The United States and Russia are discussing this Monday in Vienna the options of extending the latest disarmament and nuclear arms control agreement that both powers still have. The one known as New Start expires next year, but the United States does not seem interested in continuing the treaty signed by Barack Obama. The Trump Administration insists that China also join and participate in a dialogue that has been bilateral for decades. Beijing has rejected it and maintains that its atomic arsenal is less than that of Moscow and Washington. The US and Russia remain cautious about options to extend it, but if the talks don't turn around, the New Start will be the third key disarmament deal to be liquidated under the US presidency of Donald Trump. weapons are fanned.
The New Start, signed in 2010, limits the number of Russian and US strategic nuclear weapons to a maximum of 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 ballistic systems in air, land or sea. The pact ends next February and the two-day roundtable in Vienna will discuss its extension for another five years. Washington abandoned the so-called INF, the short- and medium-range missile control treaty, key in the Cold War, almost a year ago. And if New Start disappears there will be no agreed limits between Moscow and Washington on the proliferation of nuclear weapons for the first time in nearly half a century.
The Kremlin has been warning for months that the pact's expiration date is very close and that there is little time to renegotiate it; is open to extending it. The Trump Administration is elusive and emphasizes that it has not made any decisions. It also insists on China's participation and would also like to include in the conditions non-strategic arms control and much stricter verification of compliance.
"China needs to be a part of this: stop hiding behind the Great Wall of Secrecy," US Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea declared in late May in a tweet. “Seeking great power status means taking great power responsibility. No secret nuclear accumulation and no restrictions, ”he added. The Vienna meeting will be the first time that Billingslea, who heads the US delegation, has met with a senior Russian official. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Riabkov, who also negotiated the Iranian nuclear deal, represents the Government of Vladimir Putin.
Western allies are pressuring the US to extend the New Start treaty. Meanwhile, the Kremlin insinuates that Washington is referring to China because it is looking for excuses to abandon another pact. They warn that Moscow is prepared if the treaty expires – "Russia will never lose an arms race", they have repeated several times – and that if the pact is renewed it must be fast, because according to Russian law it must be ratified again and that is a long process . If it is not done now, there may not be time later, they warn.
If it is not extended, it would be another blow, after the end of the INF nuclear control treaty and in May the Trump Administration announced that it was withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty – which allows Russia, the United States and 32 other countries to make flights. of surveillance over the territories—; in both cases alleging non-compliance by Russia.
Hawks and elections in the United States
The breaking of a good part of the international treaties reached by the previous Administration, that of the Democrat Barack Obama, has been cardinal in Donald Trump's strategy since the 2016 electoral campaign. Once installed in the White House, the arrival of hawks Republicans reaffirmed the turn in foreign policy and promises to exit the pact with Iran or the end of the thaw with Cuba were fulfilled. Russia, despite the sympathy the New Yorker likes to show respect to Vladimir Putin, has not been an exception
Last summer it also abandoned the treaty for the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles (INF) and last month it did the same in relation to the Open Skies, a pact signed with 33 other countries in the early nineties that establishes rights reciprocals to fly over their respective territories with unarmed planes.
The ‘New Start’ has also been in the spotlight throughout the Administration. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton talks about it in the explosive memories of his time on the Trump team (April 2018-September 2019). Bolton, a hawk from the George W. Bush era, was one of the strongest voices against this deal at White House meetings. The former counselor says that he insisted on this matter on July 15, 2018, during the trip to Helsinki aboard Air Force One, before a Trump more interested in the World Cup in Russia. “I explained to him why the agreement … was a disaster and we should definitely not extend it for another five years, which Moscow wanted to do. I explained to him that the Republicans had voted against him in 2010 (…) but I didn't get very far.
Months later, Bolton had a meeting with Putin in Singapore, within the framework of a summit in which he accompanied Mike Pence. In it, according to Bolton's version, the Russian president seemed to have "lost interest in the INF." "He told me (through the interpreter) that he understood our arguments," he writes.
The current treaty under negotiation expires in February and the United States holds its presidential elections on November 3. This means that the current Administration should close a new agreement or definitively break the current one before that date, in order to leave the matter closed.
Andrei Frolov, a Russian defense expert and member of the Valdai Discussion Club, believes that if Trump wins the election it will be the end of the deal. “Trump's treatment of international agreements is based on personal reasons. The New Start III was signed by Obama and that is why it is unacceptable to Trump. If Biden wins, who is not so allergic to the Obama treaties, there will be more options to keep him, ”he says. Frolov maintains that with or without an agreement, Russia's strategy will not change. “The ceilings established by the treaty (1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 ballistic systems) satisfy Moscow, I see no reason to go the way of the USSR or the US and produce 10,000 warheads. For the budget and for Russia's goals, the level set by the treaty is sufficient, "says the expert.
320 nuclear warheads in China
China has shown no interest in joining the talks on nuclear disarmament between the United States and Russia, arguing that its arsenal is far inferior to that of the two great atomic powers, which control between them 90% of the world armament of this kind. "The time has not yet come for China to participate in negotiations on nuclear disarmament," said its Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month.
From Beijing's point of view, there are no incentives to enter the negotiations as Washington wishes. With mutual distrust at all-time highs, the Xi Jinping government believes the US wants to use arms control to limit China's arsenals and military modernization, thereby gaining an advantage in the Defense area in what could become a new cold War. The Federation of American Scientists estimates the arsenal of China at about 320 nuclear warheads, which was once the smallest of the five permanent member countries of the National Security Council, but which could now be the third country in the world by number of bombs.
Although in number of heads it is far behind the United States or Russia, it has maintained a constant modernization of its arsenal. This country is one of the few that will have a nuclear triad, the ability to launch its warheads from land, sea or air, once its Xian H-20 enters service, a supersonic bomber with stealth technology that could be presented this year . Among its military crown jewels are six 094-class nuclear-powered submarines, each capable of carrying and launching up to twelve missiles. It is already testing its third generation of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the JL-3, which could travel up to 12,000 kilometers.
Beijing has always promised, since it carried out its first successful test in 1964, never to be the first to use this weapon in the event of a conflict and to use it only to return an attack of this category against its territory or its army. Its nuclear stance is based on the principle of "guaranteed response." It considers that its arsenal is sufficient to withstand an initial nuclear attack and to return it in a proportionate manner. China's nuclear weapons are stored in a low-alert state: warheads and missiles are kept in separate locations, and would only be assembled when they were to be used.