Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control with Russia: Issues for Congress*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of Russia, Eastern and Central Europe

Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control with Russia: Issues for Congress*

Article excerpt


On January 31, 2013, during the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing on the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, Senator Jeff Sessions questioned Senator Hagel about the Obama Administration's plans for the next steps in nuclear arms control.1 Specifically, he asked Senator Hagel whether he was committed to honoring the provision in the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-239, Section 1282) that requires the Administration to provide briefings to Congress, twice each year, on the status of arms control negotiations with Russia. Senator Hagel responded that he was committed to pursuing the required consultations. Senator Sessions then asked Senator Hagel for a commitment that the Administration would pursue agreements that would lead to further reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons through -the treaty-making power of the President." Specifically, he was seeking assurances that the Obama Administration would not try to bypass the Senate, and its role in providing advice and consent to the ratification of treaties, by reducing U.S. nuclear weapons through unilateral or informal bilateral means. Senator Hagel did not respond to this request. He noted that the President -believes in and is committed to treaties," but he did not accept Senator Sessions' view that future reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons should occur only through the treaty-making process.

Senator Sessions' questions, and the concerns voiced by other Members of Congress, respond to both the Obama Administration's stated interest in pursuing further reductions in nuclear weapons and recent indications that the Administration may pursue these reductions, as President George H.W. Bush did in 1991, without a formal treaty.2 President Obama views New START, which was signed by the United States and Russia in April 2010 and entered into force in February 2011,3 as -just one step on a longer journey."4 In his State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, he pledged that -America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world's most dangerous weapons." As a part of this effort, the United States would -engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals."5

The United States and Russia have not yet started formal negotiations on further reductions in nuclear weapons. Disagreements about a number of issues, including the U.S. interest in limiting nonstrategic nuclear weapons and Russia's interest in limiting U.S. ballistic missile defense programs, have contributed to this delay. At the same time, congressional concerns about both the Administration's plans to reduce further U.S. nuclear warheads and the magnitude of the Administration's funding requests for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear enterprise have raised questions about whether the Senate would consent to ratification of a new treaty. As a result, many analysts and officials have suggested that the United States and Russia pursue -parallel reductions" based on a mutual understanding, rather than a formal treaty.6 Press reports from early February 2013 indicate that the Administration is considering this approach and might seek an informal understanding, within the framework of the New START Treaty, that reduces current negotiated limits on U.S. and Russian forces.7

Over the years, the United States has used three mechanisms to reduce its nuclear weapons- formal, bilateral treaties; reciprocal, but informal, understandings; and unilateral adjustments to its force posture. Each of these mechanisms for reducing forces serves different purposes, and each can possess different characteristics for the arms control process. The role of Congress in the arms control process also depends on the mechanism used to reduce forces.

The United States signed several formal arms control treaties that limited the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and with Russia in the past two decades. …

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