Russian-US consultations on strategic stability in Geneva: what will be discussed?

Sergey Bobylev

The next round of bilateral consultations between the Russian Federation and the United States on strategic stability will be held on September 30 in Geneva. The Russian delegation will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov, the American delegation by First Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

What is strategic stability?

The concept of strategic stability emerged in a bilateral dialogue with the Americans during the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. Washington promoted the corresponding principle within the framework of its negotiating position in the Temporary Agreement on Certain Measures in the Field of Limiting Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT-1 Treaty) of 1969-1972. However, throughout the 1980s, both the Soviet and American sides retained an ambivalent perception of this concept. For example, for a long time Moscow, under the leadership of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, tried to separate two inseparable concepts: “strategic stability” and “nuclear deterrence.” At the same time, Washington, actively promoting the principle of strategic stability in the negotiations on strategic offensive weapons,

To come to a common denominator on this track, Moscow and Washington had to make significant concessions. The USSR adopted a “zero option” on intermediate and shorter-range missiles (INF), and also conceded on issues of heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The United States, in turn, temporarily abandoned its desire to impose on its dialogue partners the idea of replacing the ABM Treaty with another agreement that would provide for the transition to a regime “with greater reliance on strategic defense.”

The principle of strategic stability was enshrined in both the INF Treaty and the 1991 START I Treaty, as well as the START II Treaty signed two years later, which imposed an absolute ban on the most destabilizing (according to this principle) strategic systems – ICBMs and MIRVs. IN (type of warhead of ballistic missiles, multiple warhead with individual guidance units – approx. TASS) of any basing method. Debates on its ratification continued in Russia for eight years, after which the principle of strategic stability was fully adopted.

How did you agree on the reduction of armaments before?

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed on July 31, 1991, was the first ratified arms control document that ensured a real reduction in deployed strategic arms and a corresponding verification mechanism…. In December 2001, Russia and the United States announced that they had fulfilled their obligations: Russia had 1,136 delivery vehicles and 5,518 warheads, and the United States had 1,237 and 5,948, respectively. multiple warheads, stretched for several years and was never completed by the Russian Federation, since the parties could not agree on the details of the entry into force of the new agreement.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START, START-3, New START) was signed in Prague on April 8, 2010 and entered into force on February 5, 2011. The initiative to launch a new negotiation process was expressed in 2006 by President Vladimir Putin, and experts began to develop the document after the meeting of Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in London on April 1, 2009. START recorded the agreements of the parties within seven years to reduce and limit their strategic offensive arms in such a way that their total quantities did not exceed: 700 units for deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, ballistic missiles of submarines and heavy bombers; 1,550 units for warheads on them; 800 units for deployed and non-deployed launchers. By February 5, 2018, the parties had fulfilled their obligations.

How are the consultations going?

Strategic stability cons-ultations almost always to-ok place in Geneva, only o-ccasionally were they hosted by other European capitals. In recent years, Ryab-kov has led the Russian negotiating delegation.

Intensive negotiations on strategic stability, as a result of which the Treaty on Measures to Further Reduce and Limit Strategic Offensive Arms, START III, was reached between the Russian Federation and the United States in 2009.

Preliminary consultations took place in Rome in April, followed by eight rounds of bilateral consultations in Geneva. The treaty was signed by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama on April 8, 2010 in Prague and entered into force on February 5, 2011.

The START term expi-red in 2021. Before its exte-nsion, representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States also held a series of consultations on strategic stability (in Janu-ary, June, August 2020). Russia was represented by Ryabkov, the American side – by the US President’s special envoy for arms control Marshall Billingsley.

After the extension of the START Treaty in February this year, there was a pause in the consultations. A new round was held on July 28 in Geneva following the results of the Russian-American summit. The Russian delegation was traditionally headed by Ryabkov, the American one by Sherman.

Despite the fact that the United States is constantly trying to involve Beijing in negotiations on strategic stability, China does not participate in them.

What to negotiate with the Americans about?

The concept of strategic stability in the understanding of recent decades presupposes, first of all, a reduction in the danger of a nuclear conflict. In June 2020, at the talks in Vienna, the parties agreed to create working expert groups that will deal with issues of further interaction between the two countries. It was expected that the first group will discuss security in space, the second will deal with doctrinal issues, the concept of using nuclear weapons, and the third – the problems of transparency and verification.

After the meeting of the Presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Geneva in the summer of 2021, following which the leaders of the two countries in a joint stat-ement separately emphasized the need to launch a substantive and energetic bilateral dialogue in this area, both the Russian and American sides confirm their readiness in the course of bilateral contacts to discuss all types of weapons, without exception, affecting strategic stability.

How is the dialogue going between the parties now?

Despite the fact that the June meeting of Russian and US Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Geneva breathed life into the stalled dialogue on strategic stability, no significant breakthroughs have yet occurred. Many unresolved problems remain on the agenda, which have become a legacy of the destructive policy of the previous American administration of Donald Trump: practically the entire architecture of arms control has been destroyed.

So, in 2019, Washington withdrew from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty), which sharply increased the likelihood of a new nuclear crisis in Europe. This threat remains unresolved. The United States and its NATO allies have not yet responded to Russia’s proposals to introduce a counter-moratorium on the deployment of the INF Treaty in European countries.

Another sore point in strategic stability negotiations is the lack of oversight in cyberspace. The parties constantly accuse each other of hacker attacks – similar incidents, for example, took place in the recent elections to the State Duma. Critical infrastructure objects are vulnerable to hackers, this unpredictability seriously affects global security. In addition, Moscow and Washington cannot find a common language on the issue of preventing military activities in outer space.

What is the agenda for the next consultations?

The second round of consultations on strategic stability in 2021, like the negotiations in July, will follow the agreement betw-een the leaders of the Un-ited States and Russia to begin a comprehensive dialogue on this topic. Accord-ing to Russian Deputy For-eign Minister Sergei Ry-abkov, Moscow is in favor of expanding the agenda of the talks, and also hopes that the dialogue between the two countries will have a significant impact on the work in Washington on doctrinal documents. As Ryabkov pointed out, the agenda of the dialogue between the United States and the Russian Federation on strategic stability incl-udes, in particular, the specification by Washington of its position on the issue of limiting medium-range warheads delivery vehicles. At the same time, at the upcoming talks, he said, the parties do not plan to touch upon the creation of the AUKUS alliance by the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

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