Russia, arms control and non-proliferation

29-09-2020

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and it is probable that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining major bilateral arms control agreement, will expire in 2021. Russia's systematic violation of its arms control commitments is partly to blame. Other factors include increased US unilateralism and the failure of both sides to adapt the system to changing realities such as China's rise as a military power. Russia is investing heavily in its nuclear forces and developing new and more powerful weapons. Its arsenal is equal to that of the US and in some areas it may even have at least temporary superiority, partially compensating for weaknesses in terms of conventional weapons. As geopolitical tensions rise, arms control has become more necessary than ever. However, it seems unlikely that the US, Russia and possibly China will manage to conclude a new generation of agreements. The implications are not yet clear: neither a major shift in the military balance nor a new arms race are expected, but the lack of formal constraints creates uncertainty.

Multilateral non-proliferation treaties have curbed the spread of the world's dangerous weapons. The international security order also builds on a series of bilateral agreements between the two leading nuclear powers, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (US), mostly concluded towards the end of the Cold War or soon afterwards. Although the multilateral treaties are still in place, the bilateral elements have mostly come unstuck. In 2019, the US pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and it is probable that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining major bilateral arms control agreement, will expire in 2021. Russia's systematic violation of its arms control commitments is partly to blame. Other factors include increased US unilateralism and the failure of both sides to adapt the system to changing realities such as China's rise as a military power. Russia is investing heavily in its nuclear forces and developing new and more powerful weapons. Its arsenal is equal to that of the US and in some areas it may even have at least temporary superiority, partially compensating for weaknesses in terms of conventional weapons. As geopolitical tensions rise, arms control has become more necessary than ever. However, it seems unlikely that the US, Russia and possibly China will manage to conclude a new generation of agreements. The implications are not yet clear: neither a major shift in the military balance nor a new arms race are expected, but the lack of formal constraints creates uncertainty.