Washington’s record of meeting treaty obligations isn’t exactly stellar
This week, in an address to the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – which met at United Nations headquarters in New York – US President Joe Biden made a strong call for the Russia regarding the need to resume arms control talks. “Today,” Biden said, “My administration stands ready to quickly negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.” But, he added, “Negotiation requires a partner who is willing and in good faith. And Russia’s brutal and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine has broken the peace in Europe and constitutes an attack on the fundamental principles of the international order. In this context, Russia should demonstrate that it is ready to resume work on nuclear arms control with the United States.
Biden has made arms control a central theme in his relations with Russia. Indeed, one of his first major acts as president was signing a five-year extension to the Obama-era New START treaty, which had been allowed to languish under the Trump administration. “Extending the New START Treaty”, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press release issued at the time, “ensures that we have verifiable limits on Russian ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers until February 5, 2026. The New START Treaty Verification Regime”, Blinken noted, “Allows us to monitor Russia’s compliance with the treaty and gives us a better sense of Russia’s nuclear posture, including through data exchanges and on-site inspections that allow US inspectors to keep an eye on Russian nuclear forces and facilities.”
Blinken then added a critical statement. “United States,” he stated, “assessed the Russian Federation as being in compliance with its New START treaty obligations every year since the treaty entered into force in 2011.”
Unfortunately, Russia cannot say the same for the United States. Since 2018, Russia has accused the United States of “convert a number of SLBM Trident II launchers and В-52Н heavy bombers, so that the Russian Federation cannot confirm that these strategic weapons have been rendered incapable of employing SLBMs or heavy bomber nuclear armaments. “ The bottom line is that America accomplished its conversions in a way that made it easy to reverse them, which Russia believed circumvented the intent of New START, which was the permanent reduction of nuclear arsenals on either side.
The United States rejected the Russian claim, noting that New START does not explicitly require conversions of SLBM Trident II launchers or B-52H bombers to be irreversible. As long as the treaty was in effect, the United States argued, Russia could use its inspection provisions to verify that the “incapacitate” objective was still in place. The Russians, with good reason, believe that the US position violated both the spirit and intent of the treaty, a position that has continued in the New START extension.
But Russia’s problems with America’s compliance are only one issue when judging whether to trust Washington’s good faith on arms control in general. The United States has withdrawn from three fundamental treaties over the past two decades: the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, and the Sky Treaty. opened in 2020. Similarly, America’s intransigence on fairly adapting the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty to reflect post-Cold War realities led to its demise. New START is the last man standing when it comes to arms control agreements between Russia and the United States.
Biden has tried to strengthen strategic arms control with Russia, discussing the issue with President Vladimir Putin at their Geneva summit in June 2021. The two leaders agreed to pursue “an integrated bilateral dialogue on strategic stability” who would be “seek to lay the foundations for future arms control and risk reduction measures.” Indeed, two such meetings took place on July 28 and September 30, 2021. Following the conclusion of the second round of talks, negotiators agreed to “form two inter-agency expert working groups” covering the “Principles and objectives of future arms control” and the Capabilities and actions with strategic effects.
But then came the Ukraine crisis, and the talks gave way to the question of the security guarantees demanded by Russia in the face of NATO enlargement, which threatened to bring Ukraine into the fold of the transatlantic military bloc. In direct talks with the United States, NATO and the OSCE in January 2022, Russia has been repeatedly pushed back in its efforts to negotiate a new European security framework that takes into account its national security interests, putting in motion the conditions that led Russia to launch its special military operation. in Ukraine, pushing President Biden to end the Strategic Stability Dialogue, an action that essentially froze US-Russian relations, at least in the area of arms control.
Biden’s announcement about resuming talks with Moscow took Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by surprise. “No request to reopen this negotiation process has been made”, Lavrov announced at a press conference in Myanmar, adding that the West “got into the habit of making announcements on the mic and then forgetting about them.”
Regardless of the lack of any notice from the United States, Russia has announced that it is ready to engage in arms control talks at any time, the sooner the better. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in a media conference call said that “Moscow has repeatedly spoken about the need to start these talks as soon as possible because there is little time left.” If the New START treaty expired without a replacement, Peskov said, “It will have a negative impact on global security and stability, mainly in the area of arms control.” For this reason, Peskov noted, “We [Russia] have called for an early start to talks, but so far it is the United States that has shown no interest in substantive contacts on the issue.
Peskov further stressed that negotiations on a new arms control pact can only take place “on the basis of mutual respect and taking into account mutual concerns.”
Washington’s push for talks with Moscow, however, appears to be little more than an effort to get Russia to negotiate the advantage in strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems it has accrued in recent years through the development of weapons such as the Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the Avangard hypersonic re-entry vehicle. In this way, the United States would make Russia give up new systems that cost billions of dollars to develop and put into operation, while the United States would only be asked to give up a handful that did not. has not yet been fully tested and deployed (the United States is ready to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years to replace the Minuteman III ICBM, the B-2 bomber and the Ohio-class submarine by a new missile (the “Sentinel”), a new bomber (the B-21), and a new submarine (the “Columbia” class). The high cost of these new weapons is likely to become a problem in a challenging economic environment, which may explain Biden’s push for new negotiations.
The current US approach to arms control negotiations appears to be one-sided in nature, based on sacrificing existing Russian capability for future US systems currently under development. On top of that, the United States has a poor record when it comes to treaty compliance (think of the ongoing controversy over New START verification of Trident and B-52 conversions) or treaty compliance (withdrawals the ABM Treaty, the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty constitute a historical precedent).
The US approach ignores Russia’s fundamental approach to arms control – that such negotiations must take place within the framework of a comprehensive restructuring of existing security frameworks that fully incorporates Moscow’s legitimate concerns. in matters of national security. This includes issues relating to missile defense (including the two US facilities in Poland and Romania), intermediate nuclear forces (a ban on the deployment of such systems on European soil) and non-strategic nuclear weapons (the US stockpile of B-61 bombs currently stored in Europe and released to non-nuclear NATO members during any potential conflict.)
The White House has turned the script around when it comes to advancing the cause of arms control. Former US President Ronald Reagan appropriated a Russian saying – “Trust but Verify”– when discussing his approach to implementing the groundbreaking INF Treaty in 1987. At that time, “trust” was assumed, and the focus was on building appropriate verification regimes to ensure compliance with the treaty.
Today, there is no trust between Russia and the United States, mainly because of the dismissive manner in which the Biden administration has handled the issue of Moscow’s concerns about European security which have been inexorably linked to the aggressive expansion of NATO. But the abysmal record of the United States under existing and past arms control agreements must also be considered. Even if Biden was willing to consider Russia’s concerns, the question for Russia to answer is whether Americans can be fully trusted as a partner in disarmament.
As it stands, the answer to this question is unfortunately “No”.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.