Is Russia Headed Towards Nuclear Disarmament?

Is Russia stepping up its game regarding the disarmament of nuclear weapons? This was the news last week when Russia sent a letter to a Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Conference, describing the steps Russia has taken to fulfill the aims of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NPT is widely considered one of the most encompassing arms treaties of all time. It has been signed by 190 states, excluding only Israel, North Korea, India, Pakistan and South Sudan. It stipulates that member states restrict weapons trade, use nuclear technology only for energy needs and cease the manufacturing of nuclear arsenal.

In the letter to the conference, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin assured members that, “We have reduced our nuclear weapons stockpiles to minimal levels, thereby making a considerable contribution to the process of comprehensive and complete disarmament.”

Putin went on to write that Russia, “plan[s] to continue this work, as well as maintain the balance between the development of peaceful nuclear [programs] and the strengthening of the non-proliferation regime, including the guarantees system of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”

Yet while Putin stands by his claims made in the recent letter, it wasn’t long ago that the U.S. was accusing Russia of violating the NPT. At the same conference, John Kerry admitted that the U.S. and Russia are responsible for 90 percent of all the world’s nuclear weapons. However Kerry said that while the U.S. is trying to comply with the treaty, Russia has been playing by their own rules: “I want to emphasize our deep concerns regarding Russia’s clear violation of its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. We are urging Russia to return to compliance,” Kerry stated.

Meanwhile Russia had their own barbs to trade. Mikhail Ulyanov of the Foreign Ministry Department of Non-Proliferation and Arms Control told the U.S. to remember their own precarious position: “Accusing others of violating the NPT, the United States forgets that its own track record in this area is far from ideal.”

So who is right? Well it turns out, neither side is doing that much better than the other. A look at the Federation of American Scientists fact sheet shows us that while Russia has a few more nuclear weapons (Russia has 7,500 while the U.S. has 7,200), the U.S. has more weapons strategically deployed.

But the real shame is that the U.S. and Russia are busy pointing fingers at each other, because when these two sides work together on nuclear disarmament they can achieve some monumental goals.

The Megatons to Megawatts program, which started in 1993, helped to rid the world of the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads. It was a 10-year agreement that took Russia’s highly enriched uranium and converted it into electricity in the United States. This helped Russia rid itself of excess weapons, while powering about 10 percent of the United State’s electricity needs. The program ended in 2013, and so far there have been no talks on reinstating a similar deal.

Regardless of how these two countries go head-to-head, there is evidence that Russia has been steadily reducing their number of nuclear weapons and complying with the NPT. An independent peer review of Russia by the IAEA in 2013 revealed, “the Russian Federation had made significant progress since an earlier review in 2009. It also identified good practices in the country’s nuclear regulatory system”.

Although many will wait on another independent review before taking Russia’s claims to heart, most can agree that anything that conforms with the NPT is a step in the right direction.