Commentary by the Information and Press Department (MFA of Russia) on Executive Summary of the 2020 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report) – United States Department of State
The Executive Summary of the 2020 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report) graphically illustrates the fragmentary, utilitarian and selective approach by the United States to compliance with these commitments. In practical terms, this is the overt undermining of the foundations and logic of multilateral cooperation in this area.
The Department of State is declaring the US’s right to assess the violations or non-compliance with international commitments by other countries through its own criteria, as if it goes without saying. It follows from the text of the report that the Americans themselves do not owe anything to anyone, that they observe everything faultlessly, and if an error is pointed out, they review it and then convince themselves that everything has been done properly (based on US interpretation, of course).
To increase credibility, the US formally equates itself with the majority of other countries that are parties to the relevant treaties and agreements, which strictly observe their commitments and demonstrate their intention to continue discussing these issues. In reality, the US is ostentatiously putting itself in a special category, thereby denying the right of others to critically assess the US’s record. We understand that this is really an attempt to cover up a withdrawal from a treaty if the US considers it beneficial under internal circumstances or for any other subjective reason. As for selective compliance with the provisions of treaties and agreements to which the US remains formally a party, Russia has repeatedly emphasised that this has become common practice when commenting on similar reports by the Department of State in the past few years.
It is no surprise that the shortest section in the report is on the US. Listing the numerous legal instruments on which the world community had questions to the US, this year the authors of the report did not even mention one of the most important agreements of the past few years – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear programme and the UNSC Resolution 2231. During the two years after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the US’s illegal actions have been resolutely denounced by the international community at many venues, including the UN Security Council. It is well known that the implementation of the JCPOA is primarily impeded by the US’s gross violation of this comprehensive agreement and the UNSC Resolution 2231. The United States has not only violated its own commitments but also threaten others with sanctions to prevent them from carrying out the decisions of the UN Security Council.
Instead of correcting its own behaviour and violations, US “evaluators” prefer to accuse Iran without any grounds and assiduously recreate the threat that supposedly emanates from Iran’s nuclear programme. Of course, the US experts cannot ignore the fact that Iran has long been the most intensively monitored IAEA member. However, as in many other cases, our American colleagues do not want to accept an inconvenient truth. They find it easier to accuse Tehran of non-existent violations: if Iran develops or acquires nuclear weapons in any way, it will violate its obligations under Article II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We hope that some politicians in Washington still realise that these attacks against Iran are far-fetched against the backdrop of the US’s widely known violations of the UNSC Resolution 2231.
We noted that the report contains an intricate reservation that “there can sometimes be legal or factual uncertainty as to whether a violation has occurred.” Such an approach allows the Americans to criticize other countries increasingly more often without bothering to support their accusations by actual facts or justified legal arguments. It’s clear that this disclaimer provides just an unlimited opportunity for «accusatory creativity».
This trick is used, in particular, with regard to the INF Treaty. All accusations against Russia are actually based on a simple assertion: “the US has determined.” As usual, the report does not provide any supporting evidence. By all accounts, the authors of the report proceed from the assumption that whatever Washington says should be automatically taken for granted and accepted as an axiom. That said, they preferred to ignore the fact that throughout the entire period of the US’s consecutive preparations to withdraw from the INF Treaty (the authors actually do not deny it was the US initiative to do so) absolutely no evidence was provided to support the US accusations regarding the Russian 9М729 missile that in fact has characteristics fully consistent with the Treaty, as we have repeatedly explained.
Nor did they mention Russia’s well-grounded claims concerning the US compliance – or rather non-compliance - with the Treaty. The report does not contain a single word on the deployment on land of Mk 41 launchers, capable of firing intermediate-range cruise missiles, or on the US’s development of technologies for prohibited classes of ballistic missiles using “missile defense targets”. The report neither contains references to the US armed UAVs that fully meet the Treaty’s definition of intermediate-range ground-based cruise missiles. The developments that followed the US withdrawal from the Treaty have fully confirmed that our concerns were justified and legally accurate. The fact that the US side almost immediately started testing previously banned weapon systems clearly indicates that they were in well-advanced stage of readiness. We have raised all these issues before our colleagues for many years, but our main priority was to preserve the Treaty and its regime. However, it is obvious that Washington had completely different goals.
Regarding the New START Treaty, it should be reminded that starting February 5, 2018 to date the US is exceeding by 101 pieces the aggregate Treaty numbers under the category of “deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers.” The US has neither fulfilled a number of other Treaty provisions. Against this backdrop, Washington’s ambitions to lecture others and “evaluate” their actions are inappropriate, to say the least.
The US’s far-fetched baseless allegations concerning Russia’s approaches to the issues of non-strategic nuclear weapons (NSNW) with references to the “Presidential nuclear initiatives” of 1991-1992 look especially cynical. We remind our American colleagues once again that unlike the US, Russia has not only withdrawn all of its NSNW to its national territory, but also changed their operational status to non-deployed and moved them to centralized storage facilities. These Russian measures remain fully relevant.
Moreover, while implementing the “Presidential nuclear initiatives,” we have significantly reduced the stocks of NSNW – by 75 % as compared to the arsenal of the USSR in 1991.
It is noteworthy that the US’s grievances about Russia’s alleged “deviation” from the “Presidential nuclear initiatives” are being expressed against a backdrop of a consistent revision of US doctrinal principles towards increasing the role of nuclear weapons in various “escalation” scenarios and expanding possibilities of their combat use, which obviously lowers the “nuclear threshold” and increases the threat of a nuclear conflict. Meanwhile, the US has been actively modernizing and expanding its tactical nuclear arsenal, blurring the line between tactical and strategic weapons. A revealing step in this direction was the equipment of some Trident II SLBMs with “tactical-grade” nuclear warheads. Preparations are underway to re-introduce nuclear sea-launched cruise missiles into the US arsenal. The nuclear В61-12 bomb, which has an “adjustable yield” feature and is capable of performing a wide range of both tactical and strategic missions, that is also intended for use by US NATO allies, is about to enter operational service.
The US attempt to “evaluate” other States’ compliance with NPT, exercised in such a selective and manifestly politicized manner, appears to be rather dubious. Meanwhile it sort of goes without saying that the US itself is “above any suspicion” in this area, however, the US not only places its nuclear weapons in other countries, but also envisions using foreign delivery aircrafts and military personnel for combat employment of these weapons within the framework of NATO’s “nuclear sharing” policy. To that effect, the “nuclear sharing” participants provide corresponding technical means, create infrastructure, and hold drills and training. Such practices stand in flagrant violation of the basic provisions of the NPT enshrined in the Treaty’s Articles I and II.
The report also contains insinuations about Russia’s “non-compliance” with the obligations related to the ban on nuclear testing. The allegations revolve around the unsubstantiated claim that Russia “conducted nuclear weapons experiments that are not consistent with the zero-yield standard.” Contradicting themselves, the authors admit that the US does not know how many such tests were carried out and whether they were carried out at all, as well as what kind of tests they were. And despite the fact that this is nonsense, they still conclude that Russia allegedly violates the 1974 Treaty between the USSR and the US on the Limitation of Underground Nuclear Weapon Tests. They claim, that Russia did not notify Washington of such tests as stipulated by this treaty.
First, the US knows but deliberately hushes up the fact that the obligations under the 1974 bilateral treaty are completely overlapped by those of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by both Russia and the US in 1996, which is practically ignored in the Department of State’s report.
Second, we have repeatedly made it known to the United States in various formats and again repeat that we do not intend to discuss compliance with the nuclear test ban with a state that has been delaying the ratification of the CTBT for 25 years, thereby calling into question its entry into force.
Three decades ago, the Russian Federation assumed a unilateral commitment to avoid conducting nuclear tests, and 20 years ago it ratified the CTBT. We do not conduct non-zero-yield tests. We, like the US and other nuclear states, carry out so-called subcritical tests, which in no way run counter to our obligations in this area.
US actions regarding the CTBT cause growing concern in Moscow. While earlier Washington sometimes recalled the possibility of taking a step towards ratifying the Treaty, the current administration has openly declared that there was no such intention. Moreover, the United States is apparently preparing the next destructive step. It is alarming, in particular, that the US Department of Defense’s Nuclear Matters Handbook 2020 directly mentions the possible termination of Washington’s obligations under the Treaty.
In an effort to build an unlawful order based on Washington’s rules rather than international law, the US wants to introduce an «American standard» for zero yield in nuclear testing, which only it can understand. We believe that Washington is seriously considering withdrawing from the CTBT. We would like to warn Washington against this step because it will not be limited to just the ruining of the CTBT. It could lead to very serious consequences for the nuclear non-proliferation regime in general.
We must consider a number of other items that the authors of the report deliberately avoid.
The US was the only P5 country that did not take part in the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction in November 2019. The respective resolution was adopted in 1995 and approved by the US among others. However, there was no progress in this area because of Washington’s position. In other words, the US deliberately undermined the process that it had committed to sponsor.
The US ratified only one protocol out of five that it had signed, notably on granting Negative Security Assurances for treaties on nuclear weapons-free zones. This was a Protocol to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco). The US security assurances to participants of other nuclear weapons-free zones treaties have not entered into force so far. Thus, they are fiction at this point.
Without offering any proof, the authors of the report accuse Russia of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of being involved in the Britain-inspired Skripal case, concealing information from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the facilities for the production, development and storage of chemical weapons, assisting Syria in the use of chloride in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018, and of developing chemicals for offensive purposes.
Indicatively, all of these false allegations are being worked out while the US itself delays the completion of its national chemical disarmament programme under far-fetched excuses (lack of funds and production and technological difficulties).
Thus, the US remains the only State possessor of declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. It also regularly reports the destruction of some unidentified chemical agents, in an effort to conceal its previously unannounced activity in this area.
The refusal of the US to dispose chemical weapons it left in Southeast Asia and Panama is a graphic example that Washington systematically breaches its obligation under the CWC. In addition, in 2003-2009 Washington (and London) secretly withdrew from Iraq or destroyed on site about 5,000 chemical agents from the Saddam Hussein ruling time without properly notifying the OPCW.
Since the 1980s, the US and a number of other NATO countries have been conducting research in nerve agents that are classified in the West as «Novichok», and the US alone has over 140 patents linked with the use of these chemical agents for military purposes.
The US continues to maintain reservations to the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare preserving the possibility of retaliating with lethal or incapacitating agents, which is banned by the CWC. Moreover, the US allows, by law, the use of riot control agents for military purposes, which is also prohibited by the Convention. There are also serious questions linked with US’s systematic problems with the illegal use of psychotropic pharmaceuticals, such as the phentanyl group.
Assertions that Russia assisted the Syrian authorities on the use of chloride in the city of Douma on April 7, 2018 are unacceptable. Such crimes have been carried out by the Syrian armed opposition that is sponsored from the outside, and by affiliated NGOs like the White Helmets. They do not hide their goals. They want to discredit the legal government of Syria and provoke the US and its allies to attack this sovereign state in violation of the UN Charter and the universally recognized principles of international law.
The report replicates absurd accusations against Russia related to «violations» of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BTWC). Those include an unproven reference to some sort of military biological programmes that our country allegedly continues to implement.
We consider such ungrounded speculations as an attempt by the US to divert the attention of the international community from its own non-transparent and improper practices in this sensitive area. Russia's activities in the biomedical area are exclusively peaceful and fully correspond to the BTWC provisions.
The position of Washington on the BTWC is inconsistent and controversial. On one hand, the US is formally in favour of strengthening the Convention and declare verification as a guarantee of effectiveness of any arms control and disarmament agreement. On the other hand, since 2001 the United States has been blocking efforts to develop a legally binding protocol to the BTWC with an effective verification mechanism.
Military biological activities of Pentagon in various regions of the world, including those in close proximity to Russia’s borders, raise serious questions. Particularly noteworthy are the activities at the Richard Lugar Centre for Public Health Research in Georgia, where the US military is carrying out dual-purpose programmes on which Washington does not provide any data under the BTWC confidence-building measures.
Given the fact that the US has not so far withdrawn its reservation to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which, in particular, prohibits the use of bacteriological weapons, there is a logical question with regard to the real objectives of the Pentagon's biological activities on the territory of foreign states.
We urge the US to act responsibly and comply with its BTWC obligations and take concrete steps to address the above-mentioned issues. We expect Washington's support for Russia’s initiatives aimed at strengthening the BTWC regime.
With regard to the conventional arms control as well as confidence- and security-building measures, the published report hardly contains anything new compared to its last year’s extended version. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has already commented on it in detail (https://www.mid.ru/ru/obycnye-vooruzenia/-/asset_publisher/M1JdOT56NKIk/content/id/3793171).
Concerning the two “novelties” that appeared in this report, we would like to note the following.
The Russian Federation did not violate Article VI of the Treaty on Open Skies (OST) by not letting the US-Canadian mission conduct one of the segments of the agreed mission plan in September 2019 during the “Center-2019” military exercise. This restriction was due to the difficulties in ensuring the OST flights safety amid rapidly changing situation during the active phase of the exercise. An alternative time for conducting the flight over the segment was proposed to the observing Party, in accordance with the Treaty. However, this proposal was rejected. Besides, during the recent hearings in the US Congress independent experts have disagreed with the description of Russia’s actions as “violations” of its commitments under the Treaty.
The United States deliberately remains silent on its own numerous OST compliance problems.
First. In 2016, the US failed to ensure the safe arrival of the Russian An-30B observation aircraft at the point of entry/exit, by refusing to provide the required number of intermediate airfields. The US position has not changed as of yet. This constitutes a violation of the Treaty on Open Skies by the United States.
Second. In 2017, the night-time rest stops for observation aircraft crews at the refuelling airfields Robins and Ellsworth were cancelled. This violates the observing Party’s right to conduct observation flights of the established maximum flight distance, taking into account the norms of the crew's workload limits, which directly affects the flight safety.
Third. In violation of the Treaty the United States established the maximum flight distance over the Hawaiian Islands from the Hickam refuelling airfield. However, according to the OST, the maximum flight distance is established only from Open Skies airfields and is calculated by specific rules. The distance limit of 900 kilometres established by the U.S. contrary to the provisions of the OST does not comply with the Treaty in any case as this distance must be at least 1,160 kilometres, if calculated correctly.
Fourth. The United States imposed restrictions on observation flights over the Aleutian Islands, according to which the aircraft of an observing Party always has to remain within the outer border of the adjacent zone, spanning 24 nautical miles from the coast. This restriction, which is not provided for by the Treaty, significantly reduces the effectiveness of the observation flights.
Fifth. The United States imposes restrictions on the altitude of the observation aircraft flights over its territory, which are not provided for by the OST and run contrary to the ICAO norms recommending the allocation of a safe airspace for the military aircraft flights.
Regarding the Vienna Document (VD), the US attempts to question Russia’s compliance with the VD, in particular with its Chapter III “Risk Reduction”, in connection with the incident that occurred near the settlement of Nenoksa in August 2019 are illegitimate. The facility, where the incident occurred, does not fall under the notion “military forces” in the VD context and is not subject to its provisions.
The issues of Russia’s “non-compliance” with the VD, which were included in the report, have never been raised by the United States neither in the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation nor on other relevant platforms in Vienna, which demonstrates the glaring weakness of the claims made by the US.
The report makes no mention of Kiev’s non-compliance with the VD, or of several NATO Member States having problems with fulfilling their commitments, in particular of their refusal to ratify the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, of NATO Member States’ attempts to circumvent the CFE numerical limitations by admitting new members to the Alliance, etc.
We reserve the right to provide more detailed comments after the US Department of State’s full report is released.