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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

Arms Control Experts Urge Trump Administration to Agree to New START Extension

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For Immediate Release: Oct. 16, 2020

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104.

(Washington, DC)—Arms control experts are urging President Donald Trump to agree to a Russian proposal to extend a key 2010 arms control agreement for at least one year, and ideally for five years, without preconditions to allow additional time for negotiations on a follow-on deal on range of related issues before the treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2021.

Without an extension, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) will lapse with nothing to replace it, removing all legally-binding limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. The treaty permits an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as both the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.

“New START extension is vitally important for U.S., Russian, and international security," noted Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and current chair of the board of Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group in Washington, DC. "We strongly urge President Trump to take ‘yes’ for an answer to Russia’s proposal to extend New START without conditions, ideally for five years." 

"Unless Trump somehow overrules his hard-line advisors and adjusts course—or Joe Biden wins the presidential election and makes good on his pledge to extend New START—the treaty very likely will disappear," remarked Daryl Kimball, the group's executive director.  

"The loss of New START would open the door to an ever-more dangerous and costly global nuclear arms race. In the absence of New START, Washington and Moscow could quickly 'upload' several hundred additional warheads on existing deployed delivery systems to exceed the treaty’s 1,550 warhead ceiling. Such unconstrained nuclear arms racing would be unaffordable and dangerous for both sides," Kimball noted.

"A five-year, clean extension of New START would provide a foundation and the time for follow-on discussions and agreements to address unconstrained nuclear warheads and non-nuclear weapons that impact strategic stability, and to improve opportunities to more fully include other nuclear-armed states, including China, the U.K., and France, in the arms control process," Kimball said.

Experts Available in Washington:

  • Thomas Countryman, former​ ​acting​ ​under secretary of state for​ ​arms​ ​control and ​international security, and ​​chair of the board for the Arm​​s Control Association, [email protected], 301-312-3445
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, [email protected], 202-277-3478
  • Kingston Reif, ​director for ​disarmament​​ and ​threat reduction​ ​policy​, ​[email protected], 202-463-8270, ext. 104
Description: 

Arms control experts are urging President Donald Trump to agree to a Russian proposal to extend a key 2010 arms control agreement for at least one year, and ideally for five years, without preconditions.

Country Resources:

U.S., Russia Disagree on Prospect for Arms Control Deal | U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch

U.S., Russia Disagree on Prospect for Arms Control Deal Against the backdrop of the imminent U.S. presidential election and the impending expiration in less than four months of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ), the Trump administration appears to have once again shifted its proposal for an arms control framework deal with Russia. But despite U.S. claims of progress in recent talks, Russia continues to strongly reject the proposed U.S. framework and to call for extending New START by five years without conditions as allowed by the treaty. U.S. Special Presidential...

BRIEFING: "Trump’s Effort to Sabotage New START and the Risk of an All-Out Arms Race"

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Friday, October 9, 2020
9:00 – 10:15am Eastern time
via Zoom webinar

In four months, the last treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals is due to expire. If the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no legally-binding limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

However, the treaty permits an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as both the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to it.


 

Russia has offered to extend New START by five years without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has conditioned extension on Russian support for changes to the New START verification system and acceptance of a new framework that limits all types of nuclear warheads and that can involve China in the future.

Russia has rejected the U.S. offer, which it calls “absolutely unrealistic.” In response, Trump officials say they will “raise the price” for New START extension after November. Unless President Trump adjusts course, or Joe Biden is elected in November, there is a high risk that New START will disappear.

Our speakers, Senator Chris Van Hollen, and the panelists explained the value of New START, evaluated the Trump administration’s approach, and outlined pathways for extending the treaty, pursuing negotiations on deeper nuclear reductions, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

Speaker

  • Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), co-sponsor of the "Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces" Act

Panelists

  • Alexandra Bell, senior policy director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association
  • Kingston Reif, moderator, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, Arms Control Association

A question and answer session followed both the speaker’s remarks and the panel. This event was open to the press and is on the record.

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Briefing with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Alexandra Bell, and Daryl G. Kimball on the value of New START, the Trump administration’s approach, and guarding against an unconstrained arms race if New START is allowed to expire.

Country Resources:

Time Running Out: Extend New START Now

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Volume 12, Issue 7, October 7, 2020

Four months remain until the last U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty is slated to expire Feb. 5, 2021, and with it the last remaining verifiable limits on the size of the still enormous U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has so far refused Russia’s offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years as allowed by the treaty.

Instead, the administration has conditioned consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia’s acceptance of a one-sided, 11th hour offer that Russia has rejected. In recent days, the two sides have exchanged additional ideas with U.S. officials claiming some measure of “progress.”

The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

Barring an October surprise in which President Trump orders a more reasonable approach than what the administration has currently offered to Russia, the fate of the treaty will likely be decided by the presidential election Nov. 3. Former Vice President Joe Biden has expressed support for an extension of New START without conditions.

 

The U.S. August Proposal

Following an August meeting in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea sketched out the U.S. proposal for a politically binding framework deal with Russia. The framework, he said Aug. 18, must cover all nuclear warheads, establish a verification regime suitable to that task, and be “extensible” to China in the future.

In addition, Billingslea characterized New START as “a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration” and alleged the agreement has “significant verification deficiencies.” He said President Trump would not agree to extend New START unless these purported deficiencies, including an inadequate number of inspections, are fixed. Billingslea later clarified that even if Russia agrees to the U.S. terms, only a short-term extension, likely no more than a year, is on the table.

“[I]f Russia would like to see that treaty [New START] extended, then it’s really on them to come back to us,” Billingslea said, citing a mandate from Trump. “The ball is now in Russia’s court.”

Trump administration officials insist that the conditions represent a reasonable offer. They note that China’s immediate participation in trilateral arms control talks is no longer a condition for consideration of an extension of New START (though they continue to insist that the framework agreement must specifically mention China and that the next arms control treaty must include China).

Left unsaid is what the administration is willing to put on the table in return for Russia agreeing to the U.S. demands. The answer appears to be that Russia must agree to the U.S. demands for free.

Meanwhile, the administration should not get credit for being mugged by reality and relaxing its insistence on China’s immediate participation in talks. There was never any chance that China would do so, despite Billingslea’s ineffective efforts to embarrass China to the table.

Predictably, Russia has repeatedly poured cold water on the administration’s proposal, calling it “absolutely unrealistic.” Ryabkov reiterated Oct. 1 that the U.S. proposal is “clearly a nonstarter for us.”

In addition to making unrealistic demands, the administration has resorted to wild threats and petty insults in an attempt to coerce and embarrass Russia to the table. Billingslea is now publicly saying that if Russia refuses the unrealistic U.S. terms, “we will be extremely happy to continue…without the START restrictions” and threatened that the United States would immediately begin building up its nuclear arsenal the day after New START expires. He has also threatened to slap additional conditions on the U.S. offer if Russia does not accept it by the November election.

Such an approach has zero chance of success and is far more consistent with running out the clock on New START (and trying to pin the blame on Russia and China) rather than a serious effort to make progress on further arms control.

The Latest Exchanges

Billingslea and Ryabkov met again Oct. 5 in Helsinki. A senior Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal that “substantial progress” was made at the meeting and that Russia brought “concrete proposals” to the table for the first time. The official added that the framework agreement the sides are discussing would include a politically binding commitment to freeze the total number of warheads possessed by each side and entail a short-term extension of New START.

A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry after the talks said only that “further prospects on the track of bilateral cooperation on arms control” had been discussed. As Billingslea and Ryabkov were meeting in Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his belief that New START "is going to die." He said that "The conditions they [the Trump administration] set are absolutely unilateral and do not take into account either our interests or the experience of many decades, when arms control was enforced to everyone’s satisfaction and was welcomed by all countries."

A politically binding warhead freeze could be a useful confidence-building measure as Washington and Moscow engage in what are sure to be complex and lengthy talks on a new nuclear disarmament agreement. However, it remains to be seen what such a freeze would entail, what Russia might seek in return, and whether the Trump administration is open to relaxing its heretofore unacceptable conditions for a deal, especially the demand for changes to the New START verification regime.   

The Case for Extending New START

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. It also put into place a verification regime greatly valued by the U.S. military for the insight it affords into the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Article XIV of the treaty allows for an extension “for a period of no more than five years” so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents mutually agree. Members of Congress from both parties and most U.S. allies have expressed support for the treaty’s five-year extension.

The pursuit of a new arms control agreement that captures all types of nuclear warheads and additional nuclear-armed states is a laudable goal. But not if that pursuit comes at the expense of or as a condition for extending New START. New START should be extended for the full five years in order to ensure that the verifiable limits put into place by the treaty do not disappear as talks on a new agreement are pursued. New START is too valuable to allow to expire.

If New START lapses with nothing to replace it, there would be no negotiated limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. The end of the treaty would further damage relations with our allies, undermine the fraying health of the global nonproliferation regime, exacerbate an already fraught U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship, and provide Washington and Moscow with a greater incentive to make additional costly nuclear force investments.

Below are additional key points about the case for extending New START for five years and the problems with the Trump administration’s proposal for a new framework agreement with Russia.

The U.S. military greatly values and relies upon the verification regime established by New START. Billingslea has argued that the New START verification regime “has significant loopholes in the way verification is physically conducted, which the Russians have been exploiting.” But the U.S. military has raised no such concerns.

New START’s extensive monitoring and verification regime provides essential real-time insights directly into Russian strategic forces and modernization programs. Allowing the treaty to die would deprive us of a vital flow of information about Russia’s strategic forces that cannot be obtained via other means.

Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provides great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

The treaty’s verification regime is more than adequate to monitor Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Indeed, a State Department report published in February reiterated that Russia remains in compliance with the treaty and that the treaty limits and the “verification regime established by the treaty both regulate competition and provide key data, information, and insights regarding Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator of New START during the Obama administration, recently wrote that New START’s verification setup used what worked in previous treaties and discarded what was no longer necessary and cumbersome and costly to implement. “In the end,” she said, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

There is no evidence that withholding an extension of New START or dangling a short-term extension of the treaty enhances U.S. leverage to push Russia to agree to U.S. demands for a bilateral framework agreement or a new trilateral arms control treaty. The Trump administration believes that Russia is “desperate” to secure an extension of New START. But Russia has said that it will not agree to an extension “at any cost.” Ryabkov said Sept. 21 that the Trump administration needs to give up its preconditions for extension “and then we can start the talks about something, or there’s no deal.”

The administration’s refusal to date to extend the treaty by five years has produced no meaningful leverage. Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions would distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

A five-year extension would provide the most breathing room to pursue negotiations on a new deal. U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations have in the past been complex and time-consuming, and the Trump administration is proposing an agreement unprecedented in scope. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT), for example, took place from November 1969 to May 1972. New START was notable for the relatively short time it took to negotiate, but it still took the United States and Russia 10 months.

The Trump administration does not have a successful track record trying to force Russia’s hand on arms control. For instance, the Trump administration’s threats to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty did not bring Russia back into compliance, and the United States officially withdrew from the treaty in August 2019. Likewise, the U.S. announcement in May of its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty has not pressured Russia to address U.S. concerns about Russia’s implementation of the accord. The United States is slated to formally exit the treaty shortly after the election.

The outcome of U.S. efforts to seek new arms control arrangements will succeed or fail based on whether those arrangements comport with the security interests and address the concerns of the parties involved. Neither Russia nor China can be coerced or embarrassed to the negotiating table (and Moscow has said that it will not cave to U.S. pressure to force Beijing to join trilateral arms control talks).

Apart from allowing New START to expire and threatening a nuclear buildup, the Trump administration has refused to detail what the United States is willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia (and China) to agree to the administration’s arms control goals. Any agreement as sweeping and unprecedented as the one proposed by Billingslea will, of course, require mutual concessions by both Washington and Moscow. But as it stands, the politically binding framework proposed by Billingslea demands unilateral concessions from Russia.

In addition to China, Russia has long called for France and the United Kingdom to join the next arms control agreement after New START. Moscow also seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons. As the United States wants an agreement that covers Russia’s unconstrained stockpile of nonstrategic, or tactical, nuclear weapons, so does Russia want Washington to remove the estimated 150 U.S. tactical nuclear bombs based in five European countries.

But Billingslea has already dismissed the idea of limits on U.S. missile defense as well as the removal of U.S. tactical weapons in Europe.

There is no national security need to increase the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal above the New START limits, and the Pentagon and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) are unprepared to do so anyway. Following Billingslea’s threat that the United States will start increasing the arsenal after New START expires, news reports revealed that the Pentagon has been asked to evaluate how long it would take to execute a buildup. Billingslea does not appear to have consulted the Pentagon before making his threat.

James Anderson, the undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in July that, “Our intention is to remain within the New Start limits of 700 strategic missiles and bombers and 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.” According to a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon “is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure.”

The United States has not increased the size of the U.S. deployed nuclear arsenal in decades and doing so would be a major departure from longstanding U.S. policy.

Billingslea’s call for a nuclear buildup follows his outlandish claim earlier this year that the United States can spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race. More U.S. spending on nuclear weapons won’t force the current Russian and Chinese leadership to capitulate to maximalist U.S. demands and would be fraught with peril.

The United States is already planning to spend an excessive sum to sustain and upgrade the current arsenal, which is based on the New START limits. As a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office demonstrated, the possibility of unconstrained nuclear competition could create even greater costs that would divert funding from higher priority U.S. national and health security priorities.

Ever-increasing spending on nuclear weapons without an arms control framework that bounds U.S. and Russian nuclear forces is a recipe for a less secure United States. Such an approach also flies in the face of longstanding bipartisan Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

Extend New START Now

The Trump administration’s approach to arms control with Russia has not been a serious starting point for negotiations on extending or replacing New START.

With little more than four months until New START expires, the best course forward is to immediately extend the treaty for a full five years and then pursue follow-on agreements that address legitimate U.S. and Russian concerns about unconstrained nuclear weapons, the nuclear arsenals of other nuclear-armed states, and non-nuclear weapons and policies that could impact strategic stability.

Extending New START would prolong the limits on Russia’s deployed strategic forces, continue an otherwise unobtainable flow of information about those forces, and provide the necessary foundation from which to seek more far-reaching arms control goals.

The Trump administration’s demand for unilateral concessions from Moscow in exchange for a short-term extension of New START is a recipe for failure and risks setting the United States on the road to an expensive arms race that it can ill afford.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

Description: 

The stakes could not be higher. The untimely death of New START with nothing to replace it would open the door to a costly and dangerous new quantitative U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race.

Country Resources:

U.S., Russia Hit Impasse on New START


October 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

As the clock winds down on the last remaining U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, the United States and Russia remain locked in a stalemate with numerous obstacles blocking the path to prolonging the agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration will only contemplate a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia agrees to a framework for a new trilateral treaty that verifiably covers all nuclear warheads, includes those of China in the future, and makes changes to the painstakingly negotiated New START verification regime.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov arrives for nuclear talks with U.S. officials in Vienna on June 22. The discussions yielded little progress, and more recently he said "there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed." (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)Moscow, which supports an unconditional five-year extension of the treaty, has called the U.S. proposal “absolutely unrealistic.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that “there are no grounds for any kind of deal in the form proposed” by Washington in a Sept. 21 interview with Kommersant. New START permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

The U.S. approach raises several questions, such as whether the Trump administration is actually interested in extending New START at all, what the United States would be willing to put on the negotiating table in exchange for concessions from Russia, and why the administration believes that withholding an extension of the treaty provides the United States leverage in negotiations.

With Russia showing little sign of agreeing to the framework, the Trump administration will soon face the choice of whether to extend the treaty as is or set it on a path to expiration in February, which could trigger a costly arms race.

The Trump administration has also suggested that, if Russia does not agree to framework prior to the U.S. presidential election in November, Washington will tack on additional conditions for New START extension. What those conditions would be are unknown.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November and New START has not been extended, he will pursue the treaty’s extension and “use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements,” according to his campaign website.

Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, told Kommersant on Sept. 21 that if Russia does not agree to the Trump administration’s framework, the United States will not extend New START. Billingslea also threatened that the United States would increase the deployed strategic arsenal "immediately after the expiration of the treaty in February."

The U.S. insistence on the framework and refusal to extend New START without unilateral concessions by Moscow has prompted some skeptics to wonder whether the Trump administration is attempting to set Russia and China up to take the blame for an expiration of the treaty.

U.S. officials said that, with four months until New START expires on Feb. 5, 2021, sufficient time remains for Russia to agree to the U.S. offer before a decision must be made on an extension. Yet even if Russia were open to discussions with the United States on its demands, negotiating the specifics of a framework could take weeks if not months.

In addition, according to officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow might need months to process a “technical extension” of the treaty.

Billingslea has claimed that the United States has significant leverage because Russia is desperate for an extension of the treaty. But Russia has said that it desires an extension of the treaty only as much as the United States and will not pursue an extension at any cost.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in July that, if the Trump administration does not agree to extend New START, “we will not insist.”

Extending the treaty for a period of less than five years, as the Trump administration is contemplating, also poses risks. Negotiations on arms control treaties are difficult and time consuming. A new agreement along the lines proposed by the Trump administration could take years.

Billingslea has declined to say how long an extension the administration has proposed, telling Kommersant that it “depends on how flexible the Russian leadership will be.”

Moreover, assuming Moscow would even agree to multiple short-term extensions totaling less than five years, preparing and posturing for such extensions could distract from the broader talks the administration says it seeks.

Although any framework agreement is likely to require mutual concessions from Washington and Moscow, the Trump administration refuses to detail what it would be willing to put on the negotiating table, besides a short-term extension of New START, in order to secure Russia’s agreement.

Russia has long said that it prioritizes the inclusion of U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom in arms control discussions. In addition, Moscow seeks to capture other factors it deems essential to maintaining strategic stability, such as missile defense, ground-based short- and intermediate-range missiles, space weapons, and hypersonic weapons.

Billingslea, however, has dismissed the idea of including limits on U.S. missile defenses, involving France and the UK in multilateral talks, and removing U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

The Trump administration also has yet to describe what it would be willing to do in order to bring China to the table. Billingslea told CNN on Sept. 18 that Russia could persuade China to join talks, although Moscow has previously refused to do so.

“It’s [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” he said. “He’s got all kinds of leverage. If they really wanted to help, they could.”

China has repeatedly declined to join trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia. The only way that Beijing would join, said Fu Cong, director-general of the Chinese Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, in July, was if the United States decreased its nuclear arsenal to the size of China’s. (See ACT, September 2020.) The United States has an estimated 6,000 nuclear weapons, including retired warheads; China’s arsenal numbers in the low 200s, according to a U.S. Defense Department report in September.

Billingslea claims that the verification regime put into place by New START suffers from significant loopholes and deficiencies, such as the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspection.

The U.S. military, however, places great value on the treaty’s inspections and has not indicated that such flaws exist. Vice Adm. David Kriete, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said in July 2019 that “those verification procedures that the U.S. gets to execute all the time provide great insight into Russia’s capabilities, numbers, and all kinds of things associated with their nuclear weapons.” If those procedures disappeared, he said, then “we would have to go look for other ways to fill in the gaps.”

Rose Gottemoeller, chief U.S. negotiator for New START, also emphasized the importance of New START’s verification setup, saying that it used what worked in previous treaties and discarded those elements that previously encountered issues with implementation. “In the end,” she said in May, “the United States got what it wanted in the New START verification regime: streamlined inspection procedures at a sufficient level of detail to be effectively implemented.”

Although the Trump administration has expressed its willingness to let New START expire, members of Congress continue their calls for the treaty’s five-year extension.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a Sept. 8 letter to Trump calling for the United States to extend New START.

According to an internal State Department report for Congress obtained by Foreign Policy in September, U.S. allies are “concerned about the potential repercussions to the international security environment should New START expire before its full term.”

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have continued a pause on inspections under New START and a postponement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which oversees implementation of the treaty.

“The United States is studying how and when to resume inspections and the BCC while mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to all U.S. and Russian personnel,” a State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today. “The United States continues to implement and abide by” New START.

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

 

U.S. demands for new nuclear restrictions appear to foreshadow the demise of the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty.

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U.S. Modifies Arms Control Aims with Russia


September 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The Trump administration has softened its demand that China immediately participate in trilateral nuclear arms control talks with the United States and Russia and says it is now seeking an interim step: a politically binding framework with Moscow that covers all nuclear warheads, establishes a verification regime suitable to that task, and could include China in the future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the 2019 G20 summit in Japan. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien recently said "we'd love to have Putin" come to the White House to sign a nuclear arms control accord, but the lead U.S. arms control negotiator said the two nations "remain far apart on a number of key issues." (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)Still, the administration continues to oppose an unconditional five-year extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and wants Moscow’s support for limiting all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and strengthening the New START verification regime as a condition for prolonging the treaty.

Russia supports an unconditional extension and says that it will not agree to any changes to New START.

The impasse continues to cast an ominous shadow over the future of the last remaining arms control agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals five months before it is slated to expire.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea said on Aug. 18, following a round of talks in Vienna with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, “that New START is a deeply flawed deal negotiated under the Obama-Biden administration, and it has significant verification deficiencies.”

According to Billingslea, these deficiencies include the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspections.

He said that he would recommend that President Donald Trump consider extending the treaty only “if we can fix” the flaws “and if we can address all warheads, and if we do so in a way that is extensible to China.”

“[I]f Russia would like to see that treaty extended, then it’s really on them to come back to us,” he added, citing a mandate from Trump. “The ball is now in Russia’s court.”

New START expires next February but can be extended by up to five years if the U.S. and Russian presidents agree to do so. The treaty caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Billingslea met with Ryabkov in Vienna from Aug. 17–18. A July 23 call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and as working group discussions between U.S. and Russian technical experts later that month, paved the way for the August meeting, according to Billingslea.

The working groups met in Vienna from July 28–30 to discuss issues such as nuclear doctrine, unconstrained nuclear warheads, transparency, and verification.

Trump said on July 30 that the United States is in “formal negotiations with Russia on arms control.” Although the U.S.-Russia discussions this summer have marked the most sustained period of dialogue on arms control issues since the Trump administration took office, they would be more accurately described as the continuation of a longer standing, less concrete dialogue on strategic security.

National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien suggested on Aug. 16 that Putin could visit the White House to seal a new bilateral arms control understanding. “We’d love to have Putin come here to sign a terrific arms control deal that protects Americans and protects Russians.”

Billingslea, however, said that the two sides “remain far apart on a number of key issues.”

Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Interfax following his meeting with Billingslea that “any additions” to New START “would be impossible both for political and procedural reasons.”

He added that Russia would not support an “extension at any cost.”

“If the U.S. embellishes its possible…decision in favor of extension with all sorts of preconditions and burdens this work with all possible additional requirements, then I think the problem of extending the treaty won’t be that easy to resolve,” he said.

When Billingslea and Ryabkov last met on June 22 in Vienna, the United States pressured China to join, but Beijing declined and remains strongly opposed to trilateral talks with the United States and Russia. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

China’s unalterable opposition appears to have convinced the administration that the only hope for progress lies in bilateral engagement with Russia, at least at the outset.

Trump told reporters on July 30 that “China right now is a much lesser nuclear power…than Russia.” He said that he would focus on arms control talks with Russia and then “go to China together.”

Billingslea said in Vienna that “we’re not going to negotiate another bilateral arms control treaty.”

He added that “the framework that we are articulating” with Russia “will be the framework going forward that China will be expected to join.”

The Trump administration has yet to detail its specific objectives for arms control with China, a fact that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized on July 29. “Let them at least document what they have in mind,” he said.

CBO Weighs Cost of New START Expiration

The U.S. Defense Department could incur modest to staggeringly high costs if the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) expires in February 2021 and the United States increases its arsenal above the treaty limits, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found in an August report.

On the modest end, expanding forces to reach the limits set by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) would not increase the Pentagon’s cost relative to its current plans, since the New START limits are comparable to the SORT limits.

At the high end, the Pentagon could pay $410 billion to $439 billion as a one-time cost and $24 billion to $28 billion annually in pursuit of a more flexible approach that involves buying more delivery systems.

CBO estimated the cost if the United States increases its deployed strategic nuclear forces to the levels of three previous arms control treaties: the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which capped warheads at 6,000 for each side; the 1993 START II agreement, which sought to limit warheads to 3,000 to 3,500 but was never entered into force; and SORT, which limited warheads to 1,700 to 2,200.

New START limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads on 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The Trump administration’s plans to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal are likely to exceed $1.5 trillion over the next several decades after including the impact of inflation.

CBO examined two approaches for expanding U.S. forces to reach each of the three treaty’s levels. The lower-cost and less flexible approach would involve increasing the number of warheads allocated to each missile and bomber and minimize any potential purchase of additional delivery systems. The more flexible yet more expensive approach would purchase more delivery systems to reach the number of desired warheads.

The United States could also take an approach that lies between those two approaches, CBO noted.

CBO said that the projected cost to increase the arsenal could be even higher, as the office’s estimates did not include the cost of producing additional warheads by the Energy Department, any new operating bases or training facilities if needed, or an expansion in delivery system production capability.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, requested the report in September 2019.

The CBO report comes on the heels of a July 30 report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have not considered how the potential expiration of New START may affect their nuclear modernization plans and spending.

“DOD is basing its plans on the assumption that New START will be extended, and it currently has no plans to change its force structure,” the GAO said in a July 30 report.

“NNSA similarly has not considered the implications of the potential expiration of New START on the assumptions underlying its overall program of record and future-years funding projections as described in the fiscal year 2021 budget justification,” the GAO noted. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Following U.S.-Russian arms control talks in Vienna in mid-August, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, Deputy Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that the U.S. military is “agnostic” on the question of whether extending New START is in its best interests.

Bussiere added, “We do believe, however, that it does provide increased international security.”—SHANNON BUGOS

Billingslea claimed that many “countries have already called out the Chinese for their failure to negotiate with us in good faith, and that chorus of calls…would accelerate dramatically once we have created an architecture to control all nuclear weapons.”

Fu Cong, China’s director general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament, said on July 8 that “it is unrealistic to expect China to join the two countries in a negotiation aimed at nuclear arms reduction” given the differences in the sizes of nuclear arsenals of three countries. The United States and Russia have about 6,000 total nuclear warheads each, China is believed to have about 300.

Fu also accused the United States of using Beijing’s refusal to join trilateral talks as “a ploy to divert world attention and to create a pretext under which they could walk away” from New START.

Fu added “that China stands ready to discuss all issues related to strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction in the framework of P5, i.e. among China, Russia, U.S., UK, and France.”

Russia continues to say that it will not force China to come to the table and that if a multilateral nuclear agreement is to be negotiated then nuclear-armed France and the United Kingdom must be part of it as well.

Although the Trump administration is now willing to negotiate with Russia before bringing China into talks at a later date, it has not specified what a politically binding framework with Russia should contain and what it would be willing to put on the table to incentivize Russia’s agreement.

Billingslea told Axios on Aug. 20 that Russia raised “a range of issues with U.S. capabilities” in Vienna, but that Moscow’s non-nuclear concerns about for example U.S. missile defenses are not on the table as part of a possible framework deal.

Billingslea has offered few clues about how a new agreement should capture U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that have never before been limited by arms control, such as shorter-range tactical nuclear warheads and warheads held by each country in reserve.

He hinted, however, that the preferred U.S. approach would not necessarily hinge on counting individual unconstrained warheads.

“What we likely will see is a hybrid approach that would maintain limitations on the strategic systems but which would provide for a method of ensuring that the overall inventory of warheads writ large is static,” he said.

 

Committee Advances Billingslea Nomination

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Marshall Billingslea’s nomination to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security on July 29. The committee voted in favor of the nomination on a 11–10 party line vote, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) abstaining. The full Senate has yet to schedule a date to consider Billingslea’s nomination.

Billingslea, currently the U.S. special presidential envoy for arms control, sat before the committee on July 21 for his nomination hearing.

In his opening remarks, Billingslea touted his “support for arms control that advances U.S. security, and which is both enforceable and verifiable.”

Billingslea was formerly an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of many arms control agreements.

Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) asked Billingslea for his “thoughts on the fact that” the administration’s arms control efforts are “probably going to be bilateral as opposed to trilateral,” referring to the administration’s desire for a new nuclear arms control agreement with not only Russia but also China.

Billingslea responded that efforts with Russia and China “need to converge in the direction of a trilateral arms control arrangement that brings back many of the most effective verification mechanisms that we once had in the original [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and which also address the unconstrained warheads that Russia is now building.”

Asked about the Trump administration’s view on extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), due to expire in February 2021, Billingslea said, “We have not arrived at a decision one way or another on extension of the agreement and, if so, for what period of time.”

In addition to New START, Billingslea also faced questions about hypersonic weapons from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Billingslea said that some of the new strategic nuclear weapons Russia is developing, such as the hypersonic glide vehicle called Avangard, would be covered under New START. “But other of these weapons, I would not want to say they should be captured because we frankly don’t think these weapons should exist at all,” he said, referring to weapons such as the nuclear-powered cruise missile named Burevestnik.

Billingslea also said the United States would not “restrict” its missile defense options in any arms control negotiations. Moscow has previously said it would only limit its nonstrategic nuclear weapons if Washington were to limit its missile defenses.

Addressing his earlier Pentagon service, when the George W. Bush administration promoted interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture, Billingslea said, “I never advocated for any technique that was characterized to me as torture.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) cited Billingslea’s record on torture as a major concern with him potentially taking up the top arms control job at the State Department.

“When I come to ask you in your new position whether you argue for taking human rights into account before approving the export of more bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop on Yemen or whether you advocated for stronger U.S. protections in an arms treaty with Russia, I’m wondering whether we’ll get the truth,” said Menendez.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

The Trump administration eases demand for Chinese participation in new arms control talks.

Russia Tests ASAT Weapon, U.S. Says


September 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Space Command alleged that “Russia conducted a non-destructive test of a space-based anti-satellite weapon” on July 15, ahead of lengthy but inconclusive talks between Washington and Moscow in Vienna on space security. Moscow disputed the claim that it conducted such a test.

A Russian rocket topped with the Cosmos 2543 satellite is erected in November 2019. Successfully launched in December, the satellite flew "in abnormally close proximity" of A U.S. satellite in July, according to U.S. officials. (Photo: Russian Defense Ministry)In a July 23 statement, Gen. John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command, said that the test “is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”

Space Command said a Russian satellite, Cosmos 2543, “operated in abnormally close proximity to a U.S. government satellite in low-earth orbit before it maneuvered away and over to another Russian satellite, where it released another object in proximity to the Russia target satellite. This test is inconsistent with the intended purpose of the satellite as an inspector system, as described by Russia.”

The United States has previously suggested that such an object can be used as a weapon to target other satellites.

Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, head of the United Kingdom’s Space Directorate, also expressed concern of the launching of “a projectile with the characteristics of a weapon.”

“Actions of this kind threaten the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris that could pose a threat to satellites and the space systems on which the world depends,” he said on July 23.

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the statements by the United States and UK and said that the test had “not endangered any other space object” or “infringed on any norms and principles of international law.”

“The inspector satellite was launched to inspect a Russian satellite at close range, using special equipment for this purpose,” said the ministry on July 24. “This mission has collected valuable information about the technical maintenance status of the inspected spacecraft and transmitted it to the ground-based command system.”

This latest test comes after Space Command alleged that Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite missile in April and two Russian satellites, Cosmos 2542 and 2543, made maneuvers near U.S. government satellites in February. (See ACT, May 2020.)

Delegations from the United States and Russia met in Vienna on July 27 for a dialogue on space security. Officials from the State, Defense, and Energy departments and the National Security Council made up the U.S. delegation.

“While our efforts are aimed at finding constructive paths forward for space security, we will certainly emphasize our great concern with ongoing Russian as well as Chinese efforts to weaponize the space domain,” said Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and international security, ahead of the talks.

Ford said that “our hope is that this meeting will allow us to explore ways to increase stability and security in outer space, as well as to advance the cause of developing norms of responsible behavior in that vital domain.” He later mentioned applying “the usual international humanitarian law or Law of Armed Conflict rules” to space and establishing “operator-to-operator engagement” as specific potential goals.

That same day, Ford also released a paper on arms control in outer space in which he urged Russia and China to “abandon [their] dreams of counterspace warfighting, and [their] unverifiable, ineffective, and disingenuous arms control proposals, and join with the United States in a new space security initiative.”

In June, the Defense Department released the Defense Space Strategy, outlining its goals for desired conditions in space over the next 10 years, which said that “China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.”

The State Department issued a statement at the conclusion of the space dialogue, which lasted for more than 13 hours. “The two sides exchanged views on current and future space threats, policies, strategies, and doctrine, and discussed a forward-looking agenda to promote safe, professional, and sustainable activities in space,” said the department. Statements from the State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the countries will aim to continue discussions on space security.

Russia maneuvered a satellite in July to within “abnormally close proximity” of a U.S. satellite, according to the U.S. Space Command.

Getting Back on Course


September 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Seventy-five years after the horrific atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we all still live under the existential threat of a catastrophic nuclear war. Although citizen pressure and hard-nosed U.S. diplomacy have yielded agreements that have cut the number of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, prevented their proliferation, and banned nuclear testing, there are still far too many nuclear weapons, and the risk of nuclear war is growing.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)As the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki recently warned “We are badly off course in efforts to honor the plea of the hibakusha, the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings, and end the nuclear threat.”

Tensions among many of the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are rising, and each is working on costly upgrades of their deadly arsenals. Leaders in Washington and Moscow cling to Cold War-era “launch under attack” postures and the option to use nuclear weapons first. Both are seeking new nuclear capabilities, including “more usable,” lower-yield warheads.

Unfortunately, U.S. President Donald Trump came into office without a clear plan for reducing the nuclear danger. In one breath, he will threaten to “win” a new arms race; in the next, he will declare his hope for arms control deals that more effectively constrain U.S. adversaries.

Under Trump, no new nuclear deals have been struck. After threatening North Korea with nuclear “fire and fury” in 2017, he squandered chances to negotiate peace and denuclearization with its leader, Kim Jong Un. As a result, Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are expanding.

Ignoring the value of the hard-won 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Trump pulled out of the agreement and reimposed U.S. sanctions. Predictably, this led Iran to retaliate rather than negotiate a new deal. Although the United States no longer has the legal standing to do so, Trump is seeking to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. Nearly all other UN Security Council members reject the ploy and remain determined to preserve the nuclear deal.

Trump has also discarded key agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, that have kept U.S.-Russian nuclear competition in check. Worse yet, Trump has so far refused to take up Russia’s offer to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Events and decisions in the coming weeks will determine our nuclear future for years to come. It is highly unlikely that Trump, if elected for a second term, is capable of a course shift. On the other hand, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has a long history of support for effective arms control, could be expected to try to address many but not all of Trump’s missteps.

No matter who occupies the White House in 2021, unrelenting and focused pressure from civil society, Congress, and responsible governments around the globe will be needed to correct U.S. nuclear policy. Key elements of an action plan should start with

  • reaffirming the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought;”
  • extending New START by five years and pursuing a deal for deeper cuts, although if New START is lost, Congress should bar funding for U.S. nuclear deployments above the treaty’s limits, as long as Russia does not exceed them;
  • engaging with other nuclear-armed states to create a framework for further progress, including pledges to halt the development of new types of nuclear warheads and destabilizing missile systems;
  • declaring that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and phase out Cold War-era launch-on- warning policies, which would significantly decrease the risk of miscalculation;
  • reinforcing the global taboo against nuclear weapons testing, negotiating transparency measures to address compliance concerns, and pursuing entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • renewing serious, sustained diplomacy with North Korea on a step-for-step plan on peace and denuclearization, starting with a nuclear and missile flight-test freeze and the dismantlement of bomb production facilities;
  • waiving sanctions reimposed on Iran since 2018 in exchange for Iran returning to full compliance with its nuclear obligations under the nuclear deal; and
  • radically revising Trump’s $1.5 trillion, 30-year plan to replace and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which is unaffordable and exceeds any plausible deterrence requirements, and redirecting the savings to programs that address real human needs, including the long-term cleanup of nuclear weapons sites and expanding and renewing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The historic 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which will soon enter into force, is an important step toward the delegitimization of nuclear weapons possession and use. Even if the United States cannot join the treaty yet, Washington should welcome its arrival as a part of the legal framework for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

Today’s dizzying array of nuclear dangers requires bold action. Getting the world back on the road toward a world without nuclear weapons will not be easy, but it can be done.

Seventy-five years after the horrific atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we all still live under the existential threat of a catastrophic nuclear war.

CBO Report Strengthens Case for New START Extension

A new report published Aug. 25 by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) further strengthens the already no-brainer of a case for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and eviscerates the irresponsible claim by the Trump administration’s top arms control official that the United States can spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race. The report demonstrates that the already excessive, surging, and unsustainable financial costs to maintain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal could soar even higher if the treaty expires in five months and the...

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