Albright and Ivanov make the case for early US-Russian arms cuts

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. (Mario Tama / Getty Images / AFP)
According to two big names in foreign policy circles, Russia and the US could slash their strategic nuclear arsenals by 2014, not by 2018, as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) states, as well as cooperate on missile defense.

If the early arms reduction initiative is realized, it could cut the number of warheads down to 1,300 on each side, said former Russian and American chief foreign-policy officials Igor Ivanov and Madeleine Albright.

On April 8, 2010 Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met in Prague to sign New START, which entered into force in February. The arms reduction treaty permits each side up to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, and gives each until 2018 to reach its limits.

However, according to the American and Russian foreign-policy officials, the United States and Russia should further reduce their strategic arms..

"New START gives each [side] until 2018 to reach its limits,” Albright and Ivanov said in a joint article, published by the daily Kommersant and International Herald Tribune on Friday. “They do not need that long. The two sides could accelerate their reductions and in parallel implement the limits by 2014 or 2015."

The article was co-authored by Academician Alexander Dynkin, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and Strobe Talbott, former US Deputy Secretary of State and currently the director of the Brookings Institution.

“The United States and Russia should initiate early negotiations to further reduce their strategic arms. New START permits each side up to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. They could negotiate to reduce that level to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads – with corresponding cuts in strategic missiles and bombers – which would leave each with more than enough to assure its security," the foreign policy experts write.

One of the reasons forwarded for initiating early reductions in strategic arsenals is Russia’s “aging systems” that will “soon fall well below the 1,550 limit.”

According to Albright and Ivanov, such a scenario, which would force Russia to build new nuclear weapons, ”makes no sense for either country.”

"Aging systems mean that Russia's deployed strategic warheads will soon fall well below the 1,550 limit,” the American and Russian experts argue. “Moscow will then have to decide whether to build back up to that limit. That makes no sense for either country. At an appropriate time, Washington could announce that, as a matter of policy, it will limit its deployed strategic warheads to 1,300, provided that Russia does not exceed that number.”

Although the authors make no mention of it, Washington is confronting serious budgetary problems, as the Democrats and Republicans are presently bickering over how to slash federal spending in the wake of exploding deficits. In fact, if a budget agreement is not reached by Friday, the US government will be forced to shut down. So it makes sense for Washington to also agree to early arms reductions, as well as prevent the Russian side from replacing their “aging” strategic weapons.

Meanwhile, a major sticking point to New START, not to mention the entire prospects for a US-Russian reset, continues to be the debate over the US Pentagon’s plans to drop a missile defense system smack in Eastern Europe, on Russia’s doorstep. If there is a surefire way to scuttle bilateral relations between the two former Cold War rivals, this is it.

Albright and Ivanov concede this point, saying that Moscow and Washington need a better understanding on missile defense, "which otherwise could stall further nuclear reductions.The United States, NATO and Russia should vigorously pursue possibilities for cooperation in this area; genuine collaboration could dramatically change how the sides perceive one another.”

The authors essentially advise doing what Moscow has been requesting since the missile defense initiative was first floated: US, NATO and Russian hands controlling the button simultaneously.

"One idea is early establishment of a NATO-Russia center to integrate and assess data from their early warning radars and space sensors," the policy experts write.

One of the advantages of permitting US and Russian officers to work “side-by-side” is to increase the level of trust between the two nations.

“A real center…manned jointly by NATO and Russian military officers, offers advantages,” the authors say. “The experience of military personnel working side-by-side will increase transparency about missile defense capabilities and boost trust between Russia and NATO.”

Albright and Ivanov added that NATO and Russia could consider other ways to further combine their missile defense systems into a single architecture, as well as addressing "non-strategic” nuclear weapons in any future arms reduction negotiations.

Finally, the policy experts noted that external factors, such as progress on limiting conventional forces in Europe, can affect nuclear reductions.

In closing their article, Albright and Ivanov said that “nuclear arms control cannot forever remain a U.S.-Russia-only enterprise,” suggesting that Moscow and Washington “might consult with British, French and Chinese officials and on how to “multilateralize” the strategic arms reduction process

Eventually, other nuclear states should be brought into the process, they noted.

In conclusion, the joint comments by the two leading US and Russian foreign-policy experts are certainly a point in the right direction as far as the reset goes. How all of this will work out in reality, that is, in the fleeting here and now, is a totally different question. But we can risk some predictions based on recent developments.

First, the United States and NATO have yet to share any in-depth information on the European missile defense project with Moscow, while opposition to the idea of having Russian personnel involved in the project continues to ring loud in the former Warsaw, presently NATO, states.

Unfortunately, this latent fear of Russia proves that too many NATO member states cannot shake their Cold War spell, which prevents them from undertaking cooperation with a modern Russian democracy, as opposed to yesterday’s Soviet nemesis. After all, whatever memories some of the Warsaw states may have about the Soviet Union, it should not be forgotten that the communist state contributed heavily to the defeat of fascist forces in World War II. In the event of another global threat, Europe can ill-afford Russia being sidelined from any hypothetical hostilities that threaten the continent.

Furthermore, as long as the US and NATO continue to be disingenuous with Russia over the missile defense system, any talk of cuts to the strategic arms arsenal is a complete waste of bureaucratic time.

A simple childhood game that everybody has participated in suffices to prove the point. Imagine a snowball battle, which is frozen in a standoff, with each side possessing 1,500 well-packed projectiles a piece. Suddenly, one of the sides, and to the consternation of their rival, begins to build a huge and terribly expensive defense shield that protects them from any incoming lobs. At the same time, however, they forward the brilliant idea of reducing the number of snowballs allowed to each side.

Now, unless both sides is granted 100 percent access and control of the newly introduced shield, it would require either a fool, or somebody with complete confidence in the accuracy of their throwing arm, to concede to such an offer.

Thus, if further reductions in the number of strategic nuclear arms do not happen, Washington and NATO will have nobody but themselves to blame. As for Europe, they should understand that the “great game” will be played above their territory.

New START limits the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and deployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments to 700. It also draws a line under the number of deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments at 800.

Madeleine Albright was the US secretary of state from 1997 to 2001, and Igor Ivanov was Russia’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2004.

Robert Bridge, RT