The Biden administration has stated that it will seek a five-year extension of the bilateral New START treaty with Russia, which is set to expire in February of this year. Russia is expected to readily commit to an extension of the treaty which, if allowed to expire, would allow for an unlimited build-up of strategic nuclear arms. Amid increased tension between the two largest nuclear powers, this comes as a welcome development for stability and security. The New START treaty limits both the U.S. and Russia each to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and a maximum of 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. Additionally, the treaty includes strong confidence-building measures to increase transparency between the American and Russian arsenals which is integral to preventing another Cold War-style arms race.
The American Security Project is a strong supporter of the New START treaty and believes that it provides a solid foundation for ensuring strategic stability. The 5-year extension expected to be signed in the coming days is encouraging for the future of nuclear security and it should be viewed by both Washington and Moscow as an opportunity to make further progress on the reduction of nuclear arsenals. Previous New START negotiations under the Trump administration resulted in little progress as it used a significant amount of time in an unsuccessful effort to bring China into the agreement. The Chinese have an estimated nuclear arsenal of 300-400, which is relatively small compared to the 5,400 and 6,200 possessed by the United States and Russia, respectively. Attempting to include China in the negotiations stifled the prospect of reducing the New START thresholds to an even lower level.
A five-year extension to the New START treaty provides a good beginning to the U.S.-Russia relationship under President Biden, and provides ample time to negotiate the next treaty. Treaties are a necessary component to long-lasting progress towards the reduction of nuclear weapons around the world. Most importantly, they provide common ground for enduring cooperation between countries that transcends the term limits of elected officials. The increased national security afforded by the New START treaty is significant and we should hope that the Biden administration is successful in its renewal.