Reshaping Strategic Relationships: Expanding the Arms Control Toolbox

By Dunn, Lewis A. | Arms Control Today, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Reshaping Strategic Relationships: Expanding the Arms Control Toolbox


Dunn, Lewis A., Arms Control Today


Soon after the Obama administration took office. Vice President Joe Biden set the tone of the new administration's approach toward Moscow when he called for the United States and Russia to press the "reset button" in their bilateral relationship.1 This theme was reiterated in the March 9, 2009, meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Providing guidance to their bureaucracies, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, at their meeting on the margins of the April G-20 financial summit in London, "decided to begin bilateral intergovernmental negotiations to work out a new, comprehensive, legally binding agreement on reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms to replace" START.2

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Chinese militarydefense dialogue that had been suspended by China in November 2008 to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan resumed in February 2009.3 Again on the margins of the G-20 financial summit, Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed how to "build a positive, cooperative, comprehensive U.S.Chinese relationship for the 21st century" and went on to announce the creation of a "Strategic Track" as part of a new U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.4

Strategic dialogue and formal arms control treaty negotiations are but two elements of a wider spectrum of cooperative security activities available to U.S. officials and their counterparts to revamp the U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese strategic relationships. Other cooperative security activities include:

* Information, data exchanges, and transparency measures;

* Joint studies, experiments, and planning;

* Personnel exchanges, liaison arrangements, and joint military staff bodies;

* Joint activities, programs, systems, and centers; and

* Unilateral initiatives and coordinated national undertakings.

This expanded arms control toolbox also can be used to deepen cooperation among the five nuclear-weapon states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Such cooperative efforts could include the creation of building blocks for pursuing nuclear abolition.

The specific combination of cooperative security activities would vary across today's strategic challenges. Decisions on what particular measures to use will depend not only on U.S. thinking but also on that of U.S. partners. The acceptability of different measures will vary with the underlying political-military relationship, past precedents, and the strategic cultures of the countries directly concerned. The timing of proposals for specific cooperative initiatives will be another important consideration. Not least, the success of U.S. efforts to use an expanded arms control toolbox to help create strong habits of U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese strategic cooperation will depend on comparable commitments to that goal by Moscow and Beijing.

Building a Nonadversarial U.S.Russian Strategic Relationship

As the Obama administration moves to reset the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship, it confronts deep Russian mistrust of U.S. strategic intentions as well as a pervasive official and public belief that the United States "took advantage" of Russia's weakness in the post-Cold War turmoil. NATO expansion from the 1990s onward, U.S. and NATO use of force in Kosovo in 1999, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the pursuit of national missile defenses, and the recent proposal to deploy missile defenses in eastern Europe all are cited in a Russian bill of particulars.

On the U.S. side, there is continuing uncertainty about Moscow's intentions. Russia's use of military force against Georgia in August 2008 heightened concerns about Moscow's pursuit of a restored sphere of influence. Sometimes, questions also arise about whether Russian officials would welcome a nuclear Iran as a check on U.S. power. Areas of cooperation exist, most prominently efforts to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but the goal of a nonadversarial relationship characterized by U. …

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