12:00 pm EST - 2:00 pm EST

Past Event

Winter of Discontent? U.S., Russia on Arms and Arms Control

Monday, November 19, 2007

12:00 pm - 2:00 pm EST

On November 19, 2007, Professor Catherine Kelleher of the University of Maryland shared her perspective on the US position on arms control and missile defense, along with Russian reactions.

She began her lecture discussing the arcane knowledge that exists in the US concerning treaties between the US and Russia, and then moved to discuss current issues facing the US and Russia: OSCE election monitoring, the CFE Treaty, missile defense, the INF Treaty, and START treaties.

Professor Kelleher described how Putin has created a new interest in treaties while treaty expertise in the US is in decline. While neither the US nor Russia realistically views the other as posing a threat of invasion, there is a tendency to hold onto the past and its rhetoric, such as “a return to the cold war,” and a new “arms race.” Realistically, there is a fear of revisiting an area that hasn’t yet been charted, and a lack of understanding of the relationship of public opinion and domestic politics on foreign policy. Additionally, with the election year looming, whether Bush will anchor missile defense in Europe so that it can not be reversed, or be magnanimous and leave the decision to his successors, will have an effect on relations with Russia.

The first issue Professor Kelleher discussed was the OSCE election monitoring fiasco. She cited the visa rejections, claims of inequality, and just how many people are needed to watch elections. Of the issues she was discussing, this was the least critical, and the OSCE was an easy organization for Russia to “beat up.”

Professor Kelleher then moved on to discuss the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Putin stated that on Dec. 12 he will suspend participation in the Treaty. Since the CFE Treaty has conditions for exiting the treaty but not suspending participation, it is unclear what Putin actually means. The US has not encouraged ratification of the amended treaty, and had been linking ratification to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, even though there is no legal basis for that in the treaty. While some in the US see the CFE Treaty as archaic, one of the best things about the treaty was that it gave countries a record of verification and was a socializing mechanism for emerging democracies in the region.

The third topic Professor Kelleher discussed was missile defense. Bush has presented expanding missile defense as technologically inevitable and also necessary for the rest of the world to be covered. The two-stage system will not be tested until 2010, however, and the necessary technology always appears to be fifteen years away. It was not until 2005 that the present definition of protection from a rogue state or an Iranian threat emerged. The final structured decision for missile defense did not emerge until Secretary Gates’ term. He has expressed a more nuanced position and

believes there is reason to delay decisive action until there is concrete evidence of Iranian nuclear capability. Russia has suggested working with the US, but it is doubtful that their equipment would integrate well with US systems, if their equipment even worked at all. Also, there is not yet any political agreement with Poland or the Czech Republic concerning implementation of missile defense on their soil. Poland has also implied that it wants more from the US in return for deployments. .

Professor Kelleher addressed how ending the INF and START treaties would pose significant losses to world understanding. The Russians have never liked the INF Treaty, which caused them to make unequal sacrifices in renouncing certain technologies. While Russia does not necessarily want IRBMs and a new military industrial complex, Russia is worried about threats from the East and South. Russia also believes that internationalizing the treaty would make it stronger.

The START Treaty, which set numeric limits on deployed nuclear warheads and missile delivery systems, will expire in 2009. The public position of the US is that this is not an urgent matter or national priority, and it is up to the next president to decide on what to do. However, this is not the position of many officials, and Sen. Lugar has become increasingly critical of the Bush Administration on this topic. The Russian position is that there is merit and value in negotiating a simplified version of the START treaties.

Professor Kelleher concluded her lecture by posing a few questions. What would Putin’s Russia, or his successor do? And what difference would it make? Are there any cooperative solutions the US could suggest? Will missile defense even work, and could the threats be handled instead by aegis missiles? The real question is: on what basis does the US seek to ground its relationship with Russia and Europe? Is the US seeking cooperation or just seeking what it wants?

During the discussion period, one participant stated that negotiations with Poland in 2002 showed that Poles believed that when they joined NATO it would be physically present on their soil. This view was enforced by the high ranking US military officials who met with them. Another participant responded that the Poles want silos, but they do not care if there is anything actually in them. What they really want is a physical manifestation of US commitment. The idea that Poland believes it should be rewarded for allowing part of a US missile defense system on its soil, as well as promises it made in Iraq and Afghanistan, was also raised.

Participants agreed that consultations on missile defense with Poland and the Czech Republic have been inadequate. The governments of those countries are unable to answer questions, such as why missile defense is needed and why now, to their own publics.

One participant stated that Poland should not be expecting a US presence because Secretary Albright had declared that there would be no permanent basis for NATO in Eastern Europe. Another participant countered that what that participant was referring to were Albright’s “Three nos,” which actually only applies to nuclear weapons. This participant also raised the point that since US missile defense is aimed against an Iranian threat, if Russia is so concerned, Russia should attempt to persuade the US that Iran has abandoned its nuclear program.

Another participant asked whether she thought missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic is beneficial or necessary. Does Russia had real, legitimate anger about missile defense, and is it a good idea for the US to aggravate Russia when the US needs Russian help with Iran? Professor Kelleher responded generally that missile defense is always fifteen years away, and that whether it will happen or not is still uncertain. She stated that Russia believes it has the technology to make it happen, though it is still using a kinetic kill. Missile defense is also supported by a bureaucracy devoted to the issue.

Participants agreed that it was unclear what Putin meant when he said he would suspend the CFE Treaty, but all agreed that data exchanges would probably be lost. One participant raised the question that while the CFE Treaty was important to the US, should it not be even more important to the Europeans? Professor Kelleher responded that the Europeans have not made any push. France and Great Britain do not have any significant interest, only the Scandinavian countries and Turkey are concerned. Professor Kelleher asked who in Europe was sufficiently invested to put in the political capital.

Another participant agreed that it is hard to find top European leadership willing to engage on these topics. He said the standard problem is proliferation and that the US should do what it can in a framework in which proliferation can be addressed. Russia is amenable to this. Russia is interested in but cannot figure out how to engage the US. Russia wants to see the START system proceed, and a disconnect is observed in that the Russians appear to be moving toward START III, while the US is moving in the direction of Moscow Treaty II. Professor Kelleher agreed, and stated that experts in Russia stress the need for a legal context, which implies a treaty. Another participant also stated that Russians prefer treaties over handshakes.

Towards the end of the discussion, questions were raised that referred back to the beginning of Professor Kelleher’s lecture about the decreasing knowledge concerning treaties between Russia and the US. One participant asked if Professor Kelleher believed that the US still had a relationship, in both official and unofficial channels, with Russia. Responses to this question included the fact that courses in arms control have not been taught at universities for over fifteen years and that the knowledge base has dwindled. At best, the US will have ten years before there is no one left to negotiate. In Russia, those who took part in the treaty negotiations are well retired, and with their shorter lifespan, possibly no longer living.

With respect to nuclear issues, it was noted that in the military, working in nuclear areas is no longer a career enhancing move. In a final comment, a participant observed that there is a wasting away of expertise at lower levels, combined with senior level disbelief in anything other than positive outcomes.

Any views presented in this summary reflect the views of the identified individuals and not of The Brookings Institution or Georgetown University. This summary was prepared by Elizabeth Sova, Georgetown University.