Arms control supporters are urging Joe Biden to extend the last remaining US-Russian treaty limiting deployed strategic nuclear weapons by five years, but some experts argue that the US president-elect should go for a shorter period to maintain leverage over Moscow.
Following the inauguration, scheduled for January 20, Biden will have to make an immediate decision to extend the 2010 START Treaty, which would otherwise expire 16 days after the inauguration, giving Washington and Moscow the opportunity to deploy unlimited strategic nuclear warheads, and also missiles, submarines and bombers.
“Just as decisive action is needed to combat climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, immediate, smart and courageous American leadership is needed to reduce the threat of nuclear catastrophe,” two dozen arms control organizations wrote in a November letter to Biden’s transition team. the environment and other groups. (Link to the letter – https://bit.ly/3q0pG0y).
Many experts fear that the termination of START III, known in the English-speaking world as NEW START, could provoke a nuclear arms race and heighten tensions between the United States and Russia, which were already at their worst since the end of the Cold War in 1991, as a result of complications from – for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its alleged interference – which Moscow has denied – in the 2016 U.S. elections, and arms control disputes.
Ending the treaty would also end the on-site inspections that the world’s two largest nuclear powers are conducting against each other’s forces. This will disable a critical source of information used to detect fraud and obtain information on each other’s arsenals in order to determine costs and force planning.
Biden’s transition team declined to respond to a request for comment on the letter, the signatures of which include the Arms Control Association, the Sierra Club, the Council for a Sustainable Peace, and the United Methodist Church.
The START III Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, can be extended by mutual agreement for a period of up to five years.
Arms control supporters urged Biden to quickly agree to an unconditional five-year extension.
Biden made it clear that he supports enlargement as “the basis for new arms control mechanisms,” but did not say for how long. Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources close to his transition team said the timing has yet to be decided.
“Some advisers are debating whether a five-year extension is the right move or whether it makes sense to do something shorter,” said John Wolfsthal, former President Barack Obama’s top arms control adviser.
Supporters of extending the treaty until February 2026 argue that its expiration will exceed Biden’s four-year deadline, potentially lowering his leverage to negotiate a new pact, said Wolfsthal, now at the think tank at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has long sought an unconditional five-year extension.
“The five-year extension of New START gives the time it takes to negotiate a tricky follow-up deal,” said Daryl Kimball, chief executive of the Arms Control Association, who coordinated the letter.
Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s former chief diplomat for Europe, wrote in Foreign Affairs this summer that Washington should seek a temporary extension of no more than two years and demand payments from Moscow.
“The only lesson Putin has learned from the Cold War is that US President Ronald Reagan successfully bankrupted the Soviet Union by triggering a nuclear arms race. Not wanting Russia to suffer the same fate, he seeks to extend … the START Treaty, “Nuland wrote.
She adds that Washington should work with Putin to link the new START treaty to broader negotiations on all defense aspects, including conventional and space weapons and cyberspace.
Arms control supporters argued that the Biden administration should announce that it will push for a new treaty to lower the current limit of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on each side.