The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States, the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The agreement is set to expire in February 2021 but could be easily extended by five years if both parties consent. Without it, U.S. national security, alliance relationships, and global stability would suffer.
Given that Moscow would readily embrace a deal, Washington should grasp the easy foreign policy win. Though the power to extend New START lies with the executive branch, the legislative branch can, however, employ its oversight and funding functions to significantly shape the conversation.
New START limits both Russia and the United States to:
1,550 deployed nuclear warheads.
700 deployed delivery vehicles: intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.
800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear armaments.
Implications for U.S. Nuclear Modernization
New START provides not only diplomatic and strategic benefits in the form of stable nuclear relations with Moscow but also less-touted benefits like fiscal predictability and cost savings. The treaty’s central limits serve as a ceiling for the nuclear modernization programs of both countries. But removing those limits could produce three plausible outcomes, each with its own fiscal consequences.
Congress maintains the New START status quo by reasserting its oversight role and preventing an increase beyond the current nuclear modernization plan—called the “program of record” shown below.
The Trump administration ramps up its small-scale arms race, in which it continues to diversify the nuclear arsenal creating more redundancies and policy ambiguities.
The White House instead plans large increases to any and all nuclear delivery systems to maintain parity with Russia amid a renewed large-scale arms race.
Losing the treaty would also cost the U.S. valuable insight into Russian strategic nuclear forces that it now gains from its robust monitoring and verification regime. These benefits include data exchanges and on-site inspections– mechanisms that other methods of intelligence gathering cannot easily or cheaply replace. U.S. intelligence agencies would consequently shoulder an additional burden as they attempt to compensate for forfeited Russian transparency. U.S. satellites simply cannot replace intelligence from on-site inspections and data exchanges under New START.
Women’s Impact on Arms Control
Efforts to increase gender diversity have produced better outcomes and higher performance when it comes to peace agreements. Although women only make up only a small portion of traditional peace negotiation delegations, women’s participation proves critical to the success and longevity of those negotiations. According to the United Nations and Council on Foreign Relations, from 1992 to 2018 women made up only 3 percent of mediators, 4 percent of signatories, and 13 percent of negotiators. Despite this, the International Peace Institute found that women’s participation in peace processes corresponds to a 35 percent greater likelihood that agreements last past 15 years. Arms control treaties like New START have similarly benefitted from women’s involvement, indicating both good business practice and robust outcomes.
Currently, both countries are in compliance with treaty provisions and their nuclear arsenals are below New START limits. However, the Trump administration has delayed negotiations to extend the treaty because of its efforts to include the Chinese nuclear arsenal under its purview. However, creating a trilateral nuclear arms agreement before New START expires in 2021 is unrealistic; Beijing explicitly stated it would not sign on to any agreement because of its relatively small arsenal. Embracing the five-year extension built into the existing treaty allows for greater opportunities for follow-on negotiations with Chinese officials.
If New START lapses, decades of trust-building and transparency will be lost, while imperfect intelligence increases the likelihood of worst-case scenarios. New START unites the U.S. and NATO allies in a shared security strategy with regards to Russia. Allies have stated the urgent need for New START extension, warning of the possible nuclear competition that could result from the agreement’s absence. Losing the last effective and verifiable agreement to limit the nuclear capabilities of the U.S. and Russia puts our European allies at risk and could lead them to credibly blaming the United States if the world enters into an unstable era without arms control.