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Panel Advocates Deeper U.S.-Russian Nuclear Cuts, Despite Tensions

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A Ukrainian soldier stands guard on Sunday at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Arms-control advocates on Monday said Russia and the United States should continue discussing new nuclear-weapon curbs, despite significant tensions. A Ukrainian soldier stands guard on Sunday at a checkpoint near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk. Arms-control advocates on Monday said Russia and the United States should continue discussing new nuclear-weapon curbs, despite significant tensions. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

Arms-control proponents are urging Washington and Moscow not to stop discussing new nuclear-weapon curbs, as tensions soar between the capitals.

A so-called "Deep Cuts Commission" advocated steps such as curbing the readiness of the former Cold War rivals' nuclear weapons to fire on a moment's notice, as well as reducing long-range warhead deployments beyond levels mandated by the 2011 New START agreement.

In an inaugural report issued on Monday, the group of independent analysts and former officials asserted that mistrust between Russia and the United States over military maneuvers in Ukraine underscores a need for the two governments to jointly consider how they can reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange.

"The current political environment is anything but conducive" to achieving significant nuclear-arms curbs, according to the panel composed of 21 experts from Russia, the United States and Germany.

Its members include former Russian strategic missile forces chief of staff Victor Yesin, one-time White House National Security Council official Catherine Kelleher, and Oliver Meier, who worked for former German lawmaker Uta Zapf when she chaired the parliament's Foreign Affairs Disarmament, Arms Control and Nonproliferation Subcommittee.

Pulling back from dialogue could lead to a "hardening of each side’s existing positions" that would complicate any future nuclear-reduction talks and increase the potential for "misunderstandings," the group stated in its findings.

The authors suggested that in the absence of new arms-control talks, Russia may increasingly rely on nuclear weapons to counterbalance Washington's "growing technological edge" in the development of missile defense systems, conventional long-range strike capabilities and potential space-based weapons.

The panel reaffirmed in its report all of the recommendations it devised in internal deliberations in the months before Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region. The group's advice calls in part for actions to meet New START reduction targets well ahead of a 2018 deadline, and for renewed efforts to develop trust on entrenched disputes over missile defense, nonstrategic nuclear arms and long-range conventional capabilities.

"The value of such measures in putting tighter constraints on nuclear arms becomes all the more apparent in times of tension," Steven Pifer, a commission member and a Brookings Institution senior fellow, said in released comments.

Correction: This article includes corrected text describing a position earlier held by Oliver Meier.

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