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A Glimmer Of Hope? Russia, US Officials Revive Dialogue On Arms Control

Authored by Andrei Akulov via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

The New Start Treaty was in focus of the talks held in Helsinki between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon on September 11-12. The parties agreed that the treaty should be implemented without exception. It was revealed that expert consultations on the future of the agreement had begun. A meeting of the US-Russian bilateral commission on implementing the New START would take place in the near future so that the two sides could continue their discussion of the technical aspects of implementation.

In force since 2011, New START foresees the reduction of both countries' nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 operationally deployed launch systems by 2018. The treaty also obliges Moscow and Washington to exchange information about their nuclear weapon stockpiles. It is one of the few nuclear agreements still being honored amid the current strained relations between Washington and Moscow. The treaty is set to expire in 2021 and stipulates that the parties may agree to extend it for a period of no more than five years.

With no negotiations in sight on a new strategic arms reduction agreement, it would be prudent to extend the treaty till 2026. True, it would be even more beneficial to have a new treaty, if possible, but there are obstacles on the way. At this level of reductions, other nuclear powers should join. This prospect is hardly feasible at present, and yet step-by-step progress toward constructive consultations on nuclear arms reductions and transparency measures is possible. The US program of creating a global missile defense is also a hindrance. There is also a problem of mistrust against the background of the relationship at its lowest ebb.

An agreement to extend the landmark treaty is the way to stabilize the ties and prevent a competition. It would revive the hopes for saving the arms control regime, which is being eroded, to put the world back to the brink of nuclear war where it had been before the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963. The mutual limits and the robust verification and compliance regime, including satellites, on-site inspections, required notifications, and data exchanges enhance stability and reduce incentives for engaging in an arms race. With no verification procedures in place, the leaderships of both countries would lose a critical source of intelligence, hampering policymakers’ ability to make informed decisions. By extending New START, the parties could add stability at the time of increasing tensions.

In February, President Trump decried the New START Treaty. He said it was one-sided and «Just another bad deal that the country made, whether it's START, whether it's the Iran deal … We're going to start making good deals», he said in an interview with Reuters. He also responded negatively to Russian President Putin’s suggestion to extend that treaty in a January phone call.

The military leaders appear to have a different view. Gen. John Hyten, the head of US Strategic Command, told Congress in March that he is a “big supporter” of the treaty. According to him, “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.” Secretaries of Defense and State, support New START. The Federation of American Scientists supports the treaty. European allies also back the idea of keeping New START in force. According to Federica Mogherini, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, “The right path is the one marked by the New START Treaty and its implementation. This is the kind of cooperation between Russia and the United States that we Europeans like to see.”

The United States is currently pursuing a near-complete overhaul of all elements of its strategic nuclear potential. Over the next 30 years, it plans to have a new ICBM, a new strategic submarine, a new bomber, and a new nuclear cruise missile. However, none of the plans are inhibited by New START. Russia is going through modernization of its nuclear triad. It’s absolutely important to keep the limitations and verification procedures in place to ensure adequate planning.

Extending New START could help create a positive atmosphere for improving the US-Russia relationship.

It would help head off unconstrained nuclear arms race and global security. Failing to pursue an extension would be a major missed opportunity.

Nobody expects spectacular breakthroughs, but it’s good news the issue of strategic stability was at last addressed during a high level Russia-US meeting. It was abnormal that the nuclear arms reductions were not part of the bilateral agenda for such a long period of time. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the fact that the dialogue is revived at the time when the entire arms control and non-proliferation regime is unraveling. Looks like at last a glimmer of light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

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