Arms Control as a Peacetime Relic
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

The world is rapidly moving towards a new international reality. The most significant component of this process, affecting the very prospects for mankind’s existence, concerns military escalation, which could lead to the possible use of nuclear weapons, said moderator Fyodor Lukyanov, who opened the Valdai Club expert discussion, titled “A World Without START: What's Next?”

Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, called the decision to suspend Russia's participation in the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty “a forced and practically inevitable step” in light of the destructive and hostile actions of the United States, as a natural result of the ongoing degradation of relations between the two countries. He emphasised that the United States had fundamentally undermined START by defiantly ignoring the principle of indivisible security. Ryabkov listed a number of provocative actions taken by Washington in the context of START, such as assisting the regime in Kiev in launching attacks on Russian strategic facilities declared under the treaty and depriving Russia of the opportunity to inspect START facilities on American soil freely and on an equal basis. It is also important that amid the current conditions, Russia can no longer ignore the combined arsenals of the United States, Britain and France.

Robert Legvold, Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, pointed out that without progress in relations between Moscow and Washington on arms control, we face a common threat to peace. It is necessary to “compartmentalise” the problem and break it into parts. First, both parties need to return to fulfilling in full all the provisions of the agreement, until it is replaced by a new one. From the US side, this is possible through an executive order. Second, Russia and the United States need to re-establish the dialogue on strategic cooperation, which was interrupted by the Ukrainian crisis. The expert stressed that Russian-American relations have long ceased to be self-sufficient, it is a complex matrix that includes the impact of a number of multilateral relations. According to Legvold, the arms control system should include various formats – bilateral, trilateral and multilateral – and various modalities, as well as involve China, India and Pakistan.

Dmitry Trenin, HSE Research Professor and Leading Researcher at IMEMO RAS, believes that the Ukrainian crisis has radically changed the situation. “It is simply impossible to abstract from this”. In his opinion, the current state of affairs is the deregulation of the strategic nuclear weapons control, which has become a natural result of the path that the administration of George W. Bush took when it pulled out of the ABM treaty. “Arms control, the way it was designed, is a Cold War reality. Today it does not work – at least on the same scale,” Trenin said. He noted that the confrontation between Russia and America has now grown into a confrontment, and arms control is still a peacetime phenomenon that is a matter of the past. He also described “Minsk syndrome” as a total distrust toward the other side – “the inability to imagine an agreement with the West that the West would honestly fulfil.”

Evgeny Buzhinsky, Lieutenant General (ret.), Chairman of the PIR Centre Council, noted that no one ever respects arms control treaties during wartime. Russia is now practically at war with the United States (hybrid, economic, diplomatic and so on) and literally one step away from a full-scale war. This is evidenced by the American rhetoric about inflicting a “strategic defeat” on Russia, and the provision of weapons and all types of combat support by the United States to Ukraine.