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Extend the Treaty: Say Yes to New START

The Trump administration is stalling on the extension of the New START treaty between the United States and Russia. Set to expire on February 5, 2021, this treaty is the only agreement limiting the nuclear strategic arsenals of the two countries. With the clock ticking on the ability to extend the treaty for another five years, what is the Trump administration waiting for? The Kremlin has signaled yes. Instead of replacing the expiring treaty with a new plan, or letting the clock run out, the Trump administration should work to extend it immediately. It should say yes.

Relations between the two nuclear superpowers are at their lowest point since the Cold War. Further setbacks to U.S.-Russian relations could easily threaten the security of the international system should the United States fail to extend New START. A treaty extension would signify a commitment to the bilateral relationship, transparency and verification—and the possibility for a more encompassing nuclear arms reduction treaty in 2026.

Advocates are pushing for the Trump administration to extend New START which caps the strategic arsenals of both countries at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 delivery vehicles. Agreeing to the current treaty would maintain the decade-long check of nuclear forces of both countries. It would guarantee:

A limit on nuclear forces. For decades, the progression of bilateral agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet/Russian governments has produced significant reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals. The U.S. should not stop now. These agreements successfully reduced the deployed warhead limit by over 70 percent, from 6,000, in the 1990s, to the current 1,550. Fewer weapons mean a safer world, and more room for negotiations to a more comprehensive reduction treaty.

Verification and transparency. The agreement commits both countries to eighteen on-site and short-notice inspections. This rigorous inspection regime enhances transparency—it enables compliance by way of radiation detection, photographs, location confirmation, and allows for checks on production and deployment status. The agreement enables the U.S. to continue its sound policy of trust, but verify.

Threat reduction and greater security. New START serves as a powerful deterrent for the use of weapons. Given current tensions in the U.S.-Russia relationship why push for a completely new set of measures when the current treaty is working? Extending New START would require both governments to work together. Such coordination is representative of threat reduction measures aimed at securing the global order. Such an achievement would make way for future compliance.

President Trump believes the current agreement is not comprehensive enough—that it should be expanded to include China and other nuclear powers, such as Britain and France. Meanwhile, Moscow has signaled support to extend the treaty. President Trump’s hesitation comes at the cost of U.S. security and allies. A new agreement requires drawn-out negotiations—especially in light of Beijing’s resistance to such agreements. Additionally, President Trump’s FY21 budget request for increased spending on building up the U.S. nuclear deterrent and modernizing the U.S. arsenal indicates that new agreement will be difficult to achieve.

An unchecked arsenal would continue to threaten the trust between the U.S. and its allies, while Russia continues to challenge the international system—with the creation of new weapons, jeopardizing the global order, the homeland, and allies abroad. Escalation could be catastrophic. According to Princeton University’s Science and Global Security simulation “Plan A,” “more than 90 million people [would be] dead and injured within the first few hours of the conflict.”

The New START treaty remains a beacon of light amidst the darkness in the current U.S.-Russia relationship. The clock is ticking and so is the opportunity to secure an agreement. The U.S. must look ahead and work towards an extension of the treaty now for the promise of a more secure tomorrow. The United States, its allies, and the world, needs New START. Extending New START is the best single measure the United States can take to prevent war and pursue peace.