This brief examines the disarmament vacuum that has emerged, focusing on the deadlock over the Russian-American Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START-1). The treaty expires in 2009 and no agreement has been reached on a legally binding treaty to replace it. Arbatov emphasizes that for the first time in 40 years there is a danger that a legal vacuum and growing uncertainty over each other’s strategic capability and intentions could arise in the crucially important area of Russia’s and America’s military and political security. He points out that the system of laws and agreements on military security put together through many decades of exhausting and unbelievably complex negotiations has been almost completely dismantled today. As he states, “winds reminiscent of the Cold War have begun to stir once again and signs of a renewed arms race are ever clearer.”

Arbatov sets out several reasons why Russia and the United States have failed to find common ground and draw up a new treaty. One of the main factors as far as America is concerned is that “Washington’s priority is to agree on a broadly transparent regime incorporating as many of the START-1 verification measures as possible, in order to maintain mutual trust and predictability. Given the prevailing negative attitude in the U.S. towards arms control treaties, the proposal is to conclude a legally binding new treaty but with only a politically binding agreement.” As for Russia, “The new Russian political elite that came to power after the Cold War has no historical and institutional memory of the decades of exhausting efforts, successes and failures of disarmament as one of the most important areas of national and international security.”

Based on the history of strategic relations between the two countries over the last 15 years, Arbatov proposes ways to break the current deadlock. One of the best solutions would be a legally binding agreement in this area concluded with the current U.S. administration before it hands over the reins to its successor in January 2009. Arbatov suggests that the best base on which to draft a new agreement would be the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) and not a reworked version of START-1.

In conclusion, Arbatov writes: “Once they have propped up the ‘supporting pillar’ of Russian-American relations and global security, the two powers could then work at a calmer pace over 3-4 years to draw up a more radical agreement – SORT-2 – for the post-2012 period.”