What Does the Recent U.S.-Russia Meeting Reveal About the Future of Arms Negotiations?



In a joint statement released on Thursday, the United States and Russia said that they held “intensive and substantive” talks at a summit to decrease tensions between the two countries. This summit was a follow-up to the June 2021 US-Russia summit, where Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin discussed how to move forward with US-Russia relations. Although neither president was present at Thursday’s conference, top officials of each administration discussed nuclear disarmament and how the U.S. and Russia can cooperate in easing nuclear tensions between them and around the world.


In the June 2021 summit in Geneva, the two presidents had agreed to embark on a bilateral “Strategic Stability Dialogue” to set the stage for future arms control and risk reduction measures. During the second meeting held on Thursday again in Geneva, Russian and American delegations directed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov deliberated over nuclear disarmament issues and agreed that they would concentrate on future arms control and capabilities and actions with strategic effects. They set up two countries and two working groups, which will convene ahead of a third meeting. A senior U.S. official present at the meeting said that “the discussion was very interactive and broad-based, and we think we were able to cover a variety of issues. I think this was a good building-on of the meeting that we had in July, and both delegations engaging in a detailed and dynamic exchange.”


This meeting between the U.S. and Russian delegations comes at a tense period of relations between the U.S. and Russia, yet it is a sign of hope for U.S.-Russia relations for the future. Although the U.S. and Russia may disagree on many other issues, nuclear disarmament remains a joint goal between the two countries, potentially bringing the two countries closer and fostering more productive cooperation in other areas in the future.


Even though the first few months of 2021 initially shook up U.S.-Russia relations, nuclear disarmament persisted as a focal point for continued collaboration. On his first full day in office, President Biden agreed to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years on his first full day in office. And on February 3, Secretary of State Blinken said Washington would “pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and U.S. allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.” The U.S. and Russia have a particular interest in perusing strategic stability talks so that during a severe crisis or conventional conflict, no side has the incentive to use nuclear weapons in fear of retaliation. Since the 1960s, strategic stability was based mainly on comparing the U.S. and Soviet/Russian strategic offensive nuclear forces. If neither side could retaliate with devastating consequences even after absorbing a massive first strike, neither had an incentive to use nuclear weapons.


Many experts say that nuclear arms negotiations will, for the foreseeable future, remain a bilateral US-Russian matter, which in part is due to the disparity in numbers of warheads between the two countries. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the United States has about 3,600 nuclear warheads in its stockpile, while Russia has about 4,300 (no other country has more than 300) With the U.S. and Russia owning upwards of 90% of the nuclear arms, nuclear disarmament will remain a high-docket issue between the U.S.-Russi—and hopefully, serve as a basis of future negotiations in other areas to further foster improved relations.


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