Executive Summary: Strategic Nuclear Arms Control for the Protectand Defend Strategy

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Executive Summary: Strategic Nuclear Arms Control for the Protectand Defend Strategy

May 4, 2009 4 min read Download Report

Authors: Baker Spring and Andrei Shoumikhin

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 policies.

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:

  1. 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 allies.
  2. Allowing START to expire is a much lesser evil than negotiating a hasty agreement that may compromise U.S. interests.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 Heritage Foundation.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Andrei Shoumikhin

Counselor to the President