The lingering nuclear crisis, at a time when both the US and Russia are seeking to improve their bilateral, diplomatic and trade relations, has evoked tensions amongst the government officials. This is because over the time, the US-Russia relations have highly been influenced with the crisis in the neighboring countries.
The Ukrainian crisis of 2014, Russia’s military intervention in Syrian Civil War and alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections in the country brought Russia under the imposition of sanctions that restricted its global activities and deteriorated its relations with the US.
Today, the US government is under huge pressure to renew the New START pact, which it signed with Russia. Signed in Prague, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty came into effect in February 2011 and is expected to last up to ten years i.e. 2021. As the one-year deadline to renew the pact passed, the supporters of key arms control treaty between both the countries started to voice their concerns.
The New START treaty, also known as the last major treaty binding the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, focuses on reducing the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers and limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 10 percent lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The treaty has the renewal option of up to five years upon agreement from both parties. It allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits.
As the agreement’s expiration looms, the Democrats, arms control advocates and at least one Republican have called upon for the president to renew the New START treaty, which places no limits on tactical systems, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The administration is also focused upon updating the treaty by adding China and expanding it to cover new weapons.
Major Democratic candidates — including former Vice President Joe Biden; former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — are backing to renew the treaty. Amid the pressure, National security advisor Robert O’Brien cleared that the arms control talks with Russia would begin “soon”.
“We’ll start negotiations soon on arms control and on the nuclear issue, which is, you know, important to the safety of the world, to every country, not just the US and Russia,” O’Brien said in an address at the Meridian International Center.
The fears of lapsing of the New START treaty is an outcome of Trump’s previous withdrawal from the separate arms pact, known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, which left New START to be the last treaty limiting the nuclear weapons of both the countries. Even though Russia has agreed to extend the treaty immediately with no-preconditions, as it reaches its ninth anniversary and final year before expiration, the opposition still remains alerted, recalling Trump’s past decisions.
As both the countries seek an improvement in technology and nuclear weapons, getting rid of the New START treaty is viewed as opening the door to unconstrained nuclear competition. The question is whether or not will the president listen to the voices of the leaders, who recognize the treaty as indispensable pillars of security and want it to be renewed.