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Andrey Kortunov

Ph.D. in History, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC member

Few of us remember how negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme began. In October 2003, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Dominique de Villepin and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Joschka Fischer approached President of Iran Mohammad Khatami in an attempt to persuade him to comply with IAEA requirements and also to provide him with guarantees that his country’s right to develop the peaceful atom would be respected. The issue could not be resolved at that time, but the dialogue had been opened. Then the Russian Federation, China and the United States joined the negotiations, forming a consortium of six world powers, which, after many years of efforts, agreed upon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015. The agreement is quite rightly considered one of the most significant achievements in the field of international security this century; the JCPOA held its ground even when Donald Trump refused to comply with its provisions.

Fifteen years have passed since then. The international situation today, after the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA, is much more complicated than it was in 2003. Europe faces far greater threats to its security than it did at the beginning of the century. And the bilateral dialogue on nuclear issues between the United States and Russia is extremely difficult at best, and, at worst, in a state of limbo for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom are still nuclear powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. And Germany has been a non-permanent member since the beginning of 2019. Maybe it is time for European leaders to show the same kind of political will and imagination in the nuclear sphere that they demonstrated in 2003.

Few of us remember how negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme began. In October 2003, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France Dominique de Villepin and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Joschka Fischer approached President of Iran Mohammad Khatami in an attempt to persuade him to comply with IAEA requirements and also to provide him with guarantees that his country’s right to develop the peaceful atom would be respected. The issue could not be resolved at that time, but the dialogue had been opened. Then the Russian Federation, China and the United States joined the negotiations, forming a consortium of six world powers, which, after many years of efforts, agreed upon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015. The agreement is quite rightly considered one of the most significant achievements in the field of international security this century; the JCPOA held its ground even when Donald Trump refused to comply with its provisions.

Fifteen years have passed since then. The international situation today, after the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA, is much more complicated than it was in 2003. Europe faces far greater threats to its security than it did at the beginning of the century. And the bilateral dialogue on nuclear issues between the United States and Russia is extremely difficult at best, and, at worst, in a state of limbo for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom are still nuclear powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. And Germany has been a non-permanent member since the beginning of 2019. Maybe it is time for European leaders to show the same kind of political will and imagination in the nuclear sphere that they demonstrated in 2003.

The future of nuclear arms control (if it has one) will in any case be multilateral in nature. And if the two superpowers have not coped with the mission entrusted to them by history, then surely it is time to let other nuclear countries in on the game. Paris and London have stated their respective positions on the matter quite clearly: “First, let the Russians and Americans reduce their arsenals to levels comparable to ours, and then we can talk about multilateral agreements.” Moreover, France and the United Kingdom have, of their own accord, reduced the number of nuclear warheads in their own arsenals to 300 and 215, respectively. For comparison, the Russian Federation and the United States have 7200 and 7000 units of nuclear arms, including tactical nuclear weapons and warheads stored in warehouses, respectively.

However, arms control cannot be reduced to an arithmetic problem. The question also includes “algebraic” considerations – the combat readiness of nuclear arsenals, their degree of transparency, confidence building measures, the dialogue on military doctrines, the exchange of information on modernization plans, blocking the most dangerous areas of the arms race, and much more. Progress in a least some of these areas would make it possible to both mitigate the negative consequences of the collapse of the INF Treaty and also start to outline a new model of nuclear arms control that would gradually and delicately bring China, India and other nuclear powers into the fold.

It took almost 12 years to hammer out the agreement with Iran. And it will probably take even longer to work out and then build a new model for multilateral control over nuclear weapons. However, the main task right now is to go back to the drawing board with a ruling pen, rather than a baseball bat, in hand. For numerous reasons, European countries will have an easier time doing this than the privileged members of the “nuclear club.”

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