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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
START Treaty: What's Next?
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By Ambassador Lem A. Masterkov

This article was written by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Lem A. Masterkov, who was one of the negotiators of the INF Treaty and the START. He passed away in October 2007. Until his last days he had been working for the Department of Security Affairs and Disarmament of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. This article can be considered as a legacy of this prominent Russian arms control expert.

In one of his statements the President of the Russian Federation expressed concern over the virtual standstill in the field of disarmament and suggested that Russia and the United States of America launch in the first place the negotiating process with a view to replacing the START which expires in 2009. Such a linkage is logical and comprehensible. Whatever the importance of any disarmament area, it is the situation in strategic arms control that most of all affects security if not the very existence of mankind. It is only natural that the leading role here belongs to states with the largest arsenals of such weapons.

It is also logical that what is involved is the START. This treaty is not a routine agreement but a compendium of limitations in the field of strategic arms. It took a long time and painstaking efforts to develop it. The major motive for its conclusion was the awareness by its parties-and originally these were the USSR and USA-that nuclear war would have devastating consequences for all humanity and must never be fought (these words, by the way, open the text of the treaty). Accordingly, all its substantive provisions were developed so as to ensure the utmost reduction of the risk of nuclear conflict including accidental or unintentional one.

Therefore the treaty is in fact a code of conduct for its nuclear parties in terms of observation of both quantitative and qualitative limitations on strategic offensive arms as well as specific rules for practical activities relating to their strategic forces. Here are some examples.

Along with a limitation in the number of warheads on strategic delivery vehicles, the treaty sets a limit for the number of such vehicles, that is intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers. Incidentally, this is the only treaty limitation on the number of strategic nuclear weapon delivery vehicles that remains in force and objectively restrains also the increase in the number of warheads.

The treaty prohibits basing strategic offensive arms outside the national territory of the relevant party-which, however, does not preclude the navigation of submarines in the world ocean and temporary deployment of heavy bombers outside the national territory, the latter provision being contingent on relevant notification to the other parties.

Strategic offensive arms basing within the national territory is permitted only at facilities specially created for this purpose (their number and location are not limited), which are notified to the other parties of the Treaty.

It is easy to see the extent to which the global strategic situation could become complicated, if there were no such rules and prohibitions, as well as the risks and difficulties in terms of control and confidence that could arise, and not only for the treaty's parties. Therefore it is clear that the stabilizing role of many provisions of the START, including those mentioned above, in maintaining strategic stability and reducing the risk of nuclear conflict has not diminished today. If they were discarded, this would mean a serious failure of the strategic offensive arms limitation regime and would throw us back to the situation prevailing several decades ago.

There is another important aspect. The glossary containing agreed definitions of the terms used in the Treaty was worked out and became its integral part. Some of those definitions, for example ICBM, SLBM, heavy bomber, long-range cruise missile and others, have been widely used internationally even by nonparticipants in the treaty. However all these definitions are codified and exist only while the START remains in force.

That is why the Russian side has been insisting in its current dialogue with the United States of America on the preservation, first of all, of the important provisions mentioned above in a new legally binding agreement that is to replace the START.

Along with substantive provisions of the future agreement relating to strategic arms limitations, the participants in the dialogue have been also considering possible verification and confidence-building measures. The implementation of the START would enable the sides to accumulate relevant useful experience, and this opportunity should not be lost either. Of course, such measures, which objectively are subsidiary ones, will depend for their scale and specific content on the key factor -that is the content and nature of the limitations envisaged.

The Russian-American summit held early in July of this year gave an additional impulse to the dialogue aimed at replacing the START with a new agreement. The situation with the development of such an agreement was considered by the heads of the foreign policy agencies of the two countries. They declared in their statement that in accordance with the instruction given by the presidents the sides would continue discussions to attain results as soon as possible. At the same time it was reaffirmed that Russia and the United States intend to reduce their strategic offensive arms to the lowest possible levels that meet their national security requirements and their ally obligations.

Why have Russia and the United States been engaged in this work? There are five states-parties to the treaty: apart from Russia and the United States, there are also Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. However, since the last three countries eliminated the strategic offensive arms, which happened to be deployed in their territory after the disintegration of the Soviet Union (which predetermined the scope of the treaty) and joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states, Russia and the United States have become major players in the field of strategic arms limitations. Naturally, it is they who should decide as to how to travel further along the road to ensuring control over this weapon.

It appears that the dialogue between Russia and the United States that is underway involves, as a matter of fact, not only the fate of the START but of the disarmament process as a whole. A new legally binding agreement including not only the treaty's provisions that are useful now, but also further limitations of strategic offensive arms, to replace this treaty would play a decisive role in the resumption of this process and give it a new impetus. This is particularly important now when the entire system of international relations in the field of disarmament has been threatened with a collapse as a result of the withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty, its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and non-observance by Western parties of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. A new agreement on strategic offensive arms will also contribute to the strengthening of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by showing that its two major nuclear participants continue to fulfill the obligations under its Article VI.