You can’t have a conversation if one party won’t listen to the other.
Looking back on the discussions at the annual International Nuclear Policy Conference, hosted last month in Washington, D.C, by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, we have a strong feeling that all reasonable U.S. experts recognize an urgent lack of dialogue between Russia and the United States on key international security issues. As a result of this vacuum created in recent years, the number of unresolved problems continues to multiply — and therefore, so does the potential for conflict and the risks for global stability.
This issue grows more relevant as the United States reconsiders its attitude towards the international system of strategic stability agreements. As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted on March 20 in his statement to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, “The U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and now from the INF Treaty, paves a way to a large-scale arms race with unpredictable consequences.” The realities of today’s rapid technological progress suggest that such a race will occur, because many countries aspire to have their own nuclear and missile capabilities as the sole true guarantors of their national security.
So it is quite surprising that the Western national-security community sometimes acts as if they do not wish to hear our arguments. Let’s take the INF Treaty, for instance. A quick reminder: U.S. allies in NATO abandoned their own security interests and blindly supported Washington’s unfounded accusations that Russia has “violated” the Treaty. The alleged proof presented so far by the United States—coordinates and dates of the “banned” missile tests—is absolutely insufficient for such grave accusations. If there is more evidence, it should be presented. Without it, all U.S. accusations made against us once again prove that Washington lacks arguments to back its biased stance. Meanwhile, our attempts to save the Treaty, including by proposing unprecedented transparency measures, are rejected by the Trump administration.
Not to mention that according to the information at our disposal, the United States has been violating the Treaty for 20 years now. In 1999, they first tested combat unmanned aerial vehicles that have the same characteristics as land-based cruise missiles banned by the Treaty. The United States went on to use ballistic target missiles for testing their missile defense system and, in 2014, they began to deploy in Europe the Mk 41 vertical launching systems. These launchers are fully suitable, without any substantial modifications, for Tomahawk intermediate-range attack missiles. And this is a clear violation of the Treaty. Launchers of this kind have already been deployed in Romania and it looks like next year they will be deployed in Poland.
Everyone seems to be OK with Washington’s unilateral efforts to scrap one of the most successful disarmament treaties in history — two entire classes of missiles were eliminated — which fully met the interests of European security. As if nobody wants to treat seriously a very much real threat of new intermediate- and shorter-range missiles fielded in Europe. It is to be regretted that the lessons of the 1980s seem to have been erased from the memory of the Europeans, who chose not to support our efforts to preserve the INF Treaty at the United Nations General Assembly. We do not wish to escalate tensions. As President Vladimir Putin said during his Feb. 2 meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia will not deploy intermediate- and short-range missiles, unless such U.S.-made weapons appear in Europe or in other regions of the world. We will act reciprocally and only to counter U.S. actions. Our response is outlined in a way that will not draw the Russian Federation into a costly arms race.
Another flagrant example of unwillingness to hear us is the notion that our nuclear doctrine includes an “escalate to de-escalate” concept that includes the possibility of a first “limited low-yield nuclear strike.” This belief is held widely enough to be mentioned in the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review released in February 2018. Clearly, this allegation does not withstand criticism. All those who doubt it could have a look at Article 27 of the Russian Military Doctrine. It plainly states that our country “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, and in case of an aggression against it with conventional weapons that would put in danger the very existence of the state.” Therefore, as Vladimir Putin said, “our strategy does not include a preemptive use of nuclear weapons…Our concept is a retaliatory counter-strike.”
Recalling questions voiced during the Conference, I have an impression that our stance on the New START needs to be clarified.
We hope that the New START will not suffer the same fate as the INF Treaty. It expires in 2021. On many occasions we have declared our readiness to discuss the possibility of its extension for another five years. Washington, however, still cannot give a definite answer.
It is useful to recall that the extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be done in a couple of weeks. Serious issues must first be resolved. The American side must fully settle Russian concerns that the United States has met the accord’s limits not only by actually reducing the number of affected weapons, but also by converting a certain number of them in a way the Russian Federation still cannot confirm their incapability of employing nuclear weapons, as specified by the Treaty.
One can certainly hope that there’s still time. Although the less time we have, the higher the risks of ending up in a situation when there will be no legal limitations of nuclear arsenals for the first time in 50 years. Such a turn of events would be extremely dangerous in a time of overall bilateral crisis and dismantlement of the whole arms control regime.
We strongly adhere to our arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation obligations. Our proposals to resolve the INF issues and preserve the New START still stand. I am most confident that the efforts, required to return to an equal, professional discussion are not exhausted. But we won’t act “needy.” We’ll wait for our partners to come around and engage in a substantial dialogue on this issue of global importance. All our proposals are on the table.