For decades, even during the Cold War, US and Soviet/Russian leaders understood the importance of cooperation on nuclear arms control. From the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963) to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (1987) to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1991), negotiated agreements limited US and Russian nuclear arsenals and helped prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. That cooperation, which reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the world by 85 percent, has fallen apart as both the US and Russia undergo expensive overhauls of their nuclear arsenals – ushering in a new nuclear arms race.
In 2010, building on previous agreements, Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed New START, limiting both parties to 1,550 strategically deployed nuclear weapons and 700 deployed launchers. The treaty also established verification mechanisms to ensure both parties are adhering to their commitments under the agreement.
Since then, progress has stalled. Offers from the Obama administration to start negotiations for another round of nuclear reductions were rejected by Moscow. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and an increasing frequency and aggressive nature of military incidents between the US/NATO and Russia has heightened tensions between the two largest nuclear-armed powers.
Now, under the influence of National Security Advisor John Bolton, the Trump administration is targeting international arms control agreements, pulling out of the INF Treaty and stalling on extending New START past its February 5, 2021 expiration. Russia has said it is ready to discuss extension, warning serious dialogue is needed first and time is running out, but the US administration seems to be stuck in a review process. Trump has ordered his team to focus instead on negotiating a broader deal to include all Russian nuclear weapons and bring China into the fold.
Restarting and expanding talks with Russia and engaging China are admirable goals. These conversations are needed to further nuclear reductions and address relevant national security concerns such as missile defense and cyberwarfare. But it is highly questionable whether negotiation of a new trilateral, or even bilateral, arms reduction treaty is possible before New START expires on February 5, 2021. The US lacks concrete plans and, for its part, China has already said they will not join nuclear reduction negotiations at this stage.
The best way forward on arms control is for the US and Russia to first extend New START. It will keep US and Russian strategically deployed nuclear arsenals capped at 1,550 while the US and Russia, and possibly even China, work on a follow-on agreement. Without New START both the US and Russia will lose important insight into the other’s nuclear arsenal provided by the agreement’s verification measures.
The clock is running. As Global Zero works with our network of former senior-level military and government officials and national security experts to save the agreement, we’ll also be keeping track of US and Russian arms control efforts, updating this tracker as developments unfold.
Days Until New START Expires: 588
January 28: US President Donald Trump calls New START a bad deal for the United States in his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
March 29-April 11: US and Russian delegations meet for the 13th session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), which was established under the New START agreement as a venue to discuss issues related to implementation of the treaty. The BCC meets twice per year.
July 17: US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon Jr. meets with Russian counterpart Sergei Rybakov. The two emphasize the need to create a long-term agreement on arms control.
October 11-24: US and Russian delegations meet for the 14th session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.
April 10-20: US and Russian delegations meet for the 15th session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.
July 16: Trump and Putin meet in Helsinki and agree to hold talks on extending New START.
October 11-18: US and Russian delegations meet for the 16th session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.
December 4: The Trump administration announces it will give Russia 60 days to return to compliance under the INF Treaty or the US will suspend obligations.
January 15: Russian and US delegations meet to discuss the INF Treaty.
January 31: Russian and US delegations fail to breakthrough the INF Treaty impasse during the meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to discuss nuclear nonproliferation in Beijing.
February 1: The Trump administration announces US will suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — a long-standing agreement that eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons — and begin the formal six-month process of withdrawal.
March 4: Putin signs an executive order suspending Russian compliance with the INF Treaty.
April 3-12: US and Russian delegations meet for the 17th session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.
April 25: Trump directs staff to prepare options for a new nuclear arms control initiative with Russia and China.
May 6: A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman states China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”
May 14: Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Sochi and agree to gather teams to work on New START and broader arms control.
May 29: Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency says Russia has “probably” violated the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a claim which was met with skepticism from experts.
June 12: US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Andrea Thompson meets with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in Prague. No schedule for sustained talks is set, but both note the two countries will continue to engage on arms control issues.
June 28: Trump and Putin agree to continue talks “on a 21st century model of arms control” on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan.