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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

Nuclear Challenges for the New U.S. Presidential Administration: The First 100 Days and Beyond

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Enhancing Strategic Stability: New START and Beyond


January/February 2021
By Steven Pifer

Arms control offers a tool to enhance U.S. security. After extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the Biden administration should seek to engage Russia in negotiation of a follow-on agreement and use that to draw third-country forces into the arms control process. It should also weigh how to handle other issues that can affect nuclear relations.

A U.S. Trident II submarine-launched missile is test-launched from the USS Maine off the coast of San Diego in February 2020. Next-stage U.S.-Russian arms control talks could aim to reduce the number of warheads deployed on submarines and other delivery vehicles. (Photo: Thomas Gooley/U.S. Navy)New START extension. When the Biden administration begins on January 20, its first arms control task will be to extend New START, which expires on February 5. It should agree to the Russian proposal to extend the treaty for five years. That would constrain Russian strategic forces to 2026 and continue the flow of information about those forces provided by the treaty’s verification provisions, while requiring no changes in U.S. strategic modernization plans.

Strategic stability talks. Early on, the Biden administration should begin strategic stability talks with Russia. The factors affecting strategic stability, a situation in which neither side has an incentive to use nuclear weapons first, are dynamically changing. Strategic stability used to be based on the ability of each side, after absorbing a first strike, to retain sufficient strategic nuclear forces to devastate the attacker and therefore deter that first strike from happening.

Today, many more elements must be factored into strategic stability calculations. These include nonstrategic nuclear weapons (the use of which is the most likely path to a U.S.-Russian nuclear conflict); missile defense; long-range, precision-guided conventional strike systems, including hypersonic weapons; third-country nuclear forces; and developments in the space and cyber domains. U.S.-Russian strategic stability talks should address all of these subjects and how they shape what has become a multidomain, multiplayer strategic stability model.

The agenda should include discussion of each side’s nuclear doctrine, as both appear to believe that the other’s doctrine lowers the threshold for nuclear use. At a minimum, strategic stability talks would help each side understand the other’s concerns and might clear up misperceptions. They also could prepare subjects for more formal negotiations.

New START follow-on. One such negotiation should be a follow-on treaty to New START. In thinking about that negotiation, the Biden administration will have to weigh pursuing different approaches with different objectives.

One approach would aim for a treaty that limits deployed strategic warheads and strategic delivery systems, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and new kinds of delivery systems that replicate the capabilities of those constrained by New START. This New START II would have a structure similar to New START and perhaps entail modest reductions below the New START limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear-capable bombers.

The Biden administration should aim, at least initially, for more: a bilateral treaty covering all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads, with a goal of a single aggregate limit of perhaps no more than 2,500 for each side. That would represent a substantial reduction from current nuclear arsenals, which are estimated by the Federation of American Scientists to be 3,800 for the United States and 4,300 for Russia. That limit would leave each country with more than six times as many nuclear weapons as any third country. Even with a higher limit, agreement to an aggregate cap on all nuclear warheads would represent a major breakthrough.

Within the overall aggregate, a new treaty could have a sublimit of perhaps 1,000 each, covering warheads on deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and new strategic delivery systems. All other weapons, including bombs and air-launched cruise missiles for nuclear-capable bombers, would be nondeployed, that is, not mounted on delivery systems but in storage. This approach would include a limit on deployed strategic delivery vehicles that could be lowered from New START’s 700 if the limit on deployed strategic warheads were 1,000.

Verification would require working out procedures for monitoring weapons in declared storage areas. That would pose a difficult but not insoluble challenge.

Missile defense. Another difficult question would turn on whether Moscow maintains its past insistence that Washington address certain issues if U.S. negotiators wish to have all nuclear weapons on the table. Missile defense normally tops the Russian list, which also has included precision-guided conventional strike systems and third-country nuclear forces.

In 2020, U.S. and Russian negotiators discussed a one-year freeze on the number of all nuclear warheads, but failed to reach agreement. Whether that indicates a Russian readiness to negotiate a multiyear treaty covering all nuclear warheads without constraints on missile defense remains unknown. Some Russian experts suggest that Moscow no longer worries about U.S. missile defense systems. Others hold what seems to be the majority view, saying that limits on these systems remain a price that U.S. negotiators would have to pay to limit all nuclear arms.

The Biden administration may have to decide whether the U.S. interest in negotiating limits on and reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads is such that it would countenance limits on missile defense systems. A limited-duration agreement constraining these systems that allows some capability to defend against North Korean ICBMs but leaves Russia assured that its strategic forces could overwhelm that defense ought to be possible. It bears a serious look given that missile defense currently and for the foreseeable future will lose the strategic offense versus defense competition.

That said, putting missile defense systems on the table would be controversial domestically. Congressional Republicans, although having sought limits on Russian nonstrategic nuclear arms, oppose limiting missile defense systems. How the Biden administration deals with this could well determine what it could achieve in a New START follow-on agreement.

Conventional strike. Russia has also raised concerns about precision-guided conventional strike systems. Trying to constrain all of these would be a bridge too far. Yet, the sides might consider whether some subset of conventional strike systems, such as conventionally armed hypersonic weapons and future conventionally armed ballistic missiles of less than strategic range, poses a particular threat to strategic stability and thus should be a subject for limitation. A treaty banning nuclear-armed, intermediate-range ground-launched missiles also would be worth exploring, although it would entail verification challenges.

Third countries. The Trump administration sought and failed to bring China into the nuclear arms control process. A trilateral negotiation would not work, given the huge disparity between the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and those of China or any other third country (no more than about 300 weapons). Washington and Moscow would not agree to reduce to China’s level, nor would they agree to legitimize a Chinese build-up.

A more promising path would have Washington and Moscow conclude a new bilateral treaty with significant reductions and ask China, France, and the United Kingdom—Russia would insist on inclusion of the latter two—each to make a unilateral commitment not to increase its total number of nuclear warheads so long as the United States and Russia were reducing. Some basic transparency measures would be necessary to give confidence that the third countries were abiding by their commitments. If the United States and Russia agreed to limit missile defenses, that could incline China more positively toward considering such a unilateral commitment.

Other issues. Developments in the space and cyber domains could affect strategic stability and the nuclear relationship between the United States and Russia. A sweeping agreement on the nonmilitarization of space has little prospect, but the United States, Russia, and China might consider discrete steps such as a ban on anti-satellite tests that produce orbital debris, “keep out” zones around declared satellites (such as early warning systems), and a ban on deploying space-based weapons designed to strike surface targets. As for the cyber world, Washington and Moscow could agree not to use cybermeans to interfere with the other side’s early-warning satellites or nuclear command, control and communications, whether space- or earth-based. Yet, neither side should place much faith in that because a hostile cyberpenetration could go undetected.

Taken together, these steps would constitute a very, perhaps overly ambitious arms control agenda. If achieved, they would continue a stabilizing reduction in U.S. and Russian nuclear arms levels, bring third-country nuclear forces into the arms control process, and begin to address other issues that could erode strategic stability. In the end, the Biden administration might well fall short; the success of arms control negotiations depends also on the goals and desires of other nations. Still, it would be in the U.S. interest to try.


Steven Pifer was a William J. Perry Research Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University from 2018 to 2020 and is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer.

Arms control offers a tool to enhance U.S. security. After extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the Biden administration should seek to engage Russia in negotiation of a follow-on agreement and use that to draw third-country forces into the arms control process.

No Deal Yet as New START Expiration Nears


January/February 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

With the sole agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals set to expire in early February, Russia has repeated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). President Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, but the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek.

Toward the end of 2020, Russian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, reaffirmed Russia's willingness to extend New START, but raised the prospect that there was insufficient time to do so. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)“Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Nov. 30. In his annual end-of-year news conference on Dec. 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an extension of the treaty for at least one year. New START allows for an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree to it.

Biden’s advisers continue to consider the length of extension the incoming administration should pursue, with Biden's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying Jan. 3 that "right out of the gate in the early days and weeks of the administration...we will have to look at extending that treaty in the interests of the United States." Nearly 30 U.S. arms control experts in a Nov. 30 letter urged Biden to agree to a full five-year extension without conditions as one of his first priorities.

After the U.S. presidential election, the Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness to reach a deal on extension based on proposals exchanged in October. (See ACT, December 2020.) Washington proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads of any type at current levels, as well as some type of verification plan for the freeze. Russia, which had called for a five-year extension of New START for much of 2020, countered with a one-year extension and a one-year warhead freeze so long as Washington put forward no other conditions, such as on verification.

Putin said on Dec. 17 that Russia remains open to dialogue regarding the treaty and awaits a response from Washington.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, replied on Twitter that the Trump administration has responded five times “to meet to finalize the freeze/extension deal to which Putin agreed” but that the Russian Foreign Ministry rejected all the meetings.

Ryabkov responded to Billingslea that Russia “offered [the United States] to agree on proposal by President Putin 25 times.... Instead of accepting this simple scheme they’re making unacceptable demands.”

The fate of the treaty now rests on the incoming Biden administration and Russia. The two sides will have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

Billingslea insisted in remarks given on Nov. 17, published on Dec. 8, that the Trump administration’s proposal “is now the de minimis threshold for all future nuclear arms control deals with Russia.”

“Any future deal which fails to cap all warheads should be regarded as an abject failure,” he continued. “Any simple extension of New START without capitalizing on Putin’s acquiescence to an overall warhead limit would demonstrate a profound lack of negotiating acumen.”

Billingslea said that the two countries “are at the brink” of agreement and that there “is still time to hammer out” the details.

Trump administration critics have argued that such a freeze has never been done previously and that there is not enough time to reach agreement on key details. They claim that the incoming administration should not feel bound to a deal that might break new ground with respect to a warhead freeze but has not been officially agreed to and would only last a year in any event.

The details yet to be finalized include the definition of “warhead,” stockpile declarations, data exchanges, and a plan for verification of the freeze. (See ACT, October 2020.) “All we need to do is define what we are freezing [and] the cap level and start verification talks,” Billingslea tweeted on Dec. 17.

U.S. and Russian officials have said that the Trump administration sought a verification approach outside warhead production and disassembly sites known as portal monitoring. Russia has adamantly objected to this approach.

Meanwhile, in the event an agreement on extension is reached between the Biden administration and Moscow, it remains to be seen how Russia will seek to initially implement an extension given that Russian law requires approval by the Russian parliament.

Ryabkov said on Dec. 7 that, “for Russia to extend [New START] would mean to go through numerous steps…that equals to the formal ratification of a treaty.”

“We are prepared to…do our utmost to be there in time,” he said, but “the situation is challenging, it’s quite a demanding one.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.a

The fate of the only treaty limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons remains in question as the Trump administration closes.

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden With less than two months remaining until the last agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals expires, Russia has reiterated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ). Though President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek. “Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov Nov. 30. In his annual...

New START in Limbo Ahead of U.S. Election


November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia each dismissed last-minute proposals involving a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), leaving the fate of the sole remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement undetermined on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets reporters at the State Department on Oct. 19. Two days later he reaffirmed the U.S. position that New START "is not a good deal for the United States." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)The down-to-the-wire diplomacy appeared to narrow the large gap between the two sides on prolonging the treaty, but no resolution was found, and the failure to close a deal raised questions about whether Russia ever intended to strike a deal with the Trump administration so close to the election or whether the Trump administration ever intended to extend New START. Administration officials have repeatedly criticized the treaty and waited more than three years to begin serious arms control talks with Russia.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration and Russia will seek to continue negotiations later this year regardless of the election result. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November, he will pursue the treaty’s extension without conditions.

New START, which is slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

After several months of talks, Washington and Moscow in mid-October exchanged dueling offers pairing a one-year extension of New START with an undefined one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 20 statement that Russia offers to extend New START for one year and “undertake a political commitment to ‘freeze’ for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses.”

But the statement said that the offer “may be implemented only and exclusively on the premise that ‘freezing’ of warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands on the part of the United States.”

The foreign ministry added that the “time gained” by the New START extension “could be used to conduct comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future nuclear and missile arms control that must address all factors affecting strategic stability.”

Russia had previously called for extending New START by five years without conditions and balked at a warhead-level freeze.

The foreign ministry statement followed direction from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 16 to seek to extend New START “unconditionally for at least a year.” Putin made no specific mention of a freeze on all warhead levels.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded to Putin’s proposal on Twitter later that day, describing it as a “non-starter.” He claimed that Russia had appeared willing to accept a U.S. offer to extend New START and freeze all warhead levels in tandem after he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Oct. 2.

It is not clear whether Russia had agreed in principle to such a two-part deal or whether Russia further amended its position between Putin’s Oct. 16 comments and the Oct. 20 foreign ministry statement.

Regardless, the Trump administration praised Russia’s willingness to agree to a short-term extension of New START and a freeze and said that although a deal was close, more work needed to be done to seal it.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Oct. 21. He criticized the treaty for failing to capture Russia’s large and, according to the Defense Department, growing arsenal of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

“What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic,” Pompeo said. “But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”

O'Brien expressed optimism at an Oct. 28 Hudson Institute event that “if we can get through the verification issues, I think we're going to be able to get to a deal.” “We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of days and weeks,” he said.

If a deal is secured, the administration said it plans to use the ensuing year to translate it into a formal treaty that would also include China.

But Russia rejected the U.S. demand for verification of a freeze and said that such details should be deferred for future negotiations.

“We have the feeling that they [the United States] need verification for the verification's sake,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news outlet Interfax on Oct. 22.

“It may be considered that we’ve made two concessions,” Ryabkov said, referring to Russia’s willingness to agree to a one-year extension of New START and a one-year warhead-level freeze. “Let them make concessions to meet us halfway: let them drop their monitoring demand.”

In a separate interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov said “that the degree of our differences is rather significant” and that he did not see “reasons for strong optimism” that New START would be extended.

He warned that “[r]ejecting this condition will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement” and that Russia would be willing to allow New START to expire if the United States continued to make unrealistic demands.

The warning appeared to be a response to repeated suggestions by Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, that Russia is desperate to extend New START and that Washington would raise the price to extend the treaty if Russia failed to meet U.S. demands.

Ryabkov told reporters on Oct. 27 that Washington and Moscow still “are exchanging documents behind closed doors” and that “Russia is open to continuing the dialogue."

The Trump administration’s October offer of a short-term extension of New START and a freeze marked another shift in the U.S. negotiating position in arms control talks with Russia.

In August, the administration conditioned U.S. consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia agreeing to a politically binding framework deal that would verifiably cover all nuclear warheads, make changes to the New START verification regime, and be structured to include China in the future. (See ACT, September 2020.) The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, which Beijing rejected. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Key details about the U.S. freeze proposal have yet to be clarified by the Trump administration.

According to an Oct. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the United States wants both sides to declare the total number of warheads deployed on delivery systems of all ranges and kept in storage.

To verify that neither side was exceeding the declared number of warheads, the official said Washington wanted monitors to be stationed outside U.S. and Russian warhead production facilities. The official added that such a portal monitoring system, which has featured in past arms control agreements, did not need to be in place immediately but that Russia needed to agree to technical talks on how to eventually implement such an approach.

But Russian officials have called the adoption of such a system a nonstarter, at least in the near term.

In the past, the United States and Russia agreed to politically binding arms control and risk reduction measures without stringent verification protocols.

If Trump is not reelected and does not make a deal with Russia before Inauguration Day, a President Joe Biden would have 16 days before the treaty expires in which to pursue an extension. It is not clear whether he would continue to push for a freeze on all U.S. and Russian warheads.

Billingslea said in an Oct. 20 interview that a potential Biden administration would have to “rethink” its support for an unconditional extension of New START.

According to Billingslea, Trump, “by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

Despite pre-U.S. election maneuvering, prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remain slim.

New START Deal to Wait for Biden


December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness in November to reach a deal involving an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and a freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads following the U.S. presidential election, but the two sides remained at odds about the specific terms of such a deal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting in Italy in February. On Nov. 12, he said that the question of extending New START would need to wait for the U.S. presidential election to be resolved.  (Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)As a result, the fate of the treaty likely rests on Russia and the incoming Biden administration resolving the issue. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty’s extension. According to a Nov. 25 Reuters article, there is continued debate among Biden's advisers over how long the extension should be. The treaty allows for an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.

After taking office, Biden would have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

“The Russian Federation is certainly making a calculation based upon whether they want to lock into agreement with an extension now or wait until after Jan. 20 to see if there is a better offer that they can possibly acquire,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Nov. 9. “I think that’s still a little bit of a gamble, perhaps less so than it might have been two weeks ago.”

Biegun said that stumbling blocks include how to define a nuclear warhead under a freeze and the U.S. demand that a freeze be verified. Nevertheless, he said, “as far as this administration is concerned, we’re prepared to go forward with an agreement.”

The following day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated that Russia stands prepared to extend New START and agree to a freeze on all warheads for one year so long as the United States puts forward no additional conditions, particularly with respect to verification of the freeze. But he remained pessimistic that a deal would be reached.

“As of today, as it was before U.S. election, we don’t see a basis to reach such an agreement. There’s nothing new in [the] U.S. position,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Nov. 12 that he has seen “rather fidgety comments from Washington” regarding the fate of New START. “Considering the current commotion in the United States caused by the ongoing vote recount, lawsuits, and other perturbations, we cannot expect any coherent proposals from either [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s people or Joe Biden’s team,” said Lavrov. “So, we will wait until the dust settles.”

In October, the United States proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warhead levels. Russia, which had previously called for a five-year extension of New START as allowed by the treaty, proposed a one-year extension and the concept of a warhead freeze, but rejected any verification of the freeze, in particular portal monitoring, at this time. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Lavrov said that as part of the warhead freeze, the Trump administration is demanding that Russia “recount” the warheads “and check which category these warheads belong to and immediately establish control over the facilities producing these warheads.”

“We have already been in a situation when American inspectors sat outside the checkpoints of our military plants
in the 1990s,” Lavrov added. “There is no coming back to this system.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to aggressively call on China to join arms control talks with the United States and Russia.

The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, but Beijing repeatedly rejected the demand. The Trump administration later dropped it as a condition for considering an extension of New START. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

“China has stubbornly refused to date to participate in those discussions, but as we approach the review conference of the [nuclear]Nonproliferation Treaty next year, I believe pressure will continue to grow on China to enter those discussions,” Biegun said.

At the EU Consortium on Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference on Nov. 12, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, echoed Biegun.

“It is becoming obvious to everyone that Beijing is not taking seriously its responsibility as a nuclear power to engage in meaningful arms control negotiations, and it continues to shun arms control negotiations with us on effective measures to prevent a new nuclear arms race spiral,” he said.

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied to Ford by saying that Beijing has communicated with Washington by phone, email, and letters.

Fu also said that he had talked directly with Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. special envoy for arms control. “We even had a phone conversation, even though that conversation was not very pleasant,” he said.

He emphasized China’s view that “the immediate priority now is to urge the United States to respond as soon as possible to Russia’s call for the unconditional extension of the New START.” When asked if China would join trilateral arms control discussions if the United States and Russia agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals, Fu replied, “I would say that is a big ‘if’—if the U.S. agrees to reduce.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Despite signs of flexibility in talks on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a deal appears unlikely before the Trump administration is replaced.

Arms Control Experts Urge Trump Administration to Agree to New START Extension

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For Immediate Release: Oct. 16, 2020

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

(Washington, DC)—Arms control experts are urging President Donald Trump to agree to a Russian proposal to extend a key 2010 arms control agreement for at least one year, and ideally for five years, without preconditions to allow additional time for negotiations on a follow-on deal on range of related issues before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

Without an extension, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) will lapse with nothing to replace it, removing all legally-binding limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. The treaty permits an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as both the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.

“New START extension is vitally important for U.S., Russian, and international security," noted Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and current chair of the board of Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group in Washington, DC. "We strongly urge President Trump to take ‘yes’ for an answer to Russia’s proposal to extend New START without conditions, ideally for five years." 

"Unless Trump somehow overrules his hard-line advisors and adjusts course—or Joe Biden wins the presidential election and makes good on his pledge to extend New START—the treaty very likely will disappear," remarked Daryl Kimball, the group's executive director.  

"The loss of New START would open the door to an ever-more dangerous and costly global nuclear arms race. In the absence of New START, Washington and Moscow could quickly 'upload' several hundred additional warheads on existing deployed delivery systems to exceed the treaty’s 1,550 warhead ceiling. Such unconstrained nuclear arms racing would be unaffordable and dangerous for both sides," Kimball noted.

"A five-year, clean extension of New START would provide a foundation and the time for follow-on discussions and agreements to address unconstrained nuclear warheads and non-nuclear weapons that impact strategic stability, and to improve opportunities to more fully include other nuclear-armed states, including China, the U.K., and France, in the arms control process," Kimball said.

Experts Available in Washington:

  • Thomas Countryman, former​ ​acting​ ​under secretary of state for​ ​arms​ ​control and ​international security, and ​​chair of the board for the Arm​​s Control Association, [email protected], 301-312-3445
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, [email protected], 202-277-3478
  • Kingston Reif, ​director for ​disarmament​​ and ​threat reduction​ ​policy​, ​[email protected], 202-463-8270, ext. 104
Description: 

Arms control experts are urging President Donald Trump to agree to a Russian proposal to extend a key 2010 arms control agreement for at least one year, and ideally for five years, without preconditions.

Country Resources:

U.S., Russia Disagree on Prospect for Arms Control Deal

U.S., Russia Disagree on Prospect for Arms Control Deal Against the backdrop of the imminent U.S. presidential election and the impending expiration in less than four months of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the Trump administration appears to have once again shifted its proposal for an arms control framework deal with Russia. But despite U.S. claims of progress in recent talks, Russia continues to strongly reject the proposed U.S. framework and to call for extending New START by five years without conditions as allowed by the treaty. U.S. Special Presidential...

BRIEFING: "Trump’s Effort to Sabotage New START and the Risk of an All-Out Arms Race"

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Friday, October 9, 2020
9:00 – 10:15am Eastern time
via Zoom webinar

In four months, the last treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is due to expire. If the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no legally-binding limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

However, the treaty permits an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as both the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.


 

Russia has offered to extend New START by five years without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has conditioned extension on Russian support for changes to the New START verification system and acceptance of a new framework that limits all types of nuclear warheads and that can involve China in the future.

Russia has rejected the U.S. offer, which it calls “absolutely unrealistic.” In response, Trump officials say they will “raise the price” for New START extension after November. Unless President Trump adjusts course, or Joe Biden is elected in November, there is a high risk that New START will disappear.

Our speakers, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and the panelists explained the value of New START, evaluated the Trump administration’s approach, and outlined pathways for extending the treaty, pursuing negotiations on deeper nuclear reductions, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

Speaker

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), co-sponsor of the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" Act

Panelists

  • Alexandra Bell, senior policy director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association
  • Kingston Reif, moderator, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, Arms Control Association

A question and answer session followed both the speaker’s remarks and the panel. This event was open to the press and is on the record.

Description: 

Briefing with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Alexandra Bell, and Daryl G. Kimball on the value of New START, the Trump administration’s approach, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

Country Resources:

Time Running Out: Extend New START Now

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Volume 12, Issue 7, October 7, 2020

Four months remain until the last U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, and with it the last remaining verifiable limits on the size of the still enormous U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has so far refused Russia’s offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years as allowed by the treaty.

Instead, the administration has conditioned consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia’s acceptance of a one-sided, 11th hour offer that Russia has rejected. In recent days, the two sides have exchanged additional ideas with U.S. officials claiming some measure of “progress.”

The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

Barring an October surprise in which President Trump orders a more reasonable approach than what the administration has currently offered to Russia, the fate of the treaty will likely be decided by the presidential election Nov. 3. Former Vice President Joe Biden has expressed support for an extension of New START without conditions.

 

The U.S. August Proposal

Following an August meeting in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea sketched out the U.S. proposal for a politically binding framework deal with Russia. The framework, he said Aug. 18, must cover all nuclear warheads, establish a verification regime suitable to that task, and be “extensible” to China in the future.

In addition, Billingslea characterized New START as “a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration” and alleged the agreement has “significant verification deficiencies.” He said President Trump would not agree to extend New START unless these purported deficiencies, including an inadequate number of inspections, are fixed. Billingslea later clarified that even if Russia agrees to the U.S. terms, only a short-term extension, likely no more than a year, is on the table.

“[I]f Russia would like to see that treaty [New START] extended, then it’s really on them to come back to us,” Billingslea said, citing a mandate from Trump. “The ball is now in Russia’s court.”

Trump administration officials insist that the conditions represent a reasonable offer. They note that China’s immediate participation in trilateral arms control talks is no longer a condition for consideration of an extension of New START (though they continue to insist that the framework agreement must specifically mention China and that the next arms control treaty must include China).

Left unsaid is what the administration is willing to put on the table in return for Russia agreeing to the U.S. demands. The answer appears to be that Russia must agree to the U.S. demands for free.

Meanwhile, the administration should not get credit for being mugged by reality and relaxing its insistence on China’s immediate participation in talks. There was never any chance that China would do so, despite Billingslea’s ineffective efforts to embarrass China to the table.

Predictably, Russia has repeatedly poured cold water on the administration’s proposal, calling it “absolutely unrealistic.” Ryabkov reiterated Oct. 1 that the U.S. proposal is “clearly a nonstarter for us.”

In addition to making unrealistic demands, the administration has resorted to wild threats and petty insults in an attempt to coerce and embarrass Russia to the table. Billingslea is now publicly saying that if Russia refuses the unrealistic U.S. terms, “we will be extremely happy to continue…without the START restrictions” and threatened that the United States would immediately begin building up its nuclear arsenal the day after New START expires. He has also threatened to slap additional conditions on the U.S. offer if Russia does not accept it by the November election.

Such an approach has zero chance of success and is far more consistent with running out the clock on New START (and trying to pin the blame on Russia and China) rather than a serious effort to make progress on further arms control.

The Latest Exchanges

Billingslea and Ryabkov met again Oct. 5 in Helsinki. A senior Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal that “substantial progress” was made at the meeting and that Russia brought “concrete proposals” to the table for the first time. The official added that the framework agreement the sides are discussing would include a politically binding commitment to freeze the total number of warheads possessed by each side and entail a short-term extension of New START.

A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry after the talks said only that “further prospects on the track of bilateral cooperation on arms control” had been discussed. As Billingslea and Ryabkov were meeting in Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his belief that New START "is going to die." He said that "The conditions they [the Trump administration] set are absolutely unilateral and do not take into account either our interests or the experience of many decades, when arms control was enforced to everyone’s satisfaction and was welcomed by all countries."

A politically binding warhead freeze could be a useful confidence-building measure as Washington and Moscow engage in what are sure to be complex and lengthy talks on a new nuclear disarmament agreement. However, it remains to be seen what such a freeze would entail, what Russia might seek in return, and whether the Trump administration is open to relaxing its heretofore unacceptable conditions for a deal, especially the demand for changes to the New START verification regime.   

The Case for Extending New START

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. It also put into place a verification regime greatly valued by the U.S. military for the insight it affords into the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Article XIV of the treaty allows for an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree. Members of Congress from both parties and most U.S. allies have expressed support for the treaty’s five-year extension.

The pursuit of a new arms control agreement that captures all types of nuclear warheads and additional nuclear-armed states is a laudable goal. But not if that pursuit comes at the expense of or as a condition for extending New START. New START should be extended for the full five years in order to ensure that the verifiable limits put into place by the treaty do not disappear as talks on a new agreement are pursued. New START is too valuable to allow to expire.

If New START lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no negotiated limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. The end of the treaty would further damage relations with our allies, undermine the fraying health of the global nonproliferation regime, exacerbate an already fraught U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, and provide Washington and Moscow with a greater incentive to make additional costly nuclear force investments.

Below are additional key points about the case for extending New START for five years and the problems with the Trump administration’s proposal for a new framework agreement with Russia.

The U.S. military greatly values and relies upon the verification regime established by New START. Billingslea has argued that the New START verification regime “has significant loopholes in the way verification is physically conducted, which the Russians have been exploiting.” But the U.S. military has raised no such concerns.

New START’s extensive monitoring and verification regime provides essential real-time insights directly into Russian strategic forces and modernization programs. Allowing the treaty to die would deprive us of a vital flow of information about Russia’s strategic forces that cannot be obtained via other means.

Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provides great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

The treaty’s verification regime is more than adequate to monitor Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Indeed, a State Department report published in February reiterated that Russia remains in compliance with the treaty and that the treaty limits and the “verification regime established by the treaty both regulate competition and provide key data, information, and insights regarding Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator of New START during the Obama administration, recently wrote that New START’s verification setup used what worked in previous treaties and discarded what was no longer necessary and cumbersome and costly to implement. “In the end,” she said, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

There is no evidence that withholding an extension of New START or dangling a short-term extension of the treaty enhances U.S. leverage to push Russia to agree to U.S. demands for a bilateral framework agreement or a new trilateral arms control treaty. The Trump administration believes that Russia is “desperate” to secure an extension of New START. But Russia has said that it will not agree to an extension “at any cost.” Ryabkov said Sept. 21 that the Trump administration needs to give up its preconditions for extension “and then we can start the talks about something, or there’s no deal.”

The administration’s refusal to date to extend the treaty by five years has produced no meaningful leverage. Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions would distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

A five-year extension would provide the most breathing room to pursue negotiations on a new deal. U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations have in the past been complex and time-consuming, and the Trump administration is proposing an agreement unprecedented in scope. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), for example, took place from November 1969 to May 1972. New START was notable for the relatively short time it took to negotiate, but it still took the United States and Russia 10 months.

The Trump administration does not have a successful track record trying to force Russia’s hand on arms control. For instance, the Trump administration’s threats to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty did not bring Russia back into compliance, and the United States officially withdrew from the treaty in August 2019. Likewise, the U.S. announcement in May of its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty has not pressured Russia to address U.S. concerns about Russia’s implementation of the accord. The United States is slated to formally exit the treaty shortly after the election.

The outcome of U.S. efforts to seek new arms control arrangements will succeed or fail based on whether those arrangements comport with the security interests and address the concerns of the parties involved. Neither Russia nor China can be coerced or embarrassed to the negotiating table (and Moscow has said that it will not cave to U.S. pressure to force Beijing to join trilateral arms control talks).

Apart from allowing New START to expire and threatening a nuclear buildup, the Trump administration has refused to detail what the United States is willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia (and China) to agree to the administration’s arms control goals. Any agreement as sweeping and unprecedented as the one proposed by Billingslea will, of course, require mutual concessions by both Washington and Moscow. But as it stands, the politically binding framework proposed by Billingslea demands unilateral concessions from Russia.

In addition to China, Russia has long called for France and the United Kingdom to join the next arms control agreement after New START. Moscow also seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons. As the United States wants an agreement that covers Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons, so does Russia want Washington to remove the estimated 150 U.S. tactical nuclear bombs based in five European countries.

But Billingslea has already dismissed the idea of limits on U.S. missile defense as well as the removal of U.S. tactical weapons in Europe.

There is no national security need to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal above the New START limits, and the Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are unprepared to do so anyway. Following Billingslea’s threat that the United States will start increasing the arsenal after New START expires, news reports revealed that the Pentagon has been asked to evaluate how long it would take to execute a buildup. Billingslea does not appear to have consulted the Pentagon before making his threat.

James Anderson, the undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in July that, “Our intention is to remain within the New Start limits of 700 strategic missiles and bombers and 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.” According to a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon “is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure.”

The United States has not increased the size of the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal in decades and doing so would be a major departure from longstanding U.S. policy.

Billingslea’s call for a nuclear buildup follows his outlandish claim earlier this year that the United States can spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race. More U.S. spending on nuclear weapons won’t force the current Russian and Chinese leadership to capitulate to maximalist U.S. demands and would be fraught with peril.

The United States is already planning to spend an excessive sum to sustain and upgrade the current arsenal, which is based on the New START limits. As a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office demonstrated, the possibility of unconstrained nuclear competition could create even greater costs that would divert funding from higher priority U.S. national and health security priorities.

Ever-increasing spending on nuclear weapons without an arms control framework that bounds U.S. and Russian nuclear forces is a recipe for a less secure United States. Such an approach also flies in the face of longstanding bipartisan Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

Extend New START Now

The Trump administration’s approach to arms control with Russia has not been a serious starting point for negotiations on extending or replacing New START.

With little more than four months until New START expires, the best course forward is to immediately extend the treaty for a full five years and then pursue follow-on agreements that address legitimate U.S. and Russian concerns about unconstrained nuclear weapons, the nuclear arsenals of other nuclear-armed states, and non-nuclear weapons and policies that could impact strategic stability.

Extending New START would prolong the limits on Russia’s deployed strategic forces, continue an otherwise unobtainable flow of information about those forces, and provide the necessary foundation from which to seek more far-reaching arms control goals.

The Trump administration’s demand for unilateral concessions from Moscow in exchange for a short-term extension of New START is a recipe for failure and risks setting the United States on the road to an expensive arms race that it can ill afford.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

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The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

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