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Igor Ivanov, RIAC President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004), discusses the consequences of the U.S. withdrawing from the INF Treaty with the "Rossiyskaya Gazeta."

Igor Ivanov, RIAC President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004), discusses the consequences of the U.S. withdrawing from the INF Treaty with the "Rossiyskaya Gazeta."

Today marks the start of the official withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, another step towards the destruction of the international arms control regime established over 30 years ago. At the same time, military technology is developing at an unprecedented rate: almost every day we hear news about the appearance of new, increasingly deadly weapons. Moreover, Russia and the United States — the two countries, which are responsible to a great extent for the strategic stability in the world — are not conducting any negotiations on the issue. What could all this lead to?

It truly is a very alarming situation, and the risks to global security are rapidly increasing. Of course, we also had an arms race — including for nuclear arms — during the Cold War. On more than one occasion back then the world found itself on the brink of disaster. But there is a fundamental difference between then and now. Despite the serious and often irreconcilable differences the Soviet Union and the United States, as the two leading nuclear powers, managed to work together and develop “insurance” mechanisms that allowed them to steer the world away from the threat of a nuclear disaster.

Desmond Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor Ivanov, Sam Nunn:
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What “insurance” mechanisms are you talking about?

It was back in the 1970s that the issue of strategic stability became main priority in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Through different approaches, the two countries arrived at the same conclusion — that using nuclear weapons to achieve any kind of military or political goal was simply not acceptable. This opened the door for the two sides to seek mutually acceptable agreements on nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems and have these agreements enshrined in international legislative and regulatory acts.

A negotiation and consultation mechanism was built, including at the highest level. Not only did this allow the two sides to coordinate their positions and gain an understanding of each other’s capabilities, but it also gave them the opportunity to come to concrete agreements on the most complex and sensitive issues. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty ) and the 1974 Protocol to the ABM Treaty, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and II in 1972 and 1979, respectively) and the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. These and other treaties and conventions would not have been possible without constant negotiations — negotiations that were practically uninterrupted, even during serious crises when other areas of cooperation between the sides broke down.

It is important to note that, in addition to politicians, diplomats and military personnel, experts from the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the National Academy of Sciences of the United States were also involved the negotiations and thus had the opportunity to give their expert opinions on the possibility of using given scientific breakthroughs in the military sphere.

How and why did that mechanism collapse?

There were a number of reasons. The end of the Cold War and the dramatic changes in the international arena that came about as a result undoubtedly played a role.

But, in my opinion, the most telling blow was dealt in 2001 by the decision of U.S. President George Bush Jr. to unilaterally withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Yes, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty was signed in Moscow in 2002, and the New START was signed in 2010. And both these documents are, without a doubt, very important. However, they came as a result of specific political decisions taken by certain leaders, rather than a systemic approach of the two sides to ensuring strategic stability in the world. The ABM Treaty long served as a stabilizing factor in bilateral relations and international stability. All the main documents on strategic weapons were “tied” to it in one way or another. Its destruction is generally seen as the beginning of a new stage in U.S. foreign policy, one that does not take Russia’s legitimate interests into account.

Could the ABM Treaty have been saved?

Of course! President Putin made preserving the ABM Treaty a central issue literally every time he met with President Bush (and they met regularly back then). I took part in most of those meetings, so you can believe me when I tell you that the Russian President could not have been more any more constructive during the talks. Various options were put forward, including not only changing the text of the Treaty itself, but also creating a joint missile defence system in Europe.

Alongside the negotiations with the United States, a great amount of work was done to get European countries and the international community to support the ABM Treaty. The United Nations General Assembly and even a number of American experts and politicians who understood the dangerous consequences of abandoning the Treaty spoke in its defence.

But all these efforts were in vain. Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: Washington had set a course for imposing a model of the world order, including in the field of security, that guaranteed sole leadership for the United States. With increasing resolution Washington took to strengthening its own security by reducing that of its international partners.

And what did this do to Russia–U.S. relations?

It could never have ended well. Mistrust and suspicion began to grow. Security contacts, including contacts on arms control, that had taken years to build up started to deteriorate. There is no way that this could not have had an effect on the military doctrines of the two countries. Once again, they are trying to draw Russia into a dangerous arms race, one that has both military and far-reaching political goals. The attempts by the parties to move beyond the old confrontational logic of the Cold War failed.

Does the withdrawal of the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) fit into this strategy?

Definitely! While the INF Treaty was quite widely criticized in Russia too (sometimes rightly so, but often simply seditiously), we can say with certainty that it contributed to reducing tensions in the Euro Atlantic region and opened up opportunities for building a new European security model. As Marshal Akhromeyev, who took part in the negotiations, noted, despite certain mistakes made by the Soviet side, the INF Treaty largely met the interests of both the Soviet Union and the global community.

Could the INF Treaty have been saved? I don’t think so. I got the impression that, for some reason, neither party made any particular efforts to salvage it.

With the dissolution of the INF Treaty, a period of uncertainty sets in, which in all likelihood will be followed by a series of unilateral actions dictated by the parties’ own security interests.

Does this include Trump’s recently announced missile defence plans?

It’s not even the plans themselves that are dangerous (a large number of plans are never implemented for various reasons), but rather the logic of thinking that leads to the adoption of these plans. This logic is based on a certain level of assuredness, on the erroneous notion that pressure or the threat of military superiority can be used to dominate the world.

These theories are not new and have repeatedly appeared in various forms in the United States over the years. And if they didn’t pan out during the second half of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century, then Trump’s plans will most likely meet the same fate. The world is even less willing to accept U.S. hegemony today than at any point in the past.

Dmitry Stefanovich, Malcolm Chalmers:
Is This the End of Nuclear Arms Control?

So, we have got nothing to worry about, then?

We most certainly do have reason to worry. The world we live in is changing in front of our very eyes, and international security is no exception. To better understand this, it is once again worth drawing parallels with the Cold War period. Back then, partly because of the fallout of the Second World War, a certain model for managing international relations had been formed, one which, for all its obvious shortcomings, still allowed for mutually acceptable solutions to crisis situations.

In today’s world, we are witnessing the increasing erosion of this manageability. Political dialogue on the core issues of global security is practically non-existent, security treaties and agreements are either falling apart or being ignored. The world is consistently being drawn into a new race for qualitatively new weapons with unpredictable consequences. Regional conflicts are becoming global: never before have the militaries of Russia, the United States and European countries been in direct contact in the Middle East. The same can be said about the Ukrainian crisis. Recent advances in science and technology are changing the face of the armed forces, which itself complicates the task of finding a balance of interests and mutual concessions. More importantly, technical progress seriously increases the security risks: for example, military facilities and command posts are not insured against cyberattacks. The time for making political decisions in the event of a crisis is calculated in minutes. Nonstate players are becoming more ambitious and dangerous in their actions. And the list of problems goes on. However, the threat does not so much lie in the problems themselves, but rather in the fact that there are practically no mechanisms for resolving them. And no one is attempting to create them.

What should we do in this situation?

There is no clear-cut answer to this question, nor can there be: we are facing problems that are too complicated and multifaceted. But I will take the liberty of expressing a few thoughts on the issue.

To begin with, we all need to realize that the world has already entered a zone of heightened security risks, both global and regional. It is no longer a question of some distant or even not-too-distant future; it is a question of the present.

Second, if this trend continues, then no government or group of governments can feel safe. It is a global crisis and even the most advanced missile defence systems or other technological innovations will not insulate us from it.

Third, the only way out of the current situation is through political negotiations, which should take all factors into account, including the new balance of powers in the world. This is an incredibly difficult task, even compared to the experience of the Cold War. To draw a parallel of sorts, in the past we were dealing with arithmetic problems, whereas now are dealing with higher mathematics equations.

Fourth, in addition to solving current problems, we also need to develop strategic solutions that would allow us to comprehensively assess all aspects of security in the modern world and conclude the necessary agreements. Right now, we — meaning everyone involved in arms control — are only reacting to technological advances, and with a significant lag at that. The task is to overtake this progress and quickly block the most destabilizing features of the arms race while we still can.

Fifth, and this is crucial, the process needs to be initiated by Russia and the United States. No other country, much less an international organization, has the political weight to reverse the negative trends in international relations and bring a positive agenda to the table. The conversation on global security should not come down to the dialogue between Moscow and Washington, but the two countries still have a special responsibility to maintain peace and security in the world.

What will happen if events do not unfold according to this scenario? Will the world continue to tumble towards a catastrophe, perhaps a nuclear disaster?

Unfortunately, I would not rule out such a scenario.


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