On the future of New START

When it comes to arms control, the previous US administration worked consistently and systematically to destroy the agreements which prevented Washington from arbitrarily building up, projecting and using military force and which it saw as an obstacle on its way to “victory” in the “great power rivalry” it itself declared.

Judging by the counterproductive and openly aggressive negotiating policy of the Trump administration on extending the New START treaty, Washington was preparing an unenviable fate for that last remaining international legal mechanism of mutual restrictions on the nuclear missile arsenals of the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The United States launched a campaign to denounce New START as ineffective and irrelevant for the purposes of global security and strategic stability.

It is noteworthy that these efforts did not attain the desired result: the international community and even US allies did not support Washington’s desire to sacrifice a treaty that ensured strategic predictability, had a stabilising effect worldwide and greatly contributed to the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration was willing to disregard the opinion of the international community and face serious reputational losses when it announced that it would not extend New START unless its ultimatum preconditions are accepted. These preconditions actually amounted to revising the treaty and reforming its verification regime in favour of the United States. Washington also demanded that Russia unconditionally accept its paradigm even though this amounted to dismantling the arms control foundations that had performed effectively for many decades.

The Trump administration obviously intended to ensure unilateral military and political advantages for the United States by enforcing one-sided extension conditions that undermined Russia’s interests or by destroying the treaty. At the same time, Washington officials openly threatened to start increasing the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles and related platforms, including by de-mothballing the systems that the United States has “converted” and hence removed them from the treaty limits contrary to the treaty provisions. This actually put the viability of the treaty in question.

For our part, we have always advocated and continue advocating the extension of New START based on highly realistic positions. We believe that the treaty can only be extended as it was signed and without any preconditions. The best option would be to extend New START for five years as it is stipulated in the text of the treaty. This would give Russia and the United States enough time to get down to a joint search for answers to the international security and strategic stability questions that are currently emerging. At the same time, this would preserve the current level of transparency and predictability in the sphere of strategic offensive weapons, which will be in the interests of both parties and the rest of the world.

Our views on the framework for this work were sent to the American party in writing, and they are still on the table. These proposals are based on the invitation to work together to find a new “security formula” which would take into account the entire range of strategic stability factors, including the evolution of weapons and military technology. We believe that attention should be focused on all types of offensive and defensive, nuclear and non-nuclear weapons capable of attaining strategic objectives, but primarily on the systems that can be used in the first counterforce strike against targets in the parties’ national territory. It is also important to hold a meaningful discussion on ensuring the safety of outer space activities and preventing an arms race in outer space.

It is obvious that the practical implementation of these ideas entails complex and largely innovative efforts. We believe that the extension of New START for five years would create conditions for success in this sphere.

We hope that the new US administration will take a more constructive stand in its dialogue with Russia and that it will take into account all of the above-mentioned factors. For our part, we are ready for such work on the basis of equality and respect for each other’s interests.