Moving Ahead on Reducing Nuclear Arms

On April 8, 2010 Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met to sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The treaty entered into force in February, and the sides have already exchanged data on their forces.

We should build on this momentum and take new actions to reduce nuclear risk and shape a safer world.

First, the United States and Russia should initiate early negotiations to further reduce their strategic arms. New START permits each side up to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. They could negotiate to reduce that level to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads — with corresponding cuts in strategic missiles and bombers — which would leave each with more than enough to assure its security.

While negotiations are underway, Moscow and Washington might consider other steps. New START gives each until 2018 to reach its limits. They do not need that long. The two sides could accelerate their reductions and in parallel implement the limits by 2014 or 2015.

Aging systems mean that Russia’s deployed strategic warheads will soon fall well below the 1,550 limit. Moscow will then have to decide whether to build back up to that limit. That makes no sense for either country. At an appropriate time, Washington could announce that, as a matter of policy, it will limit its deployed strategic warheads to 1,300, provided that Russia does not exceed that number.

Second, Moscow and Washington need a better understanding on missile defense, which otherwise could stall further nuclear reductions. The United States, NATO and Russia should vigorously pursue possibilities for cooperation in this area; genuine collaboration could dramatically change how the sides perceive one another.

One idea is early establishment of a NATO-Russia center to integrate and assess data from their early warning radars and space sensors. Given today’s technology, this could be done virtually, with an electronic link between the Russian and NATO command posts.

A real center, however, manned jointly by NATO and Russian military officers, offers advantages. The experience of military personnel working side-by-side will increase transparency about missile defense capabilities and boost trust between Russia and NATO.

Another important step is to resume and expand joint Russia-NATO training exercises and tests in the missile defense area. This also can significantly promote mutual transparency and trust.

Looking to the longer term, NATO and Russia could consider how they might further combine their missile defense systems. Ballistic missiles travel very fast and give little warning time, so decisions to launch an interceptor must be based on pre-planned protocols or instructions. NATO and Russia might initiate work to develop a joint protocol to guide Russian and NATO military officers in their separate decisions on launching missile interceptors.

Third, Washington and Moscow should address non-strategic nuclear weapons in arms reduction negotiations. In order to prepare the ground for that, we believe that Russian and U.S. officials should hold early consultations to define what weapons fall into the category of “non-strategic”; exchange information on the numbers of weapons, their types and their locations; and discuss how they store such weapons (in part, with a view to designing future verification techniques).

Washington and Moscow in 1991 each announced unilateral steps — the presidential nuclear initiatives — that resulted in the elimination of many thousands of non-strategic nuclear weapons on both sides. In order to promote transparency, the two governments might exchange precise historical data on the numbers of weapons of various types that they eliminated as a result.

Outside issues can affect nuclear reductions. For example, progress on limiting conventional forces in Europe would likely facilitate negotiations on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Finally, nuclear arms control cannot forever remain a U.S.-Russia-only enterprise. The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will meet in June to discuss nuclear issues. Moscow and Washington might consult with British, French and Chinese officials and on how to multilateralize the nuclear arms reduction process, perhaps starting with a data exchange among the five countries. At some point, other nuclear states should be brought into the process.

Negotiating further nuclear reductions will be a more difficult process than New START, and it will require more time. There is no reason for a pause. The United States and Russia should consider early resumption of negotiations and other steps to build a safer and more stable nuclear balance at lower levels of weapons.

By Madeleine Albright, the U.S. secretary of state from 1997 to 2001 and Igor Ivanov, Russia’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2004.

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