Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

With less than two months remaining until the last agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals expires, Russia has reiterated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Though President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek.

“Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov Nov. 30. In his annual end-of-year news conference on Dec. 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an extension of the treaty for at least one year. New START allows for an extension of up to five years so long as U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree to it.

Tony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state, reportedly said that Biden supports a five-year extension according to a Nov. 9 report in The New York Times. But a Nov. 30 news report by Reuters indicated that there is debate among Biden’s advisers about whether to extend for five years or a shorter period, such as one or two years. In a Nov. 19 letter to the Biden transition team, nearly 30 U.S. arms control experts urged the president-elect to pursue a full five-year extension without conditions as one of his first priorities in office.

After the U.S. presidential election, the Trump administration and Russia signaled a willingness to reach a deal on extension based on their dueling October proposals. Washington proposed a politically binding one-year extension of New START and a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. Russia, which for much of 2020 called for a five-year extension of New START, countered with a one-year extension and a one-year warhead freeze on the condition that the freeze not be accompanied by any definitions, a declaration, data exchanges, or verification.

The two sides remain at odds and the already slim possibility of concluding it before Biden takes office continues to dim.

Ryabkov expressed his view Nov. 10 that, since “there’s nothing new in [the] U.S. position,” a deal does not seem likely. “As of today, as it was before U.S. election, we don’t see a basis to reach such an agreement,” he said.

As a result, the fate of the treaty likely rests on the incoming Biden administration and Russia. The two sides will have just 16 days to seal an extension before the treaty expires Feb. 5, 2021.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea insisted in remarks given Nov. 17 (and published Dec. 8) that the Trump administration’s proposal “is now the de minimis threshold for all future nuclear arms control deals with Russia.”

“Any future deal which fails to cap all warheads should be regarded as an abject failure,” he continued. “Any simple extension of New START without capitalizing on Putin’s acquiescence to an overall warhead limit would demonstrate a profound lack of negotiating acumen.”

Billingslea said that the two countries “are at the brink” of agreement and that there “is still time to hammer out” the details.

Arms control experts have argued that such a freeze has never been done before and that there is not enough time to reach agreement on key details. They claim that the incoming administration should not feel bound to a deal that, though it breaks new ground with respect to a warhead freeze, has not been officially agreed to and would only last a year in any event.

The details yet to be finalized include the definition of a “warhead,” stockpile declarations, data exchanges, and a plan for verification of the freeze, the latter of which Moscow has repeatedly rejected.

Lavrov described Nov. 12 the type of verification sought by Washington. The Trump administration demanded that Russia “recount” the warheads “and check which category these warheads belong to and immediately establish control over the facilities producing these warheads,” he said.

“We have already been in a situation when American inspectors sat outside the checkpoints of our military plants in the 1990s,” he added. “There is no coming back to this system.”

Meanwhile, in the event an agreement on extension is reached between the Biden administration and Moscow, it remains to be seen how Russia will seek to initially implement an extension given that Russian law requires approval by the Russian parliament.

Ryabkov said Dec. 7 that “for Russia to extend [New START] would mean to go through numerous steps…that equals to the formal ratification of a treaty.”

“We are prepared to…do our utmost to be there in time,” he said, but “the situation is challenging, it’s quite a demanding one.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. —KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant


Allies’ Support for New START Extension Remains Strong

Following the U.S. presidential election, U.S. allies and members of Congress continued to express their hope that the United States and Russia will agree to extend New START and then launch talks on the future of arms control.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has previously called for New START’s extension, said that at a Dec. 1 meeting, defense ministers from NATO countries “expressed support for preserving limitations of nuclear weapons and for developing a more comprehensive arms control regime.”

“We all know that the New START treaty will expire next February, so time is running out,” he continued. “We welcome the dialogue between the United States and Russia to find a way forward because we should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also wrote in a joint Nov. 16 Washington Post op-ed that “We hope that the United States and Russia will succeed in extending the New START agreement beyond February 2021.”

In Congress, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) sent a letter to President Trump Oct. 20 urging him “to extend New START, which may be complemented by a mutual freeze on current stockpiles, without delay.”

Russia has also called for extending New START first and then pursuing a dialogue on what potentially lies ahead for arms control.

In a Nov. 10 meeting with defense officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that New START “ensures adequate transparency, if I may say so, in terms of strategic nuclear arsenals and helps avert an uncontrollable arms race.”

“For this reason, we proposed extending it, as it was signed by the parties, to give us more time to work on it,” he said. Putin then added that Moscow has “forwarded our proposals on devising a new ‘security equation’ to our U.S. partners.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov further described those proposals in remarks Nov. 30 at the Fort Ross Dialogue.

The new “security equation” should be developed jointly by the United States and Russia and take “into account all factors affecting strategic stability,” he said. “We want this ‘equation’ to cover not only to cover traditional strategic arms, such as ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles], SLBMs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles], and heavy bombers with their respective ordnance, but also all nuclear and non-nuclear weapons that are capable of accomplishing strategic tasks.”

Ryabkov added Dec. 7 that the Russian proposals are “flexible enough to suggest even that any future agreements and/or arrangements in this area should be configured in manner that essentially allows for a reasonably easy access to these arrangements and entry into these arrangements by third parties.”

Trump Administration Continues Pushing China to Join Arms Control

The Trump administration continues to aggressively call on China to join arms control talks with the United States and Russia.

The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, but Beijing’s opposition forced the Trump administration to drop this demand as a condition for considering an extension of New START.

“China has stubbornly refused to date to participate in those discussions, but as we approach the review conference of the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty next year, I believe pressure will continue to grow on China to enter those discussions,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Nov. 12.

At the EU Consortium on Nonproliferation and Disarmament Conference Nov. 12, Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, echoed Biegun.

“It is becoming obvious to everyone that Beijing is not taking seriously its responsibility as a nuclear power to engage in meaningful arms control negotiations, and it continues to shun arms control negotiations with us on effective measures to prevent a new nuclear arms race spiral,” he said.

Fu Cong, director-general of the Department of Arms Control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, replied to Ford by saying that Beijing has communicated with Washington by phone, email, and letters.

Fu also said that he had talked directly with Billingslea. “We even had a phone conversation, even though that conversation was not very pleasant,” he said.

He emphasized China’s view that “the immediate priority now is to urge the United States to respond as soon as possible to Russia’s call for the unconditional extension of the New START.”

When asked if China would join trilateral arms control discussions if the United States and Russia agree to reduce their nuclear arsenals, Fu replied, “I would say that is a big ‘if’—if the U.S. agrees to reduce.”


Army Moves Ahead with INF-Range Missile Development

The U.S. Army announced Nov. 6 its selection of two missiles to serve as the basis for the initial development of a conventional, ground-launched, mid-range missile capability. Both of these missiles would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the Trump administration withdrew the United States from in Aug. 2019.

Lockheed Martin won the sole-source contract worth $339.3 million to design, develop, and deliver the Mid-Range Capability (MRC) prototype to be fielded in fiscal year 2023.

“Following a broad review of joint service technologies potentially applicable to MRC, the Army has selected variants of the Navy SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles to be part of the initial prototype,” said the statement from the U.S. Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office.

The Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) was developed as a missile defense interceptor and first deployed in 2013. The Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile has been in service since the 1980s, though some variants, such as those carrying a nuclear payload, have been retired.

“The MRC supports one of the Army’s chief roles in multi-domain operations: to use strategic fires to penetrate and disintegrate enemy layered defense systems, creating windows of opportunity for exploitation by the joint force,” the office said.

The Army told Breaking Defense that it does not plan to modify either of the Navy missiles. By selecting “variants” of the two missiles, the Army would be able to purchase the latest models: the SM-6 Block IB, estimated to complete development in 2024, and the Tomahawk Block Va, known as the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST), which began production in 2020.

Since the demise of the INF Treaty last year, the Trump administration has been vocal about quickly developing and deploying a ground-launched, intermediate-range capability to counter Russia and China in particular.

“The Chinese have built an extensive array, well over 1,000 missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the Pacific. And the Russians have too, and they did it in violation of the INF Treaty,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper Oct. 20. “We are committed to making sure we build similar capabilities for both theaters.”

The United States believes that Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729, for a total of about 100 missiles, in areas of the country able to strike NATO countries.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien echoed the secretary’s remarks Oct. 28, saying the United States “will deploy the same missiles if necessary in Europe to deter the Russians.”

Where the ground-launched, intermediate-range U.S. missiles might be based remains unclear, as countries such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea have downplayed the possibility of hosting them. Billingslea said Nov. 17 that Washington needs to “work on rotational concepts with both NATO and with individual allies, and make sure that the GLCM [ground-launched cruise missile] is designed to be exportable so that we can provide it to allies for their own fielding.”

Russia has said that if the United States moves forward with the deployment of this class of missiles, it will respond in kind.

“If American missiles are deployed in APAC [the Asia-Pacific region], and it was once again confirmed to me yesterday that such missiles would be deployed, then the range of these missiles would reach the Russian Federation,” said Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov Oct. 17. “Of course, adequate steps will be taken from the Russian side.”

Signed in 1987, the now-defunct INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Russia Modifies INF-Range Missile Moratorium Proposal

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested adding “mutual verification measures” to his proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty.

These measures, he said Oct. 26, would focus on Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems deployed at NATO bases in Europe and on Russian military facilities in Kaliningrad. Putin claimed that the latter measure would confirm the absence of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the United States says violated the INF Treaty and that the Trump administration cited as a reason for withdrawal from the accord in Aug. 2019.

Putin reiterated that Russia believes the missile did not violate the treaty and that Russia will continue “not to deploy 9M729 missiles in European Russia” as long as NATO members do not field similar missiles in Europe.

Thus far, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have acknowledged Putin’s offer, but none have definitively accepted or rejected it.

The Trump administration has panned the proposal. Marshall Billingslea said Nov. 17, “No future President should be naïve enough to fall into Putin’s INF Moratorium trap, and we should be vigilant on this front.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded Oct. 28 to the initial international reactions. “We urge you to at least carefully study and analyze the Russian initiative,” said the ministry in a statement. The following day, the ministry encouraged the United States and its allies to “offer a constructive response.”

Putin first proposed the idea of a moratorium in Aug. 2019. NATO rejected it the following month.


U.S. Withdraws from Open Skies Treaty

The United States formally withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty Nov. 22 despite domestic and international pressure to remain a party to the accord, including from President-elect Joe Biden and numerous U.S. allies.

“Today, pursuant to earlier notice provided, the United States withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies is now effective,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet. “America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in noncompliance with its obligations.”

In May, Pompeo issued the six-month notice of withdrawal as required by the treaty, citing concerns over Russian compliance with and implementation of the treaty as grounds for the U.S. withdrawal.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has violated the treaty and said in a Nov. 22 statement that all options remain on the table regarding its continued participation. The statement followed Nov. 12 remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in which he outlined in stark terms the circumstances in which Moscow might remain a party to the treaty.

“If they [the remaining states-parties] want to keep the treaty in force, and if we choose to remain part of it, we will require our partners to legally confirm in writing that, first, they will not prohibit flights over any part of their territory regardless of whether U.S. bases are located there or not,” he said.

He added that the parties must also “strongly commit not to transmit data on flights over Russia to the United States.”

The Open Skies Consultative Commission met in mid-December, during which Russia said that it had submitted a proposal in November to amend a 2002 treaty decision that only contains “general wording” related to the handling of data collected under the accord.

Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, said that the Russian proposal has “an explicit prohibition on the transfer of such data to ‘the wrong hands,’” such as Washington now that it has withdrawn from the treaty.

“We learned that Washington was making backroom deals and demanding that allies hand over the results of Open Skies missions over Russia to the United States,” he said. “The implementation of such evasive maneuvers would be a flagrant violation of the Treaty.”

Gavrilov added, “The fate of the Treaty hinges on the adoption of the updated Decision.”

For more, see “U.S. Completes Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal,” by Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos, Arms Control Today, Dec. 2020.

Russia Denounces U.S. ICBM Interceptor Test

Russia criticized the United States for its Nov. 16 test of a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile interceptor against an ICBM target.

The test is “further evidence of Washington’s dangerous and destabilizing policy on anti-missile defense issues” and “illustrates the misleading nature of U.S. assurances that its global anti-missile defense system is not directed against Russia,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova during a Nov. 19 news conference.

“We will naturally have to take the necessary steps in response,” she added, “to ensure national security and maintain strategic stability.”

Russia, as well as China, has long been critical of U.S. missile defense systems out of concern that these capabilities may undermine confidence in its nuclear arsenal. Washington has insisted that its missile defense systems are intended to counter threats from “rogue states,” such as Iran and North Korea. The United States and Russia negotiated limits on the deployment of missile defense systems through the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, but Washington withdrew from the accord in 2002.


Comparing the Senate, House, and Final Versions of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control

Senate NDAA

House NDAA

Final NDAA

No provisions on the Open Skies Treaty.

Expresses the sense of Congress that the decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies did not comply with Section 1234(a) of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and that confidence and security-building measures remain vital to the strategic interests of our NATO allies and partners. Requires a description upon U.S. withdrawal from the treaty on how the United States will receive sufficient notice of treaty overflights of states-parties who host U.S. military forces. Requires reports on the implications of U.S. withdrawal from the accord, including collaboration with U.S. allies and imagery captured under the treaty.

Adopts the House provision, but edits the Sense of Congress to no longer include subsections which say that the withdrawal was made over the objections of U.S. allies and without asserting material breach of the treaty. (Sec. 1232)

No provisions on New START.

Fences funding by no more than 25 percent for the office of the Defense Secretary in order to obtain a report on New START required in the FY2020 NDAA that are past due. Requires the Defense Secretary to provide a briefing to the House Armed Services Committee not later than Sept. 1, 2020, on the status of nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia.

Fences funding by no more than 50 percent for the office of the Defense Secretary in order to obtain reports on New START required in the FY2020 NDAA that are past due. (Sec. 1672)

No provisions on the INF Treaty.

Fences funding for the office of the Defense Secretary in order to obtain reports on the post-INF Treaty landscape required in the FY2020 NDAA that are past due.

Fences funding by no more than 50 percent for the office of the Defense Secretary in order to obtain a report on the INF Treaty required in the FY2020 NDAA that are past due. (Sec. 1672)



Dec. 17 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-year news conference
Dec. 22 10th anniversary of the Senate’s vote to provide its advice and consent to ratification of New START
Feb. 5 Scheduled expiration of New START unless extended by U.S. and Russian presidents