A number of states have proclaimed the idea of a “complete nuclear disarmament and a universal ban on nuclear weapons”. What is your attitude to this idea? Is it realistic?
Nobody can deny the fact that the mere existence of nuclear weapons creates additional threats and challenges to international security. There is always a risk that these weapons will be used one day – intentionally or accidentally, as a result of a human error or of an inadvertent escalation. However, at each new stage of history, the role of nuclear weapons in international relations changes. During the Cold War, the Soviet and the US nuclear arsenals served as the most important mutual deterrence factor. The existential danger of a direct nuclear clash was mitigated by the system of bilateral strategic arms control agreements, the network of communication lines between Moscow and Washington and by the common strategic culture shared by the two sides.
Today, the situation is very different. First, the security threat in most cases is likely to come not from states, but from irresponsible non-state actors, like international terrorist groups. Such groups can hardly be deterred with nuclear weapons. Second, the progress in military technologies makes the borderline between nuclear and conventional weapons less and less clear. On the one hand, nuclear weapons get smaller and more precise; on the other, conventional arms become more powerful and destructive. Third, the breakdown of communications between Russia and US add to the overall instability to the current situation. Therefore, in my view, without abandoning the strategic goal of a complete nuclear disarmament in future, we should now focus on a more urgent task of reducing the risks of a nuclear conflict.
Do you expect a breakthrough in the US-Russian nuclear arms reductions process due to the Donald Trump’s victory in the recent Presidential election? What is your assessment of the current state of this process?
The current state is clearly unsatisfactory – we do not have any serious bilateral discussions of nuclear matters between Moscow and Washington. Moreover, the future of the two remaining pillars of the US-Russian nuclear arms control – the INF Treaty and the New START – remain unclear. Therefore, the first step that we should make is to restore communication lines on various levels in order to discuss security concerns, threat perceptions and strategic postures of both sides. Without this first step, nothing else is possible. The second step should be to confirm our commitments to existing agreements and our intention to go ahead with nuclear arms control. Of course, we will have to address such difficult and sensitive matters as the US BMD systems in Europe and in Asia, growing capabilities of other nuclear powers and so on. Frankly, I do not expect any breakthrough generating a fast visible progress in nuclear arms reductions; the inertia of the current negative trends in the relations is too strong, and mutual suspicions and mistrust are too high today to hope for a breakthrough. However, if we were able to reverse the current trends and to stop the erosion of the arms control regime, this change in itself would already constitute a major accomplishment.