Despite Rift, U.S. and Russia Seek to Keep Arms Control On Track

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Spoke to Eric Auner of World Politics Review on prospects for US-Russian arms control in the wake of Ukraine

Even as the United States works with allies to isolate Russia diplomatically and deter further Russian aggression, the Obama administration hopes to maintain business as usual in efforts to restrain threats from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Russia is the sole U.S. peer in the strategic nuclear arena and an important global supplier of nuclear technology and advanced conventional weapons. Russian cooperation will therefore be a prerequisite for almost any meaningful progress in tackling nuclear and WMD proliferation in Iran and elsewhere.

In terms of any new agreements on nuclear weapons, however, Simon Saradzhyan of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University says that the United States should “forget about” making any near-term progress. And while he expects that arms limitations and transparency measures under New START will continue for now, he “can’t rule out” that Russia could withdraw from New START or the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—which prohibits either side from deploying certain missile systems—in the longer term.

Although he agrees that Russia sees cooperation on multilateral nonproliferation efforts as being in its interest, he cautions that the diplomatic fallout surrounding events in Ukraine has diminished Russian enthusiasm in this area. This could even affect the ongoing negotiations with Iran, Saradzhyan says, especially considering current discussions between Moscow and Tehran on trade and arms sales. Russia is part of the negotiating group on Iran, along with the other members of the Security Council and Germany.

Strong statements from certain U.S. lawmakers will complicate the administration’s attempts to keep arms control on track…..

Russia is paying close attention to these statements, according to Saradzhyan, since they could reflect the views of the next U.S. president. For now, however, it is more important that the Obama administration has “only spoken positively” about New START and has not called into question the INF Treaty.

In addition, there are broader historical reasons to anticipate that both sides will continue to abide by New START. “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” Saradzhyan says, “there were sustainable efforts to negotiate and honor arms control.”

Full text here

PS One aspect I highlighted, but that didn't make into the published copy is that Russia has repeatedly threaten to withdraw from INF and New START over U.S. missile defense plans and other irritants, but I think doing so won't be in Russia's interest, given that it is already belowed New START ceilings in number of deployed systems and that re-deployment US medium-range nuclear missiles would pose a major threat to Russia.


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