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Time is running out for the New START Treaty

The New START Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation entered into force on February 5, 2011 and will expire 10 years later, February 5, 2021 unless the U.S. and Russian heads of state agree to extend it. Despite bipartisan support in Congress, the current administration has essentially not lifted a finger to save the treaty. PSR is backing bipartisan legislation in support of extending New START.

New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) limits both Russian and U.S. deployed strategic nuclear weapons arsenals to 1,550  warheads, and places limits on intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers. The treaty also provides a series of verification protocols so each side can monitor compliance.

After a series of U.S. withdrawals from arms control agreements, New START is the last remaining agreement to constrain a runaway arms race between Russia and the United States. Given a global pandemic and economic crisis, PSR advocates a complete shift in priorities to meet human needs. Extending New START is one small but vital step in the process.

In order to secure a two-thirds majority approval of New START by the U.S. Senate, the diplomats who crafted the treaty decided to limit its duration to 10 years, so New START expiration is coming right up on February 5 of 2021. But they also knew that the treaty’s value would outlive that timeframe. Fortunately, they included a provision that could extend New START for an additional five years requiring just the signatures of the American and Russian heads of state.

The Putin administration has expressed its intention to extend the treaty “immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out…without any preconditions.” So right now the ball is in the court of the Trump administration. But the U.S. is dragging its feet. The Trump administration has insisted that China join the New START talks, although China was never part of the original negotiations and maintains a total arsenal of some 290 nuclear weapons, or 19% of the New START limits. China has insisted it will only agree to a treaty if “the U.S. agrees to reduce its arsenal to China’s level or agrees for China to raise its arsenal to the U.S. level.” PSR and our allies favor nuclear arms reduction negotiations with China, but it is absurd to hold New START extension hostage to Chinese participation.

PSR and PSR chapters support bipartisan legislation that has been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives supporting New START extension. In the Senate, Senators Chris Van Hollen and Todd Young  introduced S. 2394, the Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces, which is now sponsored by 2 Democrat and 2 Republican Senators. Representatives Eliot Engel and Michael McCaul introduced the companion bill, H.R. 2529, in the House, now sponsored by 15 Democrats and 2 Republicans.

As the federal budget works its way through Congress, PSR will monitor for amendments that support New START (possibly from Sen. Van Hollen or Rep. Engel) so stay tuned for action alerts.

On June 22nd, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, and Marshall S. Billingslea, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, met in Vienna to discuss nuclear arms control including the possibility of New START extension. China turned down the invitation to participate, and the talks were inconclusive.  However, these officials are expected to resume talks in July or August.

Upon his return to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov summed up the situation: “We haven’t observed any changes in the U.S. stance on the extension issue. They keep mulling over the issue. Time is running out.”

For more information, please see PSR’s Fact Sheet on New START.