Expiration of New START Means Nuclear Chaos

WASHINGTON, D.C. On February 5, 2021, just one year from today, the last remaining nuclear pact between the United States and Russia will expire – ending more than a half century of arms control between the two most nuclear-armed nations on the planet. A simple signature by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would extend the treaty through 2026.

The 2010 New START agreement is the last remaining restraint on both nations’ strategic nuclear arsenals. The treaty limits each country to no more than 1,550 strategic, offensively deployed nuclear weapons, and verifies compliance through robust on-site inspections and data exchanges. 

Russia has twice offered to extend the agreement. In his first phone call with Putin in January 2017, Trump reportedly rejected this suggestion and denounced New START as a “bad deal.” In December 2019, Putin again offered to extend the treaty – this time immediately and without preconditions. To date, the United States has failed to accept this offer. 

As the 1-year countdown begins on New START’s expiration, Derek Johnson, executive director of the international Global Zero movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, made the following statement:

“Today marks a countdown to nuclear chaos. If Donald Trump lets New START expire, there will be no restraint, no inspection, no verification whatsoever of American and Russian nuclear activities for the first time since 1972. Both nations will be free to build even more nuclear weapons, with no obligation to declare, display, or control any of them. It will be a return to the most dangerous days of the Cold War, and the security of the entire planet hangs in the balance.

“The collapse of New START would be a global disaster – and can be avoided at the stroke of a pen. 

“Nuclear weapons policy can be complex, and can require months or years to sort out. But this is not one of those times. Extending New START is the obvious choice and easy to do. The treaty has a proven record of success. Extension is in the best interests of the United States, Russia, and the world. That’s why it enjoys overwhelming political and military support, including from the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral (ret.) Michael Mullen, and former head of U.S. Strategic Command General (ret.) James Cartwright. 

“Opponents of New START operate in a Cold War time warp where zero-sum thinking is the norm. It’s inconceivable to them that what’s good for America might also be good for Russia. They downplay the inherent risks of nuclear weapons and take as a matter of faith that deterrence is the only guarantee of security, mistakes will never be made, crises will always be controlled. They have lost sight of the wisdom affirmed by Gorbachev and Reagan that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’ This is exactly the arrogance that drove the massive build-up of nuclear weapons in the 20th century and took us to the brink of extinction. We cannot allow the Trump administration to drag us back to those dark days.

“We know that Russia and the United States are complying with New START, and we know it can continue to work for years to come. We tempt fate if we allow the treaty to expire, or even let its future remain uncertain as we are now. There is no way to know what might affect the relationship between the U.S. and Russia in the weeks and months to come. 

“President Trump says he wants to include China in future nuclear arms control agreements, and to ensure all Russian systems are covered by such agreements. These are worthy goals, but they won’t happen unless the current system of restraint and verification is maintained and strengthened. Extending New START is the surest path to achieving what the President says he wants. 

“Trump can secure New START through 2026 and lay the groundwork for a more ambitious agenda, one that draws in China and other nuclear-armed states. It would be gross negligence and the height of stupidity to let this moment pass.

“New START must be extended. No delays, no conditions. It’s time to get this done.”