Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a letter to the editor by yours truly in response to a recent op-ed by Keith Payne and Mark Scheinder’s alleging that Russia is a serial violator of arms control treaties and the Obama administration has been uniquely weak in calling out Russia’s bad behavior. Here’s an excerpt:
In addition, the claim that Russia cheats on all treaties is overstated and overlooks the national security case for arms control. Overall, the implementation record of arms-control agreements with Russia has been highly successful—which is why both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued such agreements. Without these efforts Russian forces would be unconstrained, our ability to verify what Russia is doing would be curtailed and we would have few options but to engage in a costly arms race.
You can read the full letter here.
On the issue of arms racing, it’s certainly true that even if, for example, Russia wasn’t constrained by INF, the United States would still have powerful economic, political, and strategic reasons for not responding by building and deploying intermediate range nuclear forces. What’s more, the United States and Russia have a long history of reducing nuclear forces unilaterally without treaties. Furthermore, the current budget environment in the United States might require reductions in the US arsenal with or without Russia reciprocity.
But at the very least, the absence of constraints on Russia’s forces would increase the incentives and pressure to engage in costly worst case scenario planning that Washington would otherwise not engage in. It’s not clear what leverage we would have to reduce the Russian nuclear threat in the absence of say, INF. The United States and Russia have far more nuclear weapons than they need for their security. Negotiated limits on Russian nuclear forces can still play a role in reducing nuclear risks – especially at at a time of increased tensions between the two countries.