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Rose Gottemoeller: Negotiating the New START Treaty

A review of Negotiating the New START Treaty. By: Rose Gottemoeller. Publisher: Cambria Press, New York, 2021.

June 21, 2021 - Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández - Books and Reviews

Book cover of Negotiating the New START Treaty. Cambria Press, New York, 2021

Rose Gottemoeller is one of the most respected international security experts in the world. Yet, what makes her recent memoir, Negotiating the New START Treaty, stand out is her Russia expertise and her humility. Before her role as chief negotiator of the New START Treaty – an agreement that limited the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers between the US and Russia – Gottemoeller was the director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre for three years. She had also focused on US-Russia relations and arms control issues while she served in the White House National Security Council and multiple government agencies. Therefore, as Gottemoeller herself tells us in her book, she was familiar with a plethora of Russian experts and their views on numerous national security issues. With its success in avoiding complex jargon and clear-cut storytelling, Negotiating the New START Treaty is bound to inspire the next generation of aspiring national security experts and, at the same time, captivate the average reader as well. If anything, Gottemoeller’s memoir is a testament to what Russia expertise, level-headed negotiating skills and a nuanced understanding of the benefits provided by arms control, can accomplish in a limited amount of time.

You negotiate like a girl

One of the unique aspects of Negotiating the New START Treaty is how the memoir narrates Gottemoeller’s experience as the first chief negotiator who identifies as a woman. She would also become the first woman to hold the title of NATO’s Deputy Secretary General in 2016. While Gottemoeller was undoubtedly qualified for her role as chief negotiator, she faced a unique set of challenges that her male counterparts did not face in the male-dominated field of nuclear security. For instance, Gottemoeller recalls feeling like the weak link in 1990-1991 when she was sent as a junior State Department representative to negotiate START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) in Geneva because she left every day to cook dinner and take care of her children.

During the beginning of New START negotiations, Gottemoeller’s gender was at the front and centre of the discussion. In her book, Gottemoeller vividly describes getting acquainted with her Russian counterpart, Anatoly Antonov, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Directorate in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She notes that there was no “getting-to-know you” dance between them because they knew each other from her years working at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Before, a July encounter between Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, a Russian newspaper published an article claiming that Antonov could never best Gottemoeller for she was a tougher negotiator to Antonov’s shame. Therefore, not only was Antonov weak but he was also bested by a woman.

As a result, Gottemoeller feared that Antonov would be replaced, and the appointment of a new Russian negotiator would derail the discussions. This led to a series of games between Gottemoeller and Antonov where he attempted to prove that he could be a tougher negotiator than she. These games included Antonov taking measures to cut Gottemoeller from a key meeting between Obama and Medvedev during July in Moscow and showing up late to Gottemoeller’s first lunch invitation to conduct informal discussions. Nonetheless, a good collegial relationship emerged between Antonov and Gottemoeller.

The memoir also depicts Gottemoeller’s interactions with the women in the Russian delegation. While Antonov boasted that he had picked the most qualified female diplomats to participate in the delegation, the women often sat in the back row with the other experts of Russian agencies. In Western fashion, Gottemoeller attempted to uplift the women from the Russian side by showing her expertise on technical nuclear issues, directly reaching out to them, and telling Antonov that the bright female experts on the Russian delegation should be allowed to speak; and eventually they did speak. Nonetheless, after an incident, Gottemoeller realises that her actions cannot change Russian society and its traditional views on gender roles. Perhaps, this is what makes Gottemoeller’s memoir so riveting; her humility and her understanding that it is also not her place to change these views despite the fact she was the first woman to lead a nuclear arms reduction between the US and Russia.

The Russians were not the only ones who had something to say about Gottemoeller’s gender. The men of the American delegation also pushed her to show more toughness in fear that the Russians would not take Gottemoeller seriously. In response, Gottemoeller showed the Russians temper as they attempted to push discussions of limitations on missile defence. After that meeting, Gottemoeller proved to her own delegation that she could employ a more aggressive negotiating style if needed.

Old versus new, and a bit of both

As Gottemoeller narrates, New START’s predecessor, START, worked in concurrence with SORT (Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty). START limited delivery entry vehicles and their launchers with verifiable measures. Meanwhile, SORT (also known as the Moscow Treaty) reduced strategic warheads to a total number of 1,700 to 2,200 yet relied on the START verification measures. Hence, Gottemoeller’s team and its Russian counterpart had to come up with a deal that limited strategic offensive weapons, upheld a lower reduction on warheads than SORT, and possessed reliable verification measures like START.

Overall, Gottemoeller’s arguments about how the New START Treaty contributes to US national security are solid for the treaty’s limits improved stability and predictability between both countries. The New START Treaty limited the numbers for expensive nuclear modernisation. Under New START, both nations are limited to 700 delivery vehicles, 800 launchers, and 1,550 warheads. This is especially relevant today since, as Gottemoeller states, new Russian systems such as Avangard, the hypersonic glide vehicle, and Sarmat, a heavy ICBM, are automatically included into New START. Meaning that the Russians cannot deploy more than the limits New START allows for they must choose how many of the new missiles will replace their mobile ICBMs.

According to Gottemoeller, Kinzhal, an air launched ballistic missile may also be included in the New START Treaty regime depending on how it is deployed according to some Russian experts. Other new advanced Russian systems developed during the life of New START like Burevestnik, a nuclear propelled cruise missile, and Tsirkon, an anti-ship missile expected to be deployed before the treaty’s extension expires in 2026.

In general, Gottemoeller’s memoir does an excellent job of simplifying New START’s technical details and the ones of its predecessors. The book is also an ode to the hard-working specialists in both delegations who had to consider the continuing development of technology when it came to inspection and verification measures. These experts and their innovations played a large role ironing out the endgame details of the treaty. For example, flight test data for missiles played a large role in START. Counting rules were based on test flight data which both sides exchanged. Missiles were assumed to carry the maximum amount of re-entry vehicles for warheads with which they had been tested. Instead, New START would focus on counting declared warheads on the front of missiles. Under New START, experts came up with the idea of using the existing serial number of each launcher and delivery vehicle to track and monitor each other’s ICBM force. New START also proposed a third central limit on deployed and non-deployed launchers so that either side could not build an arsenal number of mobile missile launchers in storage.

Crossing the finish line

During an event promoting the book, Gottemoeller admitted to the audience that she tried to tell two stories in the book: one about the negotiations with the Russian Federation; and the other about negotiations with the US Senate to achieve the ratification of the treaty. Gottemoeller indeed narrates about the advocacy measures she and her team undertook to push the treaty through the Senate. She recalls making calls to different church groups across the country and meeting with congressmen and congresswomen alike to advocate for the treaty.

However, aspiring national security experts are likely to be drawn more to the story about the negotiations with the Russians. Gottemoeller’s own personal story is interlaced with her detailed narration about negotiating with the Russians. Despite having nothing short of an illustrious career, her story often comes off as relatable. For example, in the beginning of the book, the author narrates how Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, interviewed her for the position of chief negotiator. After being grilled about the ins and outs of nuclear issues by the Secretary of State and two other experts on the subject, Gottemoeller was convinced she did poorly in the interview. Like many of us after a difficult interview and the prospect of rejection, Gottemoeller went out for a large hamburger and had a beer.

Another factor that brings her memoir down to earth is Gottemoeller’s acknowledgement of the luck factor during negotiations with the Russians and even throughout her career. She narrates how she was lucky she participated in the US START delegation and how both delegations were lucky that the lead negotiators knew each other during the New START negotiations. 

Looking forward

Today’s political climate and the security environment is different from the one of the late 2000s. Although New START was extended, Gottemoeller recently stated in a virtual event organised by the European Leadership Network that there are still numerous issues on which both the US and Russia can continue to work. These include direct warhead verification, and future replacements for New START and the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Treaty.

During the last section of her memoir, Gottemoeller also reflects on these issues along with Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the decreasing state of bipartisanship in Washington. She also issues a set of recommendations for future negotiations with Russia. The recommendations range from defining one’s security objective and sticking with it to being able to see national security issues from the point of view of the Russians. She also directly states that it would be useful if those on the US delegation spoke Russian just as most diplomats and experts on the Russian side possess excellent English-speaking skills. Due to her Russia expertise and language skills, Gottemoeller and some of the members from her team were able to directly switch between Russian and English with her Russian counterparts. This led to better comprehension and enhanced mutual understanding between both sides.

In conclusion, whether you are an aspiring national security expert or a casual reader, Gottemoeller’s Negotiating the New START Treaty is an enjoyable must-read. Gottemoeller’s contribution and the one of both the Russian and the American delegations to a safer world by limiting nuclear weapons are invaluable.

Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández is a 2021-2022 Alfa Fellow. Her research focuses on military signaling, arms control, and threat perceptions.

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