The New START extension lacks critical points for strategic stability

The New START extension lacks critical points for strategic stability
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At their June 16 summit in Geneva, President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Hillicon Valley — Facebook 'too late' curbing climate falsities France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE issued a joint declaration reminiscent of the Geneva Summit of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. This latest summit reaffirmed “the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” It committed the U.S. and Russia to an “integrated bilateral strategic stability dialogue in the near future that will be deliberate and robust” and, according to Putin at his press conference, “a dialogue that will lay the groundwork for future arms control risk reduction methods.”

The U.S. and Russia agreed in February to extend the New START Treaty, an agreement that first took effect in 2011. The treaty places verifiable limits on both nations’ nuclear stockpiles.  The five-year extension places limits on U.S. and Russian land and sea missiles, plus heavy bombers, until 2026.

The extension is significant in that it places limits on strategic nuclear weapons; anything over 5,500 kilometers is considered strategic. The New START Treaty and this extension does not, however, place limits on intermediate-range nuclear weapons. In my view, this is a mistake. Theatre nuclear forces, or smaller weapons, should be included, which would contribute to strategic stability. 


Also, counting each bomber as one nuclear weapon was another mistake of New START that the five-year extension does not address. Using this system, the actual number of deployed nuclear weapons far exceeds the treaty limit of 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons. Correcting this would contribute to strategic stability, as would discussing and establishing a policy on nuclear-conventional, dual-use missiles and on non-deployed nuclear weapons not included in New START. All of these issues should be addressed if we want strategic stability.

The five-year extension does not include an array of new novel weapons, such as the long-range underwater Russian drones with a megaton yield, or the air- and ground-launched cruise missiles based on new technologies to a family of hypersonic weapons. These novel weapons are not covered under New START, according to Russia. That must be discussed and resolved if we want strategic stability.

If unresolved, these nuclear issues will undermine the goal of strategic stability.

With the extension of New START, new negotiations hopefully will address these issues — theater nuclear forces, bombers, long-range underwater drones with a one megaton yield, dual-use missiles and non-deployed nuclear weapons — as well as others, such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and the nuclear proliferation threat to the region and beyond.  

Eventually, Iran — if it again pursues the ability to produce nuclear weapons, and as it currently pursues a robust missile delivery system — could pose an equally destabilizing impact on the region and beyond. Each of these countries could, and will, affect strategic stability if their nuclear programs are not resolved.


Indeed, the extension of New START could enhance strategic stability talks and contribute to multilateral arms control negotiations. However, the above-mentioned issues that were not part of New START should be addressed in arms control talks during the extension period. And for multilateral arms control talks to have impact, China should be part of these talks. Even though China’s nuclear weapons inventory is less than the 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons mandated in New START, the large arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons and the growth of its strategic nuclear weapons argues for China to be part of any future arms control regime. This also applies to France and Great Britain, regarding any new multilateral arms control regime.

Of course, there are other major challenges to global strategic stability that require immediate attention: China’s militarization of islands and reefs in the South China Sea; Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula; Russia’s incursion into Ukraine; Russia’s support to Bashar al-Assad in Syria; North Korea’s growing nuclear and long-range missile programs; the eventual prospect of Iran producing nuclear weapons; and how these developments will incite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and Northeast Asia, with the potential for a nuclear weapon or fissile material being sold and/or acquired by a rogue state or terrorist organization.  

The emergence of new technologies can affect strategic stability, especially in regard to nuclear and related capabilities. Cyberspace, with the aid of artificial intelligence enhancements, could be used to affect the command and control systems monitoring nuclear weapons, or be used to attack the critical infrastructure of our respective countries or our satellites in space. As we have seen, the cyber realm has been used by criminal groups for ransomware attacks against hospitals, banks and other private entities. 

There is a need for greater cooperation in outer space, to collaborate on space debris and the sanctity of satellites in orbit for peaceful purposes. China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 and the resultant space debris was a stark reminder of the need for greater cooperation in this domain.

Any future arms control agreement should include China, France and Great Britain and cover all nuclear weapons — strategic and tactical — and underwater drones and hypersonic systems capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, in addition to dual-use missiles and non-deployed nuclear weapons. And counting bombers as one nuclear weapon distorts the actual count of deployed nuclear weapons.

Strategic stability is especially important now, and effective and meaningful arms control talks, especially among the P-5 nuclear powers, all committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, must ensure that nuclear war is never fought.

Joseph R. DeTrani is the former director of the National Counterproliferation Center and the former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea from 2003-2006. The views expressed here are the author’s and do not imply endorsement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or any other U.S. government agency.