U.S. Continues Stalling on New START

U.S. Continues Stalling on New START

The United States and Russia concluded the latest round of their strategic security dialogue June 22 without agreeing to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the last remaining arms control agreement limiting their nuclear arsenals.

The United States is “leaving all options available” on the future of the treaty, said Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea, who led the U.S. delegation at the talks in Vienna, during a June 24 briefing in Brussels.

“We are willing to contemplate an extension of that agreement but only under select circumstances,” he said. Those circumstances include making progress toward a new trilateral arms control agreement that has strong verification measures, covers all nuclear warheads, and involves China, according to Billingslea.

New START expires in Feb. 2021 unless President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia has repeatedly stated that it is ready to extend the treaty without any preconditions and warned that there is not enough time to negotiate a new agreement to replace New START before next February. U.S. allies have also urged the Trump administration to extend the treaty.

But the administration argues that New START is outdated and is instead prioritizing the pursuit of a broader agreement.

Billingslea characterized the talks with Russia in Vienna as “positive” and said the two sides had agreed to form technical working groups to discuss key issues.

The special envoy said he was hopeful that the working groups would make “sufficient progress” to allow for a second round of talks “at the end of July or maybe beginning of August” at which “China again will be called upon to attend.”

The Wall Street Journal June 23 quoted an unnamed U.S. official who said that the topics for the working groups would include: nuclear warheads, especially Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons, and doctrine; verification; and space systems. But a June 24 Kommersant report citing Russian officials said Moscow did not necessarily agree to discuss nuclear warheads.

Asked about the discrepancy, Billingslea replied that he would have “to circle back” on this issue with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation in Vienna.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also released a statement after the talks, which read, “The delegations continued discussing the future of arms control, including extending the START Treaty and maintaining stability and predictability in the context of the termination of the INF Treaty, as well as a comprehensive dialogue on resolving international security problems.” 

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS


U.S. Pressures China to Join Arms Control Talks

The Trump administration continues to insist that China join trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia and criticized Beijing’s decision not to attend the June 22 talks in Vienna.

Before the start of the Vienna talks, Billingslea tweeted a picture of the table, with some empty seats reserved with Chinese flags. “Vienna talks about to start,” he said. “China is a no-show…We will proceed with Russia, notwithstanding.”

Fu Cong, director-general of the department of arms control of China’s foreign ministry, replied, “What an odd scene…Good luck on the extension of the New START! Wonder how LOW you can go?” The United States and Russia are currently believed to possess about 6,000 total nuclear weapons apiece, while China has roughly 300.

Following the Vienna talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said June 23 that the U.S. placement of Chinese flags at empty seats “is unserious, unprofessional and unappealing for the U.S. to try getting people’s eyes in this way.”

He also noted the incorrect design of the flags that the United States set on the table. “We hope certain people in the U.S. can do their homework and improve their general knowledge to avoid becoming a laughingstock,” he said.

The Trump administration claims that China is engaged in a secret, crash program to build up its nuclear forces and that future arms control efforts must include Beijing.

But China has repeatedly refused to join either trilateral talks with the United States and Russia or bilateral talks with the United States.

Billingslea June 8 invited Beijing to join the talks in Vienna, but the following day, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying declined the invitation. “China has repeatedly reiterated that it has no intention of participating in the so-called trilateral arms control negotiations with the United States and Russia,” he said. “This position is very clear.”

Billingslea urged China to reconsider. “Achieving Great Power status requires behaving with Great Power responsibility,” he tweeted June 9. “No more Great Wall of Secrecy on its nuclear build-up.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a meeting in Hawaii June 18 with Yang Jiechi, director of China’s Foreign Affairs Office. It is not clear to what extent arms control was discussed at the meeting. After the meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell told reporters that Washington is “looking for [Beijing’s] positive engagement in trilateral arms talks…We’d like them to participate in these talks that prevent an unfortunate outcome.”

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper echoed similar views at a June 18 meeting with the defense ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Esper “talked about the urgency of engaging in meaningful trilateral arms control efforts with both Russia and China,” according to a Defense Department readout.

Russia has refused to force China to change its position and join the talks, despite pressure from the United States to do so.

“China should itself decide whether these talks are beneficial for the country,” said Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov June 20. “We will not force our Chinese friends.”

Antonov also repeated a longtime Russian stance that, if China joins arms control talks, then U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom should as well.

Billingslea acknowledged that the U.S. “definition of multilateral might be different, but the principle remains the same.” He claimed that China’s nuclear buildup poses a much greater threat than the French and British nuclear arsenals.

The Trump administration has yet to put forward a concrete proposal for what it wants arms control with China to achieve or detail what the United States would willing to put forward as concessions in trilateral talks with Russia and China.

NATO Encourages Extension of New START

NATO allies have praised the administration for resuming talks with Russia and seeking to bring China into the arms control process. But they also continue to urge the Trump administration to extend New START by five years.

During the Brussels Forum June 23, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he welcomes “Russia and the United States sitting down and talking to each other on arms control” and agrees “that China should be involved.”

But, he added, “in the absence of any agreement that includes China, I think the right thing will be to extend the existing New START agreement.”

“We should not end up in a situation where we have no agreement whatsoever regulating the number of nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

During the June 24 briefing in Brussels, Billingslea said that “our approach and NATO are completely in sync.”

He went on to say that the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland have all “called out China for their need to negotiate in good faith.” Most of those nations are also on the record calling for an extension of New START.

New Legislation Calls for New START Extension

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced June 2 that he recently introduced two pieces of legislation related to New START.

“Due to the risks posed by Russia’s and China’s strategic nuclear arsenals, and the Trump administration’s lack on any tangible progress on an arms control dialogue with either country, I am introducing these two bills that I believe charts a stable path forward for constraining our strategic adversaries,” said Menendez.

The Future of Arms Control Act calls for a five-year extension of New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. The State Department confirmed in April that Moscow is in compliance.

The legislation also states that, should President Trump not extend the treaty by Nov. 3, 2020, the United States cannot take any action that would violate the treaty until March 1, 2021.

The act additionally calls for two reports, including one that would require from the Trump administration a concrete strategy regarding its efforts for trilateral arms control with Russia and China.

Menendez also introduced the Arms Control with China Policy Act, which calls for an arms control dialogue with Beijing. The bill requests a report from the State Department, with help from the Defense Department, on engaging China in arms control.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) introduced June 18 the Hastening Arms Limitation Talks (HALT) Act, which, among other things, calls for a five-year extension of New START.

“Our world has come perilously close to a catastrophic nuclear war before, and the president’s actions are making such an event more and more likely by the day. It’s time to hit the brakes on his dangerous escalation, honor our existing treaty obligations, and then put an end to nuclear weapons before they put an end to us,” said McGovern.


Okinawa Refuses to Host U.S. INF-Range Missiles

Governor of Okinawa Denny Tamaki rejected the idea of the Japanese prefecture hosting U.S. missiles once prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

“I firmly oppose the idea,” said Tamaki in a June 10 article with the Los Angeles Times.

If a plan for Okinawa to host such missiles were to develop, Tamaki said, “I can easily imagine fierce opposition from Okinawa residents.”

Since the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty in Aug. 2019, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea have publicly said that they have not been asked to nor are they considering serving as hosts for new U.S. ground-launched missiles. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has previously suggested that he would like to see the deployment of such missiles in Europe and particularly Asia to counter China.

A senior Defense Department official told the Los Angeles Times that the Pentagon is “very attentive to our allies’ concerns, and we recognized their political challenges.”

However, the official continued, “everything that’s said in the media is not necessarily what’s said behind closed doors.”

Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg said June 17 after a NATO Defense Ministerial that the alliance has “no intention to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.”

China is firmly opposed to any deployment of such missiles in the Asia-Pacific. “If the U.S. insists on the deployment, it will be a provocation at China's doorstep," said Chinese Defense Ministry Spokesperson Senior Colonel Wu Qian June 24. "China will never sit idle and will take all necessary countermeasures.”

The INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles having ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The United States formally withdrew from the treaty Aug. 2 2019, citing Russian noncompliance with the accord. The Pentagon tested two previously prohibited missiles in August and December 2019.


Open Skies Members Virtually Convene July 6

All states-parties to the Open Skies Treaty will virtually gather July 6 to discuss the U.S. announcement that it will formally withdraw from the treaty in November.

A U.S. State Department official confirmed June 18 that the United States will take part and “will submit a response.”

Canada and Hungary, the treaty depositories, scheduled the conference.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said June 23 that Russia continues to weigh how it will respond to the planned U.S. withdrawal from the treaty. “We will see the reaction of our Western colleagues during this conference, what Europe thinks about it,” he said. “We don’t rule out any options of our actions, but we want to hear what the rest have to say. Let us wait and see.”

Lavrov also said, “We have already said that the key condition for our ratification of the Treaty on Open Skies was a possibility to survey the United States’ territory. And everyone understands that perfectly well.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced May 21 that the United States plans to withdraw from the treaty. Pompeo cited Russian noncompliance and implementation issues with the accord as grounds for withdrawal.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said June 6 that he has “no doubt that the NATO countries will definitely share with the United States the information they will be receiving by their planes.”

“I am sure that after a certain period of time, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure the security of the Russian state,” Antonov continued.

Members of Congress have continued to criticize the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate minority leader; Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote a letter June 22 to Pompeo and Esper reaffirming their belief that the administration’s withdrawal announcement was illegal.

The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act required that the administration notify Congress 120 days before announcing an intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which it failed to do.

“The timing of your decision—less than five months before an election—is also suspect. Beginning the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, without complying with U.S. domestic law or constitutional practice, is an obvious political maneuver in an attempt to bind a future administration,” the senators said.

Signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. All imagery collected from overflights is then made available to any of the 34 states-parties.

Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States. Between 2002 and 2019, more than 1,500 flights have taken place.

Russia Publicly Releases Nuclear Deterrence Policy

Russia publicly expanded on the circumstances under which it might employ nuclear weapons in a policy document on nuclear deterrence signed by President Vladimir Putin June 2.

The 2020 document, called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” marks the first time Russia has consolidated and publicly released its nuclear deterrence policy, which previously was classified.

Divided into four sections, the document leads with how Russia defines its state policy on nuclear deterrence, which it calls “defensive by nature.” The goal of deterrence is “to prevent aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.”

While the document does not explicitly name Russia’s allies and adversaries, the second section does broadly define adversaries, stating that Russia implements its deterrence “with regard to individual states and military coalitions (blocs, alliances) that consider the Russian Federation as a potential adversary and that possess nuclear weapons and/or other types of weapons of mass destruction, or significant combat potential of general purpose forces.” This definition would include the United States as well as alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The second section of the document further defines Russia’s definition of nuclear deterrence as signaling to adversaries “the inevitability of retaliation in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation and/or its allies.” It also describes military risks presented by adversaries that deterrence is designed to “neutralize,” such as the deployments of medium- and shorter-range cruise and ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, and missile defense. The document does not say how Russia would move to neutralize any of these risks should they elevate to “threats of aggression.”

This section additionally details what Moscow views as “the principals of nuclear deterrence,” to include compliance with arms control agreements, unpredictability for an adversary as to Russian employment of its means of deterrence, and readiness of its forces for use.

The third section presents four scenarios that might warrant nuclear use, two of which did not appear in the 2014, 2010, and 2000 versions of Russia’s military doctrine.

As stated in the two previous military doctrines, two of the scenarios in which Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons” include when Moscow is acting “in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” The 2000 military doctrine differed slightly in its description of the latter scenario, as it instead allowed nuclear use in response to conventional attacks in “situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation.”

The two additional scenarios contained in the document include an “arrival [of] reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies” or an “attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions.”

The fourth and final section notes the roles of the government and related agencies, including the Security Council and Defense Ministry, in implementing Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy. The document maintains that the president of Russia makes the decision to use nuclear weapons.

The document does not outright address Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use its much larger arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis initiated by Russia, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.”

State Department Releases Full Compliance Report

The State Department released the unclassified annual compliance report June 23, two months after submitting the executive summary to Congress.

The full report provides additional details surrounding the demise of the INF Treaty, including information on the 9M729, the noncompliant Russian ground-launched cruise missile.

Arms Control Today covered the release of the executive summary of the report in May.


Full Infographic: Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation



July 6 Open Skies Virtual Conference
July 16 75th anniversary of the Trinity test
Aug. 6 75th anniversary of Hiroshima bombing
Aug. 9 75th anniversary of Nagasaki bombing
Aug. 29 International Day against Nuclear Tests and the 71st anniversary of Russia’s first nuclear test
Sept. 17-30 United Nations General Assembly, New York City (in person canceled)