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Challenges to US-Russia Strategic Arms Control during the Trump Presidency

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This article was originally published by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) on 3 April 2017.

The coming years may mark the end of bilateral limitations of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The future of the New START treaty is unclear, chances for a new agreement slim, and violation of the INF treaty by Russia remains a serious challenge. While strategic arms control strengthens NATO’s security, it should not come at the price of concessions undermining the role of the U.S. as guarantor of security and stability in Europe.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sent contradictory signals about the future role of U.S.-Russia strategic arms control. On the one hand, as president-elect he indicated that the nuclear forces of both countries should be substantially reduced and that an agreement to do that could be an element of rebuilding mutual relations. On the other hand, Trump also declared that the U.S. nuclear arsenal must be greatly strengthened and expanded and implied that the United States should seek nuclear dominancy. After taking office, he questioned the need for the New START treaty (formally, “Treaty between the U.S. and Russia on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms”), which was agreed in May 2010. According to the U.S. president, the treaty is disproportionally advantageous to Russia. Greater clarity about the U.S. approach to strategic arms control will be provided by the Nuclear Posture Review, ordered by Trump in January 2017.

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The Two Levels of Russia’s South China Sea Policies

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This article was originally published by the East-West Center (EWC) on 28 March 2017.

Russia’s policies regarding the South China Sea (SCS) dispute are more complex than they might seem. Moscow’s official position presents Russia as an extra-regional actor with no stakes in the dispute. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia “had never been a participant of the South China Sea disputes” and considers it “a matter of principle not to side with any party.” However, behind the façade of formal disengagement are Russia’s military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region, and the multi-billion dollar arms and energy deals with the rival claimants. These factors reveal that even though Moscow may not have direct territorial claims in the SCS, it has strategic goals, interests, and actions that have direct bearing on how the SCS dispute evolves.

One-fourth of Russia’s massive military modernization program through 2020 is designated for the Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok, to make it better equipped for extended operations in distant seas. Russia’s military cooperation with China has progressed to the point that President Putin called China Russia’s “natural partner and natural ally.” The two countries’ most recent joint naval exercise – “Joint Sea 2016” – took place in the SCS, and became the first exercise of its kind involving China and a second country in the disputed SCS after the Hague-based tribunal ruling on China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claims. However, Russia’s relations with Vietnam are displaying a similar upward trend: Russia-Vietnam relations have been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” comparable to the Russia-China relationship. Russia and Vietnam are developing joint gas projects in the SCS, and Moscow also is trying to return to the Cam Ranh naval base and selling Hanoi advanced weapon systems that enhance Vietnam’s defense capabilities.

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Is it Time to Drop the F-Bomb on Russia? Why Putin is Almost a Fascist

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This article was originally published in Volume 34, Number 1 of the World Policy Journal in Spring 2017.

Abstract

Vladimir Putin’s Russia meets the classical definition of fascist state, says Maria Snegovaya, except for one factor-the Kremlin can’t yet unite the public around a clearly articulated nationalist ideology. This missing piece constrains the aggressiveness of the state. Without it, the Russian people will not accept fighting foreign wars indefinitely.

The word “fascist” gets casually bandied about. After falling into relative disuse, it has once again become a go-to term to dismiss a person or government as irredeemably intolerant and totalitarian, and few hurl the F-bomb as liberally as the Kremlin. Following Russia’s invasion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian nationalists called the democratic movement in Ukraine “fascist,” referencing the collaboration of Ukrainian independence leader Stepan Bandera with Nazi Germany. One of Russia’s most popular TV propagandists, Dmitry Kiselev, spent five minutes on air explaining how all 14 features of the Italian scholar Umberto Eco’s definition of fascism applied perfectly to Ukraine.

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Russia’s Reimagined Arctic

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This article was originally published by World Policy on 15 March 2017.

In this text, Arctic Yearbook managing editor Heather Exner-Pirot interviews George Soroka, lecturer at Harvard University and author of “The Political Economy of Russia’s Reimagined Arctic,” to better understand Russia’s motivations in its Arctic. These include not only economic ambitions focused on resource development, but also a resumption of its great-power status in the international system, buoyed by its demonstration of pre-eminence in the Arctic region. 

Heather Exner-Pirot: There’s been a lot of speculation in the media and elsewhere about Russia’s motivations in the Arctic. They’re often described as nefarious. How would you describe them?

George Soroka: In general, I think Russia’s motivations in the Arctic are what Russia tells us they are, even if we are not always ready to believe them. Moscow has three main priorities in the region and they are all interrelated: (1) fostering Russia’s socio-economic development by exploiting the Arctic’s natural resources and the Northern Sea Route; (2) stemming demographic decline in its peripheral territories and better integrating them with the federal center; and (3) projecting power in the High North, where Russia continues to regard itself as the pre-eminent state actor.

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The Nuclear Fallout of Trump’s Possible Détente with Putin

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This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 16 February 2017.

While the new US administration should be looking for areas of cooperation with Russia where possible, it should do so without compromising the United States’ principled stance on Ukraine. Any such compromise will have grave repercussions not only for security in Eastern Europe but also for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

“We can talk about the economy, we can talk about social security—the biggest problem this world has is nuclear proliferation.” Donald Trump, “Meet the Press,” October 1999.

Speaking on February 2, 2017, at the Security Council meeting called by Ukraine in the wake of the renewed escalation of fighting in the Donbas, newly-appointed US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military interventions.” She also reassured the world that sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea will remain in place until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.

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