Updated: Apr 8, 2020
By Caroline Dorminey and Sumaya Malas
This piece was originally published in Responsible Statecraft.
One of the most critical arms control agreements, the New Strategic Reduction Arms Treaty (New START), will disappear soon if leaders do not step up to save it. New START imposes limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, Russia and the United States, and remains one of the last arms control agreements still in effect. Those limits expire in exactly one year from Wednesday, and without it, both stockpiles will be unconstrained for the first time in decades.
Democrats in Congress already express consistent support for the extension of New START, turning the issue into a Democratic Party agenda item. But today’s hyper-partisan landscape need not dictate that arms control must become solely a Democratic priority. Especially when the treaty in question still works, provides an important limit on Russian nuclear weapons, and ultimately increases our national security.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty in the East Room at the White House in 1987. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Historically, Republican administrations have championed nuclear arms control agreements.
Since the end of the Cold War, both Republican and Democratic administrations worked to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. But Republican presidents actually developed more arms control agreements to reduce the quantity of nuclear weapons than Democratic presidents. The Trump administration could easily extend New START without major revisions and continue the legacy of the GOP.
Beginning with the Nixon administration following through to the administrations of President Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, Republican administrations all pursued arms reduction treaties with Russia in an effort to curtail Russia’s nuclear arsenal. From 1969 to 1972, the Nixon administration negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) where both sides pledged not to construct new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) silos or increase their size, and capped the number of Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) launch tubes and SLBM-carrying submarines. This agreement also included the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which limited strategic missile defenses to 200 (and later 100) interceptors each.