By Mattis Ahlgrimm
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is an agreement between the United States and Russia, establishing the reduction and control of their respective strategic nuclear arsenals. It entered into force in 2011, replacing the expired START I treaty, and was mutually extended until 2026 by presidents Biden and Putin in 2021. In short, the concordat regulates both countries are allowed a maximum of 1550 strategic nuclear warheads and no more than 700 long-range missiles respectively bombers. Just to contextualize – a single long-range missile covers an average distance of 3.000 to 3.500 miles but can range up to 7.500 to 10.000 miles. The settlement further codifies that each party can demand up to 18 inspections of the other’s strategic nuclear arsenal per year. However, these inspections were put on hold in March 2020 due to the pandemic and have never been reinstated since. Now, on February 21st, Vladimir Putin declared Russia’s suspension of the contract. In other words, his country will not extend the treaty after its expiration in 2026 and additionally won’t allow any inspections up to this point. He justified acting this way by stating that the Western forces pressured him to this step by intervening in the military conflict in Ukraine. Furthermore, he condemned the attacks on Russia’s strategic air bases by Ukraine and declared that he will use all means to defend his country’s “territorial integrity”. Together, the United States and Russia possess 90% of the world’s nuclear forces and the only American control instruments at this point are their satellites which keep track of Russia’s nuclear movements. The alarming factor is not only that Putin showed his aversion towards a controlling contract but rather that a whole new agreement would have to be negotiated anyway because the New START treaty in its original form could only be extended once. But even negotiations seem very unlikely at this point because there is no trust whatsoever and not even any trace of constructive communication between the two superpowers at the moment. Meanwhile, China is “rapidly expanding” its nuclear arsenal to reach a level equal to the two present parties of conflict – with no visible intention of ever signing an agreement anywhere close to a nuclear forces reduction and control treaty.