Russia, U.S.: What To Make of an Accusation of a Test Ban Treaty Violation

2 MINS READMay 30, 2019 | 22:12 GMT
The Big Picture

In the 2019 Annual Forecast, Stratfor noted that a U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would turn up the heat on other arms control arrangements. Recent criticism of Russian nuclear weapons tests by leading U.S. defense officials signals that more arms control treaties could indeed be coming under threat. 

What Happened

During an arms control forum on May 29, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., said that Russia was likely in violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). In response, Russia's ambassador to the United States stated that the allegations looked like "a well-planned and directed attack." Meanwhile, the head of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee Vladimir Shamanov has said that Washington "could not have made a more irresponsible statement," adding that "nuclear tests cannot be carried out secretly." 

Why It Matters

This is not the first time that the United States has raised questions over both Russia and China's full adherence to the CTBT. Washington also left some space for continued negotiations by saying Moscow was "likely" — but not definitely — in breach of the treaty. However, advisers within U.S. President Donald Trump's administration — namely, national security adviser John Bolton — have previously expressed skepticism over arms control agreements, as evidenced by Washington's recent suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty over Russia's alleged violations. This skepticism, combined with the inherent distrust between the two competing great powers, leaves open the possibility that the United States could withdraw from the CTBT over what it claims as Russian (or Chinese) violations, which would significantly escalate the global arms race and the nuclear race in particular. 

Should Washington double down on its accusation and withdraw from the nuclear test ban treaty, it would significantly escalate the global arms race.


Arms control has generally emerged as a point of contention between the United States and its great power rivals Russia and China. This was most recently seen by the United States announcing its looming withdrawal from the INF Treaty, as well as the increasing risk that the New START agreement will not be renewed before it expires in early 2021. The more these legacy arms control treaties fall apart, the greater the snowballing effect on the current arms race between the great powers — propelling their development of new weapons capabilities fueled by increasingly deadly technology. 

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