By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The growing nuclear threats from Russia—the last one from President Vladimir Putin himself—have resulted in a negative fallout for a landmark treaty between two of the world’s major nuclear powers.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) between the US and the then Soviet Union—on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive weapons—was signed on 31 July 1991, entered into force on 5 December 1994 and later extended through 4 February 2026 heralding a New START Treaty.
A spokesman for the US State Department warned on 31 January 2023 that Russia was violating a key nuclear arms control agreement with the United States and continuing to refuse to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.
“Russia is not complying with its obligation under the New START Treaty to facilitate inspection activities on its territory.”
Russia’s refusal to facilitate inspection activities prevents the United States from exercising important rights under the treaty and threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control,” the spokesperson said in a statement released in Washington DC.
“Russia has also failed to comply with the New START Treaty obligation to convene a session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission in accordance with the treaty-mandated timeline,” he added
Russia told the United States that the last remaining pillar of bilateral nuclear arms control could expire in 2026 without a replacement due to what it said were U.S. efforts to inflict “strategic defeat” on Moscow in Ukraine, according to a Reuters report on 30 January.
Responding to the flow of sophisticated new battle tanks to Ukraine from the US, Germany and UK, Putin held out an implicit threat last week when he was quoted as saying: ”We aren’t sending our tanks to their borders. But we have the means to respond, and it won’t end with the use of armor. Everyone must understand this.”
William J. Burns, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said the US should take seriously the continued nuclear “saber rattling”.by Putin and his advisers.
Asked if Russia could envisage there being no nuclear arms control treaty after 2026, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the RIA state news agency: “This is quite a possible scenario.”
Joseph Gerson, President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security and Convener of the Peace & Planet International Network, told IDN that, as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently warned by moving the hands of their Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, humanity faces increasing dangers of nuclear war and annihilation.
“With the exception of the New START Treaty, which expires in 2026, beginning with the Bush-Cheney abrogation of the ABM Treaty and accelerated by the Trump Administration’s sabotage of the INF Treaty, the arms control architecture negotiated over decades has all but collapsed as we enter new Cold Wars,” he warned.
“The U.S., Russia, China, and the other nuclear powers are engaged in new and increasingly dangerous nuclear arms races with new and destabilizing technologies.”
After the hiatus of onsite inspections mandated by the New START Treaty due to the Covid pandemic, he pointed out, the Kremlin thoughtlessly postponed and has since cancelled schedule talks to resume the inspections, owing to its charge that the U.S. is engaged in a “hybrid war” against Russia.
It is worth noting that detente was negotiated while U.S. forces battled in Russia-supported Vietnam and that the INF Treaty was negotiated while Soviet forces were battled by U.S.-backed mujahedeen, he added.
“The perilous reality is that all Russian-U.S. relations, most importantly urgently needed arms control negotiations, are now subsumed under President Putin’s need to secure his minimum goals of 24 February 2022 invasion goals: to seize full control of the Donbas and Luhansk regions. His and his regime’s political survival are at risk should he fail to do so,” Gerson declared.
According to a U.S. State Department Fact Sheet, the Treaty on “Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms”, also known as the New START Treaty, enhances U.S. national security by placing verifiable limits on all Russian deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons.
The United States and the Russian Federation agreed to extend the treaty through 4 February 2026.
The New START Treaty entered into force on 5 February 2011. Under the treaty, the United States and the Russian Federation had seven years to meet the treaty’s central limits on strategic offensive arms (by 5 February 2018) and are then obligated to maintain those limits for as long as the treaty remains in force.
Both the United States and the Russian Federation met the central limits of the New START Treaty by 5 February 2018 and have stayed at or below them ever since.
Those limits include:
700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments;
1,550 nuclear warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments (each such heavy bomber is counted as one warhead toward this limit);
800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
Gerson also said that near-term prospects for the resumption of meaningful U.S./NATO-Russian arms control negotiations—including diplomacy to ensure respect for and follow-on negotiations for the New START Treaty, as well as to prevent new deployments of dual-capable INF weapons—are grim.
This underlines the imperative for nations with leverage in Moscow and Washington to press for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the Ukraine War.
Similarly, given the increasingly existential stakes for all of humanity growing out of the Ukraine War and the collapse of arms control diplomacy, wise policymakers at the highest levels in the Kremlin and Washington, D.C. must reengage in strategic diplomacy, even, if necessary, secretly, Gerson declared.
Meanwhile, the New START treaty limits all Russian deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons, including every Russian nuclear warhead that is loaded onto an intercontinental-range ballistic missile that can reach the United States in approximately 30 minutes, according to the State Department.
It also limits the deployed Avangard and the under-development Sarmat, the two most operationally available of the Russian Federation’s new long-range nuclear weapons that can reach the United States.
“Extending New START ensures we will have verifiable limits on the mainstay of Russian nuclear weapons that can reach the U.S. homeland for the next five years.”
As of the most recent data exchange on 1 September 2020, the Russian Federation declared 1,447 deployed strategic warheads. The Russian Federation has the capacity to deploy many more than 1,550 warheads on its modernized ICBMs and SLBMs, as well as heavy bombers, but is constrained from doing so by New START.
According to the terms and conditions, each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its forces subject to the central limits.
The New START Treaty gives the United States the flexibility to deploy and maintain U.S. strategic nuclear forces in a way that best serves U.S. national security interests.
The treaty contains detailed procedures for the implementation and verification of the central limits on strategic offensive arms, and all treaty obligations.
The treaty also provides for 18 on-site inspections per year for U.S. and Russian inspection teams: Type One inspections focus on sites with deployed and non-deployed strategic systems (up to10 per year), and Type Two inspections focus on sites with only non-deployed strategic systems (up to 8 per year).
Permitted inspection activities include confirming the number of reentry vehicles on one deployed ICBM or SLBM per Type One inspection, counting nuclear weapons onboard or attached to deployed heavy bombers, counting numbers of non-deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, confirming weapon system conversions or eliminations are conducted in the way proposed, and confirming facility eliminations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 February 2023]
Image: US President Barrack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (right) signing the New START Treaty on 8 April 2020 in Prague. Source: White House
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