Speech by Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum Vladimir Dvorkin. Prospects for further nuclear arms reductions

Speech by Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum Vladimir Dvorkin.
Prospects for further nuclear arms reductions

(Vienna, 8-9 April 2010)

Further steps to reduce nuclear weapons following the signing of the Prague Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) would appear to be fairly difficult, and there is little likelihood that they will be taken quickly. Of course, there have been significant changes in the nuclear weapons policy of the new United States administration compared with that of the previous administration. At the same time, President Obama’s team is maintaining considerable continuity with the Bush administration as regards these problems despite a number of declarative differences. This is possibly connected with the fact that, as seen by the US leadership and to some extent, perhaps, by Russia, a further reduction in strategic arms in comparison with the 2002 Moscow Treaty, in which the upper ceiling was set at 2,200 warheads, does not seem entirely justified, insofar as lower ceilings would make it necessary to formulate a new nuclear policy with respect to China and, possibly, with respect to the group of three de facto nuclear States – India, Pakistan and Israel. For the time being, however, the new US nuclear doctrine speaks only of the need to continue this kind of dialog with Russia at a bilateral level. This policy speaks in somewhat more reserved terms about relations with Beijing, calling for greater transparency in China’s nuclear policy.

Formerly it was the consistently held position on the part of high‑ranking US military officials that it would be dangerous if China were to approach a level of nuclear warheads comparable to the level at the disposal of the USA. In October 2008, not long before it left office, the US Republican administration presented Russia with its new draft START treaty. And that draft said nothing about further reductions. What was essentially involved was the level set out in the Moscow Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) of 2002, in other words an upper ceiling of 2,200 nuclear warheads. At the same time, a significant part of that draft dealt with the development of a system of inspections and notifications and with the rights of the regulatory bodies.

What has happened now? First and foremost, the fact that the START Treaty signed in Prague revealed an extremely important feature and an element of agreement in the nuclear policy pursued by Moscow and Washington, namely the absence of any intention in the foreseeable future to undertake deep cuts in their strategic weapons below the level set in 2002 in the Moscow SORT Treaty. In point of fact, under the new Treaty a lower level of warheads can be seen only in the change in the rules for counting warheads on bomber aircraft. If we assume that 56 deployed American B-52 heavy bombers can realistically carry 1,120 air‑launched cruise missiles (warheads) and under the conventional counting rules set out in the START-1 Treaty 672 warheads, we are now left with 56. In the same way, the real number of warheads (more than 850) on the 77 deployed Russian Tu-160 and Tu-95mc heavy bombers now becomes 77 warheads.

The question of further reductions in strategic offensive arms is connected, apart from the political relations between the parties, with not only the dynamics in the balance of strategic offensive weapons but, to an even greater extent, with progress in tackling the most important related problems. In particular, a solution must be found to the problem of pooling efforts in the area of missile defense in the USA-Russia-NATO format. It will also be necessary in parallel to conduct consultations on tactical nuclear weapons and conventional weapons in Europe. Cooperation among the major powers in response to the problems posed by Iran and North Korea and in the strengthening of the non‑proliferation regime in general will have a significant role to play. There will be a need for certain limitations and confidence‑building measures with respect to the weapons of third nuclear powers.

Cooperation as regards the missile defense system planned for deployment in Europe is taking on particular importance. The crisis connected with the plans to deploy strategic missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic has been put off until such a time as the American missile defense system, which is based on naval units and SM-3 interceptor missiles and which is constantly being updated, begins to acquire strategic potential. Unless the question of cooperation in the development of a joint Russia-USA-NATO missile defense system is resolved by that time, we will be faced with a new and considerably more acute crisis that will stall for a long time the reaching of any agreements on further nuclear arms reductions.

For the time being, what we have is no more than a joint assessment of likely missile threats, something that can go on indefinitely. At the same time, likely missile threats from “third” countries were assessed in virtually exhaustive detail last year by Russo‑American specialists as part of research conducted by the EastWest Institute. This work was continued and completed at a highly professional level under the auspices of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London). However, at the State level routine work is continuing on this problem without any hope of successful conclusion. This is why the Luxembourg Forum must help to step up efforts for the joint development of missile defense.

Of course, we also need to begin consultations on non‑strategic nuclear weapons. It is virtually impossible, when dealing with this question, to make use of the experience gained in strategic arms reductions given the particular features of tactical nuclear weapons. A beginning here needs to be made with the formulation of transparency measures on a bilateral basis.

As we can see therefore, there is a whole range of problems that, if not solved, will make progress in further nuclear arms reductions extremely difficult. These problems include the overwhelming superiority of the USA in conventional weapons, steps towards the unilateral or multilateral deployment of missile defense systems, and complexities in controlling non‑strategic nuclear weapons. And only by overcoming these obstacles will it be possible to speak of further reductions in strategic weapons.