When it comes to nuclear disarmament talks, U.S. and Russian negotiators seem to be as far apart as ever.
U.S. soldiers stand in front of a Patriot missile battery at an army base in the northern Polish town of Morag. Source: AFP / East News
Proposals from the White House for bilateral nuclear disarmament between the world’s two nuclear superpowers won’t be taken seriously unless the United States scales back its plans to deploy updated nuclear missiles in Europe, Russian military experts said on Nov. 7.
The Russian military experts, who spoke with their U.S. counterparts via a video conference hosted by RIA Novosti in Moscow, also said that nuclear disarmament talks need to expand to include other nuclear-armed countries like China, the United Kingdom and India.
“Until the Americans resolve this issue, we can forget about this,” said retired Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin to the American experts through a translator.
Dvorkin previously served with Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, participated as an expert in formulating various arms reduction treaties between the U.S. and Russia, and has served as a key figure in both Soviet and Russian nuclear disarmament negotiations.
The U.S. is working to modernize its B-61 nuclear gravity bomb while eliminating older classes of nuclear weapons. Der Spiegel recently reported that the planned updates for the B-61 nuclear bomb would give the weapon enhanced military capabilities, including the ability to be launched from fighter jets like the F-16 and the F-35, as well as the B-2 Spirit bomber.
Dvorkin said through a translator that the Americans’ plans to continue with the program have created an atmosphere of “distrust” among Russian leaders, and “deadlock” between the U.S. and Russia on disarmament talks.
Paul Walker, director of Green Cross International’s environmental security and sustainability program and one of the Americans speaking from Washington, said that plans to station new warheads in fellow NATO countries are more political than strategic and consistent with existing NATO doctrine to protect European allies.
Walker said that the U.S. could propose to its European allies to share in the costs of updating the nuclear weapons it plans to deploy across the continent, that the weapons would not likely be used and that the expenditures would likely just be used to support the nuclear weapons industry.
Earlier this year, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Russia to join the U.S. in reducing the countries’ nuclear arms stockpiles by up to one-third. In Obama’s first term, Russia signed the New Start treaty, in which Russia agreed to reduce its arsenal of deployed warheads to 1,550.
Dvorkin said at the conference that Russia went above and beyond the terms of the treaty and reduced its active nuclear arsenal to about 1,400 warheads.
So far, though, the U.S. has not seen much in the way of a response on Obama’s latest proposal, said Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and one of the American experts who spoke from Washington.
“The perception here in Washington is that there are proposals on the table that, so far, the Russians haven’t really engaged on,” Pifer said.
Pifer said that maintaining nuclear weapons costs each country somewhere between $40 billion and $60 billion annually and that it could be in both of the countries’ economic interests to draw down their nuclear arsenals.
According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the U.S. and Russia combined have about 16,000 nuclear weapons, with 7,700 in the U.S. and 8,500 in Russia. Those figures include both warheads that are prepared for launch on short notice and those in reserves.
The center estimates 3,000 U.S. warheads and 4,000 Russian warheads are prepared for dismantlement. Meantime, 1,950 U.S. warheads are deployed for strategic use and 200 are ready for tactical use, while 1,800 Russian warheads are ready for strategic use.
Regardless of the fact that the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia has been over for about two decades, the two countries’ combined arsenals make up more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.