Increase Transparency, Build Trust

Six months ago, the New START Treaty entered into force. The agreement reduced the nuclear arsenals of both nations. But importantly, it also put the former Cold War rivals back on a path of cooperation.

On-site inspections, a cornerstone of New START, have already begun. The U.S. and Russia have also exchanged extensive data about their nuclear strategic forces. Combined with other means of verification – like satellites and additional intelligence sources – these measures are providing both countries with a more detailed understanding of each other’s nuclear arsenals. That deeper understanding fosters trust and builds confidence between the two nations, helping to restore a bilateral relationship that had drifted during the Bush years.

That’s why the smooth implementation of New START opens the door for the U.S. and Russia to move forward on their shared agenda. As President Barack Obama stated at the New START signing in April 2010, there’s still much to be done:

While the New START treaty is an important first step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey. As I said last year in Prague, this treaty will set the stage for further cuts. And going forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.

So how do we move forward with deeper reductions? Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Rose Gottemoeller delivered a speech at the Deterrence Symposium where she laid out opportunities for continued U.S.-Russian cooperation on reducing the nuclear threat.

As with New START, trust will be the key. Such trust can only be gained through increased transparency on a reciprocal basis, as Gottemoeller emphasized. This could include exchanging information, for example, on nuclear weapons types, numbers and locations. Gottemoeller added:

The United States is proud to be at the leading edge of transparency efforts – publically declaring our nuclear stockpile numbers; participating in voluntary and treaty-based inspections measures; and working with other nations on military to military, scientific and lab exchanges, and site visits. We hope that all countries will join in the common effort to increase transparency and build mutual confidence. Confidence-building, at its very core, is a shared effort.

As international relations professor William Walker explains, countries “volunteer information about their capabilities and activities to bring about mutual gains in security.” For the U.S. and Russia, the benefits are clear. The types of transparency measures that Gottemoeller alludes to would reduce uncertainties in strategic planning for both countries. These measures could also pave the way for a new round of U.S.-Russia nuclear negotiations and encourage other nuclear weapons states to release information on their nuclear forces.

Increased transparency also paves the way for deeper cooperation on broader shared security challenges. U.S.-Russia cooperation on a range of global issues – including reducing nuclear arsenals, securing loose nuclear materials, preventing terrorism and developing a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program – enhances the national security of both countries and promotes global stability.

It’s clear that increased transparency is part of the path forward. Now, the U.S. and Russia must translate the momentum generated by New START into concrete steps to reduce the nuclear threat.