Geopolitics

New “START” Renewal Hits an Impasse
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 28 Oct , 2020

Post-World War I, Germany was forced to disarm. But during 1930s, Germany again became belligerent and the world suffered in World War 2. Post-World War 1, Germany’s weapons were destroyed but the underlying causes of conflict were not. This example illustrates that that there is no simple “cause and effect” relationship between war making material and the inclination to create war.

Post-World War 2, exponents of Arms Control sought to create a stable balance of power in which causes leading to war could be controlled and regulated. The new approach aimed at stability rather than elimination of arms.

With development of Nuclear Arms and their delivery, means, the world, namely the nuclear powers, realised that they on their own cannot disarm or shelve their nuclear arsenal in absence of any guarantee or treaty. A treaty which will have inbuilt checks and balances of verification, to prevent the other parties from clandestinely undertaking activities, to gain an upper hand. The goal was not complete elimination of Nuclear arms and their delivery systems but to control them to mutually agreed numbers, to assure each a credible nuclear deterrence.

Nuclear Deterrence deterred or prevented a nuclear armed nation from attacking another nuclear armed nation because of the threat of retaliation. It deterred nuclear states to launch the “first strike’, as even today, none possess the fool proof means to prevent damage from the retaliatory strike.

Many experts perceive deterrence as the ultimate goal of nuclear arms control.

Arms control is regularly used as a means to avoid an arms race – a competitive build-up of weapons between nuclear powers. Such a race besides being costly also endangers the peace and prosperity of the world.

Arms control treaties assist the resolve of limiting weapons stockpiles to a level that only preserves deterrence, while preserving the economic and social resources of a state. It also and discourages non-nuclear states from going nuclear.

The realisation of the danger of unchecked development of nuclear weapons dawned on both US and erstwhile USSR in early 1950s. They, United Kingdom and France, realised the futility of this Arms race.This led to talks to control and reduce strategic weapons and delivery systems. The ensuing treaties ushered in stability all around the world and since 1970s, the world has seen unprecedented peace which has translated into an exponential growth and prosperity around the globe.

Early treaties such as the 1972 Interim Offensive Agreement and the 1979 SALT II Treaty slowed the growth of nuclear arsenals. Later treaties had a more dramatic impact. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banned the entire class of U.S. and Soviet land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres. The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction (START) Treaty required each to reduce their accountable strategic nuclear warheads by 40 percent, while reducing strategic missile launchers and bombers by 30 percent. Open Skies Treaty signed in March 1992 between US and initial 23 signatories, was too aimed as a confidence building measure between the major nuclear armed nations.

The New START Treaty between USA and Russia, is a successor of START 1 Treaty which expired in December 2009. Signed on 08 April 2010, it be applicable from 05 February 2011, valid for a period of 10 years. It is due for expiration on 05 February 2021. The Treaty has aprovision for renewal of five years, on consent of the leaders of the two nations.

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.

Russia has since election of President Trump, proposed the extension of New START Treaty for additional five years. Surprisingly, USA has baulked Russian efforts, putting pre conditions for renewal which has now precariously placed the Treaty’s future. Till now Russia has not agreed to any pre conditions for renewal. US General elections are due in 03 November 2020. On 20 January 2021, the new Government will be sworn in and that leaves barely any time for renewal of this only remaining Arms Control Treaty.

Joe Biden,the presidential candidate of Democrats in the election has stated that, if elected, renewing New START for the next five years will be his priority task and he will utilise the extension period for deliberations for a new arms control treaty.

US, in September 2020, through their special envoy for Arms Control, Marshall Billingslea, conveyed the following terms for renewal of New START: –

    • It will contemplate only short-term extension.
    • To confirm short term extension, Russia should agree on a trilateral treaty which includes China.
    • To bring China to the table is the Russian responsibility.
    • The treaty extension will include new conditions for the Verification regime, currently in practise.

US claims that the Verification regime under New START suffers from drawbacks,mainly the absence of sufficient exchanges of missile telemetry and the limited frequency of on-site inspection.

The verifications regime of New START is its strength. It has made the Treaty transparent and strict. It gives incisive view of the nuclear capabilities of both the nations. If these procedures are terminated along with the Treaty, a blind era will usher in wherein the world will be back to the days of groping in the dark. Rampant spying through all means , human- electronic ,on each other to find out about each other’s nuclear strength will raise raise misconceptions and distrust ,which will lead to wrong judgements and maybe to,catastrophe.

US has further stated that in case Russia does not agree to the new conditions, after the Presidential elections, it will add in new conditions for renewal or may terminate it. It also stated that immediately after the expiration of the New START in February, it will ramp up deployment of its nuclear arsenal.

Russian response to the US offer has been that in the original treaty, there are no provisions for adding conditions for renewal. Discussions on arms control treaties are hard and time consuming. Even if Russia were to discuss the new terms with United States, negotiations on the specifics of extension could take weeks, if not months.

In addition, Moscow might need months to process a “technical extension” of the treaty.

Hypothetically, even if we assume that Russia does agree to multiple short-term extensions, formulating and posturing for each extension could distract the broader talks on a new and a better Arms Treaty, the world seeks.

July 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that if US does not agree to extend New START, Russia will not insist.

For terms for a new Treaty, Russia has long insisted that nuclear France and United Kingdom, too must join the Treaty. Reduction of US nuclear arsenal on European soil too are a condition for inclusion in the talks. Russia also insists that the new treaty must include curbs on other strategically destabilising factors like Missile Defence, ground based short and intermediate range missiles.

US is against a treaty which includes Missile defence. It also is not keen to include France and United Kingdom in the talks, nor is it open to reduction of its nuclear arsenal in Europe.

The US insistence on inclusion of China in extension of New START is a nun chartered territory. US believes that Russia has the leverage to bring China to the negotiating table.

China has been steady on its denial to enter in to a trilateral talk with US and Russia. In July 2020, China stated that if US and Russia decreased their nuclear arsenal to the size held by China, it will join talks. China has 290 nuclear weapons whereas US and Russia possess 6185 and 6800 respectively.

Though there are barely three months left for expiration of the New START, India, which too is keen for its renewal, must use its good offices with Russia and US, two nations with which it has strategic partnership, to facilitate timely renewal.

On renewal, in seeking a new Arms Control treaty, India has an important role to play. India should insist that the new deal should include all nuclear states and that the new treaty be under the aegis of the United Nations. India also must propose enlargement of the scope of the new Arms Control treaty to encompass weapon systems based on AI and Robotics, hypersonic weapons, anti-satellite weapons, Cyber warfare weapons/tools and tools for Information warfare on Social- electronic- print media.

The world is eager with expectations for the renewal of the last remaining Arms Control Treaty, as earlier US has revoked Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty (June 2002), INF (August 2019) and Open Skies Treaty (May 2020). US pre conditions for renewal has come as a surprise to the world and given rise to suspicion of US intent.

The world is aware that with the expiration of this last remaining treaty in February 2021, it will witness a frantic and costly nuclear arms race.Then future will witness the proliferation of nuclear technology and its delivery systems to non-nuclear, emerging power hubs like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This will upset the current power equation and rule-based order in the world, something this COVID 19 devastated world can ill afford.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col RN Ghosh Dastidar

is a freelance journalist.

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3 thoughts on “New “START” Renewal Hits an Impasse

  1. This article beautifully presents the current scenario and how India can play a key role. At the end, both US and Russia want power, however feel that there should be a balance in the world and India can help in achieving it.

  2. The author has given us a bird’s eye view, in simple and layman terms, details about the current position of nuclear delimitation talks between the US and Russia, both major nuclear powers. The clock is ticking and it appears prima face that the US are attempting to shift the goal posts. India as a responsible partner of both countries must make every effort to see that the deal is extended. A very thought provoking article. If the American government cannot honor important treaties can they be trusted to honor their commitments to us.

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