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New START marks 10th anniversary with ambiguous prospects, experts note

According to experts interviewed by TASS, the accord’s future after the epidemic will show whether the world will shift gears to search for ways for common security or return back to the Cold War-era logic of rivalry

MOSCOW, April 8. /TASS/. The Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) Treaty between the US and Russia, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary Wednesday, remains the last barrier before a looming, new high-technology arms race.

According to experts interviewed by TASS, the accord’s future after the epidemic will show whether the world will shift gears to search for ways for common security or return back to the Cold War-era logic of rivalry.

Strategic accord

The New START deal was signed by Moscow and Washington in 2010. The treaty remains in force until February 5, 2021, unless it is replaced by a new accord. The deal could be extended for 5 years (until 2026), if both sides agree.

According to the treaty, both sides vow to reduce their nuclear weapons to 700 deployed launchers, 1,550 warheads, and 800 total launchers in seven years.

Russia has called for the treaty to be prolonged. Last year, President Vladimir Putin told the Financial Times that, should this treaty dissolve, there will be no tools to curb a new arms race. Moscow has repeatedly accused Washington of postponing this decision.

The United States, on the other hand, insists that new treaties on arms control must include not only Russia and the US, but other nations as well — primarily, China. Washington also wants to include Russia’s newest strategic weapons, unveiled by President Putin in 2018. The Russian Foreign Ministry says that while some of those weapons could be included in the treaty, others will require amending the language.

Back to the 1950s

According to Valery Garbuzov, who heads the Institute of US and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, there is little hope that the treaty will be extended.

"The arms control system that was built back in the 1970s, has been steadily crumbling. Considering Washington’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the INF treaty, I believe that New START’s dissolution will become the next step that will bring on the total destruction of the entire arms control system," he predicted.

According to the expert, the old weapons that this treaty limited were replaced by new ones and this changed the situation.

"In 2010, these processes were not too evident," Garbuzov noted. "Back then, nobody expected the new technological explosion that had occurred over the last few years. I think, if things had stayed the way they were back then, the treaty would have still been relevant today.

However, amid this technological leap, governments might opt to stockpile these new weapons first, and only then sit down and talk about limitations.

"Both Trump and a number of other people see this situation not as a time for weapons control, but for weapons creation and fine-tuning. Could this be combined with control? Some people believe this has to be done. However, others believe that this is impossible, arguing that one must first stockpile, replace, and upgrade. Only later will they comprehend the need for limits, but so far this is not the case."

Russia will not lose from this situation, because it has its own new technologies. The situation in general will not be unprecedented, because the world has already seen nuclear weapons without any kind of control agreement, though it was a long time ago, in the 1950s.

Post-plague world prospects

However, not everybody agrees that the New START Treaty is doomed. Andrey Bystritsky, chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, believes that the extension of the treaty is possible, although he also believes the deal will be amended.

"It is clear that new weapons have emerged, but this only creates more reason for development of treaties, similar to the New START. I’m not saying it stay the same as now, but it will be a some kind of platform for future talks," he said.

According to Bystritsky, the most important thing for prolonging the treaty is the political will of the sides to establish at least some kind of control over the ongoing turbulent processes. Following the coronavirus epidemic, global aspiration to control the situation, including via bilateral agreements, might actually strengthen.

"After the coronavirus, some kind of de-escalation is possible, which will give politicians more freedom to reach an agreement," he pointed out.

The expert recalled that the 2010 treaty was not merely a set of limits on nuclear weapons, but also a declaration of intentions by Russia and the US to cooperate.

"New START was largely a symbolic treaty. It is important that the accord implied some sort of cooperation and relations. The world is different now, but the desire to arrange things remains," he concluded. "New START is a good example of such an arrangement," he stressed.