Ten years after its original conception and upon its scheduled expiration, New START will be extended until 2026. It is fitting that President Biden, then Vice President under the Obama administration, should be the one to renew this crucial treaty.
Nearly thirty years have passed since the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Following nine years of negotiations, START I became the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history, guiding the U.S. and USSR from Cold War to reconciliation and eventually resulting in the removal of an estimated 80 percent of all existing strategic nuclear weapons.
This valuable precedence holds particular significance for the modern era as the world continues to experience heightened partisanship, social and political division, and revitalization of Cold War-era tensions. From U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans to Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, martial dissension has coalesced with political antagonism, leaving little hope for harmony amid domestic unrest and international destabilization. The two nations also contend with public protests, polarizing politics, and the ongoing pandemic.
However, newly elected President Biden has demonstrated his determination to steer the United States back towards stability through domestic reconciliation and international reengagement. The decision to extend New START is one of Biden’s first actions in the office. The next five years will see a continuation of the previous iteration, limiting each country to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers with robust on-site inspections in order to verify each party’s adherence.
Renewal for New START was initially met with setbacks as the Trump administration attempted to make its extension contingent on a set of demands despite Russia’s willingness to maintain the treaty without any modifications. President Trump’s administration was concerned because the New START treaty does not address short-range tactical weapons, and they desired an expansion of the agreement in order to incorporate China. Though some of President Biden’s aides have expressed similar apprehensions, Biden hopes to use the treaty as a framework for future agreements and cooperation.
Because New START allows the United States and Russia to continue monitoring one another’s actions and developments, the treaty will maintain the current balance while facilitating more trust between the two nations. New START will keep nuclear arsenals in check. Its transparency mechanisms will ensure that both sides are notified each time a missile or bomber is moved between bases, every time a missile is deployed, and every time a new missile is produced.
Such tangible benefits of the treaty are also complemented by more nuanced and individual interests. New START is both diplomatically and strategically important for both the United States and Russia as it is the last remaining arms control agreement between the two nations due to Trump’s withdrawal from both the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty. Therefore, New START offers a unique opportunity for both countries to demonstrate their willingness to maintain political ties and cooperation.
For Russia, New START’s focus on long-range nuclear capabilities allows them to maintain the research and production of close-ranged and tactical nuclear systems, an area which Russia is already well ahead of the United States. For the United States, renewing New START will provide a diplomatic channel for negotiations with Russia.
There are ample reasons for both sides to accept New START’s continuation. Not only will each nation experience personal gains, but the global community as a whole will benefit from the continued limitation of nuclear development and deployment. Though President Biden was quick to criticize President Putin’s actions towards opposition leader Alexei Navalny as well as Russia’s threats to Ukrainian sovereignty, their role in the SolarWinds cyber-attack and their interference in the 2020 U.S. election, his willingness to pursue New START’s renewal demonstrates a desire to foster international bipartisanship as one of the first steps towards a new beginning in Russian-American relations.
Commentary – James Iocovozzi, February 2021