The United States has extended the NEW START treaty with Russia, which was due to expire on February 5, 2020. It is the last remaining arms control agreement between the former Cold War rivals. Many experts hailed it as consequential strategic decision by the Biden Administration. The Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a press statement that “President Biden pledged to keep the American people safe from nuclear threats by restoring United States leadership on arms control and non-proliferation.” This renewed pact has enabled a new understanding between Moscow and Washington towards arms control and nuclear disarmament. China is the new dimension to this treaty, as the United States has been making discernible attempts to bring China under all arms control negotiations. This article argues that an extension of this treaty is a welcome decision as far as bilateral ties between Russia and United States is concerned. However, it is essential to broaden the horizon and analyse the possibilities of bringing China to such talks.


Origin and Evolution of NEW START Treaty


Cold War geopolitics was inhibited by the competition of adding stockpiles between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Multiple arms control agreements between the US and Soviet Union were signed including treaties like the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT-1 and 2), Strategic Arms Reduction treaty (START-1and 2), etc. Currently, the sole arms control agreement between Russia and the United States that has remained in place is the NEW START treaty. The NEW START treaty is considered a successor to START-1, and START-2. While START-3 is in the negotiations process with both players attempting to find a better framework, under such circumstances, the NEW START plays vital role.


The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (NEW START) was signed on April 8, 2010 in Prague by the then US President Barack Obama and the then Russian President Dmitry Medvdev; and it entered into force on February 5, 2011. The NEW START succeeded the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also called the Treaty of Moscow, which was due to expire in 2012. There were also attempts being made in the Trump administration to extend this treaty although some developments halted these talks. A day before the announcement of extension by the US National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien, the United States deployed new submarine-launched low yield nuclear weapons as an integral part of its modernisation plans, which many experts claim as antithesis to arms reduction. In June 2020, Russia and the United States began talks in Vienna regarding extension of the NEW START. The United States sent an invitation to China but the latter’s reluctance to join these two important developments halted the progress of extension of the NEW START. The new Biden administration made an announcement that the United States would extend the NEW START, without any additional provisions, creating bargaining space for Russia to affirm the extension. Finally, both parties agreed to sign it two days before expiration.


Brief overview of the NEW START


After long and lengthy deliberations, the US and Russia signed the NEW START treaty on April 8, 2010. It is worth mentioning that after more than 20 hearings, the US Senate advised to ratify this agreement by a vote of 71-26. Subsequently both houses of the Russian Parliament – the Duma and Federation Council agreed to this treaty in late January 2011 and it entered into force on February 5, 2011. The NEW START treaty consists of three main components: Treaty text, protocol of the treaty and technical annexes, and all three tiers of details are subjected to legal binding. This agreement gives seven years for both signatories to reduce their nuclear and missile forces. It restricts each sides to having maximum 800 deployed and non-deployed land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments. It limits respective countries to retain only 700 deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments.


The treaty also limits them to have not more than 1500 warheads. This treaty comprises detailed definitions and counting methodology, which will help estimate the number of warheads, which fall under the ambit of this treaty. Many experts are of the opinion that these provisions are less complicated compared to the START treaty, thereby giving greater flexibility for both Russia and the United States. The monitoring and verification process contains definitions of all items listed down by this particular treaty. The National Technical Means (NTM) will accumulate data regarding each side’s forces and activities.


Growing China Factor in Contemporary Arms Control Negotiations


There has been a modest attempt in the recent days to bring China to discuss arms control and disarmament. The Trump administration left no stone unturned to include China in arms control negotiations, and many experts hinted that China’s absence from these pacts posits the US in a disadvantageous position.  Henceforth, the United States pulled out from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and Open Skies Treaty. The United States will also likely engage China on nuclear arms and risk reduction in the near future.


However, it is not an easy task to bring China on board such trilateral agreements. The research conducted by International Institute Strategic Studies think tank (IISS) indicates that if China signs treaties that are similar to INF and NEW START, it will lose more than 95% its ballistic and cruise missile capabilities. This study reveals that the withdrawal of the US from these type of agreements are done with a focus towards China’s growing missile arsenal. However, it can be said that the incumbent Biden administration will pull out all its efforts to engage with China to include them in arms control talks, because other powers such as Russia cannot pressurise it due to its close and strategic ties with China.


The Way Forward for Arms Control Negotiations


The NEW START extension is one of the watershed moments for arms reduction and it is the only agreement that has survived in the realm of disarmament and arms control. This agreement also provides window for the new Biden administration to improve ties with Russia, which is considered its rival since the Cold War era. In the recent days, the US-Russia relationship has reached the nadir for multiple reasons, which ranges from increasing cyber intrusions to detention of opposition leader Alex Navalny. The current geopolitical situation is different from what the world had witnessed during the Cold War period. Nevertheless, putting constraints on two countries, which possess the most number of nuclear warheads, is a good sign of controlling nuclear threats. This treaty also gives adequate information for both parties about capabilities of delivery systems; for instance, LGM-30 Minuteman ICBM will have leverage to target Russia, as it limits Russia’s Avangard (hypersonic glide vehicle) and Sarmat (under development), which have the ability to reach the United States in 30 minutes.


The extension of the NEW START treaty has been largely welcomed by the international community. India, which is considered a global champion of disarmament also applauded this decision. The Ministry of External Affairs said in a press statement, “We hope that this promotes dialogue and cooperation to help address international non-proliferation and disarmament issues.” However, this agreement has given a ray of hope to the United States and Russia, although it is unlikely to deepen the relationship between the two at this juncture. There are also ongoing debates to provide a solid framework for non-strategic defence items such as cruise missile and other defence assets, which pose a threat to international security. Future prospects of arms control will be incomplete without China’s participation, given the range of capabilities it possess. Therefore, the next agenda for the Biden team may likely focus on  pursuing China in future negotiation talks in order make it more accountable in global disarmament issues.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.