Atomic Pulse

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

Brian Rose

Program Officer, Global Nuclear Policy

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

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

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.

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