Keeping an eye on the prize: divisive US-Russia nuke talks must go on

The clock is ticking down on the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty, leaving open the possibility that the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals may soon be entirely unconstrained — a harrowing reality understood by most countries, which urge quick action.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed between the United States and Russia in 2010, is the only nuclear arms control treaty left standing after cracks in the arms control regime have emerged over the past few years. The treaty established a ceiling on the size of the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, allowing for no more than 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles (defined as intercontinental ballistic missiles, sea-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to a nuclear mission). 

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin made the right call last year to extend New START until 2026. With little more than three years left until the treaty’s expiration, it is now crunch time for the two countries to hold formal treaty negotiations, hash out the numerous divisive issues on the table, and secure the domestic support necessary to ensure a replacement arms control arrangement. If New START expires with no follow-on arrangement, the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals will be with no limitations for the first time since 1972.

Read the full op-ed, published Sept. 1, 2022, in Responsible Statescraft.