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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) conducted two workshops with members of The Institute for USA and Canadian Studies (ISKRAN), Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, in Washington, D.C. in 2011 and in Moscow in 2012, to examine questions surrounding the future of U.S.–Russian arms control. Our primary goal was to describe a set of further arms control options for these two countries at a time when their national leaderships are in a period of potential change. The secondary goal was to facilitate a greater understanding of Russia's perspectives on its national security and how nuclear weapons fit into the larger picture of Russian security planning.

Moving to Mutual Assured Stability

The meetings captured the recognition that core aspects of the Cold War's deterrent framework of nuclear mutual assured destruction (MAD) are still in effect for the United States and Russia, and participants at the meetings put forward the idea that both countries could move beyond MAD to a different paradigm: mutual assured stability, or MAS. Since 1991, the United States and Russia have gotten stuck somewhere on the road between being opponents and becoming allies. Russia and the United States are now financially invested in one another, Russia is Europe's largest supplier of natural gas, the U.S. depends on Russia for half of the enriched uranium that powers its reactors, and Russia has a large and permanent stake in the global market system that is led by the United States and its security alliance partners in Europe and Asia.

Can arms control benefit from and draw upon these growing ties, which depend on stability in Moscow–Washington relations? Can each side's enduring requirements for rough numerical parity in nuclear forces, counterforce targeting doctrines, concern over decapitating strikes, and reliance on early warning be relaxed or eliminated? This theme from the workshops seeks to formulate "strategic stability" between the United States and Russia in broadened terms -- not just focused on stability with respect to ensuring continued mutual deterrence.

Nuclear Weapons and Security Planning

The workshops emphasized the importance of increased mutual understanding on a wider range of security issues that, certainly from Russia's perspective, seem likely to play a role in future negotiated arms control agreements. In addition to a strategic nuclear balance, these associated security issues include missile defenses, tactical nuclear weapons, long-range conventional "global strike" weaponry, and the conventional military balance involving not just the conventional military forces of the United States and Russia, but also the entirety of military capabilities of NATO and the People's Republic of China.

Exploring the Future of Arms Control

The NRDC-ISKRAN meetings frankly explored the question of whether the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the United States has been exhausted, or whether another agreement like the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is achievable. Very broadly, meeting participants concluded that a further negotiated arms control agreement between the United States and Russia in the framework of the START process may be possible, but achieving future steps will require creative new thinking and collateral agreements or understandings on additional security issues that have not been part of the START process before. Exploring beyond a successor treaty to New START, meeting participants concluded that reducing nuclear weapons to very low numbers will likely require a multilateral approach, as the sizes of the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States approach those of China, France, and the United Kingdom.

Reflecting global changes over the two decades since the end of the Cold War, the principal forces at work internationally are now basically economic in character rather than geopolitical. Moscow and Washington have found it difficult to adjust their relationship to this new reality of the 21st century. Inter-state competition has shifted from the ideological domain, characterized by competing power blocs with radically different socioeconomic systems, to the domain of economic competition and cooperation between states within a single global market economy. The global Cold War between opposing systems, which spawned both vast nuclear arsenals and mutually destructive doctrines of nuclear deterrence, has faded into history, making the nuclear weapons themselves -- and their future spread -- the main threat to international security. With this perspective, the workshops sought to map a course from mutual assured destruction to mutual assured stability.

last revised 3/27/2013

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