced that it would not seek to renew the pact, citing fundamental disagreements with the agreement extension proposed by US negotiators.
Analysts have highlighted a variety of potential reasons for the Russian withdrawal. Several have pointed to the embarrassment felt by many Russian officials about having to rely on a foreign power for domestic security concerns, with the Stimson Center’s Brian Finlay describing Nunn-Lugar as “an enduring political embarrassment for Moscow.” More specifically, the liability provisions of Nunn-Lugar, under which US representatives and contractors were essentially protected from all legal liability for CTR-related incidents, were a constant sticking point for the Russian government.
Despite the end of Nunn-Lugar, US-Russia WMD-security cooperation will continue, albeit in a truncated form. This past Monday, on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement to continue the US-Russia partnership under a new framework, which our friends over at Arms Control Wonk have cleverly dubbed “non-Lugar.” Within the context of this new arrangement, the US will no longer be assisting Russian officials with the dismantlement of missiles, bombers, and chemical weapons, but, according to a senior US official, will be able to continue most of its nuclear security-related work without issue under the 2003 “Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation,” and a related protocol signed on June 14, 2013. Former senators Nunn and Lugar have come out in support for this new arrangement, though other analysts have expressed a bit more skepticism.
The end of US assistance in dismantling the Russian chemical weapons arsenal is particularly troubling, given that Russia is estimated to have thousands of tons of chemical agent still awaiting destruction. With the end of Nunn-Lugar, Russia will be left with the responsibility of ensuring that this important arms control mission is fulfilled. As David E. Hoffman pointed out in an October 2012 post for Foreign Policy, the Russian government, buoyed by a resurgent economy, certainly has the means to carry out this task – the more salient question is whether it will actually do so.
Such concerns about Russia’s commitment to Nunn-Lugar’s objectives are nothing new. Back in 2006, in a feature for The Atlantic, William Langewiesche detailed how many National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) technicians, sent abroad to help their Russian counterparts enhance the security of Russian nuclear facilities, questioned Moscow’s commitment to nuclear security, and expressed concerns that the CTR-funded upgrades would “slip into disrepair” upon the termination of US funding.
Though the US will apparently still have a hand in ensuring the security of Russia’s nuclear materials, its involvement in other aspects of the Nunn-Lugar agenda will be more limited. What this means for Russia’s WMD security remains to be seen.
“Looking forward to his second term, we hope to see further reductions in nuclear weapons which provide no added security and an expensive bill for taxpayers,” said Lt. General (ret. USA) Robert Gard, chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and former president of National Defense University. “We also look forward to greater progress on President Obama’s promise to secure nuclear materials abroad that will prevent nuclear terrorism.”
On April 8, 2013, the Carnegie Endowment hosted their biannual Nuclear Policy Conference. The first day was marked by a panel featuring U.S. Acting Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, People’s Liberation Army Major General Yao Yunzhu (China,) and former Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, Alexei Arbatov.
The panel was entitled Prague 2.0? Deterrence, Disarmament and Nonproliferation in Obama’s Second Term but the conversation provided an opportunity for General Yao, director of the Center on China-American Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science, to offer some insights into China’s strategic thoughts and vision for its largely opaque nuclear program.
The major take-away from General Yao’s comments was her articulation of the three underpinnings of Chinese nuclear strategy. According to General Yao, China’s nuclear arsenal requires three components: survivability, a penetration capacity and a deterrent threat.
General Yao repeatedly highlighted the Chinese no first-use doctrine and that more than ninety percent of the global nuclear arsenal is still controlled by the US and Russia, either as stored or deployed nuclear weapons. In order to move toward a multilateral framework for arms control, General Yao said that the “U.S. and Russia have to do one or two rounds of negotiations to further reduce” their arsenals.
The panel also discussed further US-Russian bilateral reductions. During this conversation MP Abratov stated that “China is the only state that could quickly build up to level of U.S.-Russian” nuclear arsenal size.
General Yao responded that, “China will not seek nuclear superiority” and that the smaller Nuclear Weapons States should promise not to enter an arms race with the U.S. or Russia.
MP Abratov called on the Chinese to be more transparent about the size of their nuclear arsenal. “China is the only serious specter,” according to MP Abratov. It seems strange for a Russian to criticize the Chinese on a lack of transparency with their arsenal which has been a hallmark of Soviet and Russian policy.
General Yao responded that due to the small size of the Chinese arsenal and its no first-use a “certain amount of opaqueness is necessary” to achieve its three required characteristics.. General Yao also noted the presence of Chinese underground tunnels as part of their survivability strategy. These tunnels have prompted a small number of observers to argue that China could be storing a much larger number of nuclear warheads than US intelligence estimates suggest, though there is little evidence to support this view.
Undersecretary Gottemoeller did praise the Chinese for their efforts to lead a terminology working group for nuclear weapons that would help to create mutual understanding among the permanent five members of the UN Security Council. She cited the need to “create fabric, environment for future multilateral negotiations.” However, Undersecretary Gottemoeller seemed to be the only panelist looking forward to multilateral arms controls talks in the near-term.