Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies

Advanced Conventional Capabilities and Their Impact on Nuclear Arms Control

Eugene Miasnikov's remarks at the International Workshop "Russian Interests and Western Priorities: The Future of Arms Control in Europe," Friedrich Ebert Stiftung - Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, Berlin, Germany, May 12-13, 2011

I am honored to be with you today. Let me thank organizers for inviting me.

The suggested topic of my presentation, as it is entitled in the program, is rather broad. One could divide this topic at least into three separate parts: advanced ballistic missile defenses, general purpose forces (in a context with tactical nuclear weapons) and conventional offensive strategic arms. Each of these parts deserves detailed consideration as we try to study their impact on further nuclear reductions.

Today let me focus on the third topic. I believe that it has not received a proper attention yet.

The problem posed by conventional strategic arms is also discussed in the most recent article written by a group of experts from the Center, I work for. It appeared a week ago in the May issue of "Arms Control Today" magazine. My colleagues argue that the key issues to be resolved in order to pave the way to further nuclear cuts are missile defenses, non-strategic nuclear weapons, and conventional strategic arms.

Russian officials constantly express concerns about development of strategic conventional arms and the need to take them into account in future negotiations. In particular, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about this at the Plenary Meeting of the Conference on Disarmament in early March.

Today I'd like to address the following questions:

Why Russia is concerned about strategic offensive conventional arms?

Russian strategic forces are known to be rapidly shrinking. As a result, their survivability continues to be questioned in domestic public discussions.

Russian military experts see numerous threats to survivability of the strategic forces in future: missile defenses, high precision conventional arms, antisubmarine warfare (ASW), etc. Their concerns grow as the United States are shifting the missions formerly assigned to nuclear weapons to conventional weapons instead of abandoning such missions altogether. Significant U.S. investments in development of conventional counterforce capabilities also do not help diminishing Moscow's concerns.

Russian officials frequently emphasize an existence of a strong link between the development of non-nuclear counterforce capabilities and ballistic missile defense programs. Linked together these trends are seen as a threat to survivability of its future strategic forces.

What are potential obstacles in implementing New START with regard to strategic conventional arms?

The New START does have provisions limiting and ensuring transparency of strategic conventional offensive arms. However, this category may become a sticking point even at the phase of the treaty implementation.

A frequently discussed example is a relation of New START with U.S. systems developed within the frames of Prompt Global Strike (PGS) concept.

When the Obama administration submitted New START to Congress, it made clear that the treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development, and deployment of current or planned PGS systems. Specifically, the U.S. administration stated that it would not consider future strategic range non-nuclear systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of the treaty to be new kinds of strategic offensive arms for purposes of the treaty.

A similar understanding was expressed in the Foreign Relations Committee's and full Senate's resolutions of advice and consent to ratification.

The Russian side adheres to an entirely different interpretation. The federal law on New START ratification states that all strategic offensive arms, including new types of offensive arms with strategic range, are subject to the treaty provisions. According to the Russian law, if one side has a concern about a new strategic-range offensive system, the question of applicability of the provisions of New START should be resolved within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The Russian law also states, that the issue needs to be resolved prior to the deployment of such new kinds of strategic-range offensive system. Apparently, existing differences in interpretation create potential problems for the treaty implementation in future.

A less discussed example is a relation of New START with "non-prompt" strategic conventional offensive arms: heavy bombers, long range air and sea launched cruise missiles. Russian military experts consider these systems as a substantial destabilizing factor, since even armed with conventional payloads they might have a counterforce capability.

The New START is known to cover some of the "non-prompt" systems, in particular, conventional heavy bombers and converted ballistic missile submarines. However, the treaty is designed in a way that once all delivery platforms of a certain type are converted to carry conventional weapons, this particular type of delivery platforms ceases to subject to the treaty provisions. Moreover the treaty does not require irreversible conversion.

It is interesting that the New START ratification statement of the State Duma requires that until the U.S. side brings out clearly irreversibility of conversion, the converted strategic delivery platforms should continue to be considered by the Russian side as "equipped for nuclear armaments." Apparently this language differs from the U.S. understanding.

There are also some other concerns with regard to New START implementation.

Existing differences could be resolved, provided that the sides demonstrate openness and desire to build mutual confidence. In particular, transparency in the U.S. programs for development strategic non-nuclear arms and restraint in their deployment would help to alleviate Russian concerns.

Negotiations on limiting strategic non-nuclear arms could be an additional mechanism for overcoming disagreements. Realistically, such negotiations can be conducted in a broader context only. Although the current U.S. administration's hands are tied by the Senate resolution, which prohibits making the PGS programs a bargaining chip in future negotiations, it seems that a bilateral discussion of this issue is necessary.

One may take an approach similar to the one used during negotiations on the New START Treaty. Russia's primary interest was reduction of the U.S. strategic forces, and first of all the United States wanted transparency of the Russian forces. In spite of asymmetry of the interests, the sides succeeded to achieve a compromise. Similarly, a potential compromise in the next round of talks can be sought in a broader field. For example, Russia might achieve substantial benefits for itself in solving the problems of missile defenses and strategic conventional arms, provided that it makes some concessions regarding non-strategic nuclear weapons.

In any event, solution of the problem of strategic conventional arms requires that the sides show restraint and transparency. It seems to be the only way to get out of mutual assured destruction logic.

Let me stop here. I'd be glad to take your questions. Thank you for your attention.