"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

Russia Still Awaiting Formal U.S. Arms Control Proposal

September 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia said that it still has not received a formal written arms control proposal from the United States, after U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan offered in June for the two countries to hold nuclear risk reduction and arms control talks without preconditions.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, pictured in March, told reporters in July that Moscow still has not received a formal nuclear arms control proposal from the United States. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)“No, we have not received a written proposal,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on July 21. He noted that Moscow “was very clearly aware” of Sullivan’s address outlining the Biden administration’s broader arms control strategy and found it lacking. (See ACT, July/August 2023.)

A U.S. national security spokesperson told Reuters on July 26 that the Biden administration “privately” conveyed the proposal to Russia, but declined to elaborate on when the communication took place or what the proposal contained.

The United States “remains open to discussing nuclear risks and the future of arms control with Russia,” the spokesperson stated. “Unfortunately, the Russian side appears not to share this willingness.”

The same day, the U.S. State Department released its annual assessment to Congress on the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report said the treaty continues to enhance U.S. national security despite a dispute with Russia that has halted treaty activities, such as on-site inspections of nuclear weapons-related facilities and daily notifications on the status and the location of treaty-accountable items. (See ACT, April and July/August 2023.)

“The United States continues to assess that there is not a strategic imbalance between the United States and the Russian Federation that endangers the national security interests of the United States, and to assess that the Russian Federation’s violations of the treaty do not currently threaten the national security interests of the United States,” the report concluded.

The State Department also determined that, as of July 1, Russia “has not engaged in significant activity” above New START’s central limits of 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using nuclear weapons in the war on Ukraine. “Don’t go there,” Biden said on July 13. “I don’t think there’s any real prospect—you never know, but—of Putin using nuclear weapons,” he continued, noting that other countries such as China have warned Putin as well.

The Financial Times reported on July 5 that, during his March visit to Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Putin against nuclear weapons use. The Kremlin denied the report.

Nonetheless, heightened concerns about Russia employing nuclear weapons against Ukraine persist as Russia purports to transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. In June, Putin announced that Belarus received the first batch of Russian nuclear warheads. Moscow has declined to disclose how many warheads it plans to send to Minsk.

Russia has said that Putin will retain control over the use of the weapons, but Belarusian President Alexander  Lukashenko claimed on July 6 that “control is carried out perfectly, jointly by Belarusians and Russians.”

“If Russia ever decided to use nuclear weapons, I am sure that it would consult with its closest ally—with us,” he said. In a June address, Lukashenko described the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons as “my firmest initiative,” but assured that “we will never have to use them while they are here.”

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on June 26 that the United States continues to see “no indication that there’s any intent to use nuclear weapons inside Ukraine.”

Western governments and nuclear experts are debating whether Russia in fact has deployed tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency senior officials told CNN on July 21 that they have “no reason to doubt” the deployment. They acknowledged that the weapons, which would be placed in storage rather than forward deployed, are tricky for the intelligence community to track.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN on July 21 that the United Kingdom has “seen signs of this [transfer] progressing,” adding that Putin “doesn’t always lie.”

But a few weeks prior, Western officials speaking anonymously told CNN that Belarus does not appear to have the proper infrastructure for housing the weapons, an assessment shared by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists.

“Our observations and analyses show no clear observable indicators of construction of the facilities we expect would be needed to support transport and deployment of Russian nuclear weapons into Belarus,” they wrote in a June 30 blog post. “We are underwhelmed by the lack of visual evidence.”

In late June, a one-day mutiny by the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group heavily involved in the invasion of Ukraine, also sparked worries over the custody and security of Russian nuclear weapons, as the group moved within 100 miles during its march to Moscow of two sites that have stored nuclear weapons.

The head of Ukrainian intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, told Reuters in a July 11 interview that Wagner forces reached the Voronezh-45 facility and planned to acquire small Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

But the U.S. National Security Council said that it could not corroborate the report. Reuters also could not independently verify the claim.

Nuclear experts were skeptical that Wagner aimed to obtain Russian nuclear weapons. Korda said it would be “virtually impossible for a non-state actor” to undermine Russian nuclear security.

In addition, operationalizing the weapons would prove difficult for Wagner, said Olga Oliker of the International Crisis Group. “Russian weapons and facilities are under solid control, and there’s no evidence that Wagner or anyone else is looking to capture them.... Not only would they be tremendously difficult to gain use of, there’s no real logic for doing so. ”

Despite Russian comments, a U.S. spokesperson said the Biden administration privately conveyed an arms control proposal announced in June.  

Russia to Consider U.S. Arms Control Proposal

July/August 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russia has suggested it will consider a U.S. proposal for Moscow and Washington to engage without preconditions in bilateral talks on nuclear risk reduction and a potential new arms control framework.

Russian spokesperson Dimitri Peskov (R), seen at the Kremlin on June 5, called an arms control proposal announced by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “important and positive.” (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan outlined the proposal in a speech to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington on June 2. “Rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework” to follow the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) after its expiration in 2026, he said.

“It is in neither of our countries’ interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces,” Sullivan acknowledged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to dismiss the prospect of arms control talks, specifically on tactical nuclear weapons, most recently in a June 16 address to an international economic forum in St. Petersburg.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has emphasized that Moscow’s position against participating in such talks until the United States withdraws from Ukraine remains the same.

But other comments from Russian officials suggest that Moscow may not have shut down all potential dialogue on arms control.

On June 5, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, described Sullivan’s remarks as “important and positive,” noting that “we are expecting it to be supported with steps that will be made de facto through diplomatic channels.”

Meanwhile, Ryabkov said on June 8 that when the Biden administration sends an official diplomatic proposal based on Sullivan’s remarks to Moscow, “we will consider it.”

U.S. President Joe Biden commented on June 17 that he continues to worry about the possibility of Putin employing tactical nuclear weapons. “It’s real,” he told reporters.

In his June 2 remarks, Sullivan outlined the three components making up the Biden administration’s nuclear arms control and risk reduction strategy. The first piece includes engaging in bilateral arms control discussions with Russia and with China without preconditions.

Sullivan reiterated that the United States continues to observe the central limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal under New START, as well as to notify Russia ahead of ballistic missile launches and major nuclear exercises under ongoing separate agreements. (See ACT, June 2023.)

But as of June 1, the United States adopted reversible countermeasures to Russia’s violations of New START,
including withholding day-to-day treaty notifications on the
status and the location of treaty-accountable items, refraining from on-site inspections on U.S. territory, and withholding telemetric information on ballistic missile launches. In March, Washington had suspended participation in the treaty’s biannual data exchanges.

A State Department official told reporters on June 2 that the United States and Russia engaged bilaterally the week prior, at which time Moscow “refused to change their current course on New START.”

Sullivan said that the countermeasures “will help guarantee that Russia does not receive benefits from a treaty they refuse to abide by and that the principle of reciprocity—a key tenet of strategic arms control—is upheld.” This will “demonstrate to Russia the benefits of returning to full compliance,” he said.

Furthermore, Sullivan noted that the limits on the U.S. nuclear arsenal in any new arms control arrangement with Russia after 2026 will be affected by the size of and the capabilities in China’s nuclear arsenal. At the same time, he emphasized that “the United States does not need to increase our nuclear forces to outnumber the combined total of our competitors in order to successfully deter them.”

On a bilateral basis with China, the Biden administration still has not seen Beijing express a willingness to come to the table for an arms control dialogue or demonstrate an effort to compartmentalize strategic stability from broader issues between the two countries, Sullivan said.

China also has rebuffed military-to-military communications, rejecting a proposed meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at an annual security forum in Singapore in early June and, two weeks later, an effort by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to resume military-to-military communications during a visit to Beijing.

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters in late May that, since 2021, China “has declined or failed to respond to over a dozen requests from the Department of Defense for key leader engagements, multiple requests for standing dialogues, and nearly 10 working-level engagements.”

Blinken met Chinese President Xi Jinping, top diplomat Wang Yi, and Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing on June 18-19. The visit was rescheduled from February, when the Biden administration canceled Blinken’s trip due to a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States.

“The two sides had candid, substantive, and constructive discussions on key priorities in the bilateral relationship and on a range of global and regional issues,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of State. Blinken further noted in a June 20 interview that, “in the months to come,” Biden and Xi may meet in person.

The two other components of the U.S. arms control strategy include engaging in new multilateral arms control efforts, such as within the P5 process, involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and helping to establish and support the norms and values of “the new nuclear era,” according to Sullivan. P5 members last met on June 13-14 in Cairo.

Meanwhile, Russia and Belarus continued with plans to transfer Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, formalizing the arrangement on May 25. (See ACT, May 2023.) “The first nuclear warheads have been delivered to Belarus but only the first batch,” Putin said June 16. “There will be more.” He said on June 9 that the new nuclear weapons storage facilities in Belarus will be completed by July 8, a week later than the original schedule, after which the process to deploy the weapons would begin.

Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, tweeted on June 10 that he remains “skeptical about the prospects of nuclear weapons being physically transferred to Belarus (though cannot rule it out).”

Belarus is expected to host the weapons, but Russia has said that Putin will retain control over their use. Lukashenko warned on June 13 that “there will be no hesitation [to use these weapons] in the event of an aggression against us,” but added that he would “coordinate launching a strike” with Putin beforehand.

The United States and NATO continue to monitor Russia’s actions, but have yet to see any reason to change their respective nuclear postures, according to statements from Blinken and the alliance on June 16.

A senior Russian official said the Kremlin is waiting for an official diplomatic communication from the Biden administration following a speech outlining the U.S. approach by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.  

Countering Nuclear Extremism With Prudent Restraint

June 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

The decades-long effort to halt and reverse an arms race involving the world’s deadliest weapons may soon number among the casualties of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of independent, non-nuclear Ukraine and his increasingly reckless nuclear threats.

Russian intercontinental ballistic missile rolls along Red Square during a military parade on June 24, 2020 in Moscow. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Over the apparent objections of his own foreign ministry and defense advisers, Putin announced in February that Russia will “suspend” implementation of the last remaining bilateral treaty capping U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed the United States for undermining talks to resolve differences over New START with its “hostile policy towards Russia.”

Russia will no longer share detailed data on its nuclear stockpile or allow the resumption of on-site inspections, but the Kremlin says it will comply with the central limits of New START, which is set to expire in less than three years. If the two sides fail to negotiate new arrangements to supersede or succeed the treaty, there will be no limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Without New START, which restricts each side to no more than 1,550 strategic warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles, Moscow and Washington could quickly double the size of their nuclear arsenals by uploading additional warheads on ballistic missiles.

U.S. President Joe Biden has made it clear consistently that his administration stands “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.”

The United States, its allies, and many other states have strongly condemned Putin’s suspension of New START and called on Russia to change course. At its summit in May, the Group of Seven industrialized countries declared that “[t]he overall decline in global nuclear arsenals achieved since the end of the Cold War must continue” and called on Russia to engage in substantive discussions in line with its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) disarmament obligations.

As with Russia, the United States has its own contingent of nuclear weapons extremists. In mid-May, a loud group in Congress, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), introduced legislation that calls for the United States to withdraw from New START, increase the size of its already massive nuclear arsenal, and would only allow a future treaty with Russia if it restricts all types of nuclear warheads and if China is included.

Such action to stop implementation of New START or to withdraw from the treaty entirely would neither advance U.S. interests nor increase U.S. negotiating leverage vis-à-vis Russia. Rather, it would lend credence to Putin’s cynical disinformation campaign about who carries blame for the breakdown of nuclear arms control, further escalate already high tensions with a dangerous Russia, undoubtedly encourage China to ramp up its efforts to expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal; and undermine the security of U.S. allies in Europe and Asia. It might even trigger the unraveling of the NPT itself.

Cotton is among those who seem to believe that, in order to deter a Russian or Chinese nuclear attack, the United States must grow its nuclear arsenal to a size greater than the combined Russian and Chinese arsenals. But he is wrong.

First of all, the size and diversity of the current U.S. nuclear arsenal still exceeds in number and in destructive capability what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary military assets at risk so as to deter an enemy nuclear attack. Fielding even more nuclear weapons will not produce a more stable balance of nuclear terror.

In addition, as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted in December, “[N]uclear deterrence isn’t just a numbers game. In fact, that sort of thinking can spur a dangerous arms race.” After all, as history shows, arms races are very costly and very dangerous and do not produce any winners.

Rather than take dangerous actions that accelerate dangerous nuclear competition, the United States must exercise prudent nuclear restraint. Most importantly, the United States could seek an executive agreement or simply a reciprocal unilateral arrangement verified with national technical means of intelligence that commits Russia and the United States to respecting New START’s central limits until a more permanent arms control arrangement is concluded.

At the same time, world leaders should urge China, France, and the United Kingdom to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their most fundamental disarmament responsibility, which is to engage in good faith negotiations to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race.

Preventing nuclear arms racing, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear war must be a global endeavor, but there is no substitute for commonsense U.S. leadership to reduce the nuclear danger.

The decades-long effort to halt and reverse an arms race involving the world’s deadliest weapons may soon number among the casualties of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of independent, non-nuclear Ukraine and his increasingly reckless nuclear threats.

Russia Stops Sharing New START Data

Russia confirmed a month after it suspended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ) that it has cut off transmitting treaty-required data on Russian strategic nuclear forces to the United States. “All forms of notifications, all data exchange, all inspection activities, in general, all types of work under the treaty are suspended,” stated Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov March 29. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov maintained March 28 that Moscow will continue to adhere to New START’s central limits of no more than 1,550 strategic warheads deployed on 700...

The Three-Competitor Future: U.S. Arms Control With Russia and China

March 2023
By Lynn Rusten and Mark Melamed

China’s expanding nuclear arsenal, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the looming expiration in 2026 of the last remaining U.S.-Russian strategic arms control agreement pose unprecedented challenges for U.S. nuclear policy and arms control. This evolving security landscape demands a fresh look at policies aimed at avoiding nuclear war and ensuring the security of the United States and its allies and partners.

Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles participate in a military parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2019. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)Critically, Washington should seek to avert an unconstrained multilateral nuclear arms race that would be even more complicated and dangerous than the one during the Cold War. For the next decade, the United States should prioritize maintaining verifiable mutual limits with Russia on nuclear forces while deepening dialogue with China and aiming to bring it into bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms control over the longer term. To prevent limitless arms races and avert nuclear catastrophe, it will be necessary to establish a measure of strategic stability globally and regionally among these three nuclear powers.

For decades, the nuclear age was characterized by a bipolar system in which the two major powers—the former Soviet Union/Russia and the United States—possessed the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear weapons. At the high point of the Cold War, they had more than 30,000 nuclear warheads each. Today, the United States has approximately 3,708 nuclear warheads, and Russia is estimated to have 4,477 nuclear warheads. China, France, and the United Kingdom, as the other recognized nuclear powers, have roughly 400, 290, and 225 warheads, respectively.1

The United States has sized and postured its nuclear forces based on what it deemed necessary to deter Russia from an attack on the United States or its allies or to defeat Russia if deterrence failed. All other nuclear-armed adversaries and strategic threats that might be subject to U.S. nuclear deterrence policy, including China, were considered “lesser included cases,” meaning that whatever nuclear forces were sufficient for deterring Russia also would be sufficient to meet all other U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements. Given recent assessments of China’s plans to expand its nuclear forces over the next decade, that long-standing presumption is facing increasing scrutiny.

Since the early 1970s, the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States have negotiated a series of legally binding, verifiable agreements to limit and reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals. Today, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits each side to 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The United States must decide soon whether, when, and what to negotiate with Russia to replace New START before it expires in February 2026. Discussions with Russia on this goal began in the Trump administration and continued under the Biden administration in fall 2021, but broke down when Russia launched its illegal, unjustified war against Ukraine in late February 2022.

Moscow and Washington have since reaffirmed interest in a successor to New START, although each side’s conditions for resuming dialogue remain vague and have changed over time. In January 2023, the United States accused Russia of violating New START by failing to resume on-site inspections following an agreed two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic and by failing to meet in the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty’s implementing body.2 On February 21, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was suspending participation in the treaty by refraining from inspections but would continue to abide by it’s central limits.3 This marks the first time that treaty implementation has been disrupted by political tensions, and it raises the alarming and likely prospect that tensions will continue to impede the resumption of New START inspections and negotiations on a successor agreement.

Enter China

Even as it contends with Russia, the United States is facing the unprecedented prospect of China as a near-peer nuclear competitor in the next 10 to 15 years. The 2022 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review cites China as “the overall pacing challenge for U.S. defense planning and a growing factor in evaluating our nuclear deterrent.”4 According to a 2022 U.S. Department of Defense report,5 China has more than 400 operational warheads, which is double the estimate in 2020, and if the expansion continues apace, will likely field about 1,500 warheads by 2035. The country is increasing the number of delivery platforms based on land, sea, and air, as well as the capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.

This significant expansion of China’s nuclear force was not anticipated. China has long had a no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons. Its stockpile was intended to assure a second-strike capability for deterrent purposes and was not kept at a high state of readiness. China has not explained its nuclear plans publicly and has rebuffed U.S. proposals for dialogue about each side’s nuclear policy, forces, and posture.6

The Chinese expansion raises significant questions about how U.S. nuclear policy, deterrence, and arms control will operate in a world where China and Russia are likely to be nuclear peers of the United States.

Some U.S. experts have suggested that the 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads permitted under New START will not be adequate to deter both Russia and China in the future, although they are not specific as to when that time will come or their assumptions about what size and posture of Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would trigger the need for increasing deployed U.S. strategic nuclear forces.7 These experts also have not indicated whether there is some finite number of U.S. nuclear weapons that would be adequate for deterrence if Russia and China each seek to match U.S. nuclear force levels. This raises the question of how the United States avoids an endless arms race if Russia and possibly China each seek to maintain parity with the United States.

Nuclear deterrence is not a simple mathematical problem. It is premised on convincing an adversary that any use of nuclear weapons will result in a devastating response. Russia and the United States have maintained rough parity in their nuclear forces and, through arms control agreements, have done so at increasingly lower levels. Yet, in a world with two near-peer nuclear competitors, it will not be possible for the United States to achieve parity with both Russia and China. Any effort to increase U.S. nuclear forces to match their combined total weapons likely will be countered by Russia’s determination to maintain parity with the United States and could stimulate China to further increase its nuclear forces. This is a recipe for an unending arms race and it will not stop with Washington, Moscow, and Beijing. If they expand, India, Pakistan, and potentially other nuclear-armed countries likely will conclude they need larger stockpiles as well.

Such an arms race is fundamentally unnecessary and counterproductive for advancing global and regional security and strategic stability. Deterrence is based on the credible threat of retaliation in response to an attack. It is implausible that Russia or China will conclude that they could sufficiently degrade U.S. nuclear capabilities with a first strike, even in a worst-case scenario of a joint Chinese-Russian first strike, to avoid massive retaliation.

There is no evidence to suggest that Russia and China are not adequately deterred by the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile or that the New START level of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads would not continue to deter them at least through 2035. This assumes that Russia remains at rough strategic parity with the United States and that China’s expansion does not exceed the current Pentagon estimate. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Russia and China would be more deterred by an increase in U.S. nuclear weapons. Instead, they may perceive such an expansion as evidence of plans for nuclear war-fighting, not deterrence.

Next Steps With Russia and China

Instead of resigning itself to or embracing an accelerated three-party arms race, the United States should recommit to efforts to mutually constrain the nuclear arsenals of its competitors and to strengthen strategic stability in an increasingly complex security environment. This effort will require elements of continuity and new approaches.

China has resisted proposals to join U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations. Nevertheless, the complexities of an emerging nuclear order in which China, Russia, and the United States will become near peers demand continued efforts to expand multilateral efforts to manage nuclear risks. In recent years, China has been more open to engagement through the P5 process, involving the five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States should explore opportunities for broader and deeper engagement in that channel.

China’s embrace of a January 2022 statement, issued with France, Russia, the UK, and the United States and asserting that a “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” should be welcomed as an opening for deeper engagement. The nuclear-weapon states should build on the statement, which also said, “We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorized or unintended use of nuclear weapons,” by considering a regular exchange of information on what each country is doing to strengthen such national measures. This could include commitments to undertake internal nuclear failsafe reviews, as the United States is now doing. Such reviews, which would be carried out independently by each nuclear-weapon state, would identify measures to strengthen safeguards against the unauthorized, inadvertent, or mistaken use of a nuclear weapon, including through false warning of an attack.

The United States also should explore the possibility of a modest trilateral Chinese-Russian-U.S. dialogue on nuclear risk reduction. Notwithstanding statements from Beijing and Moscow about the strength of their partnership and cooperation, Chinese concern about possible Russian use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine is evident. One sign came in November 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin made a thinly veiled nuclear threat and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a public admonition that the international community should “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” Although China stonewalled the Trump administration’s efforts to launch a formal trilateral arms control process, it is worth exploring whether the heightened tensions of the past year could provide an opening for engagement on a modest risk reduction agenda.

There are other important issues at the intersection of evolving technologies and nuclear risk to be explored bilaterally and multilaterally. Understanding and mitigating cyberrisks to nuclear command and control and warning systems are critical. Russia and the United States are probably best equipped to begin this dialogue on a bilateral basis and to develop norms and rules of the road, but China should be encouraged to join as soon as possible. Similarly, military activities in space and the risk and benefits of artificial intelligence are ripe for inclusion in a wide-ranging and in-depth strategic stability dialogue with China and Russia, among others.

Strategic Arms Control

Despite China’s projected nuclear expansion over the next 10 to 15 years, there is time and need for additional Russian-U.S. bilateral steps. A prerequisite is resuming full implementation of New START, including on-site inspections. Even if the parties do not return to full implementation of New START or the treaty expires, at some point strategic logic will compel them to seek to restore mutual limits on their strategic nuclear forces. Be it in six months, two years, or longer, they will need to resume discussions on maintaining mutual restraints on strategic nuclear forces after New START expires and including additional types of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles in future agreements, recognizing that success likely will require progress across a broader set of strategic capabilities. Even with hostilities in Ukraine, the imperative to manage nuclear risks necessitates Russian-U.S. cooperation on nuclear arms control.

The United States and its European allies are keen to limit Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons associated with intermediate- and shorter-range delivery systems such as this Iskander-M mobile ballistic missile system. (Photo by Vitaliy Ragulin/Picasa Web Albums via Wikimedia)Negotiations on a new treaty or other agreement to succeed New START will not be easy. The United States wants to include all the categories of weapons that the treaty limits plus Russia’s new novel strategic nuclear systems and places a high priority on adding nonstrategic nuclear warheads.8 Russia has a long-standing interest in constraining U.S. long-range conventional strike capabilities and missile defenses and is not keen to accept limits on nonstrategic nuclear weapons or an intrusive new regime for warhead verification. Military activities in outer space, cybercapabilities, and other factors affecting strategic stability also will influence each side’s thinking. Lessons drawn from the war in Ukraine and an apparent growing disconnect between the Kremlin and the Russian ministries of foreign affairs and defense could further complicate if not impede negotiations.

The most immediate priority should be to avoid a situation in which Russian and U.S. strategic arsenals are entirely unconstrained after 2026. This can and should be done even as dialogue on other issues affecting strategic stability between these two countries and perhaps China are proceeding in parallel and at a different pace. For a successor 10-year Russian-U.S. agreement, retaining the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads should be adequate for the United States to deter Russia and China, recognizing that concerns about China’s nuclear expansion make significant Russian-U.S. reductions below New START levels unlikely. A successor agreement should retain limits and verification on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers covered by New START; include new kinds of strategic systems being pursued by both sides; and potentially include all strategic-range conventional prompt global-strike systems.9

Arms control agreements, particularly the next one with Russia, should be used to encourage each side to adopt more stabilizing nuclear force postures that reduce the risk of nuclear use and the pressure on leaders to launch nonsurvivable nuclear forces early in a crisis. For example, the United States should seek to ban the deployment of the novel Russian systems named Poseidon, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-tipped torpedo, and Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed subsonic cruise missile, which are high-risk nuclear doomsday systems prone to catastrophic accident or miscalculation. Such a ban would be similar to prohibitions in the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on deploying strategic nuclear systems undersea or using other exotic basing and delivery modes.

An agreement could limit or ban strategic-range hypersonic vehicles that due to speed and unpredictable flight paths reduce decision time for leaders. It could reinstate a ban on silo-based ICBMs with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) or limit the number of nuclear warheads permitted on each missile, reducing the incentive to “use them or lose them” in a crisis. Deemphasizing ICBMs with MIRVs could set a stabilizing precedent for the future direction of China’s expanding ICBM force. The next treaty also should employ more accurate counting rules for nuclear warheads attributed to heavy bombers, which could lead to a real reduction in the number of each side’s nuclear weapons and a more stringent limit on their nuclear delivery capacity.10

Nonstrategic Nuclear Warheads

The United States and its European allies are keenly interested in limiting Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons given Russia’s larger stockpile, the weapons’ proximity to Europe, and their potential for early use in a conflict, leading to escalation. When the U.S. Senate ratified New START, it called for negotiations with Russia on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which the Obama and Trump administrations attempted without success due to Russian disinterest. NATO and U.S. interest in limiting these weapons systems has been heightened by Russian nuclear threats during the Ukraine conflict.

Despite the importance of the task, it will not be easy to address this category of weapons systems. Russia and the United States do not have shared objectives, their nuclear stockpiles and operational practices are asymmetrical, there are significant national security sensitivities, and verification will be challenging. Limiting Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons may require trade-offs across other arms control and strategic stability concerns. At a minimum, progress likely will need to come in the context of reengagement on a broader range of issues affecting strategic stability, such as missile defense and long-range conventional strike capabilities.

One approach could be to address nonstrategic nuclear weapons and nondeployed nuclear warheads together by limiting total nuclear warhead stockpiles with a sublimit on deployed strategic warheads and freedom for each side to determine the breakdown of nonstrategic and nondeployed nuclear weapons. Just as the United States has been concerned with Russia’s numerical advantage in nonstrategic nuclear weapons, which are not deployed on a daily basis, Russia has expressed concern about the greater capacity of the United States to upload additional nondeployed nuclear warheads on its strategic delivery systems. This total stockpile approach would permit trade-offs to address each side’s concerns.

There are other options for addressing this weapons category. As a precursor to more ambitious agreements to limit and verify warhead stockpiles, Russia and the United States could agree to increase mutual transparency through exchanges of information about numbers, types, and locations of total warhead stockpiles, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

In a more ambitious approach, the two countries could agree to consolidate nuclear warheads at central storage sites away from operational bases in and near Europe west of the Urals with appropriate verification. This move could reduce the risk of short-warning nuclear attacks using not only tactical systems but also intermediate-range missiles that are no longer banned because the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019 in response to Russia’s violation of the treaty. For instance, such a consolidation agreement could require Russia to remove nuclear warheads from storage sites associated with operational bases near its western border, including in Kaliningrad, in exchange for the United States, in consultation with NATO allies, agreeing to remove its nonstrategic nuclear weapons from bases in Europe.

In February 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a press briefing that the United States would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. (Photo by Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)With the termination of the INF Treaty, there are no longer any constraints on nuclear-capable short- and intermediate-range land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, those having ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.11 Just as the Cuban missile crisis led to new arms control agreements between the Soviet Union and the United States, an eventual end to the war in Ukraine may create opportunities to rebuild the security architecture in Europe.

High on the agenda should be a verifiable agreement by Russia and the United States to ban missiles previously covered by the INF Treaty in Europe west of the Urals. Although negotiating a stand-alone ban would be the most direct path toward reestablishing a prohibition on these missiles in the Euro-Atlantic region, prohibiting or limiting this missile class within a New START successor agreement should also be considered. The United States should consult urgently with NATO on such an agreement, to potentially include transparency measures at missile defense sites in Romania and Poland to rebuff Russian assertions that the United States might deploy offensive missiles in place of missile defense interceptors located there.

Dialogue With China

Although decades of experience provide a blueprint for Russian-U.S. engagement on nuclear issues, no comparable foundation exists with China. The United States will have to adopt a more incremental approach to China on the basis of a shared interest in reducing nuclear risks and forestalling a dangerous arms race. Despite growing distrust between Beijing and Washington, neither wants a nuclear conflict, but the absence of dialogue fuels worst-case planning on both sides.

The greatest risk is miscalculation or miscommunication, particularly in a regional conflict, leading to unintended escalation and potential nuclear use. Without proactive efforts to change this dynamic, there is a growing likelihood of a nuclear arms race between the two countries with broader implications for stability between Russia and the United States and even between China and Russia.

Dialogue is an essential first step toward transparency and confidence-building measures as initial goals and eventually toward arms control agreements. Improving mutual understanding of each other’s security perceptions and concerns by itself may help shape the trajectory of China’s nuclear expansion. Just as the pace of Chinese nuclear development has accelerated in recent years, it could change again in the future, for better or worse, presumably influenced in part by the Chinese-U.S. relationship.

During military exercises last August, China’s rocket force launched a missile targeting designated maritime areas to the east of Taiwan. (Photo by Li Youzhi/Xinhua via Getty Images)Beginning a dialogue on nuclear issues and agreeing on its scope will be challenging. U.S. policymakers are concerned by the opaque nature of Chinese nuclear plans, but leaders in Beijing perceive a narrow focus on nuclear weapons as a U.S. attempt to entrench the current numerical disparity and disadvantage China by seeking increased transparency about its much smaller nuclear force. Conversely, Washington perceives Beijing’s resistance to discussing Chinese nuclear weapons as a way to pursue nuclear competition without adopting the transparency and confidence-building measures that have contributed to strategic stability between Russia and the United States.

Establishing an effective dialogue will require an agenda that is broad enough to include the issues and capabilities that each side perceives as having strategic impact but leave to other appropriate bilateral channels challenges such as the status of Taiwan and territorial disputes in the western Pacific Ocean. At a minimum, the agenda likely will need to include nuclear capabilities and doctrine; the weaponization of outer space; anti-satellite weapons; long-range conventional strike forces, including hypersonic weapons; offensive cybercapabilities; and missile defense programs and the offense-defense relationship. In addition, talks could address regional developments that directly impact strategic stability considerations, including the North Korean nuclear and missile threat and its connection to U.S. missile defense capabilities, which China perceives as potentially undermining its second-strike capability.

At the outset, the goal should be for each side to have a better understanding of the other’s security concerns and perceptions and their influence on policy and capabilities choices. This dialogue could provide a foundation for modest measures, such as a bilateral agreement for advance notification of ballistic missile launches, to reduce the risk of misunderstanding or unintended escalation in response to false warnings. Beijing and Washington also should work toward establishing nuclear risk reduction centers on both sides to serve as a means of quick, reliable communication on select strategic and military issues.

Given both countries’ obligations under Article VI of the NPT and their respective security interests, the longer-term agenda should include discussion of capping and reducing nuclear arsenals. U.S. policymakers should begin thinking now about formulations for stopping and reversing a nuclear arms race before the size of China’s arsenal approaches that of the United States and Russia. This could include an agreement by China, France, and the UK not to exceed a certain number of warheads so long as Russia and the United States agree on a New START successor agreement and other commitments aimed at addressing key Chinese and U.S. security concerns.12

The Risk of a Trilateral Nuclear Arms Race

With Russia’s aggression and renewed hostility in Europe, Moscow’s suspension of New START, the treaty’s expiration in three years, and China’s nuclear expansion plans and tense relations with the United States, U.S. nuclear policy, posture, and arms control are at a crossroads. Although some experts believe these trends necessitate a near-term expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, there is time to pursue a more stabilizing outcome with Russia and China. Strengthening and extending the 77-year taboo against the use of nuclear weapons will require renewed efforts to mutually limit and reduce nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems and the salience of nuclear weapons, while addressing other military capabilities affecting regional and global strategic stability.

None of these objectives can be achieved by engaging in a nuclear arms race with multiple countries. The U.S. national security posture and that of its allies and partners would be better served by diplomatic efforts to constrain the nuclear arsenals of its adversaries and competitors using a combination of proven tools and new approaches. Doing so will require a sober assessment of the security challenges facing the United States, the contributions and limits of nuclear weapons in assuring security, and realistic strategies for managing and reducing mutual nuclear risks with China and Russia. The obstacles are formidable, but the U.S. priority must be averting the alternative of a dangerous arms race in a complicated and unpredictable world of three near-peer nuclear competitors.



1. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces,” Federation of American Scientists, n.d., https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/ (accessed February 9, 2023); U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022: Annual Report to Congress,” n.d., https://media.defense.gov/2022/Nov/29/2003122279/-1/-1/1/2022-MILITARY-AND-SECURITY-DEVELOPMENTS-INVOLVING-THE-PEOPLES-REPUBLIC-OF-CHINA.PDF. Four other states with nuclear weapons, none of which are parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, are estimated to have nuclear arsenals of 160 (India), 90 (Israel), 20 (North Korea), and 165 (Pakistan). Kristensen and Korda, “Status of World Nuclear Forces.”

2. U.S. Department of State, “Report to Congress on Implementation of the New START Treaty,” n.d., https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/2022-New-START-Implementation-Report.pdf.

3. President Putin’s speech and a subsequent statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were silent on whether Russia would continue with the treaty-mandated exchange of data and notifications. See “Foreign Ministry statement in connection with the Russian Federation suspending the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START),” February 21, 2023, https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1855184/.

4. U.S. Department of Defense, “2022 Nuclear Posture Review,” October 27, 2022, p. 4, https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF#page=40.

5. U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2022: Annual Report to Congress,” pp. 94–100.

6. U.S. Defense Department, “2022 Nuclear Posture Review,” p. 17.

7. Eric S. Edelman and Franklin C. Miller, Statement before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. nuclear strategy and policy, September 20, 2022, https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Edelman-Miller%20Opening%20Statement%20SASC%20Hearing%20Sept.%2020%2020226.pdf.

8. Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles are roughly comparable numerically, but they are configured differently, and Russia has slightly greater numbers. Both countries are in compliance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limit of 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic delivery vehicles. Beyond that, Russia is believed to have 1,000–2,000 nonstrategic nuclear weapons. The United States has several thousand nondeployed nuclear warheads, but only a small fraction of those is associated with nonstrategic aircraft based in Europe.

9. New START and all previous strategic nuclear arms control treaties with Russia have limited and counted all warheads (or reentry vehicles) attributed to intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as nuclear warheads, regardless of whether they actually are nuclear. Applying this counting rule to all strategic-range delivery systems that are subject to a new agreement would help to address the concern that even conventionally armed, strategic-range, fast-flying, highly accurate systems, such as ballistic or cruise missiles or new hypersonic vehicles, have strategic effect and should be limited because they put at risk the nuclear forces and command and control and warning systems of the other side.

10. New START counts each heavy bomber as having just one nuclear warhead, when in fact Russian and U.S. bombers can carry up to 16 nuclear bombs or cruise missiles. For more detail on possible elements of a New START successor agreement, see Lynn Rusten, “Next Steps on Strategic Stability and Arms Control With Russia,” in U.S. Nuclear Policies for a Safer World, June 2021, pp. 13–21, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_Paper_U.S._Nuclear_Policies_for_a_Safer_World.pdf.

11. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was terminated in August 2019 following the U.S. determination, which was denied by Russia, that Russia violated the treaty by deploying a land-based intermediate-range, nuclear-capable cruise missile, the 9M729. After the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the treaty, it began the development of new missiles that would have been covered by the treaty for possible deployment in Europe or Asia, saying they would be conventionally armed. Russia has proposed to the United States and NATO a moratorium on deploying this class of missiles in Europe and, although not conceding that the 9M729 missile would have been covered by the treaty, seemingly offered to include that missile in the moratorium.

12. For more detail on possible confidence-building measures China and the United States could take to address key concerns, see James McKeon and Mark Melamed, “Engaging China to Reduce Nuclear Risks,” in U.S. Nuclear Policies for a Safer World, June 2021, pp. 36–46, https://media.nti.org/documents/NTI_Paper_U.S._Nuclear_Policies_for_a_Safer_World.pdf.


Lynn Rusten, vice president for the Global Nuclear Policy Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, was senior director for arms control and nonproliferation on the National Security Council (NSC) staff. Mark Melamed, the program’s deputy vice president, was NSC director for arms control.

China’s nuclear expansion raises questions about how U.S. nuclear policy, deterrence, and arms control will operate in a world where China and Russia are likely to be U.S. nuclear peers.

Putin’s Reckless Decision to "Suspend" New START Will Increase Chances of Global Nuclear Arms Race



Statement from Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

For Immediate Release: Feb. 21, 2023 (Updated)

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, (202) 463-8270 ext. 113

In a rambling attempt to justify Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine one year ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to suspend implementation of the last remaining treaty limiting the world's two largest nuclear arsenals, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

His comments suggest Russia will not engage in talks to resume New START’s on-site inspections, participate in meetings of the treaty's Bilateral Consultative Commission, nor share data on strategic nuclear stockpiles as required by the treaty. These actions represent a major violation of the terms of New START and are not allowed for under the terms of the treaty. Other senior Russian officials have previously said Russia will maintain under the central limits set by the treaty (1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles). In a separate statement issued today, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed that Russia will continue to observe limits on the number of strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems it can deploy under the treaty.

While this does not mark the end of New START, which is scheduled to expire Feb. 5, 2026, Putin’s announcement makes it far more likely that, after New START expires, there will be no agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Putin’s “suspension” of New START harms Russia’s own security interests. Absent full implementation of treaty provisions, Moscow (and Washington) gains less insight and information regarding the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal.

In addition, the suspension undermines Russia’s obligations as a party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires the nuclear-weapon states to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…."

In contrast, U.S. President Joe Biden has made it clear that his administration stands ready to expeditiously negotiate a new nuclear arms control framework with Russia to supersede New START–but that Russia must first work in good faith to resume New START inspections. This is a more than reasonable request.

If New START expires in 2026 with no successor arrangement, Washington and Moscow could each double the number of their deployed strategic nuclear warheads in short order. Such a course of action would produce an arms race that no one can win and that increases the dangers of nuclear weapons for everyone.

We strongly support the Biden administration's announcement today that the United States "remains ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship."

We reiterate our call upon Russia to comply with its obligations to allow for on-site inspections to verify compliance with New START and to engage in further nuclear disarmament diplomacy with the United States.

We also urge all states-parties to the NPT, no matter their position on Russia's war on Ukraine, to urge the Kremlin to meet its nuclear disarmament responsibilities by complying with New START and by agreeing to negotiate new–and ideally lower–limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, as doing so would enhance global security and support the long-term viability of the NPT system.


Putin’s announcement makes it far more likely that, after New START expires, there will be no agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Country Resources:

"Challenges and Prospects for Further U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control"



February 1, 11:00am-12:30pm U.S. Eastern Time
(via Zoom)

The last remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, the New Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), will expire in 1,100 days -- on Feb. 5, 2026. Unless Washington and Moscow begin serious negotiations on a new nuclear arms control framework, Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals will be left unconstrained for the first time since 1972.

At this special briefing, we heard from a senior White House official about the Biden administration's approach to the nuclear arms control impasse. Key experts will review the issues and potential solutions for maintaining constraints on the U.S. and Russian arsenals, analyze Russia's approach to nuclear arms control, and evaluate how the U.S. and Russian arsenals might grow if they are “unconstrained” after 2026. The briefing will include comments from a senior European official on the role of nuclear arms control in strengthening European security and the global nuclear nonproliferation system.

Opening remarks: Cara Abercrombie, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for defense policy and arms control for the White House National Security Council


  • Amb. Steve Pifer, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a William J. Perry fellow at the Center for Intl. Security and Cooperation at Stanford University
  • Hanna Notte, Senior Research Associate with the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP)
  • Matt Korda, Senior Research Associate and Project Manager for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists

Closing remarks: Jarmo Viinanen, Ambassador, Strategic and Arms Control, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chair-designate of the 2023 Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee Meeting

Moderators: Daryl Kimball, executive director, and Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, Arms Control Association


In 1,100 days, the last remaining treaty regulating the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, the New Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia, will expire.

Country Resources:

Russia Delays Meeting on New START

December 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia unilaterally called off a meeting with the United States regarding implementation concerns with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a day before the two sides planned to convene in Cairo.

Moscow informed Washington on Nov. 28 of its decision to “unilaterally postpone” the meeting of the New START Bilateral Consultative Commission, which handles treaty implementation and verification concerns.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attributed the decision to technical concerns, such as Russian claims of a U.S. failure to implement the treaty fully, and political reasons, including the war in Ukraine. Arms control is not “immune” to world events, he said on Nov. 29. “This is not a cancellation, but a postponement.”

The U.S. State Department reiterated its commitment to rescheduling the meeting as soon as possible.

One discussion topic would have been the nearly three-year pause in the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear weapon-related facilities, a hallmark of the New START verification regime. The two countries paused the inspections in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. On August 8, Russia further delayed resuming inspections by blocking treaty visits to its facilities.

New START is the last treaty limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals and provides unparalleled insight into Russian nuclear forces.

Russia called off the meeting with the United States a day before it was scheduled in Cairo.


Russian Delay of Scheduled Meeting on New START Irresponsible



For Immediate Release: Nov. 29, 2022

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107); Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst (202-463-8270 x113)

(Washington, DC) – Russia elected not to show up for a meeting with the United States regarding ongoing implementation concerns with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a day before representatives of the two countries had planned to convene in Cairo, Egypt.

Moscow informed Washington Nov. 28 of its decision to “unilaterally postpone” the meeting of New START’s Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which handles treaty implementation and verification concerns.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attributed the decision to both technical and political reasons, including the war in Ukraine. Arms control is not “immune” to other events taking place in the world, he commented Nov. 29. Ryabkov emphasized to reporters that “this is not a cancellation, but a postponement.”

The U.S. State Department responded by reiterating the Biden administration’s commitment to rescheduling the meeting as soon as possible.

“Russia’s choice to postpone the BCC meeting with the United States is irresponsible, especially at this time of heightened tensions when dialogue between the world’s two largest nuclear powers is paramount,” says Laura Kennedy, a board member of the Arms Control Association and a former U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.

“The Biden administration has taken the correct stance of communicating its willingness to reschedule the meeting at the earliest possible date, underscoring the U.S. commitment to effective arms control and maintaining strategic stability,” Kennedy added. “We hope and expect that Russia will reciprocate.”

One of the main topics on the table would have been the nearly three-year pause in the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear weapon-related facilities, a hallmark of the New START verification regime. The two countries agreed to pause the inspections in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. On August 8, 2022, Russia further delayed any resumption of inspections by blocking treaty visits to its facilities, until such time as there is a resolution for allowing Russia’s New START inspection teams to travel to the United States despite Western sanctions and restrictions on Russia due to the war in Ukraine.

“New START stands as the last treaty limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals and provides unparalleled insight into Russian nuclear forces that the U.S. military greatly values for posture and planning purposes,” says Shannon Bugos, a senior research analyst at the Arms Control Association. “Further delays of the BCC meeting are deeply regrettable, particularly as resuming inspections will likely help pave the way for dialogue on future arms control following New START’s expiration in 2026.”

The United States and Russia last held a BCC meeting in October 2021, the first since the coronavirus pandemic prompted a pause in the meetings. The meeting this month was slated to take place Nov. 29 through Dec. 6 in Cairo, Egypt, and would have marked the first meeting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Under New START, the two countries are obligated to hold two BCC meetings each year.

“Even during the worst periods of the Cold War, the United States and Russia recognized the value of maintaining common sense limits on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Bugos added. “Today, more than ever, they must meet their shared responsibility to reduce their massive nuclear arsenals and avoid miscalculations that could lead to nuclear catastrophe.”


Dialogue on Implementation of Arms Control Agreement in Mutual Interest

Country Resources:

U.S., Russia Discuss Threats of Nuclear Use

The U.S. intelligence community assessed in October that some senior Russian officials, not including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have discussed the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia denies the assessment. The U.S. National Intelligence Council circulated the assessment within the Biden administration in mid-October, according to multiple senior U.S. officials who spoke with The New York Times . CNN also described the division among U.S. officials over the implications of the analysis, with some believing the Russian discussions might signal genuine...


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