The Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty raises questions about the last nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia. The New START treaty limits the number of nuclear warheads the US and Russia can deploy and is set to expire on February 5th, 2021.
The New START treaty also includes a verification regime, which includes up to 18 on-site inspections each year. Talks between the two nuclear powers to renegotiate the treaty have begun, and in-person meetings are set to take place after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
The treaty, negotiated under the Obama Administration, comes with an option to extend for five years, something the Russians have offered. President Trump declined to renew the treaty, saying China needs to get involved in arms control. However, including China in the New Start does not make any sense, since the Asian country only has a fraction of the nuclear warheads the US and Russia have.
The New START limits the number of nuclear warheads the signatories can have deployed to 1,550. Current estimates put Beijing’s stockpile at 320 warheads. Even if China doubles its stockpile, it still falls well short of the New START limit. Unless Washington and Moscow are willing to reduce the number of warheads deployed drastically, Beijing will not benefit from the treaty. Currently, the US has 3,800 warheads in its stockpile, and Russia has 4,310.
The Trump administration withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 2019. The INF prohibited the US and Russia from developing medium-range nuclear and ballistic missiles, something the Pentagon began testing shortly after Trump’s withdrawal from the treaty.
A recent report from The Washington Post said the possibility of a nuclear test explosion had been discussed within the Trump administration, and that discussion is ongoing. If the test happens, it would be the first nuclear test conducted since 1992.
Marshall Billingslea, the man Trump appointed as special envoy for arms control, recently said the US is willing to spend Russia and China “into oblivion” to win a new arms race. Concerning the New START, Billingslea has previously said the main problem with the treaty is that it “does not include the Chinese.”