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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Kingston Reif

U.S., Russia Signal Willingness to Hold Arms Control Talks

Since securing the extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ) in February, the United States and Russia have both signaled a willingness to hold a dialogue on arms control as part of a broader conversation on strategic stability, though when exactly such discussions may take place remains unclear. “The United States is ready to engage Russia in strategic stability discussions on arms control and emerging security issues,” said U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on Feb. 22. The Biden administration released interim national...

New UK Defense Strategy A Troubling Step Back on Nuclear Policy

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For Immediate Release: March 15, 2021

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

The United Kingdom announced today that it will move to increase its total nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling by over 40 percent and reduce transparency about its nuclear arsenal. This is a needless and alarming reversal of the longstanding British policy to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons.

These changes, which are outlined in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, are also inconsistent with the British government’s prior pledges on nuclear disarmament under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The United Kingdom now joins China and perhaps Russia as the permanent members of the UN Security Council that are planning to increase the size of their warhead stockpiles. Open source estimates put the current size of the British arsenal at 195 warheads.

The review attributes the need to increase the total stockpile ceiling from the goal of 180 warheads (which was reaffirmed in 2015) to 260 warheads to “the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats,” but it does not explain how raising the number of warheads will enhance deterrence against these threats.

The United Kingdom’s decision to increase its warhead stockpile will contribute to the growing competition and distrust between nuclear-armed states. There is no compelling military or strategic rationale that justifies such an increase.

The review also states that the United Kingdom, which fields its warheads on sea-based ballistic missiles, will “no longer give public figures for our operational stockpile, deployed warhead or deployed missile numbers.” Like the United States, the United Kingdom’s past commitment to transparency about its nuclear forces has set it apart from other nuclear powers. Both governments have rightly criticized China for its excessive nuclear secrecy, for example. Such opacity is irresponsible and undemocratic.

The next NPT Review Conference slated for this summer was already poised to be a difficult and contentious one given the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the role and capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Russia’s development of grotesque new nuclear delivery systems (such as a nuclear-armed torpedo), and China’s continued modernization and expansion of its nuclear forces. The United Kingdom’s decision to increase its arsenal and clamp down on transparency will further worsen the atmosphere.

In addition, the United Kingdom’s new direction will complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to pursue further bilateral arms control and reduction measures with Russia. Russia has been adamant that any future nuclear cuts beyond the limits contained in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) should take into account the arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states, especially the United Kingdom and France. Moscow can be expected to make this argument even more forcefully after the United Kingdom’s announcement today.

President Biden and has pledged to “take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”

With the United Kingdom headed in the opposite direction, the Biden administration should cast an even more critical eye on the Trump administration’s weak rationale for accelerating the development of a newly designed third submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (known as the W93) - and London’s lobbying of the U.S. Congress for support of U.S. funding for this new weapon.

The Trump administration justified the W93 in part on the grounds that it is vital to continuing U.S. support of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. But the United States can continue to support its ally without rushing forward with this new and unnecessary new nuclear warhead program.

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Statement from the Arms Control Association 

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U.S., Russia Extend New START for Five Years


March 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

With only two days remaining until its expiration, the United States and Russia officially extended the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years, keeping in place the treaty’s verifiable limits on the deployed strategic nuclear arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Then‑Vice President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011. (Alexey Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)The U.S. State Department and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued separate statements Feb. 3 announcing that the formal exchange of documents on the extension had been completed. The treaty was set to expire Feb. 5.

Biden administration officials stressed that the extension would buy time and space to pursue follow-on talks on new arms control arrangements.

In a Feb. 3 statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that President Joe Biden “made clear” that the New START extension “is only the beginning of our efforts to address 21st century security challenges. The United States will use the time provided…to pursue with the Russian Federation, in consultation with Congress and U.S. allies and partners, arms control that addresses all of its nuclear weapons.”

“We cannot afford to lose New START’s intrusive inspection and notification tools,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a Jan. 21 statement after news first emerged that the Biden administration would pursue a five-year extension. “Failing to swiftly extend New START would weaken America’s understanding of Russia’s long-range nuclear forces.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized on Feb. 3 the importance of New START’s extension for maintaining strategic stability. In a statement, the ministry said, “Considering the special responsibilities that Russia and the U.S. carry as the world’s largest nuclear nations, the decision taken is important as it guarantees a necessary level of predictability and transparency in this area, while strictly maintaining a balance of interests.”

The ministry also signaled that Moscow “is ready to do its part” to return the U.S.-Russian dialogue on arms control “back to a more stable trajectory [and] reach new substantial results which would strengthen our national security and global strategic stability.”

Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for the first time Jan. 26 and “discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension,” according to the White House readout of the call.

Although Biden did not need to secure the Senate’s approval for the extension, Russian domestic law required that Putin obtain the consent of the Russian parliament for his decision to extend the treaty. The Kremlin submitted the necessary bill to parliament Jan. 26.

Russian officials had warned that it could take weeks, if not months, for the Russian legislature to act on an extension, but the State Duma and the Federation Council each approved the extension law in less than a day. Putin signed the law Jan. 29, which allowed the two countries to officially seal the extension with an exchange of diplomatic notes Feb. 3.

Russia in recent weeks had reiterated its long-standing support for an unconditional five-year extension of New START, the maximum amount allowed by the treaty. Although Biden had expressed his support for an extension on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, he did not specify how long of an extension he would seek. Some of his advisers were reportedly encouraging a shorter extension. (See ACT, November 2020.)

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 21 that the Biden administration would seek a five-year extension, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the report later that day.

Biden “has long been clear” that the treaty extension “is in the national security interest of the United States, and this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” she said.

New START’s extension comes after the Trump administration did not seriously pursue arms control talks with Russia for more than three years and then, in the last six months of 2020, hinged a short-term extension of New START on additional conditions that Moscow repeatedly rejected.

Last October, the two countries exchanged proposals on a one-year extension of New START paired with a one-year freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads. The Trump administration maintained that there was an agreement in principle on this concept, but Russia firmly dismissed any agreement and rejected the Trump administration’s insistence that a freeze be accompanied by detailed definitions of a warhead, a warhead stockpile declaration, and a plan to verify a freeze. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Extending New START for five years “really abandons all the leverage one has with the Russians,” said Marshall Billingslea, the former U.S. special envoy for arms control, in January. Appointed as special envoy in April 2020, Billingslea led the Trump administration’s failed discussions with Russia on New START and arms control.

“We’re aware that the last administration engaged in negotiations on an extension of…New START for months but was unable to come with an agreement,” a senior U.S. official told The Washington Post. “We also understand there have been various proposals exchanged during those negations, but we’ve not seen anything to suggest that at any point an agreement on the terms that have been reported was in place,” the official said.

The Trump administration also had initially insisted on the inclusion of China in trilateral arms control talks as a prerequisite for a New START extension. That demand eventually fell away as Beijing repeatedly refused to join talks. (See ACT, June 2020.)

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Jan. 27 that Beijing welcomes New START’s extension. “It is conducive to upholding global strategic stability and promoting international peace and security, which meets the aspiration of the international community,” he added.

In the Feb. 3 statement, Blinken said that the Biden administration “will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.” Unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration plans to seek bilateral talks with China in parallel with a U.S.-Russian dialogue, rather than trilateral arms control talks.

When dialogue between the United States and Russia might begin remains unclear.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Jan. 29 that the treaty’s extension “is the beginning of the story on what is going to have to be serious, sustained negotiations around a whole set of nuclear challenges and threats that fall outside of the New START agreement, as well as other emerging security challenges.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov struck a similar tone on Jan. 27. “We now have a significant amount of time in order to launch and hold profound bilateral talks on the whole set of issues that influence strategic stability, ensure security of our state for a long period ahead,” he said.

Without extending New START for five years, “this task would have been much more difficult,” Ryabkov argued.

The United States has expressed concern about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons and new nuclear weapons delivery systems, two of which, the Sarmat and Avangard, Moscow has already said would be covered by New START, as well as China’s advancing nuclear capabilities. For its part, Russia has said that, in future talks, it would like to take into account U.S. missile defenses, hypersonic weapons, missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the inclusion of France and the United Kingdom in arms control measures.

Ryabkov told the RIA Novosti news agency on Jan. 27 that the October proposal involving a warhead freeze “came in a package” with the Trump administration’s proposal to extend New START for one year and has since been canceled under the new Biden administration. “Now there is no reason to return” to the previous proposal, he said. “We will negotiate from a different starting point.”

Meanwhile, U.S. allies and partners welcomed the news that the Biden administration planned to seek a five-year extension of New START and encouraged further dialogue on arms control.

“I have repeatedly stated that we should not end up in a situation where we have no limitation whatsoever on nuclear warheads,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Jan. 22. “NATO allies have made clear that the preservation of New START is of great importance.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Peter Stano, European Commission spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, also said that they applauded the extension of the accord. In addition, France, Germany, and the UK issued statements of support.

In the U.S. Congress, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), who had introduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 calling for the extension of New START, released a statement on Jan. 22 welcoming the Biden administration’s decision.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) also commended the treaty’s extension. “Despite Russia’s wide-ranging malign activities, ensuring limits on and insight into Russia’s nuclear arsenal is unquestionably in the national security interest of the United States,” they wrote.

Most Republican lawmakers, however, criticized the extension decision. They echoed former Trump administration officials in arguing that the treaty was a deeply flawed agreement and that a shorter extension would have enhanced U.S. leverage in follow-on talks with Russia.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said on Jan. 22 that although he agreed with the president’s decision to extend the treaty, he was “concerned with the length of extension given Russia’s continued undertaking of massive modernization and its building of new capabilities that leaves out entire classes of nuclear weapons.”

Also on Jan. 22, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement that “[h]aving secured the longer extension he desired, President Putin has no incentive to negotiate with the United States and will, as he has done, decline to engage in any further discussions.”

Signed in 2010, New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Inspections under the treaty and meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, the implementing body of the treaty, have been suspended since early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Ryabkov commented on Feb. 11 that Washington and Moscow have launched efforts to restart the inspections.

The loss of the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is averted as Washington and Moscow pledge to pursue further arms control measures.

Russia May Leave Open Skies Treaty


March 2021
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

Russia announced in January that it would begin domestic procedures for withdrawing from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, but later clarified that it could reverse the decision if the United States returned to the agreement.

Danish jets accompany a Russian An-30 aircraft during an observation flight under the Open Skies Treaty over the territory of Denmark in June 2008. (Photo: OSCE)The Biden administration, meanwhile, has begun a review of whether and, if so, how it would be possible to return the United States to the treaty after the Trump administration exited the multilateral agreement last year over objections from members of Congress and key European allies.

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in November 2020 “destroyed the balance of interests of the State-Parties reached when the Treaty was signed, inflicted a severe damage to its functioning, and undermined the role of the Open Skies Treaty as a confidence and security building measure,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said Jan. 15.

The domestic procedures are estimated to be completed by this summer, according to a Feb. 22 remark by Konstantin Gavrilov, Russian head of negotiations in Vienna on military security and arms control. “If the United States does not inform us before that time about its readiness to return to the treaty framework,” Gavrilov said, Russia will give official notice to the treaty depositaries, Canada and Hungary. Once states-parties are notified, Moscow could officially withdraw in six months’ time, as stipulated by the treaty text.

But Russia has hedged on its withdrawal threat. If the Biden administration signals a willingness to return the United States to the treaty, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Feb. 11, “we might somehow adjust the decision to launch internal procedures.”

“But nobody should expect Russia to make any concessions,” he added.

NATO immediately criticized Moscow’s decision to begin the withdrawal process. “Russia’s selective implementation of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty has for some time undermined the contribution of this important treaty to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region,” said NATO Deputy Spokesman Piers Cazalet on Jan. 15.

Russia last November outlined the two conditions under which it would remain party to the treaty: the remaining states-parties must give written legal guarantees not to prohibit overflights of U.S. bases in Europe nor continue to share data collected under the treaty with the United States.

“If the remaining participants bow to the United States, it will not take us long to provide a harsh response,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Dec. 29. “We have not yet received such guarantees, so the further fate of the Open Skies Treaty is highly questionable.”

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Jan. 3 that Russia notified the remaining states-parties Dec. 22 that it would seek to withdraw from the treaty unless the parties provided the written guarantees by Jan. 1. The foreign ministers of 16 states-parties, including France and Germany, ultimately rejected Russia’s request and encouraged further discussion of these issues during the next meeting of the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), the implementing body of the treaty, on Jan. 25.

“We did all we could to save it,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Jan. 21, but “our proposals were dismissed.”

“In doing this, the Western countries scrapped forever the once vital measure of transparency and mutual trust in the Euro-Atlantic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” she continued.

During the OSCC meeting, Gavrilov criticized the remaining states-parties for not agreeing to Moscow’s terms and claimed to have “clear evidence” that Washington demanded from its allies signed documents saying that they would continue to transfer information obtained from treaty overflights to the United States and deny Russian requests to fly over U.S. bases in Europe.

“We regret that the lack of political realism and constructive approach on the part of the states-parties led to this situation,” he said. “If our Western partners wish to make reproaches, they should only address them to themselves.”

Rose Gottemoeller, former NATO deputy secretary-general and U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told The Economist that, in her view, “the Russians wanted to send a message that they won’t be pushed around on arms control and NATO.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed his support for the Open Skies Treaty and denounced the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States. But he has yet to say whether he would seek to have Washington reenter the agreement or whether he views the withdrawal as illegal as it was done in violation of the law.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Feb. 2 that the Biden administration is “studying” the issue of the treaty’s future. “We’ll take a decision in due course. To the best of our knowledge, Russia is still not in full compliance with the treaty.”

Lavrov commented the same day that “[i]f the United States fully returns to observing the treaty, the Russian Federation would be ready to constructively consider that new situation.”

Moscow says it might reverse the process for withdrawal if the United States takes steps to return to the multilateral agreement.

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