Russia and Global Security: Approaches to Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation
NBR Analysis vol. 12, no. 4

Russia and Global Security
Approaches to Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation

by Igor Khripunov
August 1, 2001

The case of Russia clearly demonstrates a growing merger of what still exist as two separate categories—arms control and proliferation. In the new post-communist reality these two categories must be woven into a comprehensive strategy against weapons of mass destruction regardless of their origin, numbers, and location. Drawing on the Russian experience, there are grounds to believe that this approach may open new opportunities for achieving bilateral and multilateral agreements leading to a more stable world with fewer weapons.

Ten years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia is still in search of identity, global roles, and military posture. Looking back from the vantage point of 2001, it is reasonable to conclude that for Russia and the rest of the world, the 1990s were a period of wasted opportunities for security–related issues. The frozen arms control process, ailing economy, and residual great–power mentality left Russia with an immense and unmanageable stockpile of weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat both to itself and other countries. Its disintegrating military industrial complex, left unattended and unreformed, has become the world’s most significant source of proliferation. Ironically, rather than standing as symbols of strength inherited from the Soviet Union, Russia’s military and strategic systems are dangerously declining and could make the post–Cold War era particularly unstable. Though Russia must be fully responsible for its lack of vision and guidance, as well as inaction throughout the 1990s, the West is also responsible for a clear failure to engage Russia in these vitally important areas.

Can Russia’s new leadership offer new solutions and radical reforms? In the absence of any tangible progress so far, the most reasonable answer is cautiously optimistic. There are hopes—though slim—that in the wake of the June and July 2001 summits between President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin the deadlock between Russia and the United States will be broken. The most promising result of these meetings was that the leaders discovered some mutual chemistry and a measure of trust. The summit resembled the first meeting in Geneva between President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Due to the unexpected mutual rapport in that earlier meeting, the United States and the Soviet Union initiated the successful dismantlement of the Cold War stalemate. Fifteen years later, Bush and Putin face no less formidable tasks requiring statesmanship, patience, and perseverance.

The Post–Communist Status of Russia

At the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was labeled the “evil empire,” the Pentagon published annual reports entitled “Soviet Military Power.” At that time, they provided a comprehensive overview of the Soviet military strategy, weapons stockpiles, and advances in defense research and development. In addition, these reports theorized potential Soviet objectives in a global war, underscoring the Soviet’s intimidating military might and global ambitions. For example, the 1985 annual report summarized Soviet aims as: 1) defeat NATO…