New US Budget Threatens Nuclear Restraint Agreements – Analysis

By J C Suresh

As the U.S. Congress prepares to enact legislation “that could further imperil the global nuclear order,” a disarmament expert has urged the lawmakers “to seek to preserve and strengthen the existing architecture of arms control and non-proliferation agreements” – instead of rushing to hasten their demise.

The “key pillars” of the agreements “have their origin in the vision of President Ronald Reagan,” says Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association (ACA).

Several experts are of the view that non-proliferation agreements and the path of non-confrontation pursued by President Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev culminated in the end of the Cold War era, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.

But tensions between the U.S. and Russia have worsened over the past few years, warns Reif. Though, thanks to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and support for the Assad regime in Syria.

“Nevertheless, the two countries continue to share common interests. In particular, as the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, they have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives all the more urgent.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have created a critical situation. “Since the dawn of the nuclear age over 70 years ago, rarely has the world faced as difficult an array of nuclear weapons-related security challenges as it is facing now,” writes Reif, adding: While the Senate is scheduled to take up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) soon, the House approved its July 14 version by a vote of 344-81.

According to the Politico, it was “a sweeping $696 billion defense policy bill that would exceed President Donald Trump’s budget request and break through longstanding caps on national defense spending,”

The bill would exceed the president’s $603 billion defense budget request, added the Politico. But it also would blow past the $549 billion cap on defense spending set under the 2011 Budget Control Act by about $72 billion.

“Both bills contain several problematic provisions that if enacted into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to several longstanding, bipartisan arms control and nonproliferation efforts and increase the risks of renewed nuclear arms competition with Russia,” warns Reif in the ACA’s Issue Brief of September 5.

While some meaningful cooperation continues, such as adherence to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and – until now – implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no on-going dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction steps.

But the existing agreements constrain Russia’s nuclear forces, provide for stability, predictability, and transparency in the bilateral relationship, and have only increased in value as the U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated, writes Reif.

The ACA Issue Brief provides a summary of the current status and arguments in support of four key agreements put at risk by the Senate and/or House NDAAs.

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)

Background: The New START requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.

Current Status: So far both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they do not plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated that it is interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures.

In January phone call with President Putin, President Trump reportedly dismissed the idea of an extension and called the treaty a “bad deal.” The House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2018 NDAA would prohibit the use of funds to extend the New START treaty unless Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

Background: The INFTreaty required the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. Russia and the United States destroyed a total of 2,692 short/medium/intermediate-range missiles by the 1991 deadline.

Current Status: The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement, and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord. Both the House-passed and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the FY 2018 NDAA would authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

The 1990 Treaty on Open Skies

Background: The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency on the military activities of states, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants for information gathering purposes. The parties have equal yearly quotas of overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all Treaty parties.

Current Status: The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions.

The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would annually bar, for each of the next five years, any U.S. Open Skies Treaty skies flights until Pentagon and intelligence community submit a plan for all of the treaty flights in the coming year. The bill would also bar DOD from acquiring a more effective, more timely, more reliable digital imaging system for conducting flights over Russian territory.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)

Background: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is the the intergovernmental organization that promotes the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has yet to enter force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System (IMS) to deter and detect nuclear test explosions.

Current Status: The United States currently contributes nearly a quarter of the annual CTBTO budget. In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined with other Foreign Ministers at the G-7 foreign minister summit in a statement expressing support for the CTBTO. The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget request would fund the U.S. contribution to the CTBTO at roughly the same level as the Obama administration.

The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would prohibit funding for the CTBTO and calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2310 does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT.


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