Arms Control and the U.S. Russian Relationship


WITH BORIS YELTSIN'S impressive victory on July 3 of this year, in the context of his serious heart problems, and with the approaching U.S. presidential election, U.S.-Russian relations and arms control are in a portentous phase. Urdess a major effort is now made in both capitals to regain the momentum of nuclear and conventional arms reductions and limitations, the arms control regimes negotiated by Washington, Moscow, and, in some cases, others as well, could begin to crumble away. If that were to occur, U.S. national interests would be seriously damaged.

During the Cold War, arms control was a critical - and, in many instances, the most visible, scrutinized, and contentious - aspect of U.S.-Russian relations. The fundamental features of that era - the existential threat posed by the vast arsenals of the United States and the U.S.S.R., the standoff between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and the global rivalry between the two superpowers - ensured that the pursuit of arms limitations and reductions was an issue of utmost concern to the governments and publics of both nations. Blessedly, those armageddic relations are over, but there has been a lesser cost.

In the years since the end of the Cold War, arms control has become less of a priority. The hallmarks of the present period - the disappearance of the U.S.S.R. and with it the global Soviet military threat; the emergence of a new Russia that remains in the midst of an ongoing revolution; the recognition of serious regional threats to U.S. national interests in the Middle East and northeast Asia fundamentally unrelated to Russia; and the prevailing sense among the American public that the U.S. government should focus its energies on domestic issues - have combined to reduce the national consideration America now gives to U.S.-Russian arms control, even within the limited attention that is presently accorded to foreign policy as a whole.


For reasons detailed below, the administration at its highest levels has not been paying sufficient attention to the arms control regimes discussed in this report, and the record of Congress is no better. This is, of course, not an argument for arms control at any price. As always, Washington should carefully calculate how any particular arms control provision would affect U.S. national security and that of America's allies. Undoubtedly, sometimes the price of arms control with Moscow and others will be too high, and in those cases Washington clearly should not go ahead. It is precisely those sometimes tough choices that intense and effective arms control negotiations are meant to generate, and those judgments that the president and his top Cabinet advisers ought to make.

U.S.-Russian relations have become more troubled for reasons having little to do with arms control. The dominating issue at present in the bilateral relationship is NATO enlargement. Because of the passionate and virtually unanimous opposition throughout the Russian elite regarding NATO's decision to add new members, that subject currently casts a dark shadow over most of the arms control problems and prospects discussed in this report. In addition, Washington and Moscow have differences inter alia over Russia's role in European security; the future of Europe's security organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); the relative culpability of the parties in Bosnia and the role of force in managing that crisis; the future of Ukraine; events in the Baltic states; the development of Caspian Basin energy resources; the Russian sale of nuclear technology to Iran; how best to handle Iraq; and Chechnya. Although all of these issues are presently being worked on by the two governments and some may eventually be resolved, the number and scope of current bilateral disagreements, particularly over NATO enlargement, make progress on most arms control matters more difficult and, in some cases, perhaps impossible. (In this context, and with broad American national interests in mind, the Task Force makes its recommendations regarding the most beneficial shape and speed of NATO enlargement for the United States and the alliance at the end of Section V.)


Moreover, amid ongoing Russian economic difficulties, the Communists have returned as a potent political force in the country (Zyuganov received 40 percent of the vote 130 million votes] in the second round of the Russian presidential election) and especially in the Russian Duma. Among a significant segment of Russia's public, and especially its elite, there is a pervasive and deep sense of grievance toward the West because cooperation with the industrial democracies did not bring the levels of aid they had anticipated for the Russian economy, dramatically improve relations with the industrial democracies, and affect a recovery of its international standing. Difficult domestic circumstances in Russia further complicate progress on the arms control front.

Despite perfunctory support by the Yeltsin government for arms control, many Russians, especially in the Duma, variously claim that agreements such as START II and CFE are now fatally flawed because of NATO erdargement; that these treaties are vestiges of a now defunct romantic yearning on the part of Russian negotiators for a U.S.-Russian security partnership; that the Russian Federation cannot afford the economic cost of implementing the numerous treaty provisions involved; and that current domestic political pressures are simply too immense to allow for continued adherence to regimes that codify the strategic disasters Russia experienced with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On the U.S. side, some appear to believe that America should simply ignore these Russian concerns. They argue that emphasis on Russia was a congenital Cold War preoccupation that is now obsolete. First, the Russians no longer pose a military threat to the West; their global aspirations have been thwarted for the foreseeable future; and their military has proven inept, as demonstrated by the debacle in Chechnya. Second, given the geopolitical sea change wrought by the end of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, the most serious threats the United States faces are regional in character - especially the hegemonic aspirations of Iran and Iraq in the Persian Gulf and instability on the Korean Peninsula. The urgent need for a U.S. national missile defense to protect against these rogue states should lead Washington to ignore or abrogate the ABM Treaty today, whatever Moscow may think.


Others argue that U.S.-Russian relations can be successfully managed even if arms control between Washington and Moscow erodes; perhaps democratic enlargement, trade and investment, and/or regional cooperation can replace the central role of arms control in the bilateral relationship. Lastly, some assert that because Russia is economically and militarily hobbled, it is bound to adhere to its arms control commitments not necessarily because of the inherent fairness or international sanctity of treaties, but because Moscow would be even worse off without agreements that constrain U.S. and Western nuclear and conventional forces.

In the judgment of this Task Force, these arguments are not convincing. Were the sole objective of the current arms control regimes a continued reduction in Russian military capabilities, such a goal would likely be attained in the short- and medium-term as the de facto result of Russia's economic troubles. But it matters how Russia makes these cuts - with positive reinforcement through treaty arrangements with the West or with bitter resentment that will infect most dimensions of Moscow's external behavior. Moreover, Russia is potentially rich, and its weakness is transitory. So now is the time to push ahead hard with Moscow on cooperative endeavors regarding arms control, rather than in the future when U.S.-Russian relations could become much more problematical. Finally, arms control cooperation between Washington and Moscow remains an indispensable ingredient of a healthy bilateral relationship between the two nations and of international security more generally. Arms control cannot, by itself, carry the bilateral load, but without it mutual suspicion and unpredictabiety by both sides will likely contaminate many of the other dimensions of U.S.-Russian interaction.

A point needs to be made strongly at the outset of this report regarding U.S. and Western financial assistance to Russia in the arms control area - as some of the prescriptions in this report recommend - and the fungibility of resources within the Russian military-industrial complex. At the most basic level, Western monetary support for Russian arrns control purposes could allow Moscow to divert resources to threatening military programs. This would obviously not be in U.S. national interests. At the


same time, it would be impossible for outside observers to monitor such diversions in any detail. Therefore, the wilngness of the West to fund Russian arms control activities must be closely linked to the nature, breadth, and dynamism of Russian defense procurement programs, and to the quality of the overall political relationship between Washington and Moscow, except regarding the safety and security of Russia's nuclear stockpile, a subject that is discussed at length in the next section.

The Task Force believes U.S.-Russian arms control remains significant to U.S. vital and important national interests for several reasons:

  1. Arms control has a notable part to play in promoting U.S. security in the post-Cold War world.
  2. There is now a real, if lessening, opportunity to seek common ground with Russia in the joint pursuit of a global security agenda. From Europe through the Middle East into East Asia and the management of the emergence of China as a great power, from loose nuclear weapons to counterproliferation to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in international security, President Yeltsin, if he is willing and able in his second term, can actively contribute to an agenda that advances vital and important U.S. national interests. This will most fruitfully occur in the context of good U.S.-Russian bilateral relations, which, in turn, can profit substantially from successful arms control efforts by the two sides.
  3. Stable arms control regimes will make the world less uncertain and threatening for both nations, especially if the bilateral relationship worsens. Even after the Cold War, arms control agreements - if properly conceived, agreed, implemented, and maintained - can moderate U.S.-Russian security competition, help reduce the risk of war, and mitigate the consequences of hostilities should they occur. Both the START and CFE treaties, classic Cold War regimes, fit into this category. If ties between Washington and Moscow seriously deteriorate, as Russia revives, this regulating function of arms control win be much more important than at this writing.


  4. US.-Russian arms competition could become expensive for the United States. This would come during a decade when efforts are being made to correct U.S. budgetary excesses. What would a much larger defense budget do to the budget deficit and debt? To name only two examples, imagine the cost of a renewed requirement continually to modernize the U.S. strategic nuclear triad, or to attempt to construct a thick national missile defense.
  5. Arms control agreements will help to preserve common gains from the end of the Cold War. Through the mechanisms of START, CFE, and the 1994 agreements through which Russia became the only repository for the Soviet nuclear arsenal, America can consolidate the large reductions in nuclear and conventional forces and major geopolitical benefits that have been made possible by the end of the Cold War. As all NATO allies strongly believe, arms control agreements are a decisive key to stability in Europe.
  6. It would be difficult to maintain the bargain between nuclear and nonnuclear nations as manifested in the NPT if U.S.-Russian nudear arms control were to stall for an extended period, or even break down.
  7. The United States has an important interest in political and economic reform in Russia: successful arms control agreements will reward those elements in Russia that are most reasonable and allow Moscow - if it so chooses - to devote its scarce resources to democratization and marketization. Should Russia attempt to reconstitute its military might, it would require Washington to devote larger resources to counter any militarily significant changes in Russian force structure or deployments and ensure through wasteful expenditures that Russia's emergence as a pluralist country with a market economy is further delayed.
  8. Through verification and inspection regimes, arms control agreements provide helpful information about Russia's military programs. In the context of a volatile, even antagonistic, Russia, the verification and inspection regimes that attach to in-force and pending U.S.-Russian arms control agreements


    and provide increased transparency would be even more important for U.S. security.

  9. Arms control is an instrument of American leadership within the alliance and reassures Western allies. During the Cold War, the allies viewed the level of efforts to reduce military confrontation with the U.S.S.R. as an important signal of the strength of America's commitment to finding a modus vivendi with Moscow. If Washington were to attach a low priority to arms control, it would likely become a divisive subject within NATO and reduce allied willingness to work with the United States in other areas.

Although many other factors are involved in a comprehensive U.S. strategy toward Russia, arms control can have a decisive impact on vital and important national interests of the United States. The following sections of this report provide background and context for these arms control regimes, indicate present problems with them, and propose prescriptions that are designed to help bring arms control efforts through the current tough period and on to a sounder footing.

But these various arms control efforts are not of equal importance, and all provisions of any single agreement do not have the same substantive weight. Thus, one must clearly decide how each of these regimes relates to the broader objectives of U.S. national security policy; which of them currently best serve American national interests; which, for whatever reason, are less directly connected to the promotion and defense of those interests; and which elements of any particular agreement are paramount. Only with these priorities and linkages dearly in mind can the United States sensibly calculate compromises and tradeoffs between and among these diverse arms control endeavors.

In addition, we must understand these priorities and interrelations because, whatever the United States thinks or does, Moscow will, for its part, make such linkages. NATO enlargement is, of course, a powerful case in point. Indeed, the domestic politics in one or both countries will also often tie these regimes and the constraints they embody to one another: START II to


the ABM Treaty and ballistic missile defense; and, in Moscow's case, several of these arms control agreements to the alliance's decision to add new members.

For the purposes of this report, the Task Force has addressed each of the arms control subjects in order of importance and consequential impact on U.S. vital and important national interests. At the same time, we try to avoid the problems of compartmentalization, the dangers of treating every single problem in these talks as equally important and only on its particular merits. Rather, we attempt to balance the various U.S. interests at issue within each negotiation and relate arms control discussions between Washington and Moscow to the broader purposes of U.S.-Russian relations in the next l2 months.