The fate of the last nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Russia remains uncertain, and unreasonable demands from the Trump administration are making its extension unlikely. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian media that the chances of Moscow and Washington extending the New START treaty are “minimal.”
The New START limits the number of nuclear warheads each signatory can have deployed and is set to expire in February 2021. Arms control talks between Washington and Moscow over the treaty’s fate have been ongoing for months.
Moscow has repeatedly offered to renew the New START for five years with no preconditions, as the treaty allows, but the US has rejected that offer. The Trump administration is looking for a foreign policy victory ahead of November and is leveraging the New START.
President Trump’s envoy for arms control, Marshal Billingslea, said that if an agreement is not reached by the election, the administration will demand more of Moscow. “I suspect that after President Trump wins re-election if Russia has not taken up our offer, that the price of admission, as we would say in the US, goes up,” Billingslea told Russia’s Kommersant newspaper.
Ryabkov said the US position and demands lowered any chances of renewing the treaty. “We cannot talk in this matter,” he said.
The US is demanding things like increased verification in the form of more inspections, although the treaty already allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year. Perhaps the most unreasonable demand of the US is the insistence of including China. The administration wants a commitment from Russia that China will be part of the next arms control treaty.
Billingslea said that he is seeking a stipulation to the New START that would guarantee its successor would be multilateral and include China. Billingslea has expressed that he believes Russia could leverage Beijing into coming to the table. But China has no interest in trilateral arms control agreements since its nuclear arsenal is much smaller than the US and Russia’s.
Ryabkov made it clear that Moscow had no intention of even attempting to get China involved. “We have not taken and do not intend to take any steps to bring China into these talks, something we have told our American colleagues on multiple occasions,” he said.
Current estimates put China’s arsenal at around 300 warheads, the US and Russia both have about 6,000. The New START caps the number of warheads that can be deployed at 1,550.