Russia, US Will Launch Arms Control Talks To Avoid ‘Accidental War’
The agreement reached during the summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a positive first step,” according to one analyst.
U.S. and Russian officials agreed Wednesday to open the lines of communication regarding the two nations’ nuclear stockpiles to reduce the risk of an accident, President Joe Biden told reporters.
The bilateral strategic stability dialogue is “diplomatic-speak for getting our military experts and our diplomats together to work on a mechanism that can lead to the control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons that are coming on the scene now that reduce the times of response, that raise the prospects of accidental war,” Biden said at a press conference in Geneva, where he appeared relaxed after a week of foreign engagements.
Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin also addressed a number of other top defense and foreign-policy issues during the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, including cybersecurity, election interference, violence in Ukraine and the drawdown in Afghanistan.Biden said both sides will look back in three to six months on all the topics discussed to evaluate whether any progress has been made.
“I’m not sitting here saying because the president and I agreed that we would do these things that all of a sudden it’s going to work,” Biden said. “What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving a single solitary thing.”
While Biden was quiet on his goals for the meeting ahead of time, saying he wouldn’t negotiate in public, he revealed at its conclusion that his intention was to make progress on arms control. A joint statement from Biden and Putin released by the White House says talks will begin “in the near future...to lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”
The agreement to begin talks is “a positive first step,” but the talks need to be frequent, comprehensive and more than just grievance-sharing to be productive, said Kingston Reif, the director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
Both the U.S. and Russia enhanced their nuclear arsenal in recent years. America is building new versions of all three legs of the aging triad: a land-launched intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the Minuteman III, the first new Air Force bomber in decades, and the Columbia-class fleet of submarines to replace the Ohio-class boats.
Russia has unveiled its own new systems for delivering nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered torpedo that it tested in April.
The two nations recently made progress in nuclear arms control. Russia and the U.S. in February agreed to extend the New START Treaty, an agreement that first went into effect in 2011 that places verifiable limits on both nation’s nuclear stockpiles. The five-year extension means there will be limits on Russian land and sea missiles plus heavy bombers until 2026, according to the State Department.
Some of the new Russian weapons, including the torpedo, are not covered by New START, and Reif said one area where officials should focus discussions is on a follow-on arms control agreement that also puts limits on the numbers of these types of systems.
The strategic dialogue could also help each side understand the other’s position on cyber and space attacks, Reif said. It would avoid the risk of escalation, for example, if each side knew what kind of cyber or space attacks the other nation viewed as unacceptable and for which a nuclear response could be on the table.
“There should be a conversation about the risk that offensive cyber capabilities pose to nuclear command and control, and a discussion about the escalation risks each side sees with a cyber attack on nuclear command and control,” Reif said. “It’s an opportunity to have a dialogue not only related to some core weapons-specific issues, but also on issues with respect to the weaponization of emerging technologies that could impact the nuclear balance.”
Biden said the two leaders did not discuss whether the U.S. could respond to a cyber attack with conventional military force.
At the summit, Biden and Putin also discussed how to protect national assets from cyberattacks. Biden said he gave the Russian president a list of 16 critical infrastructure items, including the power grid and water system, that should be “off the table” for any cyberattack.
When Biden was asked about what consequences he threatened if Putin went after any of those protected areas, he said, “I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capabilities and he knows it….If in fact they violate these basic norms, we will respond.”
At the wide-ranging summit, Biden said the two men also discussed Russia’s disinformation campaign and interference in the U.S. election, adding that Putin “knows there are consequences” if Moscow does it again.
Biden also said Putin agreed to “help” on Afghanistan, where America and NATO are withdrawing all their troops by Sept. 11, but declined to provide any details on what that assistance might entail.