What's Next for New START and Why Extending it Should Be a No-Brainer

On February 5, 2018 the United States and Russia announced that they had each met the central limits required by the New START Treaty.

The Treaty, which entered into force on February 5, 2011 limits the strategic nuclear forces of both countries and includes extensive verification provisions including data exchanges and on-site inspections. The Treaty’s duration is 10 years (through February 5, 2021), but it allows the parties to agree to extend the Treaty for an additional five years until February 5, 2026.

The Treaty limits each country to no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads on a maximum of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and  heavy bombers; and no more than a combined total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. These limits were required to be met by February 5, 2018—seven years after the Treaty’s entry into force.

So, are we done? Can we now declare victory and move on? Not quite. Brian Rose, a program officer in NTI’s Global Nuclear Policy Program, explains why.

What happens now? Are we done now that we’ve met the central limits of New START?

No, we’re definitely not done. The limits remain in force and the essential verification provisions in the Treaty will continue to allow both the United States and Russia to confirm that each party remains in compliance through the rest of the treaty’s lifetime.

The verification measures under New START are robust. They include 18 on-site inspections per year for each side, regular notifications (almost 15,000 to date), and twice-annual comprehensive data exchanges regarding the status and movements of strategic nuclear forces and facilities. They also include provisions that facilitate monitoring the Treaty using technical means such as satellite imagery. The United States and Russia also conduct an annual exchange of telemetry data on an agreed number of missile tests in order to discern information about the actual performance of the other side’s strategic missiles.

Now that the central limits of the Treaty have been met, it will be even more important to do these inspections and get this information to verify that both sides remain compliant.

Then what? Why do we need to extend the Treaty if we’ve already met the central limits and the treaty runs to conclusion? What do we gain from extension?

We gain quite a bit. The first benefit, as I’ve already mentioned, is that we’d retain the strong verification provisions and maintain the numerical limits in New START for another five years.

This ensures that both countries have a substantial level of predictability about and transparency into the other’s strategic capabilities. Five more years of better information and on-site inspections gives both sides a degree of predictability that just wouldn’t exist outside of the Treaty. That’s five years of certainty and stability regarding strategic nuclear forces in a crucial area in an otherwise pretty tense relationship.

That’s very good for U.S. national security and for mutual security. These provisions don’t exist anywhere but New START. Without it, we’d substantially close our window into Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The loss of transparency and predictability could lead us to start making decisions based on our worst assumptions about the Russian arsenal, and it could cause them to do the same. This is a prescription for an arms race.  New START is an antidote.

Second, it gives us some time to consider where to go next in arms control. While arms control is not an end in and of itself, it is a very useful tool to provide both sides with a solid foundation to improve strategic stability based on the ability to regulate nuclear forces and ensure compliance. Extending the Treaty also ensures that both countries have an active forum to discuss their nuclear forces. This could help lay the groundwork for further reductions, or at least allow time for dialogue on other issues to make progress. These are long term efforts and should be treated as such.

What do you think the prospects are for extending New START?

I’m not sure. While I’m glad to see references in the new Nuclear Posture Review to the value of New START and the potential role of arms control, I was disappointed that it was silent on whether the administration would seek to extend the Treaty with Russia. To me this is clearly in our national interest. NTI CEO and Co-Chair Ernest Moniz and Co-Chair Sam Nunn have issued a statement making this point.

There is no doubt that other issues, particularly Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), are very concerning. But it is imperative to make the case to the administration, Congress, and the American people that, so long as Russia is complying with it, New START remains in the U.S. interest despite these other issues. We need to clearly make the case for the benefits of keeping and extending New START, and the risks of a world without it.

This should be a no-brainer.

February 7, 2018
Brian Rose
Brian Rose

Program Officer, Global Nuclear Policy

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