Recently, the Obama Administration has come under fire for potentially making unilateral cuts to the United States nuclear arsenal.
Such unilateral cuts were proposed in the International Security Advisory Board’s (ISAB) November report on “Options for Implementing Additional Nuclear Force Reductions.” Legal arguments aside, there are many problematic assumptions that members of the ISAB make to justify their proposed steps.
The ISAB chose to cite President George H. W. Bush’s Presidential Nuclear Initiatives as a model to be followed by the Obama Administration when considering unilateral cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Yet, the ISAB itself admits that numbers set forth in these agreements cannot be verified and that “Russia is not believed to have fulfilled all of their unilateral pledges.”
Why should the U.S. enter a mutual agreement with the Russian Federation if said country cannot be trusted to fulfill its part of the agreement? Even worse, Russia has violated every arms control agreement it has entered, with the exception of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that has been in force for only about two years.
New START turned out to be a very bad deal for the U.S. In this treaty, President Obama gave away U.S. leverage on missile defense and strategic weapons. The U.S. has barely anything left to negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons where Russia has a dramatic advantage. The ISAB incorrectly calls them “nonstrategic,” but in reality, any use of nuclear weapons on the battlefield will have strategic consequences.
The ISAB proposes that both countries should implement “mutual” reductions below the New START level and include tactical nuclear weapons. Yet, the report recognizes that Russia is planning to “build back up to treaty limits,” while, “[i]n contrast, the United States is expected to proceed slowly down to treaty limits.” There is no meeting of minds regarding mutual nuclear weapons reductions. In fact, since New START entered into force, the Russians launched the most extensive nuclear modernization programs since the end of the Cold War.
The ISAB report concludes that “Russia may simply say no, due in large part to cultural or bureaucratic barriers to transparency and further reductions. These initiatives would test Russia’s intentions to find possible realms of longer-term agreement.”
Russia’s intentions are clear. Its leaders repeatedly stated that they are not interested in the next round of negotiations unless the U.S. is willing to limit its missile defense systems, which the Senate’s ratification of New START prohibits. In addition, Moscow repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively if the U.S. continues to deploy ballistic missile defenses to Europe. Until the Russian Federation demonstrates its willingness to change its aggressive posture, the U.S. should not engage in any negotiations.
The ISAB’s assumption that the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be wholly derived from the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is wrong. The U.S. guarantees nuclear security to more than 30 allies around the world. Russia is a threat to many but the protector of none. In addition, Russia maintains superiority in tactical nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons modernization plans, and has a far more capable nuclear weapons production complex.
In addition to Russia, the U.S. must consider the Chinese nuclear arsenal, as well as North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs. Undertaking unilateral reductions at this time is not only circumventing congressional powers, but will be perceived as weakness by U.S. adversaries, further destabilizing an already uncertain international situation.