It’s Time to Make Nu­clear Arms Con­trol Great Again

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

An odd struc­tural prob­lem stands in the way of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed “re­set” with Rus­sia: nu­clear arms con­trol. Few could have pre­dicted this stum­bling block. Ev­ery re­cent rap­proche­ment be­tween Moscow and Wash­ing­ton has be­gun with ne­go­ti­ated re­duc­tions in nu­clear weapons, nu­clear test­ing and mis­sile de­fense. Man­ag­ing the nu­clear arms race has been the meat of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. Be­yond that, the two coun­tries have lit­tle to talk about. This is still the case to­day.

For Rus­sia, main­tain­ing a ro­bust treaty frame­work and an in­ten­sive en­gage­ment with the U.S. on strate­gic sta­bil­ity is also a mat­ter of sta­tus pro­jec­tion. This is the only area where Rus­sia and the U.S. are equals, un­der­scor­ing Rus­sia’s oth­er­wise un­der­whelm­ing claims to a su­per­power sta­tus.

In their Jan. 28 phone call, Putin pro­posed ne­go­ti­at­ing a fiveyear ex­ten­sion of the New START treaty, signed by Pres­i­dents Obama and Medvedev in 2010 and due to ex­pire in 2021.

This was sup­posed to be a no-brainer — easy and pre­dictable. How­ever, Trump called the treaty a “bad deal” for Amer­ica that fa­vored Rus­sia, shock­ing Putin.

Don­ald Trump has been send­ing alarm­ing sig­nals to Moscow on the nu­clear is­sue. Af­ter win­ning the elec­tion in Novem­ber, he tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and ex­pand its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity un­til such time as the world comes to its senses re­gard­ing nukes.” When asked on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe” what he meant, Trump dou­bled down: “Let it be an arms race. We will out­match them at ev­ery pass and out­last them all.”

Moscow ini­tially sought to down­play these state­ments. The Krem­lin noted that the U.S. has the right to mod­ern­ize its nu­clear arse­nal, as long as it stays within the treaty lim­its and does not seek a uni­lat­eral ad­van­tage. The U.S. nu­clear triad has not been mod­ern­ized since early 1980s, and, in 2010, Repub­li­cans in Congress pushed through a $1 tril­lion pro­gram to re­place al­most all of the ex­ist­ing strate­gic weapons. This is not news to Moscow.

Un­rav­el­ling the New START, how­ever, would be a game changer.The treaty re­quires both na­tions to re­duce their ar­se­nals by Fe­bru­ary 2018 to 700 de­ployed strate­gic launchers and 1550 de­ployed war­heads. This is a sit­u­a­tion of par­ity with no side gain­ing an ad­van­tage if the lim­its con­tinue to ap­ply be­yond 2021.

It is un­clear why Trump thinks it’s “a bad deal for Amer­ica.” Per­haps he is chan­nel­ing the alarmist con­cerns within Repub­li­can cir­cles that Rus­sia is now ex­ceed­ing the war­head limit by 246 de­ployed war­heads. In fact, this stems from an over­lap in new sys­tems com­ing on­line and old sys­tems get­ting de­com­mis­sioned. Rus­sia will be de­com­mis­sion­ing old SS-18 ICBMs and Delta-III sub­marines by Fe­bru­ary 2018. In the most re­cent bi­lat­eral count from Septem­ber, Rus­sia ac­tu­ally had 173 fewer launchers than the United States. This gives the U.S. a real ad­van­tage: war­heads can be moved from stor­age, but launchers pro­vide the real strate­gic struc­ture and their num­bers can­not be quickly in­creased. If Trump ex­its START this U.S. ad­van­tage will only grow, forc­ing Rus­sia into an arms race to re­store par­ity.

Moscow finds it­self in a bind. It does not want nu­clear arms con­trol to dom­i­nate the agenda with Trump. It con­sid­ers this to

be the cru­cial flaw of the Obama-Medvedev “re­set,” when Rus­sia was “cheated” into con­ces­sions on is­sues of in­ter­est to the U.S., while Moscow’s pri­or­i­ties — NATO en­large­ment and Rus­sia’s “right” to a post-Soviet sphere of in­flu­ence — were ig­nored. Moscow is in­tent on rec­ti­fy­ing this with Trump by link­ing every­thing into a “grand bar­gain” where Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests in Ukraine and Euro­pean se­cu­rity would crowd out nu­clear is­sues.

There is also lit­tle ap­petite in Rus­sia these days for fur­ther nu­clear re­duc­tions. Moscow con­sid­ers a ro­bust nu­clear pos­ture in­dis­pens­able to Rus­sia’s se­cu­rity. Go­ing lower than 1550 de­ployed strate­gic war­heads, as Obama pro­posed in 2013, is too risky, the Krem­lin be­lieves.

The fact that Rus­sia may have pur­pose­fully vi­o­lated the INF Treaty by al­legedly de­ploy­ing a long range ground-launched cruise mis­sile high­lights Rus­sia’s lack of in­ter­est in strate­gic arms con­trol and its fo­cus on non-U.S. con­tin­gen­cies — i.e. China. These mis­siles can­not be used in any nu­clear mis­sion not al­ready cov­ered by the ex­ist­ing arse­nal of nu­clear sea-launched and air-launched mis­siles.

That said, Moscow has lit­tle choice but to try to con­strain the uni­lat­er­al­ist Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion with legally bind­ing arms con­trol agree­ments. This will re­quire fur­ther cuts in strate­gic and even non-strate­gic weapons (a long­stand­ing U.S. con­cern).

Rus­sia isn’t thrilled by that idea, but it could be con­vinced. Lift­ing U.S. sanc­tions on Rus­sia in re­turn for dras­tic nu­clear cuts — an idea Trump has pre­vi­ously pro­posed — would make the deal palat­able to the Krem­lin.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Russia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.