Summary of the online Conference of the Luxembourg Forum

An online conference of the International Luxembourg Forum on the extension of New START and the concept of a possible follow-on agreement was held on June 4, 2020. The discussion saw participation of the leading scientists and experts in the field of arms control and nuclear non-proliferation: Academician RAS Alexey Arbatov – Deputy Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum; Professor Vladimir Dvorkin – Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum; Colonel General (retired) Viktor Esin; Robert Legvold (USA); Steven Pifer (USA); George Perkovich (USA); Pranay Vaddi (USA); Lynn Rusten (USA); James Acton (USA).

The meeting was moderated by Deputy Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the International Luxembourg Forum, Director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, Head of the Division at IMEMO Sergey Oznobishchev.

Opening the discussion, Vladimir Dvorkin emphasized the importance and urgency of analyses of the issues related to the possible extension of New START. He noted that the current tense situation in the field of arms control is the result of a deliberate U.S. policy. According to General Dvorkin, the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, and confrontation with China are all links in one chain. Among these issues, reports that the U.S. is considering nuclear testing – in the absence of any real need for it – are very disturbing.

Furthering the discussion of possible parameters and conditions under which New START can be extended, Academician Alexey Arbatov proposed several important additions that could be included in the Russian negotiating position. Firstly, the extension should not only serve to maintain transparency and predictability, but also be used productively for negotiations on a new agreement. Secondly, it is important to confirm that Russia agrees that some of the new strategic weapon systems – ‘Avangard’ and ‘Sarmat’ – will be counted under the extended agreement. Regarding the proposal to include China within the framework of the treaty, the speaker pointed out that it looks impossible – not only because of the complexity of negotiations, but also because such an action would involve either reducing the count of nuclear weapons to the level of China, or, conversely, allowing China to reach the level of the United States and Russia. This question could be explored when shaping the concept of a possible future treaty. The new document does not necessarily have to imply significant reduction in the ceilings of nuclear weapons, but it must certainly help remove the mutual claims of the parties by expanding the scope of the covered systems. In particular, it should account for non-nuclear strategic missiles and cruise missiles on bombers – in this case, it will be correct to return to counting the actual pieces of armaments on bombers. Taking into account the development of the concepts of limited nuclear strikes, nuclear gravity bombs on heavy bombers can also be included in the treaty. It is also necessary to take into account the nuclear weapons systems that are currently under development and testing.

Robert Legwold in his speech covered a number of important factors influencing the extension of New START in the United States. First of all, he pointed out personnel problems in the White House Administration. Most policymakers on this issue are very critical of Russia and China, and are very inexperienced in terms of nuclear issues and nuclear arms control. Secondly, there are difficulties with the formulation of a clear official position, and by all accounts it is now late to do so. At that, the statements of officials often contradict each other. Finally, an important one is the “Obama factor”. The current US president’s goal is to undo Obama’s accomplishments, including the treaties that he negotiated – and with regard to New START that goal is amplified by a conviction that this treaty is a bad deal. To date, the requirements and parameters that the United States and Russia have put forward for the next stage of strategic arms control are at a considerable distance from each other, and neither side has yet demonstrated a desire for compromise. A US confrontation with China can hardly contribute to trilateral cooperation on these issues. Despite this, difficult issues can be successfully addressed if all parties recalculate their stake and begin to search for common ground.

During the discussion, Steven Pifer agreed with the points made by other speakers, especially on the need to extend New START, and added that the task of clearly formulating proposals for the inclusion of China [in the current system of treaties] and the limitation of all nuclear weapons of Russia and the United States had been raised by the American Administration more than a year ago, but it had not yet offered a proposal or even the outline of one. Commenting on other speeches, James Acton elaborated on the issue of weapon conversions and drew attention to the issue of the possible deployment of air-launched ballistic and boost-glide missiles on non-accountable delivery systems. Victor Esin advocated more proactive actions by the parties, the development of a negotiating position and a draft follow-on document to START. Vladimir Dvorkin in his commentary drew attention to the fact that the extension of the New START is beneficial to both parties – the United States benefits from control and inspection, and Russia benefits from equal ceilings and the opportunity to avoid an arms race. Speaking about the follow-on treaty to START, Vaddi Pranay expressed a view that it is necessary to use previously accepted mechanisms and procedures and preserve flexibility if possible, as well as introduce additional transparency measures during conversion procedures.

Summing up the meeting, the participants agreed that the next conference will discuss in more detail the factor of China in strategic relations between the USA and Russia, as well as Moscow’s declaration of the principles of nuclear deterrence.