Back from the Brink: Toward Restraint and Dialogue between Russia and the West

| Third Report of the Deep Cuts Commission

Examining the logic for and against nuclear weapons transparency and how it manifests itself in the attitudes and behaviors of nuclear weapon states and their allies, this working paper suggest measures to increase accountability and transparency – within and outside of the NPT framework. The authors conclude that in an uncertain and dangerous environment, greater transparency may be hard to reach but would retain evident benefits for stability and predictability.


Relations between Russia and the West have fallen to an historic low. Even though both sides cooperate on certain issues, as in the case of reaching agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, hopes for sustained and comprehensive cooperation have dimmed significantly. Competition and selective cooperation is the new normal. It will likely remain so for some time. As with all conflict-ridden relationships, mutual (mis)perceptions and comparatively minor incidents can cause major unintended negative consequences. The prime objective for the next few years should be limiting the potential for dangerous military incidents that can escalate out of control.

Policy recommendations

  • In order to reduce current security concerns in the Baltic area, NATO and Russia should initiate a dialogue on possible mutual restraint measures. All states should adhere to the NATO-Russia Founding Act. A NATO-Russia dialogue should aim at increasing the security of all states in the Baltic area by encompassing reciprocal and verifiable commitments. A sub-regional arms control regime could consist of interlocking elements such as restraint commitments, limitations, confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs), and a sub-regional Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.

  • In light of the increasing dangers of military incidents between Russia, the United States and other NATO member states, the United States and Russia should revive a dialogue on nuclear risk reduction measures, capable of addressing risks posed by different sorts of emergencies in near real-time. The United States and Russia could consider creating a Joint Military Incident Prevention and Communications Cell with a direct telephone link between the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian General Staff, and NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Such a cell could be linked to or established in parallel with a new European Risk Reduction Center that would link the Russian General Staff and SHAPE.

  • States Parties to the Treaty on Open Skies should pay more attention to the continued operation of Open Skies. They should strengthen its operation by upgrading their observation capabilities.

  • for a new OSCE states-based mechanism. Beyond, OSCE participating States should prepare for a long-term endeavor leading to a Helsinki-like conference with the aim of reinvigorating and strengthening Europe’s guiding security principles.

  • The United States and Russia should commit to attempting to resolve each other’s compliance concerns with the INF Treaty by supplementing ongoing diplomatic dialogue with technical expertise, either by convening the Special Verification Commission or a separate bilateral experts group mandated to appropriately address all relevant treaty-related compliance concerns. Further on, the United States and Russia should address the issue of supplementing the treaty by taking account of technological and political developments that have occurred since the treaty’s entry into force.

  • The United States and Russia should address the destabilizing effects of nuclear-armed cruise missile proliferation by agreeing on specific confidence-building measures. Together with other nations, they should address the challenges of horizontal cruise missile proliferation by reinforcing the relevant Missile Technology Control Regime’s restrictions and by endorsing the inclusion of land-attack cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)/unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) in the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.

  • Moscow and Washington should exercise restraint in Russian and U.S. nuclear force modernization programs, remaining within the New START limits and acting consistent with the intent of the treaty. The United States should forego development of the LRSO, and Russia should reciprocate by phasing-out of its new nuclear-armed ALCMs. Russia and the United States should work towards early discussions on a possible follow-on strategic arms reduction treaty. They should be able to envision reductions to a level of 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles and 1,000 deployed strategic warheads during the next decade. These discussions should explore options for exchanging measures of reciprocal restraint and seek to address other issues of mutual concern under a combined umbrella discussion of strategic stability.


  • Andrei Zagorski

    Andrei Zagorski is Head of the Department of Disarmament and Conflict Resolution, Center for International Security at the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), where he served as Vice-Rector (1992-1999).