Elements of the Reset: Negotiating with Russia

June 24, 2009

Larissa Levine, Caitlin McNeil, and Elizabeth Saam

With President Obama’s upcoming trip to Russia, questions surrounding the United States’ arms treaty (START)with Russia, due to expire at the end of the year, have become a hot topic in Washington. On June 24, 2009 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing “The July Summit and Beyond: Prospects for U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Reductions” to address these issues. Witnesses the Honorable William J. Perry, the Honorable Thomas Graham, Jr., and Dr. Keith B. Payne presented their opinions on the issue and then responded to questions by House members.

START, signed in 1991, placed limitations on the deployment of nuclear missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as allowing for continuous inspection and verification between the nations. However, both countries have been accused of violating the treaty, leading to questions concerning future dependability.

The Obama administration has declared intentions of ultimately reaching a global nuclear zero, but those at the hearing questioned the feasibility of this goal. However, they did agree that the renegotiation is a small step in the right direction. They emphasized that rapid movement toward nuclear zero could lead to further proliferation by those states threatened by shrinking nuclear protection from America, such as Japan. Furthermore, other nations, including North Korea and India, may be influenced to increase their own global power by taking advantage of America and Russia’s reduction. Finally, the witnesses emphasized that nuclear zero will be impossible, as long as nuclear possession is considered necessary by any country for its security and/or power.

The witnesses discussed Russian and U.S. strategies and intentions regarding the current negotiations, which began in May of this year. They agreed that Russia’s interests are rooted in both pride and a desire for parity with the United States. While neither nation can boast of arms strength equal to Cold War levels, each nation still holds a majority of the nuclear power existing today. Together, the United States and Russia hold 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons. That being said, a significant portion of Russian Cold War systems will soon be out of service due to age. Dr. Payne emphasized that one of Russia’s main goals is to ensure that both countries are on the same level militarily, especially in terms of submarine missiles and inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The panel suggested that the United States initially should not seek to make any further reductions at this point in the renegotiation. Instead, they suggested the United States prepare to explore the possibilities for the future of arms reductions. Further, they agreed that the United States should discuss reductions in tactical missiles.  This strategy, however, is not desirable for Russia, since Russia has an advantage over the United States in this regard.

Both the panel and the Representatives recognize that the Russo-American relationship is one of the single most important international relationships for the United States. Since Nato is an organization that was originally created to balance the Soviet Union’s power, the panel agreed that further Nato expansion would only antagonize Russia today. Another round of expansion would not make geo-political sense, and to include Ukraine would place the Russian navy base in Sevastopol, Ukraine under the influence of Nato. Such expansion, noted Congressman Rohrbacher, has resulted in a state of “renewed belligerence” between the United States and Russia. Ambassador Graham emphasized that while “the American people have a great interest in the well-being of the Ukrainian people,” relations with Russia should not be compromised for the sake of admitting them into Nato.

The close of the hearing emphasized the importance of people-to-people relationships that occur outside of the current public policy negotiations. The representatives present acknowledge that relations between the United States and Russia can be developed through programs that bring average people together. The United States has already sponsored widely successful programs to promote this cause in both the farming and medicine.
While the panelists did not reach a consensus on the path to nuclear zero, all present believed that these U.S.-Russian negotiations are a step in the right direction.

Full statements for Chairman Berman and the witness panel may be found here.

In attendance: Representatives Berman, Ros-Lehtinen, Rohrbacher, Lee, Smith, Woolsey, Inglis, Scott, Delahunt, Fortenberry, Poe and Watson

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