The Death of Disarmament in Russia?

By Bernier, Justin | Parameters, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Death of Disarmament in Russia?


Bernier, Justin, Parameters


"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

--Anonymous

With growing confidence, analysts and policymakers have referred to "the death of arms control," the Cold War industry that produced landmark agreements intended to curb the growth of opposing strategic arsenals. For better or worse, the United States did not keep arms control on life support. In October 1999 the US Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would eliminate the Department of Energy's only proven means of ensuring the safety and reliability of the United States' nuclear stockpile if ratified. Three years later, the Bush Administration legally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the 1972 pact with the Soviet Union that outlawed national missile shields. In May 2002 the United States and Russia did sign a new Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (known as the Treaty of Moscow) that will reduce strategic nuclear weapons to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by the end of 2012, but this legal vehicle was more an act of diplomatic charity than a necessary contract. Russia relishes the prestige that accompanies splashy arms control formalities, but America's former peer did not need a treaty to see the benefits of strategic forces cuts--absent significant funding increases, its arsenal will decline to less than 2,000 warheads by 2015 with or without the new pact. (1) This reality was suggested by President Bush, who casually offered to "write it down on a piece of paper" if Moscow felt it needed an official agreement to do what the United States was "going to do over the next ten years" anyway. (2) Traditional arms control agreements with Russia, it seems, are as much a part of Cold War history as the Soviet Union itself.

Now, the same experts may be unwittingly witnessing the demise of disarmament in Russia. Most of the dismantlement programs the United States initiated to secure and ultimately destroy Russian nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon systems appear to be completed or no longer agree with Moscow's policy goals. The Department of Defense's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Department of Energy's Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation (NN) program suffer from poor Russian cooperation as well as from access and transparency problems that have crippled major parts of the sister initiatives. In addition, Russia's spending priorities and contributions do not reflect a continuing, mutual interest in disarmament.

Moscow, to be sure, is willing to take advantage of US disarmament resources--but frequently acts against the spirit of the overall effort. Today, Russia seems to view these cooperative initiatives as a means to a strategic modernization program that includes the production of new weapon systems, the elimination and cleanup of older ones, and the maintenance of illicit biological and probably chemical warfare programs. The sum realities of poor transparency and cooperation, backward spending priorities, and stubborn proliferation practices--all key indicators of a country's true arms control intentions--bare a divergence of objectives and expectations between Washington and Moscow that may have already upended the well-meaning programs' primary purpose. A thorough and candid reexamination of US nonproliferation policy toward Russia is in order.

Early Success

To date, the oft-cited Cooperative Threat Reduction program has achieved a respectable measure of success in deactivating strategic weapons--nuclear warheads and their associated delivery systems--in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. By the Defense Department's count, the CTR program has helped to destroy some 530 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and no less than 27 ballistic missile submarines over the last dozen years. The congressionally-mandated initiative also has effected the elimination of 475 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and about 120 heavy bombers. …

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