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Russian-American Security Cooperation after St. Petersburg

Authored by Dr. Richard Weitz. | April 2007

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SUMMARY

This monograph assesses the opportunities for further security cooperation between Russia and the United States. It argues that, until a change of government occurs in both countries in 2008, the prospects for additional bilateral agreements to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, limit destabilizing military operations, jointly develop ballistic missile defenses, and enhance transparency regarding tactical nuclear weapons are unlikely. Near-term opportunities for collaboration in the areas of cooperative threat reduction, third-party proliferation, and bilateral military engagement appear greater. Accordingly, this monograph offers some suggestions for accelerating progress in these areas.

Ironically, the substantial improvement in Russian-American security relations during the last decade has decreased the prospects for further formal comprehensive bilateral agreements to reduce both countries' strategic nuclear arsenals. Despite some Russian interest in negotiating another comprehensive Russian-American arms control agreement, the Bush administration has repeatedly indicated that it considers comprehensive strategic arms control treaties largely irrelevant in today's world. The administration has also rebuffed Russian efforts to extend operational arms control agreements and take other steps to restrict the deployment of nuclear forces. U.S. officials argue that implementation of the May 2002 Russian-American Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) should suffice to place the bilateral strategic relationship on a stable basis since the treaty provides for major reductions in both sides' current nuclear arsenals.

Bilateral arms control reduction agreements might reemerge as an issue after a new U.S. administration assumes office in 2009. Primarily for financial reasons, Russian officials want to reduce their offensive nuclear weapons below the level set by SORT. In addition, the need to verify SORT after the expiration of START I in December 2009 will probably induce a modicum of near-term Russian-American cooperation in the area of strategic weapons.

For years Western officials, legislators, and analysts have called for additional arms control measures for American and Russian theater nuclear weapons (TNW). In accordance with the reciprocal Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-92, Russia and the United States have eliminated many TNW and removed other systems from operational deployment, transferring the warheads to separate secure storage facilities.

Nevertheless, many analysts consider this informal regulatory regime insufficient, and call for formal agreements designed to promote greater transparency (including obligatory data exchange and verification procedures) regarding the number and location of both parties' TNW. Several observers even advocate TNW's elimination on the grounds that their small size, scattered location, relative mobility, and weaker security and safety features render them more vulnerable to terrorist seizure than strategic warheads. Yet, the Russian government is unlikely to eliminate its TNW as long as Russian conventional forces suffer from persistent weaknesses and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) retains comparable weapons. In addition, Russia's extensive TNW arsenal helps compensate for possible weaknesses in its strategic offensive nuclear systems.

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) represents a potential area of cooperation between both Russia and the United States as well as between Russia and NATO. Bilateral Russian-American BMD collaboration has mostly concerned national missile defense (NMD), primarily against long-range ballistic missiles. Russia's work with NATO involves theater-wide missile defense (TMD) systems designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles.

Since the early 1990s, Russian and American officials have discussed possible bilateral BMD cooperation. Yet, the Russian and American governments still disagree on the nature of the ballistic missile threat. In addition, Americans and Europeans have been unable to persuade their Russian interlocutors that NATO BMD plans will not ultimately aim to intercept Russian missiles. In July 2006, General Yuri Baluyevskiy, head of the Russian General Staff, published a comprehensive critique of U.S. BMD plans in which he accused American officials of seeking to negate the nuclear deterrents of both Russia and China in a quest for strategic superiority. In recent months, Russian officials have expressed more interest in defeating BMD systems than in helping develop them.

On a more positive note, the cooperative threat reduction process between Russia and its former Cold War adversaries remains one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers. Since major funding increases for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) -related threat reduction projects in Russia are unlikely, however, both sides should consider more creative solutions to several recurring problems that have impeded further progress. For example, measures to resolve disputes over access to sensitive Russian sites could include granting Russian representatives more opportunities to see U.S. WMD-related sites, hiring Russian firms or personnel to help dismantle excessive WMD stocks in the United States, and supplying additional data concerning U.S.-funded threat reduction projects in Russia in return for more detailed information about Russia's WMD-related facilities and employees, especially those involved in Soviet-era biological and chemical weapons activities.

Opportunities for additional progress in curbing third-party WMD proliferation also exist. Chances for Russian-American collaboration on joint or multilateral threat reduction projects outside the former Soviet Union increased substantially in June 2003, when the G-8 governments agreed that the ";Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction" could in principle support threat reduction activities in countries besides Russia. Another opportunity for Russian-American collaboration on threat reduction projects beyond Russia arose in May 2004, when U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced a Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) to identify, secure, and dispose of stockpiles of vulnerable civilian nuclear and radiological materials and related equipment throughout the world. The GTRI involves close cooperation between the United States and Russia in securing these high-risk sources. At the July 2006 G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Presidents Bush and Putin launched a Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and opened formal negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement.

Bilateral military engagement constitutes an important area for possible future initiatives. Although the Russian military often remains more impervious to outside contacts and influence than many other Russian institutions, this condition makes U.S. attempts to engage the Russian defense community all the more essential. The armed forces invariably will play a decisive role in shaping Russia's future domestic and foreign policies. The Pentagon enjoys certain unique advantages in trying to affect the Russian military's evolution. For historical and other reasons, Russian defense leaders seem most comfortable working with their U.S. counterparts rather than with the armed forces of non-superpowers. Curtailing bilateral military contacts to protest Moscow's undemocratic practices or other policies will only keep the Russian armed forces a hostile institution.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS

President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian tendencies have made sustaining support for Russian-American security cooperation harder but not impossible. In particular, opportunities exist for near-term further bilateral collaboration in the areas of cooperative threat reduction, third-party proliferation, and bilateral military engagement. With new leaders due to assume power in both countries in 2008, we also could see renewed efforts to negotiate new strategic arms control agreements, including those limiting military operations and reducing the number of both countries' strategic nuclear weapons below SORT limits.