The Obama Administration has declared its determination "to stop
the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take
U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; and
seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear
weapons and material." In line with these goals, the Administration
has rushed to renew negotiations with the Russian Federation on a
follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
(START) and broader areas of cooperation. The negotiations
will seek to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and prevent
further proliferation, in accordance with the joint statements
issued by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev in London on April 1, 2009.
The recent upsurge in international calls to eliminate all
nuclear weapons has intensified the Administration's hope to
develop a new workable agreement with Russia by December 5, 2009,
when START will expire. Yet the Strategic Offensive Reductions
Treaty (SORT or the Moscow Treaty) already requires the U.S. and
Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear forces below START levels.
However, SORT lacks the verification and control measures
in START. Since mid-2006, Moscow has called for maintaining START
verification and transparency measures, albeit modified to
reduce expenses and make the measures less cumbersome.
U.S.-Russian Relations. Admittedly, progress in
U.S.-Russian relations, particularly in reducing American and
Russian nuclear arsenals, could benefit both powers and the
international community at large. However, progress will not emerge
automatically simply on the strength of good intentions.
Moreover, while the quantity and quality of weapons possessed
by nuclear powers are key elements in assessing defense
requirements, the nature and state of relations between them are
just as important. Obviously, the United States has nothing to
fear from the nuclear arsenals of Britain and France, but the U.S.
relationships with Russia and China are clearly much more complex
and controversial. Russia retains a significant nuclear
weapons capability and is the only global power capable of
threatening the existence of the United States. Notwithstanding the
often repeated official mantra that the two countries are
diligently building up their strategic partnership, their
nuclear arsenals continue to play mutual deterrence roles as
reflected in their respective nuclear postures and military
Haste in redefining the parameters of the U.S.- Russia strategic
relationship, whether for political expediency or for any other
reason, is inadvisable and potentially dangerous for U.S. national
security interests. As the Obama Administration pursues the
available options on arms control, the Senate and the public at
large should not permit the Administration to neglect its
fundamental responsibility under the Constitution to provide for
the common defense of the American people and, by extension, U.S.
allies against attack.
The Administration needs to fashion an arms control policy
specifically tailored to meeting current and projected U.S.
defense needs. This policy should be based on an in-depth
professional analysis of political, legal, economic, and all
other pertinent aspects of existing and future negotiations
and agreements with the Russian Federation. It should also take
into account Russian internal and foreign policies, including
Russian motivations and goals in arms control.
A "Protect and Defend"Strategic Posture. The
Heritage Foundation has proposed a "protect and defend" strategic
posture for the U.S. that is based on shifting away from the
retaliation-based strategic posture of the Cold War toward a more
defensive posture that is adapted to the emerging
international structure. To the greatest extent possible, this
defensive posture would employ offensive and defensive forces and
conventional and nuclear forces to defeat any strategic attack on
the U.S. and its allies. It also recognizes that arms control can
play a positive role in facilitating this shift and enabling the
U.S., Russia, and other states to pursue both near-term and
long-term arms control.
The Obama Administration needs to pursue the planned strategic
nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia with care and
patience. On this basis, it should proceed as follows:
- Chronological deadlines should not drive negotiations to
renew START. Negotiations should be guided by a clear understanding
of how this process and its expected results would advance the
security interests and defense requirements of the U.S. and its
- Allowing START to expire is a much lesser evil than negotiating
a hasty agreement that may compromise U.S. interests.
- Parallel to or in lieu of START negotiations, the U.S. and
Russia should negotiate a verification and transparency protocol
(as a treaty document) to the Moscow Treaty. This is the most
immediate and important issue for U.S.-Russian arms control.
- While there may be informal linkages to other issues, formal
negotiations on other issues should be deferred until after the
conclusion of the negotiations on the verification and
transparency protocol to the Moscow Treaty.
- Contrary to the goal stated in the London joint statements,
negotiations to reduce nuclear arsenals below Moscow Treaty levels
should also be deferred until after the verification and
transparency protocol is concluded.
- Negotiations on any treaty that would further reduce nuclear
weapons must be based on careful planning, specifically the broader
requirements for U.S. strategic forces and related goals that are
consistent with the protect and defend strategy.
- Following the completion of the planning process, the U.S.
should seek a new joint declaration with Moscow that defines
the scope of the negotiations for a successor treaty to the
Moscow Treaty and other arms control negotiations.
Conclusion. A unilateral commitment by the U.S. to
posture its military forces to defend the people, territories,
institutions, and infrastructure of the U.S. and its allies-even in
the absence of Russia cooperation-will prove both just and
wise. If Russia also adopts a more defensive and less threatening
strategic posture, the world will be a better and safer place.
Andrei Shoumikhin, Ph.D., is Senior Analyst at the National
Institute for Public Policy. Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research
Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison
Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and
Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The