The US-Russian International Security Agenda under the Next White House Administration


MOSCOW, NOVEMBER 3, 2020. PIR PRESS. Today is a very important day for the United States of America and indirectly for Russia. On November 3, presidential elections are held in the United States, the result of which will identify a framework of its further domestic policy as well as the foreign for the next four years (including its relations with Russia in particular).

Regardless of who becomes president after the November 3 elections, there will be a number of issues on the agenda of Russian-American relations to discuss by the parties. The PIR-Center team has decided to highlight the main issues constituting the agenda of bilateral relations in the field of international security.
Preventing the further collapse of the arms control regime

On election day, the arms control state of affairs leaves much to be desired. The United States continues to insist on bringing all Russian nuclear warheads under the legal instruments, strengthening control and inspection mechanisms, and inviting China to the negotiating table. Russia has no objection to discussing these topics as long as the American side stands ready to cooperate on the trouble spots being a high priority for the Russian side: missile defense, non-nuclear strategic weapons, etc. These issues are well known, and the agenda for the US-Russian arms control relations until 2025 expects no surprises.

Another thing is that the probability of progress is extremely small. Even such a minimum-program implementation as an extension of the START Treaty cannot be guaranteed in the case of Trump re-election, without standing a chance of more ambitious endeavors. At the same time, if Biden wins and the START Treaty gets its extension, the immediate meeting of all Russian strategic stability concerns does not necessarily follow it. In these conditions, a systematic dialogue between Russia and the United States (with the possible involvement of other members of the P5) designed to develop a new understanding of the strategic stability concept is indispensable more than ever. In addition to the purpose of conceptualization of a new strategic reality, such a dialogue will make it possible to establish working contacts between specialists of the two countries that will have a stabilizing effect in itself.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

The current state of affairs around JCPOA cannot and will not last forever. PIR Center experts estimate that both Trump`s second term or Biden`s presidency give a wary hope for the restoration of JCPOA in a different format. Should Biden win, a return to the original JCPOA is possible under the condition of Iran`s return to full compliance with the nuclear deal, Biden`s foreign policy team has stated on various occasions. In Trump`s case, one cannot exclude that he would be willing to transfer his experience of meeting with Kim Jong Un on the Middle Eastern soil and will try to have a private meeting with Khomenei in Abu-Dabi or another Middle Eastern capital.

Under any scenario, US aspiration to make “a good JCPOA” will encounter Iranian reluctance – especially if the conservatives there take the upper hand in its home politics. From the Russian vantage point, the restoration of transparency vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear program will be beneficial.

Reconfirmation of the Reagan-Gorbachev joint statement

Back in October 2018, there was a Russian offer to confirm on the highest-level the agreement that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought". However, the American side ignored this political initiative. Thus, the White House refused to acknowledge the intention to exclude the possibility of nuclear war and along with taking the necessary measures to prevent accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

In the absence of active dialogue and the arms control regime crisis, Russia is about to continue promoting its postulate of the impossibility of winning a nuclear war within the framework of the summit of nuclear five and the NPT Review Conference. During the NPT Review Conference, which will be held in 2021, the issue will be raised not only by Russia but by many other States as well. The United States will no longer be able to ignore this. The adoption of a joint statement (through the bilateral efforts or within the P5) on the inadmissibility of nuclear war and the impossibility of winning it may prove that countries recognize their responsibility for preventing nuclear catastrophe, reducing nuclear danger, and strengthening strategic stability.

Both Russia and the USA have a vital interest in adopting a P5 leader`s declaration or UNSCR obliging the nuclear powers not to exceed their current levels of nuclear stockpiles. Other de-facto nuclear weapons states – first and foremost, India - may also accede to the declaration. Such a step would indeed allow proceeding to create multilateral arms control architecture.
Outer space

Russia and the United States occupy leading roles in the world space community, possessing large orbital groups of spacecraft. At the same time, both countries accuse each other of taking an aggressive course in the outer space sphere, militarizing it. Also, both countries have armed forces specializing in the defensive and offensive aspects of protecting vital interests in space. It is obvious that both sides are interested in ensuring safety in space and reducing risks. Therefore, this topic will become more and more relevant to bilateral relations.

For the first time in the past seven years, a dialogue on space issues took place between the delegations of Russia and the United States, which took place this summer in Vienna. The countries exchanged views on existing and possible in the future space threats, policies and doctrinal documents in this area, and intend to continue such a dialogue. Both sides are interested in forging communication between countries on space-related issues in order to resolve mutual concerns, reduce misunderstandings, and prevent unintended escalation in outer space.

Although it is difficult to declare cooperation in matters of security in outer space in the current situation, one can say that there is a need for both countries to enter negotiations on this issue. The proof is the working group of Russia and the United States on outer space, where countries discuss existing problems. This dialogue will have to be continued by the new administration of the White House.
Quantitative limitation on advanced military technologies

A round of advanced technologies arms race is unfolding. It is gaining momentum in laboratories and design bureaus. Expenditures for the military R&D go up outpacing the growth of military budgets. This fact explicitly indicates defense ministries’ commitment to «invest in the future» by creating 21st-century weapons that are not just PGM or hypersonic, but, most importantly, intelligent. From an economic point of view, advanced technologies make intelligent weapons efficient as well. Robots are getting cheaper (in particular, on the example of drones). Large batches of inexpensive and effective combat robots are expected to be built in the near future. It would change the military sphere irrevocably, while the nature of warfare would no longer be the same.

If that is true, then this issue will be discussed between countries, including between Russia and the United States. The lack of trust makes quantitative limitations of emerging technologies and robots the only thing that countries will be able to achieve. It should be taken into account that the most successful arms control treaties have been quantitative.

Even if it seems that Russia and the United States are interested in resolving the above-mentioned issues, this does not mean that the countries will come to any result in the process of discussing them. There is no guarantee that it would take place in their discussion process at all. The current international situation indicates that the next four years of US-Russian relations will not be easy; conflicts and rivalry between the two countries will remain the same. It is important not to allow confrontation to take deeper roots and reach a completely new level. We hope that Russia and the United States would make every effort to prevent it from happening.