Morning Brief

U.S. and Russia Close to Agreement on Nuclear Weapons Treaty

Although a deal is reported to be close, details on verification have yet to be ironed out.

U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea leaves after speaking at a press conference on June 23, 2020 in Vienna, Austria.
U.S. arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea leaves after speaking at a press conference on June 23, 2020 in Vienna, Austria.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States and Russia edge closer to a deal on extending nuclear arms treaty, authorities fire at protesters in Nigeria, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in an attempt to mediate the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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U.S. and Russia Appear to Reach Common Ground on New START

At the end of a term that has seen the United States withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the World Health Organization, the Trump administration is about to finalize a deal that would extend an Obama-era treaty on nuclear weapons, potentially notching a foreign policy win ahead of November’s presidential election.

After a summer of halting negotiations to extend New START, a U.S.-Russian treaty limiting each country’s nuclear arsenals that is due to expire in February, the U.S. State Department on Tuesday appeared to signal a resolution was imminent. “The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

On the table is a one-year extension to the nuclear treaty and a freeze on the number of nuclear warheads, which should provide breathing room for a longer-term solution, and perhaps give time to entice China to join any future agreement.

Sticking points. As Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer report, the agreement still has some ground to cover before it can be finalized. One issue is the process of verification: The United States wants tougher measures taken to ensure Russia is in compliance, whereas Russia wants to keep verification procedures as they currently are.

Not standing still. While the change in positions should be seen as a breakthrough, it doesn’t mean all is rosy in the world of U.S.-Russia arms control. On Tuesday, CNN reported that Russia appears to be resuming testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a weapon not covered by New START.

Just this week, the U.S. Department of Defense put the price tag on replacing its Minuteman land-based nuclear missiles at just short of $100 billion. The next steps in nuclear competition between the two countries may be decided by the U.S. presidential election: The Trump administration has made modernizing the country’s nuclear arsenal a pillar of its defense strategy. Biden says he will scale back U.S. nuclear ambitions if elected.

United States of Misinformation

Writing in Foreign Policy  on Tuesday, Bhaskar Chakravorti, the dean of global business at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, argued that existing efforts to combat misinformation in the United States miss the point. The nature of misinformation is almost always local, he argues, and so countering it involves knowing which communities are most vulnerable. The chart above shows the U.S. states most at risk of misinformation campaigns in the upcoming presidential election and beyond. For more on the index behind the chart, read Chakravorti’s full argument.

What We’re Following Today

Nigerian protesters targeted by security forces. As many as 12 people were reportedly killed in Lagos on Tuesday after security forces opened fire on protesters. Eyewitnesses told CNN of shots being fired by Nigerian forces into the crowds gathered at Lagos’s busy Lekki toll gate. The states of Lagos, Ekiti, and Edo are now under curfew as authorities struggle to quell national protests over police brutality and government corruption.

Pompeo to meet with Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers. After two Russian-brokered cease-fires failed to hold, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying his hand at negotiating peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. On Friday, Pompeo will meet with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov as well as his Armenian counterpart, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan. The meetings will take place separately, and it’s yet to be confirmed whether the warring sides will hold a joint meeting in Washington.

Sweden ditches Huawei and ZTE. Sweden has become the latest European country to announce a ban on the use of Huawei and ZTE equipment in its 5G networks. The Swedish telecom authority announced the ban on the Chinese companies on Tuesday, saying it was necessary to “ensure that the use of frequencies does not endanger the security of Sweden.” Existing Huawei and ZTE equipment is slated to be removed from Sweden’s network by 2025.

Keep an Eye On

Brazil in OECD? Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has said that the country will join the elite Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) group of nations within a year. Speaking at an event hosted by a Washington think tank, Guedes said that Brazil had already fulfilled two-thirds of the requirements necessary for joining. Brazil currently holds “Key Partner” status with the group.

Russia in Serbia. Russia’s defense ministry is to open an office in Serbia, potentially exacerbating relations with the European Union, with which Serbia is still in membership negotiations. It follows Serbia’s announcement last month that it would suspend military exercises with foreign forces, citing “great and undeserved” pressure from the EU surrounding its joint exercises with Russia and Belarus. The head of Russia’s new office in Serbia will also have the right to visit Serbian military units that use Russian-made weapons and equipment. 

DHS proposes cutting foreign journalist visa length. A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would dramatically reduce the the length of stay in the United States allowed on a foreign journalist (I) visa. Under current rules, foreign journalists can extend their stay indefinitely as long as they fulfill certain criteria. Under the new rule, foreign journalists would only be allowed stay for a maximum of 480 days. According to DHS, the move is designed to “reduce fraud and enhance national security.”

Odds and Ends

While the last few months have seen record U.S. weekly jobless claims and mass unemployment, the U.S. jewelry industry is seeing a bump in sales. Fine jewelry sales were up nearly 10 percent to $5.25 billion in August compared to data from the previous year, according to one research firm. Jewelers theorize that the lack of travel opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic has led the wealthy to pursue other means of parting with their money.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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