Taking the next step after new START
On April 8, 2010, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The treaty advances the security interests of both countries, but Washington and Moscow can and should do more.
New START, which entered into force on February 5, requires that the United States and Russia each reduce by 2018 to no more than 1550 deployed strategic warheads on no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and nuclear-capable bombers. The treaty includes monitoring measures that provide confidence that each side could detect a militarily significant violation in a timely manner.
Washington and Moscow should quickly launch a new round of negotiations aimed at further reductions of their nuclear forces. They should aim for a limit of no more than 1000 deployed strategic warheads, with corresponding reductions in deployed strategic delivery vehicles. New START rules would prove adequate to monitor such limits.
It is time, moreover, to put all nuclear weapons on the negotiating table and negotiate a single limit covering deployed strategic warheads, non-deployed strategic warheads and non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads—everything except those warheads in the dismantlement queue, which could be dealt with separately. The United States and Russia should aim for a limit of no more than 2500 total nuclear warheads each.
The combination of a limit of 2500 warheads with a sublimit of 1000 deployed strategic warheads would allow each side to have a mix of 1500 non-deployed strategic and non-strategic warheads. Given their different geopolitical situations, Russia would likely choose to keep more non-strategic warheads in its mix, while the United States might prefer more non-deployed strategic warheads. But there would be overall equality.
Limiting non-deployed strategic and non-deployed warheads will get into difficult monitoring questions, including inspections in weapons storage bunkers. That will be a big step for both sides, but they have already come a long way in accepting intrusive verification measures. These monitoring challenges should not prove insurmountable.
The question is: how quickly can U.S. and Russian officials agree to these new negotiations? Moscow says that other issues—such as missile defense, long-range conventional strike and conventional forces in Europe—must be dealt with first. The sides should instead approach these issues in parallel. It will take, at a minimum, two-three years to negotiate the next nuclear arms reduction agreement. If a new arms treaty is close to done, but one side or the other is dissatisfied with another issue, it will have the option of holding up its signature. So why put off starting the negotiation?
A big question is missile defense. Although U.S. policy is to defend against limited ballistic missile attack, Moscow worries about the potential impact on Russian strategic forces. The answer is to pursue real NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation, as NATO leaders and President Medvedev agreed last November. That offers a path to maximize transparency about U.S. and NATO missile defense plans, which could alleviate Moscow’s worries that those systems might pose a threat to the Russian strategic deterrent.
Russian officials have stated that non-strategic nuclear weapons should be returned to national territory before any negotiation on such systems. Moscow hopefully will move off of that position. Washington will not accept it as a precondition for negotiations but, in the context of the right overall agreement, might accept a provision requiring basing on national territory as an outcome of negotiations.
Finally, it would make sense for U.S. and Russian officials to begin considering the sorts of conditions—including bringing third countries into the nuclear reductions process—that would be necessary for deeper cuts. A limit of 2500 nuclear weapons would still leave the United States and Russia with very large nuclear arsenals. While negotiating toward that goal, they ought to begin consulting on how they and other nuclear powers might move to shape a more stable balance at lower levels of nuclear weapons.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. diplomat, is a senior fellow and director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution.