US Should Extend the New START Nuclear Weapons Treaty To Make Us All Safer

April 22, 2020 | 12:12 pm
White House photo
Lisbeth Gronlund
Former Contributor

According to an AP News story, last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the fate of the 2010 New START agreement, as well as potential future agreements to limit nuclear weapons.

Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s desire to extend New START from February 2021 until 2026 and clarified that two of Russia’s new weapon systems would be covered under the treaty. This alone should be reason for the United States to extend New START. But Russia has also said it is open to negotiating a new treaty that would limit other Russian weapons systems now under development.

This is a no-brainer. It is foolhardy for the United States to throw out something good because it wants something better, leaving it with nothing.

The United States should extend the New START agreement until 2026, as Russia wants to do. Extending the treaty does not preclude negotiating a new one. But by continuing to limit existing US and Russian deployed long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550 and providing strict verification measures, New START makes everyone safer.

In its report on Russian treaty compliance that the State Department submitted to Congress last week, the administration certified that Russia remains in compliance but again contended that the agreement is flawed because it does not cover new Russian weapons systems and should include China.

In fact, as Lavrov explained to Pompeo, the treaty does cover several new Russian weapons. Because it is launched from intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Russia concluded that its Avangard hypersonic weapon was covered by the terms of New START. When it entered service in December 2019, Russia gave US inspectors access to the Avangard, just as it does for other missile systems under New START.

Ironically, as a recent UCS blog post by my colleague Cameron Tracy discusses, the United States demanded New START exclude hypersonic weapons during negotiations, but has changed its stance now that Russia has deployed such a weapon and United States has not.

Moreover, Russia’s Sarmat ICBM, which is still under development, would also be covered by New START, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Russia is developing two other nuclear weapons that would not fall under New START provisions: the Burevesttnik cruise missile and the Poseidon underwater drone. These weapons, as well as the Avangard, are designed to evade US missile defenses.

According to the APNews article, Ryabkov previously stated that Russia is willing to discuss including these weapons in a future arms agreement “as part of a wider dialogue about strategic stability.” In other words, any future agreements would have to include limits on US missile defenses, something the United States will be loath to do. Russia has long stated that further reductions would require limits on missile defenses.

China is wary of entering negotiations with the United States and Russia on a new nuclear treaty. Its nuclear arsenal is ten times smaller than those of the United States and Russia, and the United States has not similarly called for including France and Britain, whose nuclear arsenals are similar in size to China’s, in the negotiations. My colleague Gregory Kulacki assesses China’s rejection of the proposed negotiations in a blog, and explains what might bring China to the negotiating table in a recent DefenseOne op-ed.

The Trump administration should also begin discussions with Russia—and perhaps other countries—on a follow-on treaty to New START. However, for progress to be possible, the United States must be willing to accept limits on its long-range missile defenses. It cannot point fingers at other countries for impeding arms control—the ball is squarely in its court.

Moreover, any future arms agreement that includes China should include Britain and France as well. Britain and France should not be given a pass but should be expected to accept limits on their arsenals as well. Also, China may be more willing to participate if it is not singled out.

The featured image in this blog is courtesy of the White House