The End of the Arms Control Era
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (42, Bolshaya Tatarskaya, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

On August 2, 2019, the Treaty on the elimination of intermediate and short-range missiles (INF Treaty), was officially terminated. It was signed in 1987 by the heads of the USSR and the USA: Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. This document has so far served as the basis of the arms control system. Why did this happen? Does the absence of a treaty mean the beginning of a new uncontrolled arms race or the threat of a nuclear war? What are we to expect next? The Valdai Club experts tried to answer these and other questions during a discussion that was held on the eve of the historic day.

Just as no one expected the end of the Cold War in the early 1980s, so in 2019 the end of the post-Cold War era came unexpectedly. According to Timofei Bordachev, programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, the collapse of the INF Treaty marks the beginning of the end of the period when agreements and treaties served to regulate relations between the nuclear powers and the beginning of a new chapter of history – one more complex and opaque.

Lieutenant General (Ret.) Evgeny Buzhinsky, chairman of the PIR Centre Council, drew attention to the similarities between the current situation and that which existed in the mid-1970s. Initially, the US concerns and the need for a treaty arose due to the rearmament of Russian troops with new missiles. Negotiations dragged on for a long time, but only got off the ground when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR and agreed to destroy a large number of deployed weapons in exchange for a US commitment to refrain from deploying similar missiles. “We have a different structure of nuclear forces,” the expert noted. "In the USSR and Russia, the main component was and is a ground-based one, whereas in the USA it is mainly air-based and sea-based forces, where they had a huge advantage." The current crisis has also begun due to  contradictions associated with the weapons improvement.

After the INF Treaty: Unwritten Laws Instead of Agreements?
Timofei Bordachev
August 2 is the expiry date of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, one of the most important agreements of Cold War and later a pillar of world order for all supporters of multilateral governance and nuclear arms reductions.

What shall we expect next? According to Buzhinsky, Russia will not pusue the real deployment of missiles if the United States doesn’t. Washington is unlikely to be able to choose a right place for this: Japan, the Republic of Korea and the countries of Southeast Asia are not fit for political reasons, whereas Australia and the island of Guam are too far. In addition, there always remains the problem of ensuring the fairness of such treaties, which is becoming increasingly difficult, given the differences in the structures of the ballistic arsenals of the respective countries. “To start the disarmament process again, we need a real shake like the Cuban crisis,” the expert concluded.

According to Samuel Charap, leading researcher at RAND Corporation, the human factor played the decisive role in the termination of the Treaty - that is, not objective reasons, but subjective ones.  “I would say that in the last decade in Russia and in the USA, there is no ability to take seriously the concerns of the other side,” the expert said. “We either deny or blame, but there were no serious negotiations over these claims. It would be very bad for Russia and the United States to lose arms control, but would the end of these treaties mean the collapse of strategic stability? It is not necessary if both sides behave constructively and take the concerns of the other side seriously. The main problem here is the lack of political will,” the speaker said.

According to Charap, the two main problems now are the fate of the START-3 treaty and the likelihood that one of the countries will deploy missiles in Europe. The fate of START-3, which expires in February 2021, will depend on the outcome of the US presidential election. As for the second problem, the US point of view is that medium-range missiles are already stationed in the European part of Russia, and if there is no diplomatic effort to resolve this issue, the situation could roll back to what it was in the early 1980s. “The very poor state of bilateral relations and the collapse of the arms control system will lead to increased tension and the likelihood of a war,” Charap said. “Therefore, it seems to me that there is something to work on in this area, but the main issue is the availability of political will.”

INF Treaty Passes into Oblivion: What's Next?
Andrei Frolov
The deployment of American medium-range missiles in Europe seems to be a completely resolved matter. The Russian response may be to build up the Iskander-M missile systems.

Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, agreed with previous speakers that the collapse of the INF Treaty is a watershed that marks the end of an era. “We are observing not only the end of the INF Treaty, but also the architecture of maintaining strategic stability through arms control in principle,” the expert said. In addition to the subjective reasons mentioned by Samuel Charap, he named a number of objective ones: first of all, this is a fundamental change in the military-strategic landscape and borders are blurring between nuclear and non-nuclear strategic weapons. “In new conditions, when there is a high-precision non-nuclear weapon and military and economic damage can be caused by cyber weapons, parity and balance cannot be calculated in principle. We cannot say how many Bulava missiles one Poseidon costs. This makes continued [arms] control pointless and impossible ” he explained.

“At the same time, the collapse of traditional agreements does not mean the collapse of strategic stability in general,” Dmitry Suslov said. “It's just that the methods that were used in the previous era are not suitable for the current one.” “The main threat I see is the increased danger of a non-nuclear conflict that can occur in the regions of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or, for example, in Venezuela,” the political scientist concluded.

Given all of the above, the experts agreed that the end of the INF Treaty should not be considered a complete disaster. Rather, it signals the need for Russia and the United States to get their relationship back on track and strengthen strategic stability.