Alireza Nouri

Strategic Stability in Russia’s Foreign Policy: Relations with the US and the Issue of Iran

Date of publication : April 24, 2017 12:36 pm
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a joint news conference following their talks on April 12, 2017 in Moscow, Russia
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a joint news conference following their talks on April 12, 2017 in Moscow, Russia

“Strategic stability” is an important concept in Russia’s foreign and defense policies. Given the importance of “strategic stability” in providing the strategic interests of Moscow and Washington, the two countries have always been trying to achieve understanding and joint action, in every possible way, in this regard. Article 6 of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept (approved in November 30, 2016) referring to the escalation of instability in the global economic and political systems and the importance of force, states that the development, modernization and construction of weapons and new military capacities are threatening the “strategic stability”. Article 21 of Russia’s Military Doctrine (approved in December 25, 2014) also emphasizes on the strategic stability and Moscow’s commitment to this issue. Russian National Security Strategy (approved in December 31, 2015) also dedicated a separate chapter to the concept of strategic stability, and article 100 of the same document considers the creation of favorable conditions for the sustainable development of Russia is subject to the realization of the “strategic stability”.
Article 27 of the Foreign Policy Concept (approved in November 30, 2016) and article 104 of the Russian National Security Strategy (approved in December 31, 2015) on strengthening international security and strategic and regional stability emphasize on actions being carried out by Moscow:
1) Russia should perform its duties and obligations in the field of arms control, 2) The implementation of the treaty between the US and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT) (April 8, 2010), 3) A commitment to strengthen the political and legal foundations of the non-proliferation regime for all weapons of mass destruction, 4) Participation in the formulation of new treaties in the field of arms control, 5) The support for the creation of collective response system to the possible challenges and threats in the field of missile systems, 6) The support for strengthening control on dual-use goods and technologies in the field of strategic weapons, 7) The support for the creation of regions free from weapons of mass destruction, especially in the Middle East, and 8) The support for the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with various countries, particularly nuclear countries.
Russia’s approach to the realization of strategic stability can be divided into three levels:
1. Russia pays its contributions and fulfills its obligations; Moscow reasserts to commit itself to comply with non-proliferation treaties, [Russia] considers the need for international cooperation in this field, and takes a responsible approach to it, and in return, expects other countries to have mutual obligation to article 105 of the Russian National Security Strategy (approved in December 31, 2015) and other high level documents.
2. The priority of interaction with the nuclear powers and the priority of interaction with the US; article 72 of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept (approved in November 30, 2016) referring to the special responsibility of Moscow and Washington for the global strategic stability and international security, insists on Russia’s interest to develop mutually beneficial relations with the US. Article 73 of this document also emphasizes on Russia’s willingness to work constructively with the US in the field of arms control with an emphasis on the need for multilateral nuclear disarmament process. This article stipulates that Russia will put future talks to extend the New START Treaty on its agenda considering these terms and paying attention to all issues affecting the “strategic stability”.
3. Strategic interaction with other countries. According to ranking the category of “strategic stability” under highly important issues in the international arena and in Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow considers that interaction with countries other than the US is not so important to achieve this goal. However, article 102 of Russian National Security Strategy (approved in December 31, 2015) emphasizes on Russia’s willingness to cooperate with all countries interested in collective action, especially nuclear countries to provide strategic stability. Article 93 of the document specifically welcomes the cooperation with China to fulfill this purpose.
The Main Approach to the Realization of Strategic Stability and the Issue of Iran
Moscow focuses to have interaction with the US as an influential power at the global level for the realization of strategic stability. Russia considers the US is weakened and decaying, but at the present time the US role in various international arenas is non-negligible, and especially in the current unstable international situation, Russia assesses that it is necessary and inevitable to cooperate with Washington to achieve global strategic stability for issues such as the arms control and non-proliferation. Basically, the coordination with the US at any level, especially at international level, and on difficult issues such as strategic security and stability are what Russia has always been interested in, and its realization is a sign that this country is a “great power”, and has an influence in the international affairs.
Among various issues related to the “strategic stability”, primarily the issues of international security and maintaining the regime of arms control and non-proliferation are important. These issues on the first level relate to bilateral relations between Russia and the US, and on next levels they relate to other countries, including Iran and its nuclear and missile programs. Accordingly, to address the serious issue of “strategic stability”, Moscow and Washington should identify the status of their relationships and strategic issues on the first level to be able to deal with lower-level issues. Among the dilemmas of the first level, the “New START” Treaty (Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty), signed in April 2010 (under Medvedev and Obama), implemented in February 2011 whose validity ends in 2021, can be specifically mentioned.
In view of the differences and complexities of the agreement on this issue, new START talks should begin in 2018 or 2019, and Moscow has officially already declared its readiness to do so. But there are challenges to achieve this first-level agreement. The most important ones include:
1. Trump’s nuclear and military modernization policy and the possible unwillingness of the US to sign the New START Treaty
2. The challenge of creating a link between offensive and defensive strategic weapons that Russia had and has stressed on it to control the anti-missile shield plan.
3. Moscow’s emphasis on the accession of other nuclear countries to the START Treaty.
The second and third options seem solvable, but for Moscow, the first option is a serious obstacle to the agreement on the new START Treaty, and then to the “strategic stability”. Field developments also confirm Russia’s assumption. The continued aggressive approach of the West through the development of military infrastructure near Russia’s borders under Trump by sending and establishing military equipment to Lithuania (200 km from St. Petersburg and 700 km from Moscow) and Estonia, the continued functioning of the anti-missile shield in Europe, the performance of some of its radar systems in the Middle East, for example, in Turkey and Qatar, the THAAD system deployment in South Korea and most importantly, the US new administration’s emphasis on the nuclear modernization are among these developments that Moscow interprets them all within one context.
In this regard, in February 2017, the US for the first time in 25 years held a military exercise entitled “Global Lightning” for a nuclear strike to three countries simultaneously using its triad nuclear forces (naval, land and air-space) in which parts of the antimissile shield based in Europe were also used and tested. Russia takes these moves as the sign of the US new military and nuclear doctrine that along with the request for a 10 percent increase in the military spending show the extent of Washington’s long-term goals. It is obvious that in these circumstances it is not that possible to negotiate on arms control treaties as one of the main pillars of the issue of “strategic stability”.
Accordingly, if an agreement is not made on the New START Treaty, a strategic arms race on the first level between Russia and the US will become public, and the arms race will be followed by China, European countries, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel in the second level, and by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others in the third level. Naturally, at a time when Washington and Moscow openly set out to develop their nuclear and missile capabilities, it is not [practically] possible to ask countries like Iran and North Korea to be bound by commitments and treaties, and any new pressure to curtail their activities in these areas will be also unjustified. Especially in the case that Russia and the US are not bound themselves to the arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, the legitimacy of some treaties such as the “NPT” that is a legal basis for Iran’s nuclear deal, will be questioned.
But if Russia and the US are willing to reach an agreement on bilateral and multilateral treaties on the arms control and strategic arms reductions, including the New START Treaty, the two sides will have to give concessions [to each other], and compromise on lower-level issues due to the major importance of this agreement, and that it is placed under the issue of “strategic stability”. This situation was experienced during the “reset” period, and it can affect how Moscow will deal with the nuclear and missile cases of Iran (and North Korea). This will bring about difficult conditions for Tehran, especially if the implementation of the nuclear deal is faced with challenges for any reason.

Alireza Nouri, an analyst of Russian politics, is the fellow at IRAS.

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