Preserving New START – OpEd


Days of frequent explosive nuclear testing were considered to be passed. The arms race throughout the long duration of Cold War led the United States and the former Soviet Union (and the rest of humanity) to the brink of catastrophe owing to the lack of agreed constraints on nuclear weapons. Today, there are multiple treaties and agreements that avert another dreadful era of unconstrained nuclear development. There is no rationale in dismantling the agreements that bring us stability and peace.

In 2010, former U.S. President Barack Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, marked a commitment “to reduce further the role and importance of nuclear weapons” and signed The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (commonly known as New START). New START was the successor to START I treaty and expands on commitments enumerated in START I treaty. START I was the similar treaty signed in 1991 aiming at reduction of weapons and putting constrains nuclear developments.

New START was not groundbreaking theoretically but when comes to its commitments, it can be called groundbreaking. The Russian Federation and the United States agreed to not only limit their deployed warheads but also delivery systems, to such levels that do not find any historical counterpart since the start of cold war. In 2018, both countries successfully met the central limits under the treaty and continue to staunchly implement the agreed provisions. New START is set to be expired in 2021 unless extended further. New START limits the number of deployed strategic warheads at 1,550 and deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and Bombers at 700.

Marking the eighth anniversary of the treaty entering into force, its extension is under clouds as President Trump dubbed New START, like all other bi and multi-lateral treaties and agreements, a “bad deal” that only favors Russia. Trump’s statement implies that white house likely to be unwilling to allow the extension of five years. It appears that no nuclear related treaties and agreements are pleasant and favourable enough to be retained by Trump administration. President Trump has already withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. President Trump has also announced an impending withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

International community after massive input and decade’s long struggle created the barriers to nuclear proliferation. The way US is walking away from nuclear agreements is enervating the barrier to both horizontal (more countries acquiring nuclear weapons) and vertical proliferation (countries with nuclear weapons acquiring more). The breakdown of nuclear treaties signed between the United States and Russia could indisputably open the new avenues for a new arms race. New arms race would not only be destabilizing for their economy but equally detrimental to the international security and the security of entire world.

Maintenance of New START is necessary because of multiple factors. Like many other treaties, this treaty also opens channels of communication and allow for transparency on both sides. Besides, both countries maintain 92% of the global nuclear stockpile and this treaty is extraordinary development to significantly reduce the strategic deployed nuclear arsenals of both states.It is also significant to mention that the limits set forth in the treaty allow the United States and Russia to maintain reliable deterrence required at strategic, operational and tactical levels. There is no need to build more nuclear weapons.

President Trump’s bellicose approach and distaste for international agreements that serve to stability of world has made the world less stable. By not extending New START, the two countries would revert back to arms build-up with Cold War thinking. Allied countries would ultimately be embroiled in this race because they would be sought for land and bases for nuclear installation in pursuit of deterrence. Moreover, nuclear miscalculation in absence of any treaty and agreement can lead to horrific catastrophe impinging upon entire world. It is also noteworthy that the chief point of agreements like New START is to foster a sense of stability and collaboration between the two largest nuclear powers. If the Cold War arms race did not result in nuclear annihilation, it does not mean the result would be same in 21st century.

New START should also be preserved because long-standing arms control agreement known as INF Treaty is falling apart. After taking out INF Treaty, New START is the last bilateral arms control treaty which is effectively constraining U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. Such treaties and agreements ensure the restrains in adverse environment and prevent humanity from going to the brink of destruction. There is no rationale to not to extend New START since this extension serves the national interests of Russia and the United States as reassert by a number of civilian experts and military leaders. Therefore, extension is imperative and paramount to maintaining stability and predictability.

*Baber Ali Bhatti, Islamabad based Lawyer and Analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @alibaberali