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United States and Russia scramble against deadline to save New START

New START limits both U.S. and Russian 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. The treaty is paramount in helping to keep the two countries’ nuclear arsenals in check and preventing an arms race.

In September and October, the U.S. and Russia have had several discussions over conditions needed to extend the treaty, at first seeing little success, until October 20th. Previously, the U.S. had rejected Russia’s offer to extend the treaty for five years without any preconditions. In the week of October 19 Russia proposed a one-year extension without conditions, prompting the U.S. response that any agreement between the two countries must include a one-year freeze on all nuclear arms, including those not covered by the treaty.

On Tuesday, October 20th, Russia reportedly offered to extend the treaty and freeze all existing nuclear warheads, including those not covered by the treaty, for a period of one year. However, key details and verification measures regarding the freeze and what the definition of a ‘warhead’ is, still needs to be agreed upon. The arrangement being discussed would avoid the complete collapse of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control systems and would give the two countries needed time to continue further necessary talks on future approaches to arms control. Megan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson, said that the U.S. is ready to meet immediately to conclude a verifiable agreement.

Over the last few days numerous parties have come out in favor of the extension of New START. The UK House of Lords International Relations and Defense Committee advocated for extending New START for “Euro-Atlantic security.” The European Leadership Network released a letter to Congress from the European Parliament, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, a group of more than 75 European parliamentarians and over 20 European capitals calling for an extension of New START stating that Europe would be on the receiving end of the positive effects brought about by the stability of the treaty or the grave dangers of its lapse. China’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Geng Shuang, urged the U.S. to fulfill its responsibilities for nuclear disarmament, to extend New START, and to continue to substantially reduce its nuclear arsenal to inspire other nuclear-armed states to do the same.

In an Oct. 22 Washington Post op-ed, former secretary of state George Schultz, former defense secretary William Perry, and former Senate Armed Services Chair Sam Nunn argue,

“the United States and Russia must extend New START to preserve what is already working and to gain time for discussions about what can be done next. Given the dangerously high risk that a nuclear weapon could be used today, and the catastrophic consequences if that happens, extension of New START is a crucial and responsible step.”

PSR advocates for extending New START for five years utilizing a clause in the original treaty. If New START lapses, it will be the fourth withdrawal from a nuclear agreement within President Trump’s tenure. This would only help to intensify tensions between the U.S. and Russia, potentially leading to a nuclear arms race such as we have not seen in decades, further increasing the likelihood of nuclear disaster.

Stay tuned to PSR for NewSTART progress reports.

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