After New START extension, time for Russia & US to look at other arms

Biden, Putin should build on momentum

Politics

February 20, 2021

/ By / Paris

After New START extension, time for Russia & US to look at other arms

With the New START treaty extension in place, US and Russia need to tackle other nuclear weapons like hypersonic missiles

Rapid decisions and actions by Presidents of Russia and United States on critical extension of the sole surviving nuclear deal between the two powers ought now to be taken towards other arms control deals.

The Doomsday Clock ought to be set back, for the first time in several years, when the time for its review comes at the end of 2021, much to the relief of watchers of nuclear weapons scenario globally. The clock is maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, an association of nuclear scientists worried about the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In 2019, the scientists advanced the Doomsday Clock 100 seconds to midnight or apocalypse, the closest that it had ever been to, mainly due to the threat posed by the policies adopted by the then US President Donald Trump. At the end of last year, even though Trump had lost his reelection bid, the scientists preferred to keep the clock at the same level noting several key threats to the world from nuclear weapons. It said that both the US and Russia had been engaged in developing new delivery systems for their nuclear bombs, including the very dangerous hypersonic missiles that fly faster the speed of sound and can escape most of the radars in place across the world today.

But the biggest immediate concern for them was the near certainty of lapse of the sole nuclear arms control deal between US and Russia that was set to lapse in February. For well over a year, it seemed certain that the treaty would expire without much ado as Trump refused to discuss the extension of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Putin.

Trump had refused for two reasons. One, he accused Russians of cheating by bringing in new missiles that violated the pact and two he wanted to include Chinese nuclear weapons in the deal, saying that Beijing had emerged as a major threat to the United States without any curbs or checks on it.

Denying that they were cheating, the Russians had been calling for a renewal of the deal, saying that without it, the doomsday scenarios of the cold war when both the Americans and the Soviets were piling up arms for a mutually assured destruction or MAD, with each power possessing enough nuclear missiles to destroy the entire planet several times over.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the arms treaties that had been in place had led to a significant cutback in the number of missiles that both the US and Russian militaries have today, bringing a semblance of order in the world.

However, many of these fell victim to the Trump mandate, leading to significant setback in the bilateral relations between the two countries and a few key agreements expired under his watch. In 2019, both the countries withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and late last year, Russia followed the US and pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty that permitted surveillance flights over military facilities and helped build trust and transparency.

In 2019 scientists advanced the Doomsday Clock 100 seconds to midnight or apocalypse, the closest that it had ever been to

Thus, New START is the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries. The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and the then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each of the two powers to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers. It also has in place sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

Trump’s intransigence had threatened to put the clock back even on this last bulwark and push the world closer to a doomsday. In view of this, it was indeed encouraging that Putin and the new US President Joe Biden agreed to an extension over a call that was the first formal exchange between the two leaders since Biden was sworn 46th President of the US on January 20. The turnaround has been rapid, to say the least, and absolutely necessary, something whose importance could not be overstated.

With the extension settled, it is now important for the two countries to take the lead and settle the question of creating other treaties that would take into account the new developments that have taken place in the nuclear weapons domain over the past two decades. Especially the new and more deadly delivery systems with higher capabilities to escape radar detections or with hypersonic speeds, nearly eliminating the already very limited time that any targeted nation has to react and take defensive measures.

If the two biggest nuclear powers are able to reach other framework agreements, it could open path for discussion of other and equally important issues of nuclear weapons, notably the issue of the spread of weapons to an increasing number of nations around the world, including the so-called rogue States. There has been widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world as today several countries including Iran, China, North Korea, India and Pakistan are developing newer nuclear weapons.

It is thus crucial that Washington DC and Moscow reach, in a timebound fashion with clear milestones, a broad-based, bilateral deal that covers the entire gamut of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems that are already here or are under development.

Such a framework would perhaps allow them to reclaim the leadership on the broader issue of nuclear arms elimination, which is key to a safe world. The proliferation of weapons and the development of micro nuclear weapons is a very real threat that could send the world or at least regions within the world hurtling towards a nuclear Armageddon.

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