Russia revoked its participation in the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty with the US after accusing the West of attempting to strike its strategic air bases.
Russian President Putin’s decision to pull Russia out of the only remaining arms control treaty with the U.S. came as a distressing surprise to many former officials who helped negotiate the pact and nonproliferation experts who seek to stop the expansion of nuclear forces.
What is New START and how it worked?
Under the terms of the agreement, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads (each to a maximum of 1,550) and the number of delivery vehicles, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, to 700 or less. Additionally, the agreement permits each country to undertake on-site inspections of the other’s armaments and mandates the sharing of information and notice of the arms and installations in concern. New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, was signed by the United States and Russia in 2010 to replace the START accord of 1991. It went into force on February 5, 2011 and secured its most recent five-year renewal in 2021 after Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, failed to renegotiate it.
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By the treaty’s 2018 deadline, the United States and Russia have reduced their nuclear arsenals to the agreed-upon limitations. According to the State Department, as of September 1, 2022, the United States possessed 1,420 deployed warheads and 659 deployed strategic delivery systems. There were 1,549 deployed warheads associated with 540 deployed strategic launchers in Russia. Together, the two nations account for over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
According to the State Department, the two nations have undertaken 328 on-site inspections, more than 25,000 notifications regarding the status of nuclear delivery vehicles and launchers, and 19 bilateral meetings in order to ensure the level of supplies.
What caused the withdrawal?
Because to the Covid-19 outbreak, Russia first discontinued on-site nuclear inspections. According to the United States, Russia refused to resume them in August 2022 due to escalating tensions over the Ukrainian war. As a result of Russia’s decision to postpone them, an attempt to reopen negotiations in November in Cairo was unsuccessful. Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, stated at the beginning of February that Russia “remains committed to the goals of the New START treaty” but considers it “unjustified, untimely, and inappropriate to invite the US military to our strategic facilities” while the two countries are on opposing sides of the conflict in Ukraine.
Russia stated earlier this month that despite what it termed a harmful US approach to arms control, it wished to preserve the deal. On Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry criticized the US for suspending participation, accusing Washington of violating its provisions and undermining Russia’s national security. As a result, Putin announced the suspension of Russia’s participation in the deal.
What did Russia and US say?
In a speech marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said that Russia will withdraw from New Start. In a speech filled with complaints against the west, the Russian president stated the following, “They want to inflict a strategic defeat on us and claim our nuclear facilities.” “In this regard, I am forced to state that Russia is suspending its participation in the strategic offensive arms treaty,” he added.
Putin claimed that the United States might share information on Russia’s nuclear plants with Ukraine, while describing a complete return to the pact as “absurd.” Although ending its compliance with inspections, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated on Tuesday that the government plans to observe and adhere to the restrictions “within the life cycle” of the 2026-expiring weapons control pact.
“The announcement by Russia that it’s suspending participation in New Start is deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken said. “We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does. We’ll of course make sure that in any event we are postured appropriately for the security of our own country and that of our allies. We remain ready to talk about strategic weapons limitations at any time with Russia, irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship,” Blinken remarked.
The full consequences of Putin’s warning were unclear at first. Russia has already ceased participation in a bilateral consultative panel and mutual inspections of nuclear weapons facilities. According to experts, it would be a severe blow if Putin went farther and discontinued routine reporting and data exchange on nuclear weapon movements and other related developments.
“Putin’s clearly trying to inject nuclear leverage into both Ukraine and his relationship with the United States,” said Jon Wolfsthal, who helped negotiate the New START Treaty in 2009 as a member of the National Security Council. “And that should worry a lot of people,” he warned.
The legitimacy of Russia’s decision to suspend the pact is “questionable,” according to Rose Gottemoeller, a former US State Department official who worked as New START’s principal negotiator under the Obama administration. “The treaty contains no right to do so,” she added.
The Secretary-General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that it made the world more unsafe and encouraged Vladimir Putin to reconsider his suspension.
However, experts emphasized that Russia has not yet abandoned the deal. “Suspension of the treaty is not equal to leaving the treaty; I assume there will be no Russian build-up above the treaty limits,” said Andrey Baklitskiy of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. “But there will be much fewer opportunities to verify this (only national technical means), so compliance will be disputed,” he added.
The United States and Russia, the world’s two major nuclear powers, have had a cap on their capacity to build and deploy nuclear weapons for more than 50 years. Putin’s decision that he would suspend participation in the New START Treaty could mark the end of this period, with some analysts discussing whether or not this could spark a new arms race reminiscent of the Cold War. These worries are heightened by the tensions between the two nations regarding the war in Ukraine.
The world may already be headed for a new nuclear arms race with this dispute, but it depends on what Putin meant when he suspended Russia’s participation in the New START treaty. Yet regardless of the outcome, it is confirmed that this development does not speak well for the future of arms control and containing arms race.