NTI President Joan Rohlfing at the ACA’s Annual Meeting: “Extend New START Without Conditions”

This post was written by Jessica Rogers, an intern with NTI’s Global Nuclear Policy Program. Rogers is a graduate student in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

The Dangerous Escalatory Cycle in US-Russian Strategic Relations

On the opening panel of the Arms Control Association’s Annual Meeting this week, NTI President Joan Rohlfing warned that US-Russian strategic relations are at an extremely dangerous stage and moving in the wrong direction. It is time, she said, to “stop arguing about how the cart got into the ditch, and instead talk about how to get it out.”

Her fellow panelists— Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov and former START negotiator Ambassador Richard Burt—shared Rohlfing’s concerns about the dangerous escalatory cycle in US-Russian strategic relations.

“We have been in an arms race for some period of time,” Rohlfing said. At the same time, she said the US and Russia are locked into mutual vulnerability for the foreseeable future and cannot spend their way out of it. Instead, she urged, the governments should reorient to arms control as a means to achieve a strategy of reducing the chances, consequences, and costs of war.

Extending New START Without Conditions

Rohlfing said the first step would be to extend the 2010 New START arms-reduction treaty without conditions. She warned that efforts to renegotiate the terms of the treaty now would risk its expiration in 2021. Adding new weapons or parties to New START would require a new treaty rather than a simple executive extension. Instead, the United States and Russia should extend New START first to build the space and time needed to resolve issues on both sides.

Similarly, Ambassador Burt warned against turning extension discussions into new negotiations in the hope of getting a better deal. Instead, he recommends keeping the New START extension simple and giving priority to issues that can be renegotiated in any follow-on agreement discussions.

Russian Ambassador Antonov reminded the audience that although Russia has concerns about New START that need to be addressed, it “didn’t introduce any conditions for extension.”

“It seems that we have to stick to old provisions,” he added, expressing hope that issues of concern can be resolved through the treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission.

Lastly, looking to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference next year, Rohlfing called on the US and Russia to consider additional progressive efforts such as further nuclear reductions and initial negotiations for a follow-on agreement to New START.

Preventing Deployment After the INF

Regarding the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, none of the panelists expressed much hope of saving the treaty at this point. The United States formally suspended the treaty in February, after announcing in October that it would withdraw due to Russian non-compliance. “Both sides should have been open to making the necessary changes to stay in compliance.” Ambassador Burt remarked. “Unless both sides are willing to go the extra mile,” he assessed, “this treaty is a goner.”

Rohlfing and Ambassador Antonov both expressed the view that the focus now should be on preventing the deployment of INF-range weapons. Antonov reiterated President Putin’s statement that “Russia will not deploy intermediate-range or shorter-range weapons . . . neither in Europe nor anywhere until United States weapons of this kind are deployed to the corresponding regions of the world.”

April 18, 2019

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