The U.S.-Russia arms control system faces an uncertain future

The last arms control treaty New START will expire on 5 February 2021. Although the treaty may be extended by five years, recent policy stances adopted by both countries put such an option in question. A new reflection by Miroslav Tůma, our senior associate researcher, discusses the possible future scenarios.
A Dangerous development of the world security situation can be identified in, among other things, the withdrawal of the United States and the Russian Federation from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 2019, the US exit from the multilateral Open Skies Treaty (OST) this year and the White House officials’ considering of the option of conducting an underground nuclear test explosion. The last US-Russia arms control treaty, namely the New START, which limits the number of strategic offensive nuclear weapons, will expire on February 5th, 2021 after being valid for ten years. However, it may receive a five-year extension in accordance with its own provisions. So far a definite interest in the extension was declared by the Russian side, in contrast with the vague US position and its condition of Chinese participation in the next arms control talks for the possible extension of the New START. However, the People’s Republic of China refuses to participate in the trilateral format of mentioned talks. The June and July meetings of the US and Russian arms control delegations in Vienna and, to a certain extent, the publication of the first Russian official policy document on nuclear deterrence may be considered glimmers of hope in the currently worsening security situation. The potential result of the nonextension of the New START is that there could be a total collapse of the US-Russia arms control system, and approximately 90% of all nuclear weapons possessed by both states would be without any limitations, which could open the way towards a nuclear arms race with serious negative consequences.