With only days remaining until its expiration, the United States and Russia officially sealed an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for an additional five years, keeping in place the treaty’s verifiable limits on the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
Biden administration officials stressed that the extension would buy time and space to pursue follow-on talks on new arms control arrangements.
“President Biden has made clear that the New START Treaty extension is only the beginning of our efforts to address 21st century security challenges,” said Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a Feb. 3 statement. “The United States will use the time provided by a five-year extension of the New START Treaty to pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and U.S. allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.”
“We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a Jan. 21 statement after news first emerged that the Biden administration would pursue a five-year extension. “Failing to swiftly extend New START would weaken America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized Feb. 3 the importance of New START’s extension for maintaining strategic stability, saying, “Considering the special responsibilities that Russia and the U.S. carry as the world’s largest nuclear nations, the decision taken is important as it guarantees a necessary level of predictability and transparency in this area, while strictly maintaining a balance of interests.”
The ministry also signaled that Moscow “is ready to do its part” to “return our bilateral dialogue” in arms control “back to a more stable trajectory [and] reach new substantial results which would strengthen our national security and global strategic stability.”
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time Jan. 26 and “discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension,” according to the White House readout of the call. The treaty was set to expire Feb. 5.
While the U.S. president did not need to receive the Senate’s approval for the extension, Russian domestic law required that Putin obtain the consent of the Russian parliament for his decision to extend the treaty. The Kremlin submitted the necessary bill to parliament Jan. 26.
Though Russian officials had in the past warned that it could take weeks, if not months, for the Russian legislature to act on an extension, the State Duma and the Federation Council both approved the extension law in less than a day. Putin signed the law Jan. 29, which allowed the two countries to officially seal the extension with an exchange of diplomatic notes Feb. 3.
Russia in recent weeks had reiterated its longstanding support for an unconditional five-year extension of New START, the maximum amount allowed by the treaty. Though Biden had expressed his support for an extension on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, he did not specify how long of an extension he would seek. Some of his advisers were reportedly encouraging a shorter extension.
President Joe Biden “has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interest of the United States, and this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” she said.
New START’s extension comes after the Trump administration did not seriously pursue arms control talks with Russia for over three years and then, in the last six months of 2020, hinged a short-term extension of New START on additional conditions that Moscow repeatedly rejected.
Last October, the two countries exchanged proposals on a one-year extension of New START paired with a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. Though the Trump administration maintained that there was an agreement in principle on this concept, Russia firmly dismissed any agreement and rejected the Trump administration’s insistence that a freeze be accompanied by detailed definitions of a warhead, a warhead stockpile declaration, and a plan to verify a freeze.
“Simply extending the New START treaty for five years really abandons all the leverage one has with the Russians,” said Marshall Billingslea, the former U.S. special envoy for arms control. Appointed as special envoy in April 2020, Billingslea led the Trump administration’s failed discussions with Russia on New START and arms control.
“We’re aware that the last administration engaged in negotiations on an extension of a New START for months but was unable to come with an agreement,” a senior U.S. official told the Post. “We also understand there have been various proposals exchanged during those negations, but we’ve not seen anything to suggest that at any point an agreement on the terms that have been reported was in place.”
The Trump administration also had initially insisted on the inclusion of China in trilateral arms control talks as a prerequisite for New START extension. That demand eventually fell away as Beijing repeatedly refused to join talks.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Jan. 27 that Beijing welcomes New START’s extension. “It is conducive to upholding global strategic stability and promoting international peace and security, which meets the aspiration of the international community,” he added.
In the Feb. 3 statement, Blinken said that the Biden administration “will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.” Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration plans to pursue bilateral talks with China, in parallel with a U.S.-Russian dialogue, rather than trilateral arms control talks.
When dialogue between the United States and Russia might begin remains unclear.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Jan. 29 that the treaty’s extension “is the beginning of the story on what is going to have to be serious, sustained negotiations around a whole set of nuclear challenges and threats that fall outside of the New START agreement, as well as other emerging security challenges as well.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov struck a similar tone Jan. 27. “We now have a significant amount of time in order to launch and hold profound bilateral talks on the whole set of issues that influence strategic stability [and] ensure security of our state for a long period ahead,” he said. “Without…extending the New START treaty for five years, this task would have been much more difficult.”
The United States has expressed concern about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons and new nuclear weapons delivery systems (two of which, the Sarmat and Avangard, Moscow has already said would be covered by New START), as well as China’s advancing nuclear capabilities. Russia, meanwhile, has said that in future talks, it would like to take into account U.S. missile defense, hypersonic weapons, missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the inclusion of France and the United Kingdom in arms control.
Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Inspections under the treaty and meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, have been suspended since early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. —KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research associate
U.S. Allies, Members of Congress React to New START Extension
Following news that the Biden administration would seek a five-year extension of New START, reactions quickly rolled in from U.S. allies, as well as members of Congress.
“I welcome President Biden’s intention to seek a five-year extension of the New START Treaty,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Jan. 22. “I have repeatedly stated that we should not end up in a situation where we have no limitation whatsoever on nuclear warheads, and…NATO allies have made clear that the preservation of New START is of great importance.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Commission Peter Stano also said that they welcomed the extension of the accord.
Germany and France issued statements of support as well.
“New START is being extended—that is big news,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. “As this crucial year for disarmament and arms control gets under way, the extension lays important groundwork. We are committed to ensuring that further encouraging steps are taken: The setbacks of recent years, for the INF Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces and the Treaty on Open Skies, must urgently be reversed.”
“France reaffirms its attachment to ensuring that the extension of the New START Treaty must be swiftly followed by the redefinition of an ambitious, more comprehensive arms control and strategic stability agenda,” said the statement from the French Foreign Ministry.
The United Kingdom also backed the extension.
In Congress, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), who had introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 calling for the extension of New START, released a statement Jan. 22 saying that “we’re pleased to hear the Biden Administration is working to renew the Treaty with Russia for five years.”
“Critically, extending New START will also lay the groundwork for negotiating follow-on agreements with Russia and pursuing parallel efforts to engage China on arms control,” the senators wrote.
Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, also commended the treaty’s extension.
“Despite Russia’s wide ranging malign activities, ensuring limits on and insight into Russia’s nuclear arsenal is unquestionably in the national security interest of the United States,” they said. “We can deter Russian aggression and secure our interests through arms control at the same time.”
Most Republican lawmakers, however, criticized the extension decision. They echoed former Trump administration officials in arguing that the treaty was a deeply flawed agreement and that a shorter extension would have enhanced U.S. leverage in follow-on talks with Russia
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Jan. 22 that while he agreed with the president’s decision to extend the treaty, he was “concerned with the length of extension given Russia’s continued undertaking of massive modernization and its building of new capabilities that leaves out entire classes of nuclear weapons.”
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a Jan. 22 statement that “Having secured the longer extension he desired, President Putin has no incentive to negotiate with the United States and will, as he has done, decline to engage in any further discussions,” he said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a longtime critic of arms control, also lambasted the president’s decision to extend the treaty, arguing that “President Biden and the Democrats have immediately reverted to their old, weak, dovish ways.”
Russia Announces Plan to Withdraw from Open Skies Treaty
Russia announced in January that it would begin domestic procedures for withdrawing from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, but later clarified that it could reverse the decision if the United States returned to the agreement.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, has begun a review of whether, and if so how, it would be possible to return the United States to the treaty.
The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in November, said the Russian Foreign Ministry in a Jan. 15 statement, “destroyed the balance of interests of the State-Parties reached when the Treaty was signed, inflicted a severe damage to its functioning, and undermined the role of the Open Skies Treaty as a confidence and security building measure.”
Upon completion of the domestic procedures, Russia will give “respective notification” to the treaty depositaries, Canada and Hungary, according to the ministry statement. Moscow did not specify when it could begin such procedures. Once states-parties are notified, Russia could officially withdraw in six-month’s time, as stipulated by the treaty text.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) immediately criticized Moscow’s move. “Russia’s selective implementation of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty has for some time undermined the contribution of this important treaty to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region,” said NATO Deputy Spokesman Piers Cazalet Jan. 15.
Russia outlined in November the two conditions under which it would remain party to the treaty: the remaining states-parties must give written legal guarantees not to prohibit overflights of U.S. bases in Europe nor continue to share data collected under the treaty with the United States.
“If the remaining participants bow to the United States, it will not take us long to provide a harsh response,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Dec. 29. “We have not yet received such guarantees, so, the further fate of the Open Skies Treaty is highly questionable.”
German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Jan. 3 that Russia notified the remaining states-parties Dec. 22 that it would seek to withdraw from the treaty unless the parties provided written guarantees by Jan. 1 agreeing to Moscow’s conditions. The foreign ministers of 16 states-parties, including France and Germany, ultimately rejected Russia’s request and encouraged further discussion of these issues during the next meeting of the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), the implementing body of the treaty, Jan. 25.
“We did all we could to save it,” said Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova Jan. 21, but “our proposals were dismissed.”
“In doing this, the Western countries scrapped forever the once vital measure of transparency and mutual trust in the Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” she continued.
During the OSCC meeting, Konstantin Gavrilov, head of Russia’s delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, criticized the remaining states-parties for not agreeing to Moscow’s terms and claimed to have “clear evidence” that Washington demanded from its allies signed documents saying that they would continue to transfer information obtained from treaty overflights to the United States and deny Russian requests to fly over U.S. bases in Europe.
“We regret that the lack of political realism and constructive approach on the part of the States Parties led to this situation,” he said. “If our Western partners wish to make reproaches, they should only address them to themselves.”
Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO deputy secretary general and U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told The Economist that in her view, “the Russians wanted to send a message that they won’t be pushed around on arms control and NATO.”
President Biden has expressed his support for the Open Skies Treaty and denounced the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States. However, he has yet to say whether he would seek to have Washington re-enter the agreement or whether he views the withdrawal as illegal as it was done in violation of the law.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said Feb. 2 that the Biden administration is “studying” the issue of the treaty’s future. “We’ll take a decision in due course. To the best of our knowledge, Russia is still not in full compliance with the treaty.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented the same day that “If the United States fully returns to observing the treaty, the Russian Federation would be ready to constructively consider that new situation.”
Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the 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.
Biden Fills Key Arms Control Posts
President Biden has nominated and appointed individuals for key arms control positions at the State Department, Defense Department, and National Security Council.
Biden nominated Amb. Bonnie Jenkins to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs. Jenkins, a board member of the Arms Control Association, served as the State Department’s coordinator for threat reduction programs under the Obama administration.
Alexandra Bell, former senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, was appointed as deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of arms control, verification, and compliance (AVC). Anthony Wier, who previously worked at the Friend’s Committee on National Legislation as the lead lobbyist and director on nuclear weapons policy, was appointed as deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of international security and nonproliferation.
At the Pentagon, the president tapped Colin Kahl, who served as National Security Advisor for then-Vice President Biden, to be undersecretary of defense for policy.
Richard Johnson will step in as deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction. During the Obama administration, he served at the State Department working on the Iranian nuclear issue and on the National Security Council as director for nonproliferation. Leonor Tomero, former counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, will be deputy assistant director for nuclear and missile defense programs.
At the National Security Council, Mallory Stewart will be senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. She was previously deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during Obama’s second term.
Russia Tests Anti-Satellite Missile, U.S. Says
“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time, Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” said U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, commander of Space Command.
The statement did not provide further details on the test, such as the exact date it occurred or what the test specifically involved. Russia has not since commented on the allegation.
Space Command described the anti-satellite missile tested as a kinetic weapon capable of destroying satellites in low Earth orbit and causing debris, which could then potentially damage other satellites in space.
Marshall Billingslea, then U.S. special envoy for arms control, tweeted Dec. 16 that he briefed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the “egregious missile test.”
The test “directly contradicts Russia’s so-called ‘commitment’ to prevent turning space into a battlefield,” he said. “If such a weapon is used operationally, it would pollute space and have catastrophic global economic consequences.”
This test marked the second anti-satellite test Russia conduced in 2020, with an earlier test in May, and it came after an alleged test of a different type of space weapon in July.
On July 23, Space Command said that Russia conducted a test July 15 of a “space-based anti-satellite weapon,” though Moscow said that it was an inspector satellite, meant only to gather information on a Russian spacecraft. This second type of kinetic weapon, Space Command said in December, is a co-orbital anti-satellite, part of a space-based weapon system.
The news of the second anti-satellite test came as the Trump administration released a new National Space Policy Dec. 9. In remarks to the National Space Council that day, then Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said, “America’s vital interests are increasingly at risk as China and Russia develop and field destructive weapons to threaten U.S. and allied space capabilities.”
“Russia in particular has recently demonstrated provocative behavior creating a potentially dangerous situation in space,” he added. “We should not allow that threat to grow unabated.”
NEW RESOURCES & ANALYSES
|“The Future of US-Russia Arms Control,” featuring Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START; Pranay Vaddi, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association; Naomi Egel, Truman Center for National Policy
|“Post-New START Arms Control: Lessons from a U.S.-Russia Bilateral Expert Dialogue,” featuring Amy Woolf, Congressional Research Service; Andrey Baklitskiy, Institute of International Studies at the MGIMO University of the Russian Foreign Ministry; Heather A. Conley, Center for Strategic and International Studies
|“The Future of Strategic Arms Control after New START,” featuring Amb. Steven Pifer, Robert Bosch Academy; Daria Selezneva, National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations; Emmanuelle Maitre, Foundation for Strategic Research