New START Expires in 3 Years. And Nobody Knows What Comes Next.

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February 8, 2018
Nikolai Sokov

The following is an excerpt from an op/ed originally published in The National Interest.

February 5 marked the seventh anniversary of the entry into force of the New START Treaty. That treaty was signed by U.S. president Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 and entered into force on February 5, 2011; all deadlines are counted from that date. By the end of the seven-year period, the two countries should complete reductions mandated by that document—that is, comply with the following limits:

– No more than 1,550 warheads on deployed strategic delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers);

– No more than seven hundred deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers equipped with nuclear arms; and

– No more than eight hundred deployed and undeployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and heavy bombers equipped with nuclear arms.

There is little doubt that both countries will meet their obligations without much effort. They have been hovering around the level of 1,550 warheads for years; the limits on delivery vehicles and launchers are also comfortable (in fact, Russia is significantly below them). According to data exchanged on September 1, 2017, figures for the United States were 1,393 warheads, 660 delivery vehicles, and 800 launchers and bombers; for Russia, 1,561, 501 and 790. The “dip” in U.S. levels below New START limits is temporary—the U.S. Navy was in the process of reducing the number of launch tubes on submarines from twenty-four to twenty, and each submarine is not counted for the duration of refurbishing. On the Russian side, the pace of reductions is primarily determined by the pace of dismantlement of old, Soviet-produced weapons systems; the process has been moving ahead steadily, and there is little doubt that numbers will reach the 1,550 level in time.

New START has a ten-year lifespan, meaning that is set to expire on February 5, 2021. The remaining three years of its life are likely to be smooth and uncontroversial: the United States and Russia will only need to adhere to these levels, which will hardly cause any complications. A more pertinent question is what will come next.

Continue reading at The National Interest.

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