The following article has been cordially contibuted by Patty-Jane Geller
Patty-Jane Geller is Policy Analyst for Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense in the Center for National Defense, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
Statement by John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, on New START:
President Biden’s decision to seek a five-year extension of New START advances the nation’s defense. Russia’s compliance with the treaty has served our national security interests well, and Americans are much safer with New START intact and extended. We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools. Failing to swiftly extend New START would weaken America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces.
Extending the treaty’s limitations on stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons until 2026 allows time and space for our two nations to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks to Americans. And the Department stands ready to support our colleagues in the State Department as they effect this extension and explore those new arrangements.
Just as we engage Russia in ways that advance American interests, we in the Department will remain clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses and committed to defending the nation against their reckless and adversarial actions.
The above news that President Joe Biden intends to seek a five-year extension of the New START agreement with Russia is disappointing, to say the least.
New START restricts the number of delivery systems and warheads that the United States and Russia can deploy. Signed in 2011, it’s set to expire on Feb. 5 unless the leaders of both countries agree to an extension for up to five years.
The Pentagon’s new spokesman argued that “Russia’s compliance with the treaty has served our national security interests well, and Americans are much safer with New START intact and extended. We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools.”
But that statement assumes that New START sets appropriate limits on both sides’ weapons and that its verification system is strong enough to prove Russia is not cheating.
Neither assumption is sound.
First, New START doesn’t provide limitations on all of Russia’s nuclear forces. While the treaty limits about 90% of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, it only limits 45% of Russia’s. New START excludes Russia’s enormous stockpile of 2,000 lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons (whereas the United States only has 500).
Russia’s recent military doctrine has indicated a greater willingness to use nuclear weapons on the battlefield, making this unconstrained weapon class particularly dangerous.
Russia is also building new nuclear delivery systems outside New START limits, such as a nuclear-powered cruise missile and an unmanned, underwater torpedo.
A five-year extension of New START essentially gives Russia the “go-ahead” to continue work on those dangerous systems.
Second, New START’s verification system is weak.
New START doesn’t limit the number of warheads a single missile can carry, so Russia has fielded missiles that can hold up to 10 warheads each.
Technically, Russia has the capacity on its missiles to deploy more warheads than the 1,550 allowed under New START limits. But the mere 10 annual inspections the United States is allowed make it nearly impossible to determine whether Russia abides by that limit.
While the United States continues to maintain its nuclear forces within New START limits, Russia will now have a free pass to continue unfairly advancing its nuclear arsenal for five years, all while abiding by the treaty.
Another major issue with a five-year New START extension is that it ignores China’s dramatic nuclear buildup.
Beijing is nearing completion of its nuclear triad, working toward doubling the size of its nuclear stockpile, and is on track to become a strategic nuclear peer to the U.S. by 2030.
China is obligated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work toward disarmament, but extending New START for five years without including China lets Beijing continue to advance its nuclear forces unconstrained.
Last fall, President Donald Trump’s administration came to the cusp of a new deal with Russia that would have begun to address some of the issues with New START. Both countries had agreed in principle to extend New START for one year in exchange for a freeze on both countries’ nuclear stockpiles.
However, once the U.S. presidential election drew near, Russian President Vladimir Putin delayed further talks in hope of obtaining a more favorable deal with a new administration, and—bingo!—that is just what he got.
Other than the arms control zealots, the person likely happiest with Biden’s Thursday announcement is Putin.
Biden could have employed the negotiating leverage the Trump administration gained to seek a short-term extension in return for that freeze on nuclear stockpiles. Instead, he gave it all up on his very first full day in office. As stated by the former envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea: “We are getting nothing for extending [the treaty].”
The Biden administration intends to use the five years to negotiate a new arms control agreement with Russia. But negotiating a limit to all nuclear weapons and creating a stronger verification regime than the one provided by New START might be more difficult now that the Russians have already gotten their way.
Moving forward, the imperative to support the bipartisan effort to modernize our aging nuclear forces become even more important. Delaying or canceling any nuclear modernization programs would be akin to unilaterally disarming as Russia—and China, too—continue to build up their own forces.
Our adversaries’ nuclear forces pose an existential threat to the United States, and for that reason, nuclear deterrence continues to be our nation’s No. 1 national security priority.
While extending New START does not make America safer, Biden now has the opportunity to carry through nuclear modernization efforts initiated by his former boss, President Barack Obama, to ensure a strong nuclear deterrent for decades to come.
Why It’s Dangerous
New START is a deeply flawed treaty, which, if extended, will allow Russia to continue to pursue an advantage over the U.S.
Limitations Not on All of Russia’s Nuclear Forces. New START excludes Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of about 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons (whereas the United States only has 500). Russia’s apparent “escalate to win” doctrine indicates a greater willingness to use these weapons on European battlefields.
Additionally, Russia is building new nuclear delivery systems outside New START limits, including an unmanned, underwater nuclear drone, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, and an air-launched ballistic missile.
Flawed Counting Rules. New START does not limit the number of warheads per missile, so Russia has fielded missiles that can hold up to 10 warheads each. Its new Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) can reportedly carry up to 24 warheads. This gives Russia a significant capacity to upload warheads to its ICBMs and surpass the total New START warhead limit of 1,550.
Russia’s current ICBM force consists of 318 missiles that carry about 860 deployed warheads, but have the capacity to carry up to 1,165 warheads. The United States arms each ICBM with only one warhead.
New START counts one bomber as one warhead regardless of how many warheads a bomber can carry, enabling Russia to surpass New START limits legally.
Weak Verification Regime. Since New START allows any number of warheads per missile, the mere 10 inspections allowed each year make it impossible to determine if Russia abides by warhead limits.
Five-Year Extension Ignores China’s Nuclear Buildup. China is completing its nuclear triad with the fielding of strategic bombers, acquiring advanced capabilities like nuclear-tipped hypersonic glide vehicles, and growing its ballistic missile arsenal.
Also, last year, China test-launched more ballistic missiles than the rest of the world combined. See U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China. China is expected to double the size of its nuclear stockpile over the next decade.
China is obligated by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work toward disarmament, but extending New START for five years without including China lets Beijing continue to advance its nuclear arsenal unconstrained.
Strong Negotiating Position Is Ceded to Russia. President Putin had publicly agreed to cap nuclear stockpiles and extend New START for one year, but the Russian Foreign Ministry has since declined five times to meet with the United States to finalize this agreement.
Marshall S. Billingslea, Twitter Post, December 17, 2020, 2:06pm (accessed January 13, 2020).
The Kremlin favors a five-year unconditional New START extension, which is understandable given the advantage it has gained from the treaty thus far. Agreeing to a five-year extension would cede all progress made on an improved agreement and give Putin another arms control win.
What Key U.S. Senior Leaders Say
Presidential Envoy Marshall Billingslea stated, “The so-called New START Treaty amazingly constrains more than 90 percent of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Less than half of Russia’s, on the other hand, and none of China’s.
Marshall S. Billingslea and Peter Brooks, “Behind the Great Wall of Secrecy: China’s Nuclear Buildup,” Heritage Foundation virtual event. Billingslea points out that “[the Chinese are] repeatedly and aggressively expanding the size and scope of their nuclear arsenal. They are arms racing. We’re not. But any treaty or agreement that doesn’t account for this is by definition incomplete, ineffective, and does fail to ultimately safeguard the American people.
When Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Hyten was STRATCOM Commander, he stated that, in order to support a New START extension, “We have to have a partner that can participate…. And if the Russians continued to build the capabilities outside the New START treaty that are not accountable and will not come to the table under the treaty…that causes me to have concerns.
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