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U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are expected to meet soon to discuss the possible extension of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which will expire in 2021. The treaty is the definitive agreement on nuclear arms control following the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).

What Is The New START Treaty?

The New START is a nuclear arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia. It is officially named Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Washington and Moscow signed the agreement on April 8, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic. The treaty took into effect on February 5, 2011 after its ratification.

The New START is the replacement of the Moscow Treaty, which expired in December 2012 and the follow-up of the START I, which ended in December 2009. The New START restricts each signatory to possess 700 deployed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), deployed heavy bombers, and deployed Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). Also, the pact limits the ownership of deployed long-range nuclear warheads up to 1,550 and deployed and non-deployed launchers and delivery vehicles to 800, as Armscontrol reported.

The treaty does not cover the restriction of non-deployed, stockpiled nuclear warheads, current missile development programs, or conventional weapons (not based on missiles, warheads stipulated in the agreement).

As the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) has ended following the U.S.’ accusation that Russia had breached the Cold War-era deal, the New START is the only hope to limit Washington’s and Moscow’s arsenals. In addition, the New START can be extended by up to five years if the U.S. and Russia agree to do so.

 NSA O’Brien: “We’ll Start Negotiations Soon”

“We are going to confront the Russians where we need to, but at the same time I think we’ll negotiate, we’ll start negotiations soon on arms control, on the nuclear issue which is, you know, important to the safety of the world, not just the U.S. and Russia,” U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien stated in a recent speech at the at the Meridian International Center in Washington.

In December of 2019 Putin expressed the Kremlin’s readiness to prolong the New START without any additional conditions, adding that Russia was not interested in deploying missiles or being involved in arms races.

“Russia is ready to immediately, as soon as possible, by the end of this year – without any preconditions – extend the START Treaty so that there would be no further double or triple interpretation of our position,” Putin said, while briefing officials in a meeting.

Trump suggested that the new arms control treaty should include China, given the mainland’s rapid development of its arsenal, whereas Russia prefers to involve the U.K. and France in a trilateral arms negotiation.

China Is Not Interested In Joining A Trilateral Arms Treaty

The U.S. has repeatedly urged China to join trilateral nuclear arms talks with Moscow, claiming that Beijing’s confidentiality of the numbers of nuclear weapons’ stockpile poses a severe threat to strategic stability.

China has rejected the idea, arguing that its nuclear arsenals are still at “the lowest level” compared to those of the U.S. and Russia. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) revealed that Russia had the highest numbers of nuclear weapons (6.500 units) in 2018, followed by the U.S. ( 6.185), France (300), and China (290).

“China opposes any country talking out of turn about China on the issue of arms control, and will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement,” said Chinese Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in response to Trump’s statement as Reuters reported.

An unnamed senior American official, meanwhile, has claimed that the U.S. is only using China as an excuse to terminate new START and a tool to win the military competition with the mainland, raising questions whether the U.S. is genuinely worried about China’s nuclear development or just posturing.

What About Other Countries Being Included In The New START?

While the U.S. focuses on persuading China to join the New START despite Beijing’s firm stance on the nuclear policy, Russia has historically endorsed the involvement of France and the U.K. in arms control talks. Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, stressed that the reduction of strategic arms should involve France and the U.K.

The new START extension is necessary for both Russia and the U.S.’ national security, not only because of arms control but also because of the need to reduce geopolitical tensions. The Kremlin and The White House need to meet and make a new agreement that benefits both and guarantees both sides’ compliance in order to create a more secure world.