U.S. Prepares for Future Nuke Disarmament Talks With Russia
For the next round of negotiations with Russia on nuclear weapon reductions, the United States would like to focus on nondeployed nuclear weapons and what are known as nonstrategic or “tactical” nuclear weapons, according to State Department officials.
During the last round of talks, which led to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed in April 2010, the United States and Russia focused on reducing deployed nuclear weapons, partially because they are easy to see from space and therefore easier to count and verify when they are being moved or eliminated, Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary for arms control at the State Department, told reporters Feb. 15.
Reductions to deployed weapons remain a goal, but now the United States would also like to go after nondeployed nuclear weapons — meaning weapons in storage facilities and in reserves — and tactical nuclear weapons, Gottemoeller said.
“Those three categories are the goals the president has laid out for the next round of negotiations,” she said. “Currently, we’re doing our homework to really figure out exactly what the contours of a future negotiation would look like from our perspective.”
Gottemoeller acknowledged the Russians would only enter into new negotiations if they thought it was in their national security interest.
However, as part of the New START Treaty, Russia and the United States committed to pursue a step-by-step approach to further nuclear arms reductions, Gottemoeller said. The United States itself is not ready for the negotiating table, but is ready to start serious discussions that would pave the way for a future negotiation, she said.
Before negotiations begin, the two sides must settle on a definition of nonstrategic or tactical nuclear weapons.
“It’s worthwhile for us to sit down with the Russians and assure ourselves that we both have a common understanding for what we mean when we say ‘nonstrategic’ nuclear weapons,” Gottemoeller said.
When asked whether the United States would consider reducing its nuclear inventory independent of Russian reductions, Gottemoeller said President Barack Obama prefers to pursue negotiated reductions for both countries.
Another option would be reciprocal reductions, where both countries agree to eliminate weapons outside of a negotiated formal treaty. Such parallel reductions took place in the early 1990s.
“I do think that that is an option for the future,” Gottemoeller said, but added, “this administration has put an emphasis on negotiated reductions.”
The Associated Press reported Feb. 15 that the Obama administration is considering several disarmament options, which include cutting as few as 300 nuclear weapons to as many as 1,100. Today’s current treaty limit is 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.
Gottemoeller said the president has had a longstanding commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. It is one of five key objectives laid out in the administration’s nuclear posture review. The other priorities include countering nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, strengthening strategic and regional deterrence, and sustaining a safe nuclear arsenal.
The Defense Department is conducting an implementation study to meet the president’s goals. Because the results of that study have not yet been reported to the president, Gottemoeller declined to provide further comment on its recommendations.
During a Feb. 15 House Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “a number of options” are being discussed, including maintaining the status quo within the U.S. nuclear program.
“Reductions that have been made, at least in this administration, have only been made as part of the START process and not outside of that process,” Panetta said. “And I would expect that that would be the same in the future.”