Make the U.S. Safer: Extend New START

Lieutenant General Arlen “Dirk” Jameson, U.S. Air Force (ret.)

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photo credit: Max Pixel

One of the great risks in the 2020 Presidential election is the death of Nuclear Arms Control. The last remaining arms control agreement with Russia, the country that, with the United States, controls over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, is expiring and there is real danger the New START Treaty will not be extended by the Trump Administration.

For over forty years, Americans have benefited from the security of arms control treaties that have reduced the dangers of going to war, lessened the potential destructiveness should war occur, and helped control the cost of deterrence.

During my more than thirty-year career in the nuclear arena I experienced the heightened dangers of a world without arms control and the stabilizing effects with arms control. Without arms control, the restraints are off.

New START, entered into force in 2011, limits the number of Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems, requires the exchange of key data and notifications, and stipulates on-site inspections to confirm treaty compliance. The Trump Administration is unrealistically pursuing a new arms control regime which seeks to include the Chinese in a broad agreement with little time to negotiate before New START expires. Chinese leaders have explicitly said they are not interested.

In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year, USSTRATCOM Commander Admiral Charles Richard stated that New START “has been valuable to this nation and to my command.” Its limits on strategic weapons as well as transparency and confidence-building measures have all “been good for deterrence.” He explained that information from New START inspections and data exchanges enables his command “to do a very calculated and thorough job of determining exactly how we deter the use of [Treaty-limited weapon systems.]” In short, New START protects Americans from weapons that can reach the U.S. homeland and keeps Americans safe.

Unless both the United States and Russian Federation agree to an extension, New START will expire in February 2021, a fact that members of the Trump administration have known since the beginning of their term in office. Despite the success of the Treaty and its contributions to U.S. national security, the Trump administration appears willing to let it expire.

Its criticism of New START centers on the desire to broaden the Treaty to include China’s growing nuclear capabilities, Russian non-strategic nuclear weapon systems, and emerging Russian systems. These elements need to be included into future arms control regimes.

If the Trump administration allows New START to expire, it will remove any verifiable constraints on the Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time in decades. The U.S. will lose the advantage of actual on-site inspections in Russia that provide an irreplaceable ground truth as well as the data exchange and information so critical to developing a clear picture of the Russian threat. Transparency, confidence-building measures, and predictability will quickly erode or completely disappear. This is most unwise in a world where nuclear dangers are increasing not after decades of stability.

Nuclear deterrence has been the foundation and core of our national security for many years. Arms control has been a major element in successfully deterring nuclear conflict. Walking away from forty years of nuclear arms control does not make us safer. Vice President Joe Biden recognizes the importance of New START as an “anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia.” Last year he stated that he would pursue an extension to the treaty as a “foundation for new arms control agreements, which is much-needed in our increasingly dangerous world.

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Lieutenant General Arlen “Dirk” Jameson, U.S. Air Force (ret.) served for more than three decades and was the Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Strategic Command prior to his retirement.

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