President Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Washington and Moscow will restart talks with Washington on a new arms control treaty this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. “We hope it will happen somewhere in the second half of January,” Lavrov said in televised remarks.

However, as I’ve written a few days ago in the New York Times, the negotiations are stuck in the muck. Obama administration has failed to complete the negotiation of a treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired on Dec. 5. The two superpowers are now in unchartered waters.

Moscow and Washington have stated that START still applies voluntarily. This is false. First, without the consent of the U.S. Senate, expired treaties are null and void. Second, the Russians already kicked out U.S. inspectors, thus scrapping a key provision of the now-dead treaty. Third, on Tuesday, Dec. 29, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin upped the ante, linking U.S. missile defenses with the treaty signature. Speaking in Vladivostok later that week, Mr. Putin warned against U.S. “aggressiveness” and disruption of the nuclear balance in case the Obama administration deploys missile defenses.

Now the official talks will restart in Geneva next week. The officials on both sides savor this “hardship post”. But there are concerns about where the negotiations are going, especially in they key venue: the U.S. Senate. Senators worry that the Obama administration may be making concessions to Russia that are detrimental to U.S. national security.

On Dec. 16, 41 senators signed a letter to President Obama, saying that they will oppose the new treaty if the United States gives up nuclear modernization. Thus, the 67 vote supermajority necessary for ratification is far from secure.

Supporters of missile defense, nuclear modernization and prompt global strike intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads would oppose the treaty if it undermines their priorities.
The completion of the START follow-on, as well as the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by Congress, are seen by the Obama Administration as a key stepping stone of “getting to zero” — achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

The Russians, however, quietly scoff at Mr. Obama’s goal. “Russia will develop offensive weapons — because without them there is no other way to defend our country,” Mr. Medvedev said in the recent TV interview.

Moreover, Russian nuclear policy and statements clearly reveal an abiding commitment to nuclear weapons. The U.S. national leadership and arms control negotiators should examine the Russian nuclear doctrine and policy as they are, not as they want them to be.

Russia is boosting the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy and doctrine. The Kremlin’s nuclear doctrine considers the United States its “principal adversary.” Russia will increasingly rely on nuclear weapons, including first-use use in local conflicts, such as with Georgia last year. This is what Russia’s National Security Council Secretary, General Nikolay Patrushev recently announced.

Moreover, Russia has 3,800 tactical nukes, which were not included in the follow-on treaty. And in the recent military maneuvers in Belarus, the Russian Army simulated an invasion of Poland — with 900 tanks and fired three nuclear missiles at the “enemy.”

And Russia’s military-industrial complex is busy developing high-precision and low-yield deep-penetration nuclear weapons. But the Russians are also demanding the halt to U.S. nuclear modernization, which the bipartisan Perry-Schlesinger Commission recommended to the U.S. Congress and is necessary to maintain an effective deterrent.

Lastly, the U.S. intelligence community advised Congress that Russia is currently in violation of START, as well as other arms control and nonproliferation agreements. The Obama administration’s broader agenda to “get to zero” appears to have compromised the treaty negotiations. This has caused Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, to accuse the administration of arms control malpractice.

As we said it in a Heritage Backgrounder in November, the new treaty must not compromise U.S. or allied national security. It should not limit U.S. missile defenses or nuclear modernization. The United States should pursue a “protect and defend” strategy, which includes a defensive nuclear posture, missile defenses and nuclear modernization.

— Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at The Heritage Foundation