Saving New START

Saving New START

Jon Wolfsthal, Nuclear Crisis Group Director | September 30, 2019


The world survived the Cold War in part because Russia and the United States negotiated arms control agreements to regulate their nuclear competition. The latest incarnation of those efforts is the 2010 New START Treaty, which limits Moscow and Washington to no more than 1,550 offensive strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 bombers and missiles. Like many other parts of the traditional American security system, this agreement is under threat from the Trump Administration and their radical approach to U.S. policy. The path to the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons requires maintaining and expanding the current arms control systems and, as such, Global Zero is working to support existing controls. 

Global Zero is working to protect this essential treaty and convince both the Russian and American government to extend the treaty for five more years before its February 5, 2021 expiration — something that can be done at the stroke of a pen by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The departure of former National Security Advisor and arms control serial killer John Bolton has opened up a window to possibly saving the agreement, but the forces arrayed against the treaty within the Trump Administration still mean the prospects for extension of the critical pact are slim. Russia remains willing to extend the agreement, but has not been able to secure American agreement to do so.

 The American Congress has taken note of this dangerous situation and has put some pressure on the White House to extend New START. Letters from key committees, including the House Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs Committee, and from a number of Senators, have noted the importance of New START and urged President Trump to extend the pact. The U.S. military and intelligence communities support the treaty and want to see it extended.

 Recent statements from long-standing arms control opponents like Senator Tom Cotton that claim New START is flawed because it does not include Chinese nuclear forces are meant to divert attention from President Trump’s refusal to extend the agreement. China’s total nuclear is less than 10% of the size of either America’s or Russia’s. Global Zero leader Ambassador Richard Burt and I wrote recently that bringing China into the arms control process over time is a good idea, but sacrificing New START to do so is akin to security negligence.

In the end, President Trump may refuse to extend the agreement. In that case, should a new president take office in January 2021, they will have only 16 days to save the treaty before it expires U.S. presidential candidates should be asked to make clear their support for New START and future arms control with Russia. Global Zero will continue to provide its expertise and analysis for why keeping New START enhances American security and global stability, and illuminates the path to global zero.