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“For 50 years, the Arms Control Association has educated citizens around the world to help create broad support for U.S.-led arms control and nonproliferation achievements.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Daryl Kimball

Breaking the Impasse on Disarmament, Part One


April 2024
By Daryl G. Kimball

A special UN Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament issues convened by Japan in March underscored agreement among all 15 members that the risk of nuclear war and arms racing is higher than at any point since the end of the Cold War. But it also highlighted chronic differences among the nuclear-armed states about how to reduce the danger. As the Japanese foreign minister warned ahead of the meeting, “The world now stands on the cusp of reversing decades of declines in nuclear stockpiles.”

The UN Security Council holds a meeting on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation at the UN headquarters in New York, March 18, 2024. (Photo by Xie E/Xinhua via Getty Images)To address such challenges, UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined several commonsense, achievable steps that could begin to move the world away from the nuclear precipice if pursued by China, Russia, the United States, and others.

Noting that “states possessing nuclear weapons are absent from the table of dialogue,” Guterres said they “must reengage” to reduce nuclear stockpiles, prevent nuclear use, negotiate a joint no-first-use agreement, stop nuclear saber-rattling, and reaffirm support for the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

He put specific emphasis on countries with the largest arsenals, Russia and the United States, and said that they “must find a way back to the negotiating table to fully implement the [New Strategic Arms Reduction] Treaty [New START] and agree on its successor.”

Last month, more than two dozen members of Congress introduced an important resolution calling for stronger U.S. efforts to engage Russia and China in arms control talks. Moving the nuclear-armed states in the right direction will, however, require much stronger and sustained pressure from civil society, legislators, and the international community.

At the Security Council meeting on March 18, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield criticized Russia’s nuclear rhetoric and reiterated the 2023 U.S. offer to engage in bilateral talks with Moscow on a post-New START nuclear arms control framework. Unsurprisingly, Russia’s delegate renewed the Kremlin’s rejection of the U.S. offer, claiming that there is no basis for such work if Western countries refuse to “respect [Russia’s] vital interests.”

In reality, maintaining limits on their strategic nuclear arsenals is in the vital interest of both countries. Yet, New START, the last remaining bilateral arms control treaty, is due to expire in fewer than 675 days. Moreover, Russia and the United States are obligated under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to engage in negotiations to halt the arms race and move toward disarmament.

NPT member states should make it their highest priority at the NPT preparatory committee meeting in July to press Moscow and Washington to observe the New START limits on deployed warheads until a more permanent, comprehensive nuclear arms control arrangement is concluded.

Thomas-Greenfield also called out China’s nuclear buildup and said that, despite a round of bilateral talks in November, China “remained unwilling to engage in substantive talks on nuclear risk reduction and arms control.”

China’s delegate agreed that “the risk of a nuclear arms race and a nuclear conflict is rising,” but insisted that U.S. criticisms of China “don’t hold water.” He invited other nuclear-armed states to explore the possibility of a no-first-use agreement.

China’s proposal is designed, of course, to highlight its long-standing no-first-use posture and divert attention from its nuclear buildup. Nevertheless, such an agreement would help reduce nuclear risk. As U.S. President Joe Biden said in October 2022 about Russia’s threat of a potential first use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily [use] a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.” The same logic applies to U.S. or Chinese first use.

If the United States wants more substantive dialogue with China, the White House should agree to seriously discuss China’s proposal and say the United States does not plan to threaten nuclear coercion against China. Such a shift could reduce tensions and lead to more concrete measures designed to prevent a Chinese-U.S. nuclear arms race.

Guterres also called for reforms at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to open the way for long-delayed talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on legally binding negative security assurances against nuclear attack for non-nuclear-weapon states, a priority for most nations.

To advance progress at the CD, the United States indicated in February that it would drop its opposition to talks on legally binding assurances against nuclear attack for non-nuclear states in good standing with their NPT commitments if other states, including China and Pakistan, drop their objections to long-delayed talks on an FMCT. Such a quid pro quo, if accepted by Beijing, could jump-start CD activity and lead to tangible results that reduce nuclear risks and guard against unconstrained arms buildups.

The world has faced grave nuclear dangers before. Then as now, it will take strong domestic and international pressure, smart diplomacy, and some luck to prevent disaster.

A special UN Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament issues convened by Japan in March underscored agreement among all 15 members that the risk of nuclear war and arms racing is higher than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

UN Security Council Holds Rare Disarmament Debate


April 2024
By Shizuka Kuramitsu and Daryl G. Kimball

Japan chaired a rare, high-level UN Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation on March 18. Although the meeting underscored the urgency of addressing the growing threats posed by nuclear weapons, it also highlighted the chronic divisions among key states on disarmament and nonproliferation issues.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (C) chairs a UN Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament in New York on March 18. She has warned that “the world now stands on the cusp of reversing decades of declines in nuclear stockpiles.”  (Photo by Japanese Foreign Ministry)Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa described the meeting as “an opportunity for UN member states to share concrete ideas and proposals to accelerate the realization of a world without nuclear weapons” in an op-ed published by PassBlue on March 17.

“The world now stands on the cusp of reversing decades of declines in nuclear stockpiles. We will not stop moving ahead to promote realistic and practical efforts to create a world without nuclear weapons. Japan cannot accept Russia’s threats to break the world’s 78-year record of the nonuse of nuclear weapons,” she added.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres; Robert Floyd, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization; and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the nonproliferation program at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, were invited to brief the meeting.

All Security Council members were represented, including the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Many stressed the urgency of addressing growing nuclear weapons threats. But the exchange also underscored the extent to which rising geopolitical tensions and long-standing divisions among leading states impede tangible progress on disarmament and nonproliferation issues.

In his opening remarks, Guterres warned that “[h]umanity cannot survive a sequel to [the movie] Oppenheimer. Voice after voice, alarm after alarm, survivor after survivor are calling the world back from the brink.”

“And what is the response?” he asked. “States possessing nuclear weapons are absent from the table of dialogue. Investments in the tools of war are outstripping investments in the tools of peace. Arms budgets are growing, while diplomacy and development budgets are shrinking.”

Guterres said the nuclear-armed states in particular “must reengage” to prevent any use of a nuclear weapon, including by securing a no-first-use agreement, stopping nuclear saber-rattling, and reaffirming moratoriums on nuclear testing.

He urged them to take action on prior disarmament commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), including reductions in the number of nuclear weapons “led by the holders of the largest nuclear arsenals, the United States and the Russian Federation, who must find a way back to the negotiating table to fully implement the [New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and agree on its successor.”

To catalyze action, he reiterated his call for “reforms to disarmament bodies, including the Conference on Disarmament [CD]…that could lead to a long-overdue fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.”

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield criticized Russia’s “irresponsible…nuclear rhetoric” and said that “China has rapidly and opaquely built up and diversified” its nuclear arsenal.

In addition, “Russia and China have remained unwilling to engage in substantive discussions around arms control and risk reduction,” she said.

Thomas-Greenfield reiterated the U.S. offer to “engage in bilateral arms control discussions with Russia and China, right now, without preconditions.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, said that his country shares “the noble goal” of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Nevertheless, he described the possession of nuclear weapons as “an important factor in maintaining the strategic balance.”

Polyanskiy countered criticism of Russian nuclear threats by charging that it is the “clearly Russophobic line of the United States and its allies [that] creates risks of escalation that threaten to trigger a direct military confrontation among nuclear powers.” He said the current situation is largely the result of the “years-long policy of the United States and its allies aimed at undermining the international architecture of arms control, disarmament, and [weapons of mass destruction] nonproliferation.”

Polyanskiy added, “As for the issues of strategic dialogue between Russia and the United States with a view to new agreements on nuclear arms control, they cannot be isolated from the general military-political context. We see no basis for such work in the context of Western countries’ attempts to inflict a ‘strategic defeat’ on Russia and their refusal to respect our vital interests.”

Maltese Ambassador Vanessa Frazier called on the nuclear-weapon states to fulfill their disarmament obligations under the NPT. “Current tensions cannot be an excuse for the delay…. Rather they should be a reason to accelerate the implementation,” she said.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun acknowledged that “the risk of a nuclear arms race and a nuclear conflict is rising” and “[t]he road to nuclear disarmament remains long and arduous.”

He reiterated Beijing’s long-standing position that “nuclear weapons states should explore feasible measures to reduce strategic risks, negotiate and conclude a treaty on no first use of nuclear weapons against each other” and “provide legally binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states.”

Apparently in response to U.S. criticism of a Chinese nuclear buildup and refusal to engage in substantive arms control and risk reduction talks, Zhang said these “allegations against China do not hold any water.”

“Demanding that countries with vastly different nuclear policies and number of nuclear weapons should assume the same level of nuclear disarmament and nuclear transparency obligations is not consistent with the logic of history and reality, nor is it in line with international consensus, and as such will only lead international nuclear disarmament to a dead end,” the Chinese envoy said.

Some states proposed new initiatives. In response to U.S. concerns that Russia may be pursuing an orbiting anti-satellite system involving a nuclear explosive device, Japan and the United States announced they will “put forward a Security Council resolution, reaffirming the fundamental obligations that parties have under this [Outer Space] Treaty,” which prohibits the deployment of weapons in space. (See ACT, March 2024.)

Japan also announced the establishment of a cross-regional group called Friends of FMCT “with the aim to maintain and enhance political attention” and to expand support for negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

For decades, the 65-nation CD has failed to agree on a path to begin FMCT talks. Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, the UK, and the United States will join the FMCT group, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

High-level Security Council debates focused on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation have been infrequent in the post-Cold War era, and few of them result in consensus statements or resolutions.

In 2009, the council held a summit-level meeting chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama on nuclear nonproliferation
and disarmament.

It adopted Resolution 1887, which reaffirmed a “commitment to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons” and outlined a framework of measures for reducing global nuclear dangers.

In September 2016, the council adopted Resolution 2310, which reaffirmed support for the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It called on states to refrain from resuming nuclear testing and called on states that have not signed or ratified the treaty to do so without further delay.

More recently, the council has held briefings on nuclear disarmament issues but without tangible outcomes.

The last such meetings were in March 2023, when Mozambique chaired a discussion on threats to international peace and security, including nuclear dangers, and in August 2022, when China organized a meeting on promoting common security through dialogue in the context of escalating tensions among major nuclear powers.

Following the March 18 meeting, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said the session “provided an opportunity to accelerate substantive discussion between nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states” ahead of the NPT review conference in 2026.

 

Although the meeting underscored the urgency of addressing the nuclear weapons threat, it also highlighted chronic divisions among key states on disarmament and nonproliferation issues.

U.S. Approves Funding for Pacific Island Nations


April 2024

The U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 approved a $7 billion spending package that included funding to support updated versions of the Compact of Free Association with the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia that will govern relations with these island nations for the next 20 years. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on March 8.

The extension of the compact with the Marshall Islands, and earlier compacts with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau, guarantees the United States exclusive military rights over large areas in the Pacific region, including a missile test facility in the Marshall Islands and a high-frequency radar system being built in Palau. It also guarantees a continuation of federal services and rights for citizens of the island nations. The Compact of Free Association packages will provide economic assistance of $3.3 billion to the Federated States of Micronesia, $2.3 billion to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and $889 million to Palau through 2043.

The agreement with the Marshall Islands also will update and expand U.S. financial and technical assistance to the island nation, including for the ongoing health and environmental damage caused by the 67 atmospheric nuclear test explosions conducted between 1946 and 1958. (See ACT, March 2023.)DARYL G. KIMBALL

U.S. Approves Funding for Pacific Island Nations

Moving the World Back from the Brink

Inside the Arms Control Association March 2024 Last month speaking in Geneva, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a stark warning: “The nuclear shadow that loomed over humanity last century has returned with a vengeance. The nuclear risk is higher than at any moment since the depths of the Cold War.” “Some statesmen regularly imply that they are fully prepared to unleash nuclear hell — an outrageous threat that the world must condemn with clarity and force. And the vital norms and standards against the proliferation, testing, and use of nuclear weapons are being eroded,” he said...

Keeping Outer Space Nuclear Weapons Free


March 2024
By Daryl G. Kimball

Fifty-seven years ago, through the Outer Space Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to codify a fundamental nuclear taboo: nuclear weapons shall not be stationed in orbit or elsewhere in outer space. But there is growing concern that Russia is working on an orbiting anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons system involving a nuclear explosive device that would, if deployed, violate the treaty, undermine space security, and worsen the technological and nuclear arms race.

The flash created by the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test on July 9,1962 as seen from Honolulu, 900 miles away. (Wikimedia Commons) The White House confirmed on Feb. 15 that U.S. intelligence uncovered evidence that Russia is developing an ASAT weapon that “would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty, to which more than 130 countries have signed up to, including Russia.” Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a nondenial denial, claiming on Feb. 20 that Russia remains “categorically against…the placement of nuclear weapons in space.”

An ASAT system involving a nuclear explosive device could produce a massive surge of radiation and a powerful electromagnetic pulse that, depending on the altitude of the explosion and the size of the warhead, could indiscriminately destroy, blind, or disable many of the 9,500 commercial and military space satellites now in orbit.

Russia’s reported pursuit of a nuclear-armed ASAT system is another troubling attempt by the Kremlin to challenge the fundamental norms against nuclear weapons and to use nuclear weapons to intimidate and coerce. But it would not be a “Sputnik moment” requiring parallel ASAT weapons system development or radical new countermeasures by the United States.

As with the exotic nuclear delivery systems that Putin first announced in 2018, including a long-range, underwater torpedo and a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-capable ASAT weapons system would add a dangerous capability. But it would not alter the existing military balance of terror.

Russia already fields a range of ASAT system capabilities, including co-orbital systems that can launch cyberattacks and engage in electronic jamming of specific adversary satellites. As with China, India, and the United States, Russia has already demonstrated a capability to use a ground-based missile to hit and destroy an orbiting satellite. All nations with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles also have the latent ability to detonate a nuclear explosive device in space. From 1958 to 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted nuclear explosive tests in the outer atmosphere.

The United States, which has the largest number of satellites in orbit, is already working to improve the resilience of its military communications, early-warning, and surveillance assets. A new Pentagon program soon will put constellations of smaller, cheaper satellites into orbit to counter space-based threats. Any corresponding U.S. nuclear-armed ASAT system effort would put U.S. and other satellites at even greater risk and do nothing to protect U.S. capabilities in space.

Off-and-on talks designed to maintain the peaceful use of space, including restrictions on ASAT weapons systems, have been stymied for years. A long-standing Chinese-Russian treaty proposal would ban objects placed into orbit with the intent of harming other space objects. It also would ban the “threat or use of force against outer space objects,” which would still allow suborbital and ground-based ASAT weapons capabilities.

Until recently, the United States has been wary of any legally binding restrictions on ASAT weapons systems in part because they might restrict U.S. ground-based missile defense capabilities or a possible space-based, kinetic anti-missile system that could involve a number of orbiting interceptors that provide a thin defense against ground-based missiles. More recently, the Biden administration proposed and rallied support for a ban on direct-ascent ASAT missile tests, which create debris fields that pose a major hazard to orbiting objects.

In the coming weeks, Washington, Beijing, and other capitals need to pressure Putin to abandon any ideas about putting nuclear weapons in orbit. As President Joe Biden noted on Feb. 16, that deployment “hasn’t happened yet, and my hope is it will not.”

The possibility of a Russian nuclear-armed ASAT system should also spur Washington, Moscow, Beijing, and other space-faring nations to get serious finally about additional measures to protect space security. They need to implement effective limits on ASAT weapons systems, including direct-ascent ASAT weapons and space-based systems that can destroy satellites and other objects traveling through space.

Russian ASAT weapons systems are not the only destabilizing factor in the dangerous nuclear and deterrence equation. In the absence of new, agreed constraints on Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals and measures to halt the growth of China’s arsenal, a costly three-way nuclear arms race could accelerate after the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires in 2026. In response, Biden needs to rally international pressure on Russia to support his proposals for talks on a new nuclear arms control framework and separate, regular dialogues with Moscow and Beijing on reducing nuclear dangers. Space and global security depend on it.

Fifty-seven years ago, through the Outer Space Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to codify a fundamental nuclear taboo: nuclear weapons shall not be stationed in orbit or elsewhere in outer space.

U.S. Warns of New Russian ASAT Program


March 2024
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russia is pursuing a new and more advanced anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons system that would violate the Outer Space Treaty, according to Biden administration officials.

U.S. intelligence reports that Russia is pursuing a new and more advanced anti-satellite weapons system have raised new concerns about an arms race in space. But Russian satellites, such as the one pictured, also would be vulnerable. (Photo by NASA)National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan briefed select members of Congress on new U.S. intelligence about the system on Feb. 15, and later that day, White House spokesperson John Kirby confirmed to reporters that the system is “related to an anti-satellite weapon that Russia is developing.”

Although it is not an “active capability that has been deployed,” Kirby said that the new system “would be a violation of the Outer Space Treaty, to which more than 130 countries have signed up to, including Russia.”

Article IV of the treaty expressly prohibits countries from deploying “in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install[ing] such weapons on celestial bodies, or station[ing] such weapons in outer space in any other manner.”

Kirby said that “our general knowledge of Russian pursuit of this kind of capability goes back many, many months, if not a few years. But only in recent weeks has the intelligence community been able to assess with a higher sense of confidence exactly how Russia continues to pursue it.”

“We found out there was a capacity to launch a system into space that could theoretically do something that was damaging,” President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House on Feb. 16. “Hasn’t happened yet, and my hope is it will not.”

According to a CNN report that same day, officials familiar with the intelligence assessment confirmed that the Russian ASAT system under development involves a nuclear explosive device that would produce not only a massive nuclear-driven blast wave and a surge of radiation, but also a powerful electromagnetic pulse that could destroy, blind, or disable other satellites in orbit over a wide zone.

Such a weapon could pose a threat to U.S. and allied military communications, early-warning, and intelligence-gathering satellites if it were to become operational. It also would pose a threat to thousands of other space-based assets in orbit operated by dozens of other countries and commercial entities.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States experimented with various types of ASAT weapons systems concepts, including the use of nuclear explosions to destroy objects in space and the production of beams of directed energy to destroy or disable enemy satellites.

Between 1958 and 1962, the United States carried out a handful of very high-altitude nuclear detonations, including the massive 1.4-megaton Starfish Prime test that occurred 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean and demonstrated the potential of nuclear detonations as ASAT weapons. The Soviets conducted a series of high-altitude nuclear test explosions over Kazakhstan between 1961 and 1962.

These test explosions produced a surge of free electrons that created X-rays capable of severely damaging electronic components and computer systems on the ground and in low earth orbit, an electromagnetic pulse that can disable unprotected electrical components on satellites, and a nuclear flash that can blind optical sensors on reconnaissance satellites. The Starfish Prime nuclear test explosion also produced radiation belts that lingered for months, disabling eight of the 24 satellites that were in orbit at that time, according to a 2022 report by the American Physical Society.

In 1963, U.S. and Soviet negotiators concluded the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere, and in 1967 the Outer Space Treaty.

As Jaganath Sankaran wrote in Arms Control Today in 2022, Russia has been pursuing a range of ASAT system capabilities for more than a decade, including co-orbital ASAT weapons capabilities in the geostationary orbit where most military command-and-control satellites operate, as well as ground-based lasers and a range of satellite jamming systems to deny and degrade the capacity of weapons that rely on satellite-enabled information.

In 2021, Russia conducted an ASAT weapons test on one of its own satellites, breaking it into more than 1,500 pieces of debris, which can pose a serious threat to other objects in orbit. China, India, and the United States also have demonstrated ASAT missile capabilities.

But none of these systems involved nuclear explosive devices. Today, there are approximately 9,500 active satellites in orbit and two crewed, orbiting space stations. One or more nuclear weapons explosions in orbit would create far more indiscriminate damage than the 1962 Starfish Prime nuclear test, and the loss of satellite services would affect significant commercial, military, communications, and navigations systems on Earth.

On Feb. 15, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed the claim that Russia was pursuing a nuclear-armed ASAT weapons capability as a “malicious fabrication," but on Feb. 16 he told RIA Novosti that Russia is ready to discuss the issue “if there are such initiatives from the American side.”

On Feb. 15, Kirby said, “We are in the process with engaging with Russia about this.” He said that Biden “has directed a series of initial actions, including additional briefings to congressional leaders, direct diplomatic engagement with Russia, with our allies and our partners as well, and with other countries around the world who have interests at stake.”

On Feb. 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the topic of nuclear weapons in space during a working meeting in Moscow with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“Our position is clear and transparent: we have always been categorically against, and are now against, the placement of nuclear weapons in space,” Putin said, according to Kommersant. “On the contrary, we call for compliance with all agreements that exist in this area and proposed to strengthen this joint work many times over.”

The anti-satellite weapons system would violate the Outer Space Treaty.

Russia Rejects New Nuclear Arms Talks


March 2024
By Libby Flatoff and Daryl G. Kimball

Russian leaders have rejected a formal U.S. proposal to resume talks “without preconditions” on a new arms control framework to succeed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that expires in two years.

A Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile on display in Red Square  in Moscow in 2009. (Photo by Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP via Getty Images)If the decision holds, it means that the only remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement limiting the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenals will expire on Feb. 5, 2026, along with its strict verification provisions.

In a written response to the United States on Dec. 2 obtained by Arms Control Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, “The proposal of the U.S. Side to launch a bilateral dialogue ‘to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework’ is unacceptable to us. Such ideas are completely inappropriate and absolutely untimely for they cannot be considered adequate to today’s realities and to the state of Russia-U.S. relations.”

Citing NATO and the “acute conflict around Ukraine,” the Russian diplomatic note also said, “At the moment, the U.S. Side does not demonstrate any interest in a mutually acceptable settlement of the current crisis [Ukraine], does not show readiness to take into account Russia’s security concerns…. Thus, there is no visible basis for a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the United States on strategic stability and arms control.”

The U.S. proposal was first announced by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association last June. Sullivan said that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia and with other nuclear-armed members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “without preconditions.”

“Rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework,” he said. Three days later, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described Sullivan’s comments as “important and positive.” (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

But by August, Russian officials at the preparatory committee for the 11th NPT Review Conference had already started signaling that, in their view, nuclear arms control talks “cannot be isolated from the general geopolitical and military-strategic context,” which includes the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The United States followed up Sullivan’s June speech with a written proposal to Russia that was transmitted in September. (See ACT, December 2023.)

On Jan. 17, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov elaborated on Russia’s written response to the U.S. proposal, saying that “amid a ‘hybrid war’ waged by Washington against Russia, we aren’t seeing any basis, not only for any additional joint measures in the sphere of arms control and reduction of strategic risks, but for any discussion of strategic stability issues with the United States.”

Pranay Vaddi, senior director for arms control at the U.S. National Security Council, said at an event hosted by Center for Strategic and International Studies on Jan. 18 that the rejection “linked other politics to arms control in a way that has not been done in the post-Cold War era…[and] as a result, we don’t have a conversation to be had.”

Vaddi expressed disappointment that Russia had not even offered a counterproposal on nuclear arms control and disarmament. In failing to do so, “Russia is minimizing their obligations under the NPT” and not even attempting “to pursue negotiations in good faith” as required by Article VI of that treaty.

Shortly after Russia’s rejection of the U.S. proposal became public, the U.S. State Department on Jan. 31 released its annual report to Congress on the implementation of New START. It said that the United States had 1,419 warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers, below the limit of 1,550 deployed warheads permitted by the treaty.

The report said that Russia’s decision to pause New START inspections in 2022 and its failure to provide data on its strategic nuclear forces since it suspended implementation of the treaty in early 2023 “negatively affects the ability of the United States to verify Russia’s compliance” with the New START deployed-warhead limit.

Despite the verification obstacles, the report assesses that Russia “likely did not exceed” the treaty’s deployed-warhead limit in 2023 and “that there is not a strategic imbalance between the [United States] and [Russia] that endangers the national security interest of the United States.”

But the report noted that “due to the uncertainty generated by Russia’s failure to fulfill its obligations with respect to the [t]reaty’s verification regime, the United States was unable to verify that [Russia] remained in compliance throughout 2023 with its obligation to limit its [number of] deployed warheads…to 1,550” on delivery vehicles subject to the treaty.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with RIA Novosti on Jan. 22 that, “for now, we are focusing on the task of maintaining the quantitative indicators of strategic offensive weapons at the levels established by the treaty on the condition that further destabilizing steps by Washington will not make such a task meaningless for us.”

The decision means that the remaining Russia-U.S. nuclear arms control treaty limiting the world’s largest nuclear arsenals will expire in 2026.

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