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New START extension provides opportunity to continue arms control discussion

22:48 | 12.02.2021 | Analytic


12 February 2021. PenzaNews. Moscow and Washington have begun procedures to agree on a schedule of inspections and consultations within the framework of the extended treaty on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START, START-3). This was stated by the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov at a press conference at MIA Rossiya Segodnya on February 11.

New START extension provides opportunity to continue arms control discussion

Photo: Kevin J. Gruenwald, Af.mil

“Regarding inspections – we need to resume them, we are now working on this and launching interdepartmental procedures required to restore them,” he said.

At the same time, the diplomat noted that at the moment there is no understanding when a meeting of the joint Russian-US Consultative Commission under the New START Treaty can take place.

According to him, the parties “are just beginning to work on this [agreement]” and have to determine both the date and the agenda of the future meeting.

New START is the only active nuclear arms control agreement between Russia and the United States. The agreement was signed by the countries in 2010 and would have expired on 5 February 2021.

Moscow has repeatedly asked Washington not to delay with the extension of the document, describing it as the gold standard in the field of disarmament. However, the administration of the previous US President Donald Trump said it does not intend to renew the treaty in its current form, calling it a “bad deal.” In addition, the White House proposed to expand the number of parties to the agreement by inviting China, but Beijing rejected this idea. The administration of President Joseph Biden has taken the opposite position on the New START.

On January 26, Moscow and Washington exchanged diplomatic notes on reaching an agreement to extend the New START Treaty. In a telephone conversation shortly thereafter, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden expressed satisfaction with this fact. On the same evening, the Russian leader submitted to the State Duma a bill on the ratification of the agreement to extend the New START Treaty for 5 years. The next day, both chambers of the Russian parliament voted unanimously to ratify the document. On January 29, the law was signed by Vladimir Putin.

On February 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry exchanged diplomatic notes regarding the completion of internal procedures required for the entry into force of the Agreement to extend the New START Treaty. Accordingly, the document entered into force on the same day. The Treaty will be valid exactly as it had been signed, without any amendments or additions, until 5 February 2026.

The United Nations and the North Atlantic Alliance commended the extension of the New START Treaty. Also, this step was welcomed in the European Union. Moscow stressed that the extension of the New START Treaty ensured the preservation and further functioning of the core mechanism for maintaining strategic stability, on a strictly parity basis limiting the nuclear missile arsenals of the parties.

“Considering the special responsibilities that Russia and the US carry as the world’s largest nuclear nations, the decision taken is important as it guarantees a necessary level of predictability and transparency in this area, while strictly maintaining a balance of interests,” the MFA of Russia says.

Commenting on the agreements reached, Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs emeritus at Princeton University, who served the Assistant Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said that the extension of the New START will give Russia and the US time to negotiate a new treaty to succeed it.

“I would hope that further reductions could be negotiated – perhaps including other categories of nuclear weapons,” the expert said.

He reminded that with regard to strategic-range ballistic missiles, Russia sees reductions requiring some limits on US ballistic missile defenses, but expressed hope that this will not be an insurmountable obstacle to further reductions in nuclear arsenals.

“Russia-US strategic stability talks will resume. That will help the two countries understand each other’s concerns and hopefully help in the designing of further mutual constraints on their nuclear forces,” former White House adviser said.

Frank von Hippel also drew attention to the fact that the US President Donald Trump was obsessed with destroying President Obama’s legacy, which, in his opinion, explains why he refused to renew START-3 for such a long time.

“As with the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump thought he could do much better. With regard to the Biden Administration prioritizing extension, New START would otherwise have expired on 5 February,” he explained.

In turn, Steven Pifer, US Ambassador to Ukraine in 1998–2000, ex-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, expert at Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University, suggested that Donald Trump did not appear to understand how arms control can strengthen US security.

“A number of his advisors, such as John Bolton, did not support arms control in general or the New START Treaty in particular. President Biden and his administration, on the other hand, see arms control as a tool that can improve US security and global stability,” Steven Pifer explained.

“The extension of the New START Treaty means that US and Russian strategic offensive forces will be constrained until 2026 to the lowest levels of strategic forces since the 1960s. Moreover, the sides will continue until 2026 to implement the treaty’s data exchanges, notifications, on-site inspections and other verification measures that give each valuable information about the other side’s nuclear forces. That makes the strategic relationship between the United States and Russia more transparent and predictable,” the expert added.

According to him, the Biden administration has indicated that it would like to engage Russia in a negotiation that would cover all their nuclear weapons.

“That is a sensible and logical step. As important as New START is, it does not limit non-deployed strategic nuclear warheads or any non-strategic nuclear weapons, and these make up 60-65% of the active US and Russian nuclear arsenals,” Steven Pifer said.

Meanwhile, he ruled out the need for third countries to participate in the development of a new treaty on nuclear disarmament.

“The next treaty should be a bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia covering all of their nuclear weapons. A trilateral or multilateral agreement will not work. Currently, the United States has about 3500 total nuclear warheads and Russia has about 4300 (data provided by the Federation of American Scientists). The next largest nuclear power – China – has about 300 nuclear weapons, less than one-tenth the size of the two nuclear superpowers,” the ex-diplomat explained.

“In addition to negotiating on nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia should also conduct strategic stability talks that would have a broad agenda: nuclear weapons, missile defense, long-range conventional strike systems, third-country nuclear forces, and developments in the space and cyber domains. All of these can have an impact on strategic stability. It would also make sense to intensify military-to-military contacts between the United States/NATO and Russia. US/NATO and Russian military forces now operate more frequently in close proximity to each other, and it would be good to work out measures that would reduce the risk of an accident or miscalculation that could lead to an unintended conflict,” Steven Pifer said.

Patrick Sensburg, German MP from the CDU/CSU fraction, called the extension of the New START Treaty the right step.

“Russia and the US together own around 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. So it makes a lot of sense that especially these two countries should be obliged by the treaty. Ultimately, the aim is to secure peace in the world with disarmament and the associated agreements, and for this it certainly makes sense to include country by country in the treaty,” the politician stated.

Also with the “Treaty on Open Skies” the countries should try to come to an agreement again, since trust can only be built up through control, he said.

Patrick Sensburg stressed that the extended New START Treaty also provides for extensive on-site inspections to check compliance, which is surely necessary in order to going further than merely taking symbolic steps.

“Great efforts are now required to continuing the Russian American dialogue and action on nuclear disarmament. This will certainly be a key ingredient for a fruitful future relationship between Russia and the US. I’m not sure after the last days if the EU can be of any help, but the doors of the EU are always open for dialogues,” the Bundestag deputy added.

Meanwhile, Pal Steigan, Norwegian politician, publisher, writer, independent entrepreneur in the field of culture and information technology, reminded that the New START is the only remaining treaty from the efforts to limit nuclear arms race.

“But it is hardly adapted to the world realities of today. The US is threatening China, Russia and Iran all the time with an array of weapons. The US bases in the Baltic countries and Poland are serious threats against Russia and the US has openly declared ready to use tactical battlefield nuclear weapons. This US nuclear doctrine was presented in The Nuclear Posture Review in 2018. Strategic planners and staff in Russia and China must take into the account every day. Also the heavy NATO buildup along Russia’s borders must be considered,” the expert said.

He expressed the opinion that it is necessary to adopt some kind of international agreement in the field of nuclear weapons.

“As long as Israel is allowed to have ‘secret’ nuclear weapons, Iran is going to develop them also, one way or the other. There needs to be international agreement dealing with all nuclear weapons and treaties that reduce the use of force and threats between nations. The West and their allies are still destroying Syria and the new US-administration is full of neocon war mongers that love regime change wars. It is very easy to understand why Russia and China have developed high velocity missiles and other weapons that nullify the US blackmail position,” Pal Steigan said.

According to him, the US should be brought to understand that it is no longer the Hegemonic Power.

“The world is multicentered and international treaties should reflect that fact,” he concluded.

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