Ambassador Anatoly Antonov’s remarks on the prospects of the New START Treaty at the Georgetown University Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES)
The fate of New START is a central issue for strategic stability. Indeed, there is not much time left before its expiration date – less than two months. Russia and the United States will either agree to extend the Treaty before February 5, 2021, or there will be no legal restrictions on their nuclear arsenals for the first time in the last 50 years.
Let me dot all the i's in the first place. Russia, as a responsible actor in international relations, is interested in extending New START. The extension would prevent the total collapse of the nuclear missiles verification and restriction mechanisms. It would maintain transparency and predictability in relations between the two major nuclear powers as well as gain time for discussing how to adapt arms control regime to current conditions.
The Treaty is called the “gold standard” of arms control agreements for a reason. Having fulfilled its central provisions, Russia and the United States reduced the total number of nuclear warheads by a third – down to 1550 – and lowered the maximum level of deployed delivery vehicles by more than a half – down to 700.
I want to emphasize that New START does not limit the development of new and modernization of the existing strategic offensive weapons. Thus, the military and political leadership of our country has repeatedly stated that the new intercontinental missiles "Avangard" and "Sarmat" will be Treaty-accountable. Unless, of course, the agreement will cease to exist. Therefore, New START maintains strategic balance without undermining nuclear deterrence.
One of the most important elements of the Treaty is its verification mechanism. It ensures the proper level of transparency and predictability, providing both sides with information on the current state of their strategic forces. As of December 2020, U.S. and Russian teams have carried out 328 on-site inspections of ICBM, SLBM and heavy bomber bases. The two sides have also exchanged more than 21 thousand notifications about the status of their strategic offensive weapons.
All these measures contribute to preventing a new strategic nuclear arms race and a possible nuclear conflict. That is why New START not only meets the national security interests of Russia and the United States, but also benefits the international community as a whole.
It would be unwise to abandon such an effective instrument, particularly since we have nothing to replace it with. Therefore, Russia consistently advocates for the extension of the Treaty. Back in December 2019, Russia offered the U.S. to extend the agreement for five years without any preconditions. This offer still stands.
However, our partners in Washington are not ready for an unconditional extension of New START. In exchange for a short-term renewal – just for one year – they have proposed signing a politically binding framework agreement to determine the main parameters of a follow-on arms control treaty.
On October 20, Russia declared its readiness to meet the U.S. halfway on two key issues. We agreed to extend the treaty for one year and to “freeze” for the same period the number of nuclear warheads that each party possesses.
However, this was not enough for U.S. negotiators. They insist on an excessively harsh verification regime of the “freeze”. It is not that we oppose verification instruments in general. But in this case such regime would be inconsistent with the subject and the format of a political agreement of a limited duration. It is only through detailed and substantive negotiations that we can determine what the next agreement’s verification mechanism should look like.
I should also say a few words about Washington’s persistent ideas on including new systems and participants in arms control negotiations.
You know very well how much the geopolitical situation has changed since the Cold War and how much progress in military technologies we have made. The role of new factors affecting strategic stability is on the rise. They include missile defense, ground-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, global strike systems, hypersonic delivery means, emerging space weapons, etc. To ignore them is impossible and downright dangerous. That is why Russia favors a comprehensive approach to arms control agreements.
As for expanding the negotiating format to new participants, we are open to a multilateral dialogue. However, we believe that forcing anyone to participate in such discussions is counterproductive. Consultations of this kind should be based on consensus and take into consideration legitimate interests of all parties.
Our priority is engaging the United Kingdom and France in the arms control dialogue. They have a military alliance with the U.S. Besides, their nuclear arsenals are comparable in size to that of China.
We are ready to search for mutually acceptable solutions for all the issues I have mentioned. It will require an extremely patient expert work. It is hard to predict how much time it will take. But such efforts will be clearly more effective if supported by stability and predictability in nuclear and missile sphere. Such conditions can only be ensured by extension of New START.
Concluding my remarks, I would like to note that the uncertain fate of the Treaty is but one manifestation of the current alarming state of arms control. We are virtually on the verge of its complete collapse and a nuclear and missile arms race that will inevitably follow.