Opinion: Russia has suspended the nuclear weapons treaty. What does it mean?

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow will suspend implementation of New START, the last remaining treaty between Russia and the United States that limits deployed nuclear weapons.

New beginning limits the number of “strategic” nuclear warheads that Russia and the United States could deploy up to 1,550 and the number of deployed strategic nuclear missiles and bombers up to 700. The agreement, like its predecessors, was essential to limit the pressures of an arms race, enhance strategic stability, and facilitate communication, transparency, and predictability. between the two largest nuclear powers in the world.

Putin’s decision to “suspend” rather than withdraw entirely is a partial measure. Russia is still a party to the agreement. Moscow has stated that it will continue to adhere to the numerical ceiling set in the New START and that it will continue to comply 1988 agreement with the United States to exchange notifications of launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The immediate impact of the suspension is likely to be limited. The US can still monitor Russia’s compliance through so-called “national technical means,” including satellite imagery. Russia’s current nuclear modernization is already costly and behind schedule, and sanctions against Russia could further endanger those efforts. However, Russia’s suspension of the treaty for now would likely mean the end of the treaty’s data exchanges, on-site inspections, and meetings of the Bilateral Advisory Commission (BAC), a body created by the treaty to promote implementation and compliance.

The treaty was already under pressure. Earlier this year, the State Department, in a report to Congress, said that Russia does not comply. Under the treaty, each side is allowed to conduct a limited number of on-site inspections of the other side’s nuclear bases each year and can convene meetings of the Bilateral Consultative Commission to discuss compliance issues. According to the State Department report, Moscow denied US inspectors access to Russian nuclear facilities and failed to convene a meeting of the Bilateral Advisory Commission in a timely manner.

Putin’s decision may provide legal cover for previous Russian decisions to deny access to US inspectors and is a sop to domestic hardliners who are already skeptical of arms control agreements. But his decision could have other motives. It probably also signals a willingness to put the cost on the US for its support. Ukraine when Russia has no other credible military or economic instruments.

The decision may also entail costs for Russia. The US could repeat Russia’s suspension and stop providing data or allowing inspections. Really, US official said that “the principles of reciprocity, mutual predictability, and mutual stability will continue to guide the US approach to implementing the New START Treaty.” The suspension will further increase Russia’s diplomatic costs around the world. Commenting on Putin’s statement, official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Chinarefraining from criticizing Russia, he noted that Beijing “hopes that both sides can properly resolve differences through constructive dialogue and consultations to ensure the reliable implementation of the treaty.”

Russia’s suspension of New START is just another casualty in arms control. In 2019 President Trump, with reference to evidence of non-compliance by Russia, which was suspended and eventually removed from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, which banned the deployment of ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (approximately 310 to 3,400 miles). In 2020 USA announced he would come out open skies treaty, an agreement that promoted transparency by allowing reciprocal unarmed aerial reconnaissance flights. US exit, what the NATO allies (as well as Ukraine) opposed) was based on allegations of Russian violations – and was Russian withdrawal followed shortly thereafter.

So what does Putin’s latest move mean?

First, it shows that Russia is increasingly unwilling to share elements of its relationship with the United States. In the past, Russia (and its Soviet predecessor) and the US have been able to negotiate, extend and implement nuclear arms agreements while clashing over other issues.

Second, it further undermines nuclear arms control efforts by establishing a unique life support deal expiring in 2026. The treaty is the last of its kind; no other nuclear states have ever negotiated to limit their nuclear forces. His failing health may signal to other nuclear-weapon states that arms control may be useless.

It will be important for the United States not to react recklessly and not get drawn into an arms race. The US strategic nuclear forces are still strong and balance is unlikely to change any time soon. But nuclear arms control as an international project has certainly waned even further.

David S. Logan is an assistant professor at the United States Naval War College. The opinions expressed here are those of the author alone.