The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Alexei Arbatov and Carnegie’s James M. Acton debated the prospects of French and British involvement in nuclear disarmament, as well as the concept of a voluntary transparency regime. The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Natalia Bubnova moderated.
- Differing Perceptions: Acton highlighted that although the United Kingdom and France are often grouped together because they have similar nuclear postures, their perceptions on disarmament differ. While the UK population has expressed skepticism about and discomfort with nuclear weapons, the situation in France is very different. The historical consciousness of a foreign invasion in France is still vivid—as it is in Russia—which will likely make Paris less willing than London to participate in nuclear reductions.
- Enhanced Transparency: Acton observed that there is resistance in both countries to getting involved in multilateral transparency. He encouraged the United Kingdom and France to start by making basic transparency declarations and, eventually, participate in periodic data exchanges modeled on those in START-I, on a voluntary basis. Acton expressed his hope that reciprocal voluntary verification would also be possible over time.
- NATO Membership: Arbatov agreed that achieving a multilateral agreement among the five officially recognized nuclear-weapon states would be difficult. It is further complicated by the fact that, unlike other nuclear powers, France and the United Kingdom are NATO members and U.S. allies. This contributes to their reluctance to prioritize joining talks between the United States and Russia. Moreover, Arbatov added, neither France nor the United Kingdom considers arms reduction to be high on their agenda. Meanwhile, Arbatov argued that it is the New START rather than the START-I that could better serve as a model for data exchanges, since the START-I is already a thing of the past.
- Asymmetry in Arms Limitations: Arbatov explained why significant asymmetries in arms limitations complicate matters even further. Not only would nuclear reductions in the UK and France be insignificant compared to Russian strategic forces, but it is also difficult to imagine Russia reducing its strategic weapons to the level of the United Kingdom or France. Moreover, so long as there are states trying to increase their nuclear capabilities, it is difficult to expect Russia to significantly reduce its nuclear arsenal.