Opinion: Russia suspended a nuclear weapons treaty. What does that mean?
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow would suspend implementation of New START, the last remaining treaty between Russia and the United States that limits the use of nuclear weapons.
The New START limits the number of “strategic” nuclear warheads that Russia and the United States can deploy to 1,550 and the number of deployed strategic nuclear-capable missiles and bombers to 700. The deal, like its predecessors, was important in easing the pressure of the arms race limit , strengthen strategic stability and facilitate communication, transparency and predictability between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
Putin’s decision to consider a “suspension” rather than a full withdrawal is a partial measure. Russia remains a party to the agreement. Moscow has claimed it will continue to adhere to the numerical ceilings set out in New START and will continue to adhere to a 1988 agreement with the US to exchange notifications of ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile launches.
The immediate effects of the suspension are likely to be limited. The US can still monitor Russian compliance through so-called “national technical means,” which include satellite imagery. Russia’s ongoing nuclear modernization is already costly and behind schedule, and sanctions against Russia could further jeopardize those efforts. For now, however, Russia’s suspension of the treaty will likely mean the end of the treaty-mandated data sharing, on-site inspections and meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), a body set up by the treaty to facilitate implementation and compliance .
The contract was already under pressure. Earlier this year, the State Department said in a report to Congress that Russia was not complying. Under the treaty, each side is permitted to conduct a limited number of on-site inspections of the other side’s nuclear bases annually and may convene meetings of the Bilateral Advisory Commission to discuss compliance concerns. According to the State Department report, Moscow has denied American inspectors access to Russian nuclear facilities and failed to convene a timely meeting of the Bilateral Advisory Commission.
Putin’s decision could provide legal protection for Russia’s previous decisions to deny US inspectors access and is a consolation for domestic hardliners who are already skeptical about arms control deals. But his decision could also have had other motives. It also likely signals a willingness to impose costs on the US for its support of Ukraine when Russia lacks other credible military or economic tools.
The decision could also entail costs for Russia. The US could adopt the Russian suspension and stop providing data or approving inspections. Indeed, a US official stated that “the principles of reciprocity, mutual predictability and mutual stability will continue to guide the US approach to implementing the New START Treaty.” The suspension will further increase Russia’s diplomatic costs around the world. Commenting on Putin’s announcement, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, while not criticizing Russia, noted that Beijing “hopes the two sides can adequately resolve differences through constructive dialogue and consultations to ensure sound implementation of the treaty.”
The Russian suspension of New START is just the latest casualty of arms control. In 2019, citing evidence of Russia’s non-compliance, President Trump suspended and eventually withdrew the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, which prohibited the deployment of ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (about 310 to 3,400 miles). . In 2020, the US announced it would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, an agreement that facilitated transparency by allowing mutual unarmed aerial surveillance flights. The US withdrawal, denied by NATO allies (and Ukraine too), was based on allegations of Russian violations – the Russian withdrawal followed shortly thereafter.
So what does Putin’s latest move mean?
First, it shows that Russia is increasingly unwilling to seal off elements of its relationship with the United States. In the past, Russia (and its Soviet predecessor) and the US managed to negotiate, extend, and implement nuclear weapons deals while bickering on other issues.
Second, it further undermines efforts to control nuclear arms by enacting a unique life-support agreement — due to expire in 2026. The treaty is the last of its kind; no other nuclear state has ever negotiated limits on its nuclear forces. His poor health could signal other nuclear-armed states that arms control might not be worth it.
It will be important for the United States not to rush into reaction or get sucked into an arms race. US strategic nuclear forces remain strong and the balance is unlikely to change in the short term. But nuclear arms control as an international project has certainly continued to decline.
David C. Logan is an assistant professor at the US Naval War College. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-02-23/russia-putin-us-nuclear-war-treaty Opinion: Russia suspended a nuclear weapons treaty. What does that mean?