Current State of Russian-US Nuclear Relations
Recent developments in diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia have greatly impacted the nature of arms control in the two nuclear giants. Historically guided by various treaties, including the START, SALT, and INF agreements, nuclear tension has increased as the 2019 withdrawal from the INF Treaty by both Russia and the US has opened the door to expanded proliferation.
Since the late 1960s, assurances guaranteed through bilateral agreements between Russia and the US have contributed to large scale denuclearization and regulation.
Until the 1987 INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), growth in weapons stockpiles was seen on both sides. However, with the banning of all land missiles ranged from 500 to 5,500 km (310 to 3420 mi), the US and Russia saw a massive reduction in nuclear capabilities. Although the relative power these two nations held was virtually unchanged, these steps toward denuclearization were seen then and are seen now as paramount to diplomatic progress.
In early 2019, under no less than questionable circumstances, Russia and the US exited the INF Treaty. US claims of Russian violations in missile production and Russian claims of US misinformation and subsequent violations in production have both hindered reconciliation. Moscow officials claimed that steps had been taken, beyond that which was required by the INF, to ensure that the treaty was not being violated. Russia Today, an English language news corporation funded by the Russian government, purported that “Moscow denied that it had broken the treaty, and offered additional mutual inspections during failed talks in Geneva last [February].” President Putin further cast doubt on positive US action as he was quoted saying “Over many years, we have repeatedly suggested staging new disarmament talks, on all types of weapons. Over the last few years, we have seen our initiatives not supported. On the contrary, pretexts are constantly sought to demolish the existing system of international security.”
Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov stated in March that “The situation in strategic stability as well as in arms control is very bad. We are in crisis.” Although dialogue has been undertaken between military leaders of the two countries, plans announced by both Trump and Putin to expand nuclear arsenals bear little sign of stopping.
Vastly important to maintaining some level of nuclear arms control between the two hegemons is the maintenance of the last remaining enforced treaty: New START. The New START Treaty provides limits on deployed warheads to 1,550 and deployed missiles and bombers to 700. The treaty expires in 2021. The two year period between now and the end of New START will be crucial, as Russia and the US have expressed openness to renewal. Should the treaty not be renewed, academics and policymakers alike have remarked that an era similar to Cold War nuclear production may be ushered in.
Despite advancements since 1987 that have reduced and controlled US and Russian nuclear capabilities, diplomatic deterioration has opened the door to increased proliferation that could pose security worldwide security threats. Modernization of nuclear production and the possible absence of limits on that production by 2021 could create an unprecedented era in arms control between Russia and the US.
Borger, Julian. “Russian ambassador to the US warns arms control is ‘in crisis’.” The Guardian. March 4th, 2019.
Kristensen, Hans M. and Matt Korda. “Status of World Nuclear Forces.” Federation of American Scientists. Updated May 2019.
Pifer, Steven. “With US Russia arms control treaties on shaky ground, the future is worrying.” Brookings Institute. April 25th, 2019.
“Russia suspends INF Treaty in ‘mirror response’ to US halting the agreement.” Russia Today International. February 4th, 2019.
“U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Agreements at a Glance.” Arms Control Association. Accessed May 17th, 2019.