Saturday, March 2, 2024
 
 

US, Russia extend New START nuke arms treaty

Washington and Moscow to move ahead with strategic stability talks and new phase of arms control

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The United States and Russia on February 3 completed the necessary legal procedures to officially extend the New START treaty for five years, avoiding a potentially unconstrained nuclear arms race.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the extension is a first step on making good on US President Joe Biden’s pledge to keep the American people safe from nuclear threats by restoring US leadership on arms control and nonproliferation.

On January 27, Russian lawmakers quickly approved the extension of the New START treaty, a day after a phone call between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin during which they agreed to complete the necessary extension procedures in the next few days.

Extending the New START Treaty ensures the US has verifiable limits on Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers until February 5, 2026, Blinken said on February 3. “The New START Treaty’s verification regime enables us to monitor Russian compliance with the treaty and provides us with greater insight into Russia’s nuclear posture, including through data exchanges and on-site inspections that allow US inspectors to have eyes on Russian nuclear forces and facilities,” he said, adding that the US has assessed Russia to be in compliance with its New START Treaty obligations every year since the treaty entered into force in 2011.

New START limits every Russian nuclear warhead that is loaded onto an ICBM missile that can reach the US in approximately 30 minutes.

“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important. Extending the New START Treaty makes the United States, US allies and partners, and the world safer. An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all,” the new US Secretary of State said.

He noted that Biden has made clear that the New START Treaty extension is only the beginning of the US Administration’s efforts to address 21st-century security challenges. Blinken said Washington will use the time provided by a five-year extension of the New START Treaty to pursue with Moscow, in consultation with Congress and US allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.

“We will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal. The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races,” Blinken said, before stressing, however, that the decision to extend the nuke treaty does not mean that the US is not concerned about Russia. “Just as we engage the Russian Federation in ways that advance American interests, like seeking a five-year extension of New START and broader discussions to reduce the likelihood of crisis and conflict, we remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses to the United States and the world. Even as we work with Russia to advance US interests, so too will we work to hold Russia to account for adversarial actions as well as its human rights abuses, in close coordination with our allies and partners.”

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, said with the New START having won a five-year extension, US and Russia need to move ahead with strategic stability talks and a new phase of arms control. “These issues being existential, they must be protected from extraneous irritants, such as domestic politics in both countries,” Trenin wrote in a tweet, adding, “There’re other battlefields for that”.

Why New START is needed

The demise of the INF Treaty in August 2019 left New START has been the only treaty that constrains American and Russian nuclear forces. That was the result of the Trump administration having abruptly withdrawn from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by American President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, which banned all US and Soviet land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

While in office Trump, seemed to understand little about nuclear arms agreements and how to enhance them to the benefit of the US’ national security. Though the Trump White House publicly claimed that it wanted to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty after Moscow violated the agreement’s provisions by testing land-based, intermediate-range cruise missiles, the Trump administration, despite being in office for a full four-year term, never formulated a strategy for doing so. Trump, himself, as has been documented by those who were in the White House at the time, appeared utterly unaware of the treaty during a January 2017 call with Putin.

The recently agreed five-year extension of New START by the Biden administration is a boon for American national security issues, and by extension, the security of Europe in that the agreement continues to maintain the treaty’s limits on Russian strategic forces at a time when Moscow is being particularly assertive in building up it’s conventional and nuclear arms options.

The extension also guarantees a continuous and up-to-date flow of information about Russian forces through New START’s data exchanges, notifications and inspections. Having learned the consequences of relying upon uncorroborated reports from illegitimate or unvetted sources about what turned out to be non-existent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the debacle that became the Iraq War, both the Pentagon and the US’ intelligence agencies now have a half-decade-long legal mechanism that can keep an account of Russia’s arsenal of existing and new strategic weapons.

As stipulated in the original treaty, which was signed by then-presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, each must notify the other whenever it produces or deploys a missile or long-range bomber. Each side can also demand up to 18 on-site inspections of the other side’s weapons sites per year in addition to the intelligence gained from spy satellites and clandestine monitoring.

Though the treaty’s critics point out that New START does not address Russia’s 2,000 short-range nuclear missiles that are directly targeted at Europe, which the Kremlin uses as a way to counter NATO’s overwhelming conventional forces superiority in continental Europe, Moscow will not agree to any formula that includes a part of what they see as a deterrent against the West. Furthermore, the Russians are deeply skeptical about any treaty that would address an equal reduction of the entirty of their nuclear arsenal as that would give the Americans an overall superiority in long-range weapons.

If over the next five years, New START continues to serve as a constructive mechanism whereby Washington and Moscow have a foundation for strategic cooperation, it could open the door to even more pressing issues, including strategic nuclear weapons and a return to the Cold War doctrine maintaining strategic stability in today’s world, which could act as an incentive for the other nuclear-armed nations – China, the UK, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea – to never use their arsenals in an offensive first strike.

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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