Russia, U.S. to Update Nuclear Crisis Communications

Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
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Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Oct. 18, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

WASH­ING­TON — A new U.S.-Rus­si­an deal made pub­lic on Thursday paves the way for the former Cold War rivals to bring their nuc­le­ar-arms com­mu­nic­a­tions in­to the di­git­al age.

The ac­cord signed this month up­dates a 1987 pact, which es­tab­lished an arms-con­trol-com­mu­nic­a­tion of­fice in each coun­try, so that it now al­lows up­dates to cer­tain com­mu­nic­a­tions equip­ment at the of­fices. The two “Nuc­le­ar Risk Re­duc­tion Cen­ters” — loc­ated at the Rus­si­an De­fense Min­istry in Mo­scow and the U.S. State De­part­ment in Wash­ing­ton — have con­duc­ted routine data swaps re­quired un­der more than a dozen treat­ies, but they provide a means of com­mu­nic­a­tion that could be im­port­ant for use dur­ing any high-stakes nuc­le­ar crisis.

“The Cold War is now long over, but thou­sands of nuc­le­ar weapons re­main, and we both re­cog­nize a re­spons­ib­il­ity to do everything pos­sible to keep each oth­er ap­praised of im­port­ant de­vel­op­ments in or­der to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ings and po­ten­tially cata­stroph­ic con­sequences,” U.S. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry said at an Oct. 7 news con­fer­ence, after sign­ing the new ar­range­ment with Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lav­rov. The State De­part­ment on Thursday re­leased the text of the re­vised agree­ment, which still bears the ini­tial title “Agree­ment Between the United States of Amer­ica and the Uni­on of So­viet So­cial­ist Re­pub­lics on the Es­tab­lish­ment of Nuc­le­ar Risk Re­duc­tion Cen­ters.”

Wash­ing­ton last year briefed Mo­scow on a num­ber of tech­no­logy im­prove­ments at the U.S. nuc­le­ar of­fice. However, cer­tain equip­ment covered in the 1987 agree­ment is less up-to-date.

“Ba­sic­ally the old agree­ment was an en­cryp­ted line able to send faxes,” said Mat­thew Bunn, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fess­or at Har­vard Uni­versity’s John F. Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment who served as a nuc­le­ar se­cur­ity ad­viser to the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The new agree­ment is an en­cryp­ted line for full di­git­al com­mu­nic­a­tions, text, im­ages, etc.,” Bunn told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire over e-mail. “It’s ba­sic­ally bring­ing it in­to the mod­ern age.”

This month’s agree­ment strikes from the pre­vi­ous one ref­er­ences to floppy disks and low-band­width com­mu­nic­a­tions lines. Now it grants the sides more flex­ib­il­ity in de­term­in­ing how fast their com­puters can trade se­cured “text and graph­ics files,” ac­cord­ing to its text.

The deal also al­lows the coun­tries to rely in part on “com­mer­cial com­mu­nic­a­tions chan­nels” for their data trans­mis­sions.

However, the pact does not fully en­trust nuc­le­ar-arms re­cord­keep­ing to di­git­al tech­no­logy. Spe­cific­ally, it states that “a print­er shall be used” by each coun­try to pro­duce hard cop­ies of ex­changed ma­ter­i­als.

To date, the U.S. and Rus­si­an nuc­le­ar cen­ters have com­pleted more than 5,000 “day-to-day” in­form­a­tion swaps un­der the New START treaty, Rose Got­te­moeller, act­ing un­der sec­ret­ary of State for arms con­trol and in­ter­na­tion­al se­cur­ity, noted in a speech earli­er this month.

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