US extends nuclear arms control agreement with Russia for five years

Biden administration says the decision to extend the treaty will lower the risks of war and help prevent arms races

US secretary of state Antony Blinken: he has said the Biden administration wants to pursue arms control with China and a wider agreement with Moscow.  Photograph:  Getty Images

US secretary of state Antony Blinken: he has said the Biden administration wants to pursue arms control with China and a wider agreement with Moscow. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The US has extended a nuclear arms control agreement with Russia for five years, striking the deal despite the Biden administration’s promise to take a harder line on Moscow amid rising tensions between the two countries.

President Joe Biden’s administration defended the decision to extend the treaty before the February 5th deadline without making additional demands, saying it lowered the risks of war and helped prevent arms races.

“Especially during times of tension, verifiable limits on Russia’s intercontinental-range nuclear weapons are vitally important,” Antony Blinken, secretary of state, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The 2011 New Start agreement, which was ratified by the US senate, sets verifiable limits on the numbers of US and Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers.

Mr Blinken said the US remained “clear-eyed” about the challenges posed by Russia to the US and to the world. The White House has promised to work to hold Russia to account for “its reckless and adversarial actions”.

Mr Blinken’s statement comes the day after he called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who was jailed on Tuesday.

The US is already reeling from a huge cyber-espionage attack on government computers that security officials have blamed on Russia. Mr Biden has asked his intelligence community for its assessment over whether Russia interfered in last year’s elections, as well as allegations that Russia promised bounties for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Cast a pall

The Trump administration was regularly accused of mollifying Moscow, and allegations over suspected ties between Moscow and Donald Trump and his allies cast a pall over his presidency, leading to a two-year investigation into his election campaign.

New Start is the last remaining major defence pact between the former cold war rivals after the Trump administration withdrew from agreements banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles and allowing surveillance flights over each others’ territory.

The Trump administration had also repeatedly tried to strike a more advantageous arms control deal for the US with Russia. It failed to secure a shorter one-year extension, which it sought in order to extract further concessions.

It had also wanted to include China in the agreement, an unlikely prospect that underlined US fears over Beijing’s comparatively small but modern and growing nuclear arsenal.

A report from the Pentagon last year estimated Chinese nuclear warheads numbered in the “low 200s”. The New Start treaty sets the limit for US and Russian nuclear warheads at 1,550.

Mr Blinken has said the Biden administration also wants to pursue arms control with China and a wider agreement with Moscow, adding that the US would use the time provided by the extension to try to strike a wider arms control agreement to address all of Russia’s nuclear weapons.

Higher chance

John Tierney, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said the Biden administration stood a higher chance of success than the Trump White House.

“Trump never established himself or his administration as a serious partner or negotiator, while Biden and his team have a reputation for honest engagement and the ability to execute,” he said, adding that the Trump administration’s demand to include China was “either incompetence or disingenuous – more likely a touch of both”.

“The Biden administration showed its intent to prioritise and to identify the importance of treaties’ integrity and the need to deal with other treaty parties genuinely and sincerely.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021