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'New START' Milestone Could Help Halt Nuclear Arms Race

By J C Suresh

TORONTO | WASHINGTON, D.C. (IDN) – The Arms Control Association has called for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) set to expire on February 5, 2021. The plea follows on the heels of an announcement each by the United States and Russia that they have met their obligations under the Treaty to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces by February 5, the implementation deadline.

Greeting the announcements, Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association (ACA) said: "New START implementation is a significant accomplishment. Through this treaty, the two sides have improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed their still oversized nuclear arsenals."

The ACA advocated for the Treaty’s negotiation a decade ago and for its ratification in 2010. "The next step is for Presidents Trump and Putin to agree to extend the treaty for another five years – to 2026 – to avert the possibility of unconstrained strategic nuclear competition between the world's two largest nuclear actors," Kimball added.

Signed in 2010, New START requires each country to reduce its strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by today’s implementation deadline. New START also includes a comprehensive suite of data exchanges and on-site monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

The United States reached the required limits in August 2017. As of the last data exchange in September 2017, the U.S. had 1393 deployed strategic warheads, 660 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers

The Treaty is one of the few remaining bright spots in the U.S.-Russian relationship, as both sides have abided by its terms. The U.S. military agrees and continues to strongly support the agreement. Gen. John Hyten, who leads U.S. Strategic Command, told Congress in March 2017 that he is a "big supporter" of New START. Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”

New START can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. Russian officials have stated that they are open to discussing a five-year extension. The Donald Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review released on February 2 does not take a position on the extension of the Treaty.

In a statement published on February 5, the State Department said that Washington and Moscow "will exchange data on their respective strategic nuclear arsenals within the next month, as they have done twice per year over the last seven years in accordance with the Treaty."

In a separate statement issued by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia announced that as of February 5 it deploys 1,444 deployed strategic warheads, 527 deployed strategic delivery systems, and 779 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers.

"Extending New START would be an easy win for President Trump," Kimball said in a statement issued by the ACA.. "It would buy five additional years of much-needed stability, predictability, and transparency. It would help head off unconstrained U.S.-Russia nuclear competition. It would help reassure allies unsettled by both Trump and Putin loose rhetoric on nuclear weapons. And it could serve as a springboard for both sides to pursue further parallel, reciprocal reductions in their still bloated strategic nuclear arsenals, which stand at about 1,550 warheads each."

Agreeing with Kimball, Tom Countryman, chairman of the board of directors and former acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, said: "At a time when U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, New START serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks."

Continued implementation and compliance with New START, followed by an extension of New START and, if possible, the negotiation of a follow-on agreement, would advance U.S., Russian and international security, he emphasised.

"Unfortunately, President Trump has been dismissive of New START," noted Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy.

In a January 2017 phone call, Trump responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two countries work to extend the treaty, according to a Reuters report.

"Failing to extend New START would be an unforced and self-defeating error," the ACA statement quoted Reif saying..

"If the New START is allowed to lapse with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. The United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile," he said.

According to the Arms Control Association, the deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. Other key pillars of the U.S.-Russia arms control architecture, like the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, are in jeopardy.

Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of testing a type of ground-launch cruise missile prohibited by that accord–a charge that Moscow denies. Bilateral discussions on the matter have not yet resolved the dispute.

Despite the benefits of New START to U.S. security, some Congressional critics of the treaty have tried to block its extension. The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty.

"This is senseless and counterproductive. By ‘punishing’ Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021," Reif said. "Fortunately, the final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include the House language," he added.

The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, all successfully negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles.

"As the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks," Countryman said.

"The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives even more urgent. Extending New START – without either side asking for preconditions – would be an important down payment on a safer and more secure world." [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 February 2018]

Photo: President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia sign the New START Treaty during a ceremony at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, April 8, 2010. Credit: White House / Chuck Kennedy / Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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