Since the beginning of the nuclear age in the 1940s, the United States and Russia have dominated the development of nuclear arms, accounting for 97 percent of the total production of all nuclear weapons between the two nations to date. In 1986, the total number of nuclear warheads in existence globally peaked at an estimated 64,500 total. But currently, nuclear stockpiles have dropped in size to roughly 13,100 warheads as of early-2021. What changed?
The current state of nuclear reduction policy can be traced to Rose Gottemoeller, the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). Gottemoeller joined FSI Director Michael McFaul to discuss her latest book, Negotiating the New START Treaty, which offers a unique perspective into the process of diplomacy by using Gottemoeller’s own experiences as the chief U.S. negotiator of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation as a case study.
Her full conversation with Michael McFaul is available below and on the CISAC YouTube channel.
The New START Treaty
The New START Treaty, which was formalized in 2010, and builds on prior agreements put in place through the 1970s and 80s to actively reduce and limit the number of strategic nuclear weapons. The first START treaty in 1994 reduced the number of deployed nuclear warheads in the United States and Russia from 12,000 to 6,000 each. In 2002, that number was reduced further to around 2,200 weapons each through agreements in the Moscow Treaty. The New START Treaty Gottemoeller negotiated dropped that number again to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.
This 30 percent overall reduction in nuclear armaments has brought deployed Russian and U.S. warheads to their smallest numbers since the nuclear age began.
“It’s really a challenge to actually do things in government,” emphasizes McFaul. “It’s easy to be something or someone, but to do anything, you have to be able to engage with another partner somewhere in the world. In Rose’s case, she had to engage with one of the toughest partners in the world: the Russian Federation.”
Doing vs. Being
How was Gottemoeller able to accomplish what she and her team did? Coming as an outsider to the Obama campaign and government, the initial months of contacting relevant people in the Department of State and working through the confirmation process were grueling, particularly with the added pressure of the looming deadline for the end of the first START treaty.
“That early pressure was absolutely vital for the ultimate success of the New START treaty,” says Gottemoeller. “These kinds of treaties usually take years to negotiate, but we only had from April to December of that year.”
With such a tight schedule, focus and drive were vital for moving the negotiations forward on time. Based on a clear directive from Presidents Obama and Medvedev, Gottemoeller knew the negotiations were to focus only on reducing strategic offensive armaments. The drive came from the perseverance and professionalism between her team and their Russian counterparts.
“When any negotiation starts, there’s a dance that goes on as the chief negotiators and the heads of the working groups establish their rhythm and get to know each others’ style. There were definitely rough patches, but overall we were able to establish good working relationships with everyone we needed to.”
In establishing this rapport, Gottemoeller’s prior affiliations with the Russian head negotiator, Anatoly Antonov, and her ability to speak directly with him in the Russian language were invaluable, particularly given Gottemoeller’s unique position as the first woman ever to negotiate a nuclear arms deal with the Russian Federation.
“By the time [Antonov] and I got to the endgame negotiations, we’d developed this motto of ‘мы исправим это,’ or, ‘We’ll fix it.’ By having that mindset, we were able to figure it out, even with our personal differences,” Gottemoeller explains.
Ultimately, she and her team delivered a crucial piece of diplomacy in record time despite the setbacks. “I handed over the final papers on my birthday,” she remembers. “So, it was a personal day of celebration as well as a professional one.”
Advice for Future Negotiators
For upcoming graduates and young people looking to Gottemoeller and her incredible diplomatic career as an inspiration, she gives this encouragement:
“Negotiating about nuclear weapons is not rocket science. You become a good negotiator through your everyday living. It’s part of our natural life and natural living. Don’t let it overwhelm you just because you happen to be dealing with nuclear weapons. It’s still just about meeting interests and crafting compromises in order to achieve your goals.”
It’s a sentiment Director Michael McFaul quickly echoed as he reaffirmed the invaluable work Rose Gottemoeller has contributed both diplomatically and to the future of foreign policy.
“In academia, the literature is thin on the actual practice of diplomacy,” admits McFaul. “But Rose has done a great service to educating future diplomats and future negotiators. We need to be able to learn from case studies like this from the past so we can continue to achieve these kinds of things in the future.”