Russia Won’t Agree to US Terms for New START Extension Potentially Leaving It for Biden to Fix

Russia and the US rejected offers from one another that would have extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin turned down an offer from the Trump administration to extend the agreement for one year, conditioned upon more limits on Russia’s tactical nuclear warheads, which are not currently restricted by the treaty.

Expanding the Scope of the Treaty

Instead, the Kremlin offered to extend New START for another year without any modifications. This proposal was not the first time Moscow has made it an easy deal for the Americans — it previously offered to extend the deal for another five years. Either way, minimal work would have been required to usher the extensions through both governments if the Trump administration had desired to do so. In fact, as it stands now, an extension of the deal wouldn’t even require approval from the US Senate.

However, the American delegation wants more, as is often the case when negotiating foreign policy with Trump’s White House. To earn President Donald Trump’s signature, a New START extension must cap all types of nuclear warheads, the Associated Press reported. The immediate need for that kind of limitation is unclear because Russia hasn’t been building up its stockpile to the extent that a new cap would be needed.

“I see no real significance to it. I can’t see any rationale for it,” said William J. Perry, former defense secretary for President Bill Clinton. From Perry’s perspective, the administration’s demand that more limitations be imposed on a potential extension is a “domestic political gambit” during the crucial last weeks of the 2020 US presidential election. 

The US Defense Intelligence Agency disagreed, however, and anticipates a massive surge in nuclear warhead production by Moscow over the next decade. These weapons are not prohibited by the New START treaty, suggesting that a new provision in an extension of the deal would be a solution to limiting them.

Moscow Balks First Calling US Deal ‘Nonsense’

The Kremlin called the America proposal  “nonsense,” however, and insisted the agreement be extended as it stands now, the New York Times reported. Russia has invested heavily in building out a new range of weaponry under Putin’s direction. 

“All those years, the New START has worked, playing its fundamental role of limiting and containing an arms race,” Putin said. In making his counteroffer in which he was adamant that the terms remain the same, Putin lamented that it would be “extremely sad if the treaty ceased to exist.” 

Blame Goes Both Ways

Even so, it would not be unusual and could even be considered normal for the Trump administration. It already withdrew from three major treaties, two of which Russia was a party to — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty. At this point, Trump seems more focused on ending pacts rather than forming them. 

“President Putin’s response today to extend New START without freezing nuclear warheads is a non-starter,” said US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien. “The United States is serious about arms control that will keep the entire world safe. We hope that Russia will reevaluate its position before a costly arms race ensues.”

Marshall Billingslea, the US arms control envoy, went further and blamed the Moscow delegation for reneging on a verbal agreement to the Trump administration’s proposal, a claim the Kremlin denied. O’Brien was also under the impression that Russia found the terms of the new agreement amicable during a meeting in Geneva on Oct. 2. Whether there was a translation error or Moscow changed its mind, it is clear now that it was never willing to give in to Washington’s demands, nor will it any any point in the future.

The China Non-Factor

Another far-fetched dream of Washington is to bring China into the agreement. Beijing has already refused to even consider the notion so Russia is also to having any discussions of the sort. Still, that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from pitching the idea again.

The nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US dwarf China’s stockpile and it has no incentive to become a party to the New START agreement. Is Beijing a growing nuclear threat? Almost certainly, but shoehorning It onto a treaty between Moscow and Washington isn’t the solution.

Biden Deja Vu

While the Trump administration is scrambling to secure an extension before the election, or before Trump leaves office if he loses, Putin is not pressured by looming deadlines. Truthfully, he would gain more by waiting for a possible Joe Biden presidency. Biden, Trump’s Democratic challenger, has made it a part of his foreign policy plan to sign a New START extension and negotiate further arms control agreements with Russia.

Meanwhile, until April, the current administration wasn’t even working to renew the deal. As such, its audacious demand that Putin get rid of weapons he has invested heavily in, tactical nuclear warheads in particular, will accomplish nothing. While Putin certainly wants an extension for the treaty, it doesn’t need it immediately like Trump.

A line of broken treaties and torn-up agreements will lie in the wake of the Trump presidency. If Nov. 3 doesn’t bode well for him, Biden will come in to pick up the pieces, and he has experience with it. In 2010, Biden helped write the original New START treaty.