Russian and American Experts Comment on the Importance and Future of the New Start Treaty

Alexey Arbatov, Academician, Russian Academy of Sciences, Head of the Center for International Security, Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)

The New START Treaty was an important and useful step on a half-century path to limit and reduce strategic offensive arms. It ensured further reduction of strategic nuclear missile launchers and warheads to unprecedentedly low levels since the SALT I Agreement (1972). Compared to the peak level of 1991, the maximum permitted number of warheads decreased by approximately a factor of six, and the number of deployed missile launchers was reduced by almost two-thirds. In accordance with strategic stability principles agreed upon by both parties in 1990, the ratio of warheads to launchers was reduced from 5:1 to 2:1 over the same time. At that time, highly survivable systems accounted for 30% to 40% of Russian and American strategic forces. Now they make up 60% to 70%. The treaty effectively eliminated the possibility and thereby the incentives for a massive first nuclear strike from either side. Finally yet importantly, the New START’s verification regime and trust measures ensured high predictability, transparency, and operative collaboration between the two states in their strategic relations.

At the same time, we cannot ignore some of the Treaty’s shortcomings. The main of weakness is the fact that the New START was executed by inertia, which led the process simply along the path of marginal reductions of launchers and warheads (the START II in 1993, the framework for negotiations of the START III in 1997, the SORT in 2002, and the New START in 2010). This inertia was reflected in the “relaxed” New START rules for recording and the verification regime (for instance, heavy bombers were excluded from the arms recording). Destabilizing high-precision non-nuclear weapons were ignored, including hypersonic, autonomous, anti-missile and anti-satellite missiles.

None of that negates the fact that the New START needs to be extended. It is not an ideal treaty for all times, but it is better than nothing. Maintaining the New START for at least few years will give us a chance to conclude the next treaty where the shortcomings of the existing treaty can be eliminated and the problems that have accumulated over the past ten years of stagnation in the limitation of strategic arms can be solved.

Thomas Countryman, Chair of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs (2016-2017):

There is broad support for renewing the New START in Congress and the relevant institutions. Moreover, the public is strongly in favor of this renewal as well. In the current state of Russian-American relations, it is the only major action in foreign affairs that Trump can take following the Russian direction and obtain approval by most of the leaders of both the Democrats and the Republicans. At the same time, there is a strong ideological movement represented by John Bolton and Senator Tom Cotton that opposes any existing or potential threat and continues to influence President Trump’s line of thinking.

Moscow has indicated its willingness to renew. Russia does not need to take any more steps; otherwise, Washington will just be reinforced in its erroneous view that procrastinating on a solution will help put pressure on Russia. Instead, Moscow should communicate through confidential diplomatic channels a proposal to supplement the New START renewal with a political declaration where the two presidents would declare their readiness to further reduce nuclear arsenals and involve the rest of the nuclear powers in this process. Such a declaration will allow Trump to achieve his main political goal: to declare that he managed to "improve" the treaty concluded by President Obama.

William Potter, Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, member of the PIR Center Advisory Board

Ten years ago, the signing of the New START was a significant event in politics and military strategy. From the political point of view, the Treaty indicated that the two parties acknowledged the value of working together to achieve the common goal of stronger strategic stability with lower nuclear arsenals. The New START made it clear for other countries that Moscow and Washington were serious about their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. From the military point of view, both countries have benefited from it because the NPT ensured greater predictability of the nuclear doctrines and therefore reduced the incentives for an uncontrolled arms race. The NPT was by no means perfect, but there is no flawless treaty, and perfect should not be an enemy of good.

Unfortunately, the prospects for extending the New START are still hazy because the United States is not interested in any form of legally binding arms control. John Bolton, who criticized the New START the most, has left the White House, but the philosophy he professed still prevails. In fact, the current administration would prefer that the United States not be limited by arms control at all rather than have the significant security benefits that come from adopting certain limitations. In my opinion, demanding a trilateral agreement with the participation of China is just a poorly concealed attempt to distract people from the only plausible step forward at this late stage: a simple renewal of the New START for another five years.

Victor Esin, Leading Researcher at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, former Chief of Staff of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (1994-1996), Colonel General, member of the PIR Center Advisory Board

The New START is important because, in the current reality when Russian-American relations are completely damaged, it ensures an acceptable level of strategic stability between Russia and the United States and prevents them from slipping into a nuclear confrontation. It is essential that the New START not only limits the strategic nuclear potentials of both countries but most importantly also provides transparency and predictability concerning both the status and actions of two parties’ nuclear forces and prevents unclear situations with adverse outcomes.

I have only the faintest hope that the New START can be maintained by extending it for another five years. Unlike Moscow, which is ready to renew the New START immediately with no conditions precedent, Washington is proposing clearly unrealistic conditions that all new Russian strategic weapons and non-strategic nuclear weapons be subject to the Treaty and that China participate in the New START. We could not meet those conditions by the expiration of the New START, even if we wanted to. Unless Washington accepts this harsh reality – and we can hardly rely on that happening – the New Start will expire on 5 February 2021.

Sarah Bidgood, Director of Eurasia Nonproliferation Program, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

As the last Russian-American arms control treaty in effect, the New START provides a level of stability, transparency, and predictability that are so needed in other domains. That is why its renewal for another five years as provided by the treaty should not raise any questions. This renewal will not hinder in any way the negotiations on further arms control measures in future. Those who think otherwise establish an erroneous dichotomy between maintaining the status quo and acknowledging the value of more ambitious steps. Instead, the New START renewal will buy time for Moscow and Washington to execute the next treaty, which will be able to respond to the threats to strategic stability that the parties consider the most relevant.

One of the reasons why the New START must be renewed now is that the solution would positively affect the next NPT Review Conference. The NPT disarmament pillar most likely will be the key topic of the Conference, so Russian and American delegations may present the New START renewal as a concrete step toward implementing the NPT’s Article VI. If the Review Conference had started in April as was planned, this opportunity would have been missed already. The rescheduling of the Review Conference gives the major nuclear powers – Russia and the United States – a second chance to strengthen the NPT’s authority for another 50 years of the nonproliferation regime.

Andrey Malov, Associate Professor at the International and National Security Department, Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; member of the PIR Center Advisory Board

The New Start is important from three points of view.

First: it ensures practical reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms and fulfilment of the obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

As a result, by 5 February 2018, Russian and US nuclear arsenals were limited to new levels that were lower than the limits established by the START I in 1991 and the SORT in 2002.

Under the New START, the parties may have a maximum of 700 deployed missiles and bombers (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers), 1,550 deployed warheads, and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers (missile tubes and bombers). Russia fulfilled all of its obligations by the control date. The United States claimed that it fulfilled its obligations, as well.

As a result, confrontation in this area decreased, which obviously helps maintain adequate mutual deterrence and strengthen strategic stability.

On its own, nuclear deterrence cannot guarantee that there will be no uncontrolled nuclear conflict. However, deterrence paired with compliance with an arms control regime certainly contributes to maintaining strategic stability.

This is especially important given the remaining challenges to strategic stability, which include the continuing creation of the global ballistic missile defense system in favor of the United States, the development of non-nuclear high-precision long-range weapons under the global strike concept, the qualification of nuclear weapons as battlefield weapons, and practical efforts to prepare deployment of the shock weapon system in the open space and undermine the viability of disarmament and nonproliferation instruments.

In this context, it is important that the text of the New START from 2010 establishes an organic relationship between strategic offensive weapons and strategic defensive weapons. While it is reflected in the preamble, the very fact that it is expressed in the text is important.

Second: Control measures under the New START contribute to proper implementation of transparency and trust measures in this sensitive field, which in turn contributes to maintaining proper strategic predictability. The significance of this aspect has been confirmed by both Russian and influential US experts.

Third: As “the Last of the Mohicans” in the arms control regime, the New START fulfils a very important political and strategic function in preventing the world from an uncontrolled and avalanche-type deterioration of international legal standards in arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. If the New START is not renewed, the consequences of such a step will highly destabilize the entire system of agreements on arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation.

In conclusion, I would like to highlight the fact that Russia has expressed at the highest level its willingness to renew the New START with no conditions precedent.

Vadim Kozyulin, Director of the Emerging Technologies and Global Security Project, PIR Center

The New START contains important military and technical solutions, but it also fills a dangerous vacuum in arms control that formed after the expiration of the START I on 5 December 2009.

There were – and still are – plenty observers on each side who criticize the New Start. The treaty is not perfect, but it has helped maintain a constructive atmosphere in international relations.

Today, the situation repeats itself, and the world is once again at risk of being left without an arms control system. In the light of current events, it may even be more dangerous than it was in 2010. I believe in our political leaders’ pragmatism, if not in their common sense. Renewing the New START would, quite simply, be beneficial for both Russia and the United States.

Source: PIR Center