On the 5 February 2021, the last treaty governing US and Russian nuclear arsenals will expire.
It is likely the end of legal limits on these two states’ deployed nuclear weapons will accelerate the nuclear arms race that is now underway.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as New START, was hammered out in 2010 by President Obama and the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The treaty, which came into effect in 2011, committed the signatories to cutting the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half. It also established a new inspection and verification regime.
New START was a very important step in the right direction towards nuclear disarmament. It came after President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of his intentions on nuclear disarmament, but it very nearly didn’t happen. US plans to build a missile defence system in Eastern Europe put a major spanner in the works. Russia felt the system posed an offensive threat and the US was dismissive of these concerns and felt it shouldn’t be included in the treaty.
In the end, a compromise was reached. The US missile defence system was included in the preamble to the treaty. It allowed both sides to cease reductions if they felt that ‘defensive’ systems were putting them at risk.
Donald Trump’s administration is yet to declare whether it will renew the New START treaty. His decision to tear up the INF treaty with Russia and walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, were not good omens for the future of bilateral diplomacy.
Trump has talked about establishing a more ambitious treaty to replace New START which would bring China to the table as well as Russia. But his failure to secure a deal with North Korea suggests deal making is a stronger prospect in Trump’s imagination than in reality. Additionally, there isn’t enough time to secure a new treaty before 2021 when New START expires. Renewing the present deal is therefore a pre-condition for a new one. The good news is that Russia is urging the US to negotiate renewal.
The extension of the New START treaty will be on the agenda of the upcoming Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference. It is vital the British delegation makes the case for its extension.
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