Test missile in America (La Presse)

Why Did Russia Agree to Freeze its Number of Nuclear Warheads?

Russia finally agreed to restrict its nuclear warheads for a year as the offer for the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) treaty, which expires in February 2021.

“Russia proposes to extend the New START Treaty by one year and is ready, together with the United States, to make a political commitment to ‘freeze’ the number of nuclear warheads held by the parties for this period,” the statement said. 

The Kremlin is committed to strictly implementing such a proposal as long as there will be no extra demands from Washington, as Russia’s Foreign Ministry added.

The White House welcomed Russia’s last-minute offer and said it is ready to agree with Moscow.

“The United States is prepared to meet immediately to finalize a verifiable agreement. We expect Russia to empower its diplomats to do the same,” US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus stated on Tuesday.

How Many Warheads do the US and Russia Have Currently?

According to data from the SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) yearbook 2019, the US has 6,185 warheads, while Russia has 6,500. All warheads include the deployed and other warheads-refers to the stored and reserved ones awaiting dismantlement.

The New START: What You Need to Know

The New START is a treaty that restricts the numbers of deployed warheads up to 1,550 and 700 dispatched missiles and bombers, all below the Cold War limit.

Then-US President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the pact in 2010. In comparison, the first treaty was inked in July 1991, five months before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The pact also covers an aggregate limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers for nuclear arsenals, NTI reported.

The New START is the only nuclear-related treaty left between the U.S. and Russia after the termination of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), signed in 1987 and eliminate both countries’ ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and missile launchers within range of 500-1,000 kilometers.

The US halted the treaty in early 2019, citing that Russia had violated the deal and the pullout aimed at China’s military build-up in the Pacific. Russia followed suit then, and Washington formally quit the agreement on August 2, 2019.

What’s Behind the Extension?

The world greeted Russia’s last-minute decision to freeze its warheads after a tough negotiation with relief.

“Why did Russia agree? In my opinion, the process cannot be separated from the U.S. effort to include China in the treaty. However, China refused to join in (as it has a smaller number of warheads than Russia and the U.S.). China’s exclusion is a part of the negotiation, too (as Russia supports China),” Yusran, international relations expert at Indonesia’s Budi Luhur University, told InsideOver. 

A closer relationship between the US under President Donald Trump and Russia is one reason why both countries have agreed on each other’s proposals.

“Russia allegedly played a role in helping Trump to win the election four years ago. In my opinion, the New START extension can be part of the effort to boost Trump’s electability ahead of the election in November,” Yusran added.

Former White House

Officials and Arms Control Experts Cast Doubt on Agreement’s Verification

Arms control experts and former White House officials questioned the agreement’s inspection protocol as it takes time to negotiate the detail on how the inspection and verification are implemented.

“It would be very, very difficult to verify such an agreement without an intrusive inspection protocol, and … there are a lot of serious questions whether you could negotiate such a protocol in two weeks,” Frank Rose, a Brookings Institution analyst and former Obama administration official, told Reuters.

One of the major achievements from the New START is the treaty simplifies the verification without sacrificing any vital information, equipped with the most progressive verification system for counting warheads.

The new START introduces verification of actual and updated numbers for the first time, Union of Concerned Scientists explained.

The most important thing is what will happen after one year.