How to revive Russian-U.S. strategic dialogue

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How to revive Russian-U.S. strategic dialogue
Published 18-07-2013, 16:46

Alexei Fenenko

Alexei Fenenko is Leading Research Fellow, Institute of International Security Studies of RAS, Russian Academy of Sciences.
Russia and the U.S. seem to have resumed their strategic dialogue by mid-summer. Following the May 7 visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Moscow, the two countries have unblocked arms control talks, which had been suspended in mid-2011. The meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama in Lough Erne on June 17 showed that the dialogue will focus on three areas. The first area will be cooperation in recycling part of fissile material from the implementation of the New Start Treaty; second, returning to consultations on the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Europe (European Missile Defense); and third, discussing issues regarding signing a new strategic arms reduction treaty (START IV). A fourth area of dialogue could emerge, which would be the start of negotiations on the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Europe, although such discussions seem so far to have been relegated to the background.

That said, dialogue on these issues does not seem to be promising. With regard to antimissile defense, the U.S. agrees to negotiate only an Executive Agreement, arguing that any other document would not make it through Congress. At the same time, the Kremlin is wary of Barack Obama’s Berlin initiative to reduce strategic nuclear arsenals by one third below New START levels. When it comes to reducing non-strategic nuclear weapons, Russia sticks to the statement by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said on March 1, 2011 that the reduction process should start with the return of all stockpiles of such weapons to the territory of the states to which they belong, i.e. the U.S.

Russia and the U.S. have so far been seeking to get back to the 2011 agenda, which in itself is a positive development. Since issues related to arms control account for about 80% of the agenda in Russian-U.S. relations, deterioration of this dialogue would mean a de facto breakdown in bilateral relations, whether we like it or not. However, the negative experience of the past two years should be taken into account when resuming talks. In the fall of 2011, the negotiation process between the two countries on a whole range of issues, from anti-missile defense to tactical nuclear weapons, ended in a crisis, despite encouraging statements. With a simple return to the 2011 agenda, there is a risk that the "Reset-2” attempt could suffer the same fate as the first Reset policy.

Multilateral dialogue

Shifting to a multilateral negotiation process could serve as an alternative solution to the missile defense/START deadlock. If the strategic nuclear potential is reduced to less than one thousand warheads, the nuclear capabilities of U.S. allies – Great Britain and France – will become critically important to Russia. Britain’s nuclear arsenal has been factored into the U.S. nuclear war plans since 1962. France made a comeback to NATO’s military structures in 2009 and signed a UK-France Declaration on military use of nuclear energy in 2010. The two countries are not parties in the 1987 Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).

Negotiations on TNW are also taking place on a multilateral nature. Back in 2009, the Bundestag and Angela Merkel’s cabinet raised the issue of removing U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany’s territory. This initiative was supported by Norway, Belgium and even the Netherlands, a traditional U.S. ally. Washington responded at the NATO Summit in Tallinn on April 22, 2010, claiming that the issue of TNW withdrawal is the prerogative of the Alliance, and not individual members. Germany’s initiatives were thus temporarily blocked by NATO’s "Tallinn formula.” At the same time, this approach has transformed the TNW problem into a general issue, both within NATO and in the relations between Russia and all Alliance members, and not only with the U.S.

The TNW talks have revived discussions on the German issue, which has been all but forgotten since the 1980s. A possible withdrawal by the U.S. of its TNW from Germany would undercut the foundation of America’s nuclear guarantees to Berlin, which raises the issue of Germany’s future military policy. The 1990 Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany has freed Germany from the vestiges of its occupational statute, while keeping in place restrictions set forth in the 1952 Bonn Convention with regard to holding referendums on political-military issues, requiring foreign troops to withdraw before signing a peace treaty, developing certain components of the military and making foreign policy decisions only after seeking advice from the victorious powers. The 1990 Treaty was de jure not a peace treaty, and the issue was postponed indefinitely. The loss of nuclear guarantees could induce Germany to come back to the question of entering into a full-fledged peace treaty.

Similar multilateralism practices are also emerging in the Asia Pacific Region, where Washington wants China to join the Russia-U.S. negotiation process. However, Beijing refuses to jump onto this bandwagon, pointing to the scarcity and weakness of its nuclear capabilities. Meanwhile, the relationships between the U.S. and its allies, Japan and South Korea, remain complex. In Japan, those calling for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons and the possibility of obtaining nuclear capabilities are shoring up their positions. (The last time the Japanese parliament discussed this possibility was in November 2006). In South Korea, U.S. nuclear warheads are stored on American warships deployed in the country’s territorial waters. Since 2010, those arguing that U.S. tactical nuclear weapons should be redeployed on the Korean Peninsula are becoming increasingly popular.

Missile defense is also becoming a multilateral issue. Japan has acquired a Theater Missile Defense system, and the U.S. Discussions on the European Missile Defense System have long been on the agenda of Russia-NATO relations and are no longer limited to Russian-U.S. relations. Mindful of the failure of negotiations with the U.S. on the Third-Site Missile Defenses, which were torpedoed by Poland and the Czech Republic in March 2008, Russia has been requesting guarantees since the Sochi Summit of July 4, 2011 that the anti-ballistic missile defense of NATO, as well as the U.S., are not targeting Russia.

The Strange EASI

The situation becomes even more interesting, taking into account that Russia and the U.S. already have a negotiating platform. The Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) was launched in 2009 and does not have official status, with the Carnegie Corporation (U.S.), Robert Bosch Stiftung (Germany) and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia) playing a key role in this organization. EASI’s experts publish annual reports on the priority issues with regard to European security. The first report was released at the Munich Security Conference on February 4, 2012.

EASI emerged as a response to the failure to negotiate the European Security Treaty. The draft version of the European Security Treaty was published by Russia’s Foreign Ministry in November 2009, but after NATO members refused to discuss Russia’s proposal, EASI stepped in as a platform for continuing dialogue. Moscow pinned strong hopes on EASI becoming an efficient supplement to an overly bureaucratized OCSE.

The dialogue within the framework of EASI is mostly focused on four issues: missile defense, conventional arms in Europe, energy security and disputable historical issues (above all in Russia-Poland relations). It also features discussions on conflicts in the former Soviet Union, primarily in Transnistria and Nagorny Karabakh, while arms control in Europe has been placed on the back burner.

The outcomes of the 2012 Munich Conference were another major disappointment for Russia. EASI’s report, Toward a Euro-Atlantic Security Community (the Munich Report), pointed to a lack of mutual trust and the persistence of a cold-war mindset in the Euro-Atlantic. However, the recommendations included in the report turned out to be overly modest: building a Euro-Atlantic Security Community based on demilitarized relations between Russia and the U.S./NATO, resuming dialogue on nuclear and conventional weapons, and cybercrime; reshaping missile-defense talks by transforming the European anti-ballistic missile issue into a cooperation project between Russia and NATO; stepping up efforts to resolve conflicts with regard to cultural heritage; and accelerating joint efforts of Russia and NATO members to resolve frozen conflicts in the Balkans, Cyprus and within the former Soviet Union.

That said, there is nothing new about these proposals. The idea of building a single Euro-Atlantic Community was set forth in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) back in 1990. Negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons and conventional arms were agreed at CSCE’s Stockholm Summit in 1986. The fact that during the next eighteen months EASI failed to put forward a draft agreement on Euro-Atlantic Security made the situation even more complicated. While Washington still believes in EASI, Moscow is becoming increasingly pessimistic about this project.
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