Prospects for Arms Control After the US Elections

The Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, spoke at a seminar held by the Arms Control Negotiation Academy. In his speech, Ambassador Antonov said that there is still a chance for Russia and the United States to reach an understanding before the New START expires on 05 February 2021.

Below is the full text of the speech as published by the Embassy of Russia in the United States on Facebook.

Before discussing the prospects for nuclear and missile arms control it would be helpful to describe the current state of affairs in this area. I will briefly summarise the Russian-US interaction on strategic issues over the past four years.

Let me be clear – arms control is in a serious crisis. Just over the last 2 years, the INF Treaty has ceased to exist, the Open Skies Treaty suffered a heavy blow, the fate of the New START Treaty is hanging by a thread. The role of force in foreign policy and the quest for unilateral military dominance are on the rise. The strategic balance maintained for decades is undermined, the conflict potential is building up.

In these circumstances, the role of Russia and the United States in maintaining international peace and security is becoming increasingly important – particularly as permanent members of the UN Security Council and the largest nuclear powers. Aware of its special responsibility, Russia has been continuing its efforts to restore regular bilateral dialogue on strategic issues even in the face of extremely strained relations with the United States. A number of US-Russian consultations took place between June and October. Among them are three full-scale interagency meetings chaired by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Ryabkov and Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingsley. As well, 3 sessions of expert working groups on space security, doctrines, and warheads, verification, and transparency. The arms control issues were also discussed at the meeting of the Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev and US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien in Geneva on October 2, 2020.

One positive outcome was that the discussions were unbiased and substantive. The sides were aiming to better understand each other’s approaches and “red lines”. They expressed interest in identifying the areas where it was possible to achieve progress. Another constructive outcome was that the US dropped its unrealistic demand to immediately include China in the bilateral arms control process. Overall, the parties confirmed their keenness to continue the dialogue on strategic stability and arms control. They agreed to pursue further interaction based on consideration of mutual interests and concerns.

A key stumbling block was the issue of the New START extension. Back in December 2019, Russia proposed to extend the Treaty without any preconditions. We did so despite our concerns about some aspects of the US implementation of the Treaty. We decided to return to settling those issues later. On October 16, 2020, President Putin proposed to the US side to extend New START for at least one year. So, we were ready to meet Washington halfway as for us a 5-year extension would be more preferable. However, we came across the unwillingness of the US to prolong the Treaty as it was signed. Washington chose to impose unacceptable conditions for the extension of the agreement. For example, Washington insisted on the return to the Cold War-era verification procedures.

I want to emphasize that Russia has never opposed the idea of verifying potential future agreements. On the contrary, we have always insisted and continue to insist on the inclusion of verification procedures in all arms reduction and limitation treaties. At the same time, our position is that any verification regime must fully correspond to the subject matter and scope of the arms control agreement concerned. That is exactly what we have failed to agree upon with the outgoing US administration. As a result, the bilateral consultations on the New START extension and broader issues of strategic stability have once again reached a dead end.

It is obvious that the resumption of a regular dialogue requires significant political will. For now, we can only wait until the next administration decides on its approaches to the Treaty extension and arms control issues in general. For its part, Russia is open to a substantive discussion of technical arrangements of the New START prolongation. There are still chances to reach an understanding before February 5, 2021, when the Treaty expires.

Hopefully, the new team in the White House will demonstrate proper commitment and political will. The extension of New START for a 5-year period will allow us to maintain the current ceilings on strategic offensive weapons as well as the level of transparency and predictability in US-Russia strategic relations.

It is also equally important that we could use the time gained as a result of New START prolongation to hold comprehensive bilateral talks on the future of nuclear and missile arms control. In these discussions, the sides would consider all the factors affecting strategic stability. Namely – missile defense, shorter- and intermediate-range ground-based missiles, Global Strike systems, hypersonic delivery vehicles, future space weapons, etc.

Therefore we are talking about developing a new “security equation” which takes into account advanced weapon systems, emerging technologies and current political realities. We suggest that future arms control should not be limited to traditional strategic arms such as ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. We deem it necessary to include in the said equation all nuclear and non-nuclear weapons that could accomplish strategic tasks.

It is not a secret that this position on the future of arms control has been more than once presented to the US side during the strategic stability consultations. Our approach involves working with our American colleagues to identify types of weapons that pose a threat to the national territory of each country. We have to take into account the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the balance of power between Russia and the US. Thus we indicated our willingness to discuss restrictions on deployed nuclear warheads capable of striking the national territory of the other party, as well as numerical and geographical restrictions on the deployment of missile defense systems.

After the New START extension, we could also discuss how to possibly involve new participants in arms control agreements. At the same time, Russia considers unjustified any attempts to put international pressure on countries in order to force them to participate in an arms control regime. Consultations and negotiations of this kind must be conducted on a free and voluntary basis with due regard for the legitimate interests of the parties. The Russian position on this issue is well known. We give priority to including France and the UK in the dialogue. These countries possess nuclear arsenals comparable to the Chinese one. They also closely coordinate their nuclear policies with Washington within NATO.

Russia’s further efforts in pursuing arms control with the US will be based on parity and mutual respect for each other’s interests and concerns. Finding common ground on the issues of strategic stability is in the interests of both our two countries and global security and stability.

As you can see, we keep our cards open. All our proposals are on the table. Now the ball is in the US court. Russia-US fruitful cooperation in the field of arms control and strategic stability meets the interests of the entire international community. We need to restore mutual trust together. In this regard, it is highly important to resume professional dialogue between our military officials.

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