On Feb. 5, the governments of Russia and the United States both announced that they had met limitations on their nuclear arsenals in compliance with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
At a time when tensions between the United States and Russia are running high, both countries racing to rebuild and their existing Cold War-era nuclear arsenals and build new nuclear capabilities, and when the risk of a war over North Korea’s nuclear pursuits is real and growing, successful implementation of New START is welcome news.
Unfortunately, the future of New START, which limits and provides valuable insight into Russia’s still massive strategic nuclear arsenal, remains highly uncertain. The treaty is set to expire in 2021 unless Presidents Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE and Vladimir Putin agree to extend it for another five years. Unfortunately, Trump has disparaged New START and has yet responded to Russian offers to extend it.
Extending New START for five additional years could be an important and easy win for Trump and would strengthen U.S. and international security. Here’s why:
Predictability and Stability: New START requires that both the United States and Russia reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and limit deployed missiles and nuclear-capable bombers to no more than 700 each. These restrictions simultaneously constrain Russia’s nuclear arsenal and save U.S. taxpayer dollars that would be wasted on maintaining even more nuclear weapons.
In fact, President Obama declared in 2013 that the United States could reduce its arsenal by up to one-third below New START levels and still deter any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies. The treaty’s transparency and verification measures, including semiannual strategic nuclear force data exchanges and up to 18 annual on-site strategic force inspections, provide the United States with valuable insights into Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal that help guard against surprise.
If the United States does not renew New START, it will give up considerable constraint and oversight over Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a letter in July 2010 in support of the treaty precisely because of their belief in its importance for national security. General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”
Legal Obligations: The 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligates the United States and Russia to pursue effective measures to end the arms race and reduce their nuclear arsenals. Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) calls for “negotiations in good faith” toward nuclear disarmament.
Many countries without nuclear weapons are already frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of commitment from the United States and other nuclear-armed states to uphold Article VI. Failure to extend New START would only increase strains on the NPT and make it harder to encourage other nuclear-armed states to exercise nuclear restraint.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the NPT later this year, Russia and the United States could show progress toward disarmament by extending New START for five years and agreeing to enter into negotiations on a follow-on agreement to achieve further reductions in all types of nuclear weapons.
A World Without New START Is More Dangerous: Failing to extend New START would mean that for the first time since 1972, there would be no restrictions on the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals. The door would be open to an unconstrained and very dangerous nuclear arms race. It would mean turning our back on one of the few areas of sustained cooperation between Russia and the United States, amid rapidly deteriorating relations. It would mean reneging on a U.S. and Russian commitment to scale back nuclear forces and move toward a world without nuclear weapons at a time when the majority of the world’s nations are moving in the opposite direction — 122 nations adopted a treaty banning nuclear weapons in July.
By extending New START, on the other hand, we could curb U.S.-Russian nuclear tensions and increase U.S. and international security.
Alicia Sanders-Zakre is a research assistant at the Arms Control Association, a national membership organization that advocates for practical arms control policies.