Arms Control

The history of arms control and the various fora that have been created to provide for negotiations in this field are a reflection of the scope and complexity of the issues involved. Arms control deals essentially with two broad categories of proposals: those for measures that build confidence and those that result in reductions and limitations of military manpower and equipment.

Along with the global, multilateral discussions in the United Nations and at the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva and the bilateral US -Soviet negotiations, the third major focus of arms control negotiations has been in Europe.

Soviet interest in arms control for the far north was first articulated by Premier Nikolai Bulganin in a 1958 proposal for a zone in Northern Europe "free of atomic and hydrogen weapons."

In the Breznev era, the avowed military doctrine of the Soviet Union at the political level, and the actual Soviet policy as well, generally reflected a defensive orientation. In the 1970s, the Soviets, in giving precedence to mutual deterrence over war-waging capabilities at the intercontinental level, signed agreements with the United States virtually banning antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses and stabilizing strategic offensive arms at high levels (all that the United States was then prepared to do). But the same criteria, seen by both the Soviet Union and the United States as appropriate for ensuring deterrence and defense, also helped to assure a continuing arms race, which was mitigated only to a limited extent by negotiated strategic arms limitations. Both sides also settled for protracted Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) conventional arms talks without agreements—and with conventional arms proposals that sought only to stabilize existing levels. After the onset of the "new cold war," from 1980 to 1985, all progress in Soviet-American arms control was placed on hold. Bilateral negotiations in this period were unproductive; by 1984, not even the ritual of bilateral talks was observed. Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, three negotiations were actively under way, though all with uncertain prospects. These were negotiations between the Warsaw Pact and the NATO on the Reduction of Armed Forces and Armaments and Associated Measures in Central Europe; the US-Soviet negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces in Geneva; and the discussions of confidence-building measures (CBM) and general disarmament in Europe, which was part of the follow-up to the 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).

Under General Secretary and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leadership adopted the position that New Thinking was an imperative, and then Moscow began to translate it into policy positions and actions. Although proposals for a "Nordic nuclear-weapons-free zone" have been the most prominent and continuing feature of the Soviet arms control policy for the Arctic, Gorbachev's new proposal advanced in his Murmansk speech (1987) was much broader, calling for an Arctic "zone of peace." This "Murmansk initiative" has been reiterated by Soviet diplomats abroad and was emphasized by Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov on his trip through Scandinavia (1987). The arms control portion of the Murmansk speech in reality would limit NATO military activity in Scandinavia and the adjacent seas to a greater degree than Warsaw Pact activity. The original address failed to include the Kola Peninsula—the largest concentration of military power in the world—in the framework of the talks, as well as the Barents and Kara seas, in which the Soviet Northern Fleet and much of the Soviet sea-based strategic nuclear force operated. Later on, the Kola and Barents have been mentioned by Soviet officials, but no details have been provided concerning what limitations or reductions in force strength and activities would be considered for them. There was, in fact, very little that was really new in the specific arms control proposals made at Murmansk, although more detail has been given than in the past. Since 1958, the Kremlin has consistently promoted a Nordic nuclear-free zone, and the Soviet Union has periodically attempted to extend the confidence- and security-building measures to be discussed in the CCSBMDE to naval and air maneuvers.

In accordance with the START-II disarmament treaty, the number of strategic missiles on board Northern Fleet submarines will be reduced to a total of 1750 by the year 2003. Most likely the number will be even smaller. Here a strategic nuclear missile is removed from a Delta-II class submarine at a naval

Missile type

Number of

Number of









(Soviet Union)



START-II, by 2003

START-II, at 2007

Ballistic missiles




Not specified

Not specified

Intercontinental missiles






Submarine launched missiles



Not specified






base on the Kola Peninsula. Once their missiles have been removed, the nuclear submarines are then laid up.

Assuming that the terms of START-II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) are fulfilled, by the year 2003 over 50% of Russia's strategic nuclear warheads will be carried on nuclear submarines as opposed to just under 25% today. According to START-II, a maximum of 1750 nuclear warheads may be placed on Russian submarines. This means that the number of nuclear weapons onboard submarines as a total will decrease, but the strategic position of the Northern Fleet will be far more important in Russian nuclear strategy than it is today. According to Russian military experts, the Russian Navy in the future will need to retain a maximum of 16 strategic nuclear submarines, 21 attack submarines, and 12 tactical submarines. Western experts maintain that even fewer submarines will be required. If the number of permitted strategic nuclear warheads per submarine is decisive for the number of submarines Russia chooses to maintain in service, the six Project 941—Typhoon class submarines in combination with seven submarines from the Project 667 BDRM—Delta-IV class should prove sufficient. These 13 nuclear submarines can carry 1750 nuclear warheads between them; however, it seems unlikely that Russia would choose a defense system based solely upon strategic nuclear submarines. A new Project 971—Akula class attack submarine was delivered in 1996. Furthermore, there are three nuclear submarines of the new Project 885— Severodvinsk class currently under construction, a type that can be used both as a strategic and attack submarine.

The reduction in the number of nuclear warheads as a result of START-I and START-II is shown in Table 1. The table also compares the nuclear balance between the United States and Russia, as well as the distribution of nuclear warheads on land and at sea.

A significant role in confidence building in the Arctic during the Cold War was played by Norway and Denmark. in 1961, Norway (and Denmark) announced that no nuclear weapons would be introduced on their territories, that no NATO bases would be hosted, and that no large-scale NATO exercises would be permitted near the Soviet border. Nor, it announced in early 1978, would large numbers of West German forces participate in NATO exercises on Norwegian soil. Norway has also kept force levels in Finnmark at a low threshold and has been slow to develop radar facilities and military bases there to avoid arousing undue Soviet alarm over its defensive and missile capabilities.

The affairs of the Arctic region are still, to a considerable extent, characterized by overhang from the Cold War. During the past 50 years, relations in military affairs within the region were entirely encapsulated in Cold War diplomacy. That is to say, inter-Nordic cooperation, always active during this period, hardly ever extended to the area of security and defense. In these matters, relations were strictly formal, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was the only framework in which the Nordic and indeed Northern states could associate more freely, if still quite formally. Here, various confidence-and security-building measures were worked out during the latter part of the Cold War, continuing into the 1990s. The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) was part of this process.

This Treaty, agreeing to significantly reduce and put under surveillance five categories of ground-fighting equipment (tanks, artillery, armored personnel carriers, combat helicopters, and combat aircraft), was concluded between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in 1990 and implemented between 1992 and 1996, with some Russian delays authorized until 1999. The CFE Treaty has had a rather special role in the relations of the Arctic region, in part because of its flank feature that restricts the freedom of deployments in the far northwest and the far southwest (Norway and Turkey), and in part because five states in the region are not signatories and thus only implicitly part of the regime (three Baltic states, Finland, and Sweden). The revision of the Treaty (completed in November 1999) has brought it into line with the post-Cold War setting and the expanded NATO. The possibility that one or more of the five Northern non-CFE members may accede to the Treaty is one of the intriguing aspects of the politics surrounding the Treaty as it enters its second decade.

The role of Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) in the region has not been developed to its maximum potential. The main obstacle to regional arrangements is the preservation of a "genuine link" between the regional level and the all-European level. Several states in the region object to any military arrangements, which is not of an all-European agreement.

The current climate of amity in the Arctic region provides an opportunity to put confidence-and security-building measures in place in the Arctic, as a hedge against any future decline in political relations, or the growth of instability in Russia. Military activity in the Arctic is anything but over. In particular, the Arctic Ocean continues to be the site of underwater cat-and-mouse games between the nuclear submarines of the US and Russian navies.

Nikita A. Lomagin

See also Militarization of the Arctic; Murmansk Speech (1987); Thule Air Base

Further Reading

Arctic Council website: "Arms Control and Disarmament." In The North Atlantic Treaty

Organization. Facts and Figures, Brussels, Belgium: 1989 Blacker, Coit D. and Gloria Duffy (editors), International Arms Control. Issues and Agreements (2nd edition), Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984 Bonvicini, Gianni, Tapani Vaahtoranta & Wolfgang Wessels (editors), The Northern EU. National Views on the Emerging Security Dimension. Programme on the Northern Dimension of the CFSP, Volume 9, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 2000

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