Putin Puts Ball in Trump’s Court on New START Extension
Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear this month that Moscow is open to unconditionally extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), but the Trump administration remains undecided about the future of the accord.
“Russia is willing to immediately, as soon as possible, before the year is out, renew this treaty without any preconditions,” Putin told a meeting of defense ministry officials. He noted that Moscow has not received a response from Washington to its proposal to renew the treaty. Putin reiterated his offer at his end of the year news conference Dec. 19, stating that “we stand ready until the end of the year to extend the existing New START as is.” New START is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, but can be extended by up to five years subject to the agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.
At the NATO leaders meeting in London in early December, President Donald Trump appeared to acknowledge Putin’s interest in making a deal on arms control. But Trump did not specifically mention New START and remains fixated on reaching a more comprehensive deal that covers additional types of nuclear weapons and also includes China.
“Russia wants very much to make a deal on arms control and nuclear,” Trump said Dec. 3 during a news conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “We’ll also certainly bring in…China. We may bring them in later, or we may bring them in now,” he said.
Trump, as he has in the past, described Beijing as “extremely excited” about such an agreement. But numerous statements from Chinese officials contradict Trump’s assertion. Currently, the United States and Russia have more than 6,000 total nuclear warheads each, while China has about 300.
Russia has also expressed concern about the Trump administration’s desire for a broader agreement. Commenting on the administration’s approach following a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington Dec. 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “our U.S. colleagues have yet to put their formal proposals down on paper.” Lavrov, who spoke at a joint news conference with Pompeo, added that should China be included in a trilateral agreement, “we will have to take other nuclear powers into consideration as well, including both acknowledged and unacknowledged nuclear weapons states.” In the past, Moscow has specifically mentioned involving both the United Kingdom and France.
Pompeo did not say whether the administration would extend New START, calling it “an agreement that was entered into many years ago when powers were very different on a relative basis around the globe.”
He reiterated that “the conversations need to be broadened to include the Chinese Communist Party.” Including China in arms control negotiations would not “necessarily mean that we would cap any one country at any particular level,” Pompeo said, but the objective would be to develop “a set of conditions” that would create “global strategic stability.”
Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said Dec. 2 that there is “plenty of time to engage” with Russia and China on a broader deal and that “we are looking forward to doing that.”
The United States and Russia last held talks on strategic stability in July. Talks scheduled for November were canceled and as of yet have not been rescheduled. No talks with China regarding arms control are reported to be currently underway.
Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Dec. 3 that the administration has “convened teams of experts to explore the way forward [on arms control], including the question of possibly extending New START, which would otherwise expire in early 2021 but could be extended for up to five years by agreement with Russia. We are hard at work on these issues and hope to have more to say about this soon.”
Contrary to Pompeo, Ford said that “what the president has directed us to do is pursue a trilateral cap on the arsenals of all three powers [the United States, Russia, and China].”
Other administration officials argue that it is premature to extend New START. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee Dec. 5 that “if the United States were to agree to extend the treaty now, I think it would make it less likely that we would have the ability to persuade Russia and China to enter negotiations on a broader agreement.”
Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. —KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS
Russia Holds Exhibition of Avangard
Russia in late November exhibited the Avangard, a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle that will initially be fielded on the SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), to U.S. inspectors per the terms of New START.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that “a U.S. inspection group was shown the Avangard missile system with the hypersonic boost-glide vehicle” in Russia Nov. 24-26.
Interfax reported that Moscow held the exhibition in order “to help ensure the viability and effectiveness” of New START. Article XI of the treaty says that one of the purposes of exhibitions “shall be to demonstrate distinguishing features and to confirm technical characteristics of new types” of strategic offensive arms.
The Avangard is one of two nuclear weapon delivery systems under development by Russia that Moscow stated last month would be covered by New START. According to TASS, a Russian news agency, the Avangard is expected to begin deployment by the end of this year.
HFAC Holds Hearing on New START
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing Dec. 4 on “The Importance of the New START Treaty.” The witnesses included Adm. Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO deputy secretary-general and undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; Pranay Vaddi, fellow with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Kenneth Myers, former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
All of the witnesses supported an extension of the treaty. “Without the treaty and its verification provisions, we'd be flying blind,” said Adm. Mullen.
Following his confirmation hearing to be the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Vice Admiral Charles Richard answered some additional questions for the record on New START from a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee.
Adm. Richard stated in response to one question that, in the absence of the treaty, “The Intelligence Community would likely have to adjust its collection priorities and capability investments to compensate for the loss of information provided by data exchanges and inspections.”
Senators Raise Concerns About Administration Arms Control Policy
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Dec. 3 on “The Future of U.S. Policy Towards Russia,” several senators pressed the State Department witnesses about the administration’s unwillingness to date to extend New START and lack of a plan to negotiate a new, more comprehensive arms control agreement.
Ford said that “we assess that Russia does still remain in compliance with its New START obligations.” But he voiced concerns about new Russian long-range nuclear delivery systems under development and Russian nonstrategic weapons not addressed by the treaty.
Ford emphasized that the administration has not yet made a final decision on whether to extend New START. “What we are doing in approaching New START extension as a policy question,” he said, “is to look at it through the prism of our broader objectives on arms control.”
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the committee, pushed back on Ford’s comments regarding Moscow’s new weapons systems, highlighting that Russia already said two of the weapons (the Avangard and Sarmat heavy ICBM) would be covered by the treaty while others may not be even deployed during the life span of an extended New START.
On the administration’s desire to include China in the arms control process, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), noted that “I think what we don’t want to see is China used as an excuse to blow up the existing or potential extension of an agreement with Russia that contributes to international security.” Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that “it is just highly unlikely…that we are going to be able to bring in the Chinese” before New START expires in 2021.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) argued that extending the treaty would, in fact, “give us more time” to negotiate a broader agreement. “I think this is a Red Herring to suggest that we can't do anything about New START without including China,” Shaheen told Ford.
Meanwhile, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.) wrote a Dec. 16 letter to the Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire requesting a National Intelligence Estimate on how Russia and China will respond if the United States does not extend New START.
“We believe the negative consequences for the United States of abandoning New START, when Russia is in compliance with the treaty and is seeking to extend it, would be grave in the short-term and long-term,” they wrote.
Sens. Van Hollen and Young in August introduced legislation calling for an extension of the treaty.
New START Legislation Stalls
Two bills expressing support for an extension of New START were not voted on in Congress before the end of the year.
A Dec. 17 Reuters report said that Sen. Young planned to offer a version of his New START bill as an amendment to an unrelated Russia sanctions bill at a Dec. 18 Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup. But Young ultimately withdrew the amendment. The committee passed the Russia legislation, named “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019,” by a 17-5 vote, sending it on to the full Senate for consideration.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee had also planned to mark up a bill on New START on Dec. 18. But Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the markup that “we have a few things to work out. I will continue to work on this bill and list it for the next markup.”
The House bill, named “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R.2529), was a modified version of a bill first introduced earlier this year. The bill would express the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance and require several reports on the implications of allowing New START to expire with nothing to replace it. A companion version of the bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Van Hollen and Young.
U.S. Tests Second INF-Range Missile After INF Collapse
The Defense Department Dec. 12 conducted its second test of a missile formerly banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The department said in a statement that the U.S. Air Force fired “a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.” This missile flew for “more than 500 kilometers” before falling into the ocean.
The Pentagon has not disclosed the type of missile that was tested. A statement from Vandenberg Air Force Base said, “The joint government-industry team began work after the U.S. suspended its Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty obligations in February 2019 and executed the launch within nine months of contract award when the process typically takes 24 months.”
The ballistic missile test follows an Aug. 18 test of a ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile just two weeks after the Trump administration formally withdrew from the INF Treaty. Both tests were not of an operational system that the Pentagon plans to field, but rather initial capability demonstrations.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Dec. 12 that “once we develop intermediate-range missiles and if my commanders require them, then we will work closely and consult closely with our allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere with regard to any possible deployments.”
Pentagon officials said in March that the plan is to develop a mobile ground-launched cruise missile that has a range of about 1,000 kilometers and a mobile ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee Dec. 5 that “the Department is concurrently examining options for both the near-term adaptations of existing systems, as well as longer-term developmental efforts.”
The Defense Department requested $96 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of intermediate-range missiles. The final fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill approved by Congress this month provides $40 million less than the request. The bill did not explain the reason for the cut.
The final version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill, also approved by Congress this month, would prohibit the use of current year funds to procure and deploy missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty, but not develop and test them. The bill also requires the Pentagon to report on the results of an analysis of alternatives that assesses the benefits and risks of such missiles, options for basing them in or deploying any such missile system to Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, and a discussion of whether deploying such missile systems on the territory of a NATO ally would require a consensus decision by NATO.
Whether the Pentagon could base the missiles in Europe and East Asia remains to be seen. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host them.
Both Russia and China reacted negatively to the ballistic missile test.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Dec. 13 that Russia “said more than once that the United States has been making preparations for violating the INF Treaty. This [missile test] clearly confirms that the treaty was ruined at the initiative of the United States.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Dec. 13 that the test “once again confirms our judgment that the U.S. withdrawal is a premeditated decision. The real aim is to free itself to develop advanced missiles and seek unilateral military advantage.”
France Seeks Post-INF Arms Control Talks
French President Emmanuel Macron rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to impose a moratorium on intermediate-range missiles but emphasized that Paris remains open to dialogue with Moscow.
“We did not accept the moratorium offered by Russia, but we considered that we should not just ignore it because it was open for discussion,” Macron said Nov. 28 in a news conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. It is in France’s interest, he explained, to discuss such matters of security in a dialogue with Russia. NATO previously rejected Putin’s proposal in September, calling it not “credible.”
Macron also argued that Europe must be involved in any potential agreement that might replace the INF Treaty. “We cannot leave our security in the hands of a bilateral treaty to which no European country would be part of,” Macron stated.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Dec. 4 that Moscow supported Macron’s argument that Europe must be involved in the talks for any replacement arms control agreement. A day later, Putin commented in a meeting with defense officials that, apart from Macron, “There is no response from our other partners. This forces us to take measures to counter these threats.”
At the end of the NATO leaders meeting in London Dec. 4, the heads of state issued a declaration, which read, “We are addressing and will continue to address in a measured and responsible way Russia’s deployment of new intermediate-range missiles, which brought about the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and which pose significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security.”
Administration’s Deliberations on Open Skies Treaty Continue
The Trump administration reportedly put NATO allies on notice in mid-November that the United States may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty unless its concerns about the treaty are allayed.
According to a Nov. 21 Defense News report, Trump administration officials raised several concerns about the treaty at a meeting with NATO allies last month in Brussels. The administration has asked allies to provide their assessment of the benefits and risks of the treaty and help address U.S. concerns.
A senior administration official told Defense News that “this is a U.S. position—that we think this treaty is a danger to our national security. We get nothing out of it. Our allies get nothing out of it, and it is our intention to withdraw.”
Critics of the treaty in the administration and Congress have argued that Russia is violating the agreement and using treaty flights to collect intelligence on critical U.S. military and civilian infrastructure. They also argue that the flights are redundant for the United States because Washington has the most advanced reconnaissance capabilities of any country.
The administration’s threat to withdraw from the treaty has prompted an outpouring of support for the agreement from allies and other treaty partners.
Defense News reported that the United Kingdom, Germany, and France issued a joint demarche in support of the treaty and that Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist sent an Oct. 24 letter to Defense Secretary Esper citing “deep concern” about reports of the treaty’s potential demise.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers also continue to raise concerns about a potential U.S. withdrawal.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) Nov. 18 introduced legislation co-sponsored by Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) that would prevent President Trump from unilaterally withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty. “In discussions with the Pentagon, I know the Defense Department values our continued participation in this treaty, and I have yet to hear a compelling reason to end our participation,” said Rep. Bacon. The legislation would require that, before any potential withdrawal, the administration certifies to Congress that exiting the treaty would be in the U.S. national security interest.
That same day, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee respectively, wrote to National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien “seeking clarity regarding the Administration’s intentions” toward the Open Skies Treaty. They expressed concern “that the White House may have used biased analysis as it pertains to potential Treaty withdrawal, failing to ensure an objective process and neglecting to properly coordinate with the departments and agencies responsible for the Treaty’s implementation.”
On Nov. 19, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and the Environment held a hearing on “The Importance of the Open Skies Treaty.” The witnesses were Amy Woolf, a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service; Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group and senior adviser at Global Zero; and Damian Leader, former chief arms control delegate for the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The final version of the defense authorization bill requires the Secretaries of Defense and State to notify Congress at least 120 days before a U.S. notification of an intent to withdraw from the treaty. The final defense appropriations bill funds continuing efforts to replace the aging U.S. OC-135B aircraft the United States uses for Open Skies Treaty flights.
The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states-parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants for information-gathering purposes. The parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all treaty parties.
Sullivan Confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Russia
The Senate confirmed Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan as U.S. ambassador to Russia Dec. 12.
During a news conference with Pompeo Dec. 10, Lavrov commented that “We know him as a very highly professional diplomat; we’ll be happy to cooperate with him.”
The previous ambassador, Jon Huntsman, stepped down in August. Sullivan had his hearing in October.
President Trump nominated Stephen Biegun, current U.S. special representative for North Korea, to become the next deputy secretary of state. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held Biegun’s nomination hearing Nov. 20, and the full Senate approved his nomination Dec. 19.
Meanwhile, since Andrea Thompson’s departure in October, the White House has not nominated a new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Instead, Chris Ford, current assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, has assumed the duties of that position.
During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Dec. 3 hearing, Sen. Menendez commented on the lack of formal nomination for Ford to take over those duties. “While you may be very capable of doing that, you haven’t been nominated for such a position,” Menendez said. He also expressed concern about “the State Department acting in ways that seek to circumvent the oversight and jurisdiction of this committee.”
Comparisons Between the House, Senate, and Final Conference National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 on U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Policy
Supports extending New START and prohibits the use of funds to withdraw from New START unless Russia is in material breach of the treaty and requires presidential certification regarding the future of the treaty before its potential expiration
No similar provision
Requires congressional notification and a 120-day waiting period before the provision of notice of any intent to withdraw from the New START and requests a report on the implications of the treaty’s lapse, including an assessment of the possible changes to Russia’s nuclear arsenal and the effects on the verification and transparency benefits of the treaty
Prohibits funding for research, development, procurement, and deployment of missiles noncompliant with the INF Treaty until the certain conditions are met
No similar provision
Prohibits the procurement or deployment of (but not research and development on) new ground-launched INF-range missiles in FY 2020 and requires an analysis of alternatives to such new missiles, basing options, and foreign countries consulted including NATO
Reaffirms Congress’ commitment to the Open Skies Treaty; prohibits the use of DoD funds to suspend, terminate, or withdraw from the treaty unless “certain certification requirements are made”
No similar provision
Requires congressional notification and a 120-day waiting period before the provision of notice of any intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty (including requiring consultation with allies before withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty)
No similar provision regarding the study of nonstrategic nuclear weapons
Requires a report describing Russia’s deployed nonstrategic nuclear weapons, Russia’s nuclear weapons in development that would not be covered by the New START if deployed, Russia’s nondeployed strategic weapons, China’s nuclear modernization program, and the implications thereof on the New START central limits
Requires a report on current and planned nuclear systems of the U.S., Russia, and China, including Russian nuclear systems deployed or under development not covered by New START
Compiled with assistance from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
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