Experts Discuss Non-Treaty Measures to Reduce Nuclear Risks

At an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, James M. Acton, Steven Pifer and Elbridge Colby discussed measures outside of formal treaties that could reduce nuclear risks between the U.S. and Russia.

Progress on further nuclear reductions between Russia and the U.S. has stalled in the past 18 months, and the Administration’s timeline for a follow on treaty remains unclear. Yet, this lull is not a time for inaction according to Acton, Pifer and Colby. Rather, in Acton’s piece “Beyond Treaties” and in yesterday’s discussion, the panelists outlined several confidence building and information sharing measures that they say can reduce nuclear risks without a formal treaty. Acton emphasized the fact that these proposed measures are not exclusively supported by proponents of nuclear disarmament. Moreover, they are endorsed by analysts from across the spectrum of opinions on nuclear matters.

Colby discussed opportunities for joint experiments and studies between U.S. and Russian scientists. He noted that Russian officials “have repeatedly raised concerns about the potential for U.S. conventional cruise missiles to hold Russian nuclear forces, particularly its silo based intercontinental ballistic missiles, at risk. American analysts and officials have argued that these concerns are exaggerated.” In an effort to assuage Russian concerns, Colby suggested that the U.S. and Russian Academies of Science conduct a joint study that addresses the cruise missile issue.

The panel agreed that missile defense will likely be a contentious issue in future U.S.-Russian negotiations. With this in mind, Ploughshares Fund grantee, Steven Pifer, offered a near-term alternative that could potentially alleviate Russian concerns regarding U.S. missile defense capabilities. The U.S., he said, could “offer to provide Russia an annual declaration of its missile defense plans and advance notification of any upward changes in planned numbers.”

These are only two of the measures proposed in the “Beyond Treaties” report. The rest are as follows:

  • The U.S. and Russia should exchange data on offensive forces.
  • Russia and the U.S. should resume data exchanges on nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles.
  • Russia and the U.S. should agree to apply New START’s basing restrictions and data exchanges to heavy bombers, such as the B-1B, that are no longer accountable under the treaty.
  • The U.S. should commit not to target Russian or Chinese nuclear forces with its conventional forces.
  • The U.S. and Russia should resume nuclear military-to-military exchanges.

Pifer emphasized that the above measures and a future arms control treaty are not mutually exclusive. Both are important steps in reducing nuclear risks between the U.S. and Russia. Moreover, he expressed optimism about the likelihood of a new arms control treaty in the next four years. Given the fiscal climate in both the U.S. and Russia, Pifer spoke about the budgetary rationale for arms control. And, while Acton and Colby were more skeptical of the prospects of a new bilateral agreement in the near-term, all three panelists agreed that it is nevertheless a prudent and necessary next-step.

Event held on January 23, 2013