The United States and Russia committed to a statement expressing the need for the world’s two largest nuclear-weapon states to negotiate a follow-on arms control arrangement to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires in under four years. This commitment came during the monthlong 10th review conference for the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) held in August, at which U.S. President Joe Biden stated that his administration stands prepared to begin such arms control talks.
“The Russian Federation and the United States commit to the full implementation of the New START Treaty and to pursue negotiations in good faith on a successor framework to New START before its expiration in 2026, in order to achieve deeper, irreversible, and verifiable reductions in their nuclear arsenals,” states the final draft document of the NPT conference.
The need for further concrete action on nuclear disarmament emerged as a major issue at the conference, where a large of number the 151 out of 190 states-parties in attendance welcomed the U.S.-Russian commitment.
Although Russia ultimately blocked consensus on the final draft NPT outcome document due to objections about references to the need for Ukrainian control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was seized by Russia in March, Moscow and Washington did both agree to the language on negotiating a new nuclear arms control framework agreement.
On the first day of the conference, both Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed the importance of nuclear arms control and the need to avert nuclear war.
“Even at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to work together to uphold our shared responsibility to ensure strategic stability,” said Biden in a statement issued to the conference Aug. 1. “Today, my Administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026. But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith.”
Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, acknowledged Aug. 5 that the Biden administration knows “there is a ticking clock counting down toward a world with no binding limits on the two largest nuclear arsenals and therefore greater potential for instability.”
Meanwhile, Putin told the conference that “we believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later added that “Moscow has repeatedly spoken about the necessity to start such talks [on a New START replacement] as soon as possible as there is little time left.”
At the close of the conference, the German delegation expressed the views of many non-nuclear-weapon states, saying, “We are encouraged that Russia and the United States, the states with the largest arsenals, are committed to the full implementation of the New START Treaty and to pursuing a follow-up agreement to the New START treaty as a substantial contribution to nuclear disarmament. Over the next years, we also need to improve transparency of nuclear weapons programs in a way that builds confidence among nuclear weapon states, especially in the face of rising arsenals.”
Senior U.S. and Russian officials last met in January 2022 for a session of the bilateral strategic stability dialogue, which features arms control as a major topic and is separate from formal negotiations on an arms control arrangement or a package of arrangements. The United States paused the dialogue following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
While Biden and Putin have both repeatedly expressed verbal support for arms control talks to restart, U.S. and Russian officials have commented that there remain certain challenges to be solved before the talks can begin. Nevertheless, Peskov suggested Aug. 31 that there are “signals” indicating the arms control talks may start soon.
A day later, however, spokespersons from the State Department and U.S. National Security Council said that before holding talks on a New START follow-on arrangement, the on-site inspections allowed under the treaty must resume. The inspections have been paused since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the more recent Russian decision to prohibit inspections at its nuclear-related facilities subject to the treaty (see below). —SHANNON BUGOS, senior policy analyst, and HEATHER FOYE, nuclear policy intern
New START Inspections Paused Until Further Notice
About a week into the NPT review conference, Russia notified the United States of its decision to temporarily suspend on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities subject to New START.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Aug. 8 statement that the decision stemmed from “Washington’s persistent desire to implicitly achieve a restart of inspection activities on conditions that do not take into account existing realities, create unilateral advantages for the United States, and effectively deprive the Russian Federation of the right to carry out inspections on American soil.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov further explained Moscow’s decision to suspend New START on-site inspections, attributing it to the United States attempting to conduct an inspection without prior notice and with ongoing unresolved issues, such as difficulties for Russian inspections crews to obtain the necessary visas and permissions to enter the airspace of the United States and its allies and partners. Many of these restrictions have been imposed on Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine.
“U.S. sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine are fully compatible with the New START Treaty,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price responded Aug. 16. “They don’t prevent Russian inspectors from conducting treaty inspections in the United States.” Another State Department spokesperson later added, “The United States has and will continue to engage Russia on the resumption of inspections through diplomatic channels,” such as the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) established by the treaty to address implementation and verification concerns.
A National Security Council spokesperson emphasized Sept. 1 that before any formal arms control dialogue on a New START replacement, “the first step is to resume inspections under the existing New START Treaty, and we have been trying to work with the Russians toward that end.”
According to a required data exchange in March 2022, the two countries continue to adhere to New START limitations on their strategic nuclear arsenals. The State Department reiterated in August that Russia still upholds the treaty. Washington and Moscow are also reportedly working on holding a BCC session.
A Fractured P5 at NPT RevCon
The 10th review conference for the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) concluded Aug. 26 without an agreed outcome document as a result of Russian opposition regarding language on the crisis at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which they have occupied since March 2022. While the other four NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states—China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—did not ultimately attempt to block consensus, their statements indicate the internal division and a lack of will to enact further nonproliferation and disarmament commitments.
During the monthlong conference, the U.S. delegation continually condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. On the final day of the conference, the United States stated that Russia is “the one undermining all three pillars of the NPT through its actions in Ukraine” and that Russia “is the one whose war puts Europe, Ukraine, and its own people at risk of a radiological disaster.” The three pillars of the NPT, which entered into force in 1970 and includes 190 states-parties, are focused on nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
France joined the United States in criticizing Russia for its unjustified invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “gross violation of international law, including the United Nations Charter” during closing remarks. Paris also condemned the ongoing occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian forces and demanded the plant’s immediate return to Ukrainian authorities.
France denounced Russian statements which included “dangerous nuclear rhetoric…inconsistent with the recent P5 Leaders Joint Statement on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races.” This refers to the Jan. 3 statement released from the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapons states, which are also the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the NATO allies, wanted to condemn Putin’s recent threats of nuclear use by speaking out against “irresponsible rhetoric concerning potential nuclear use intended for military coercion, intimidation, or blackmail.” However, this would not include nuclear threats that “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war,” according to a July 29 working paper issued by the three countries.
Many non-nuclear-weapon states-parties—including Austria, Costa Rica, and Ireland—did not view such an attempt to distinguish between nuclear threats as helpful and instead wanted to characterize all threats of nuclear use as contrary to international law and the UN Charter. In the end, the majority of states-parties agreed only that the final draft document should state that “the threat of nuclear weapons use today is higher than at any time since the heights of the Cold War and at the deteriorated international security environment” and commit the nuclear-weapon states “to refrain from any inflammatory rhetoric concerning the use of nuclear weapons.”
Russia defended its actions against the “Kiev regime” and described the allegations as false and politicized. In an Aug. 2 statement, Moscow rejected the “utterly unfounded, detached from reality and unacceptable speculations that Russia allegedly threatens to use nuclear weapons, particularly in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, China opposed any reference in the draft supporting a voluntary halt of fissile material production for nuclear weapons purposes, until official negotiations of a fissile material cutoff treaty are announced and commenced. Beijing also raised concerns about the trilateral agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (known as AUKUS), which allows for Washington and London to share nuclear submarine propulsion technology with Canberra. In opening remarks Aug. 2, the Chinese delegation called for the international community to “reject double standards in the area of non-proliferation,” stating that AUKUS “poses severe nuclear proliferation risks, in contravention of the object and purpose of the NPT.”
In response, the United States has reaffirmed the commitment for AUKUS partners to work openly with the international community, including allowing full compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The final outcome document of the review conference faced criticism from many non-nuclear states-parties for lacking concrete ambitions for nuclear disarmament by the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states. On the final day Kazakhstan and Kiribati, which have suffered from nuclear tests, noted it was time for “states parties to hold the nuclear weapon states accountable for their past behavior and outstanding and long-overdue disarmament obligations.”
The next NPT review conference will take place in 2026, with the next preparatory meeting in 2023.
For more information on the NPT review conference, see the following resources:
No Indication of Imminent Russian Nuclear Use, U.S. Says
The United States has continued issuing assurances this summer that there are no indications that Russia is poised to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. At the same time, Russian officials have attempted to downplay the threats of nuclear use from the Kremlin.
“Despite their bellicose rhetoric, we have seen no indications that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and we have not seen any reason to raise our alert levels or adjust our nuclear posture,” a State Department spokesperson affirmed Aug. 30. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the Pentagon has been consistently monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces for any signs of impending use, thus far seeing none.
Meanwhile, Russian officials have tried to mitigate concerns stemming from repeated threats by Putin that Moscow would employ nuclear weapons if any country was seen to have interfered in its invasion of Ukraine. Putin also ordered Russian nuclear forces to move to a heightened alert status a few days into the war.
“From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals,” said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in August. “The main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack.”
Ivan Nechayev, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press department, held an Aug. 18 briefing, in which he emphasized that “a direct confrontation with the United States or NATO is not in our interests.” Nechayev also detailed the scenarios in which Russia will contemplate nuclear use according to the country’s nuclear deterrence policy released in June 2020. Ultimately, he concluded, “nuclear weapons can only be used in retaliation to an attack as a means of self-defense in extreme circumstances.”
|Russia’s Nuclear Employment Scenarios
Russia will consider the use of nuclear weapons in the following four scenarios:
|Source: “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence,” published June 2020
Belarus Claims Planes Ready to Carry Nuclear Weapons
Belarus has completed reequipping its aircraft to carry nuclear weapons under a June agreement with Russia, according to the Belarussian president.
“All of it has been done,” President Aleksandr Lukashenko told reporters Aug. 26.
In June, Putin agreed to transfer to Belarus the Iskander-M missile, which can be conventional or nuclear, and to start reequipping the Russian Su-25 jets owned by Belarus for nuclear missions and training aircrews for such missions. Lukashenko has not specified how many jets have been upgraded.
Belarus voted to abandon its status as a non-nuclear weapon country in a Feb. 27 referendum and allowed Russia to conduct a 10-day military exercise in southern Belarus and then launch part of its invasion into Ukraine from there.
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