All news

US tones down arms control demands, may have lost time for deal with Russia, says expert

The pundit commented on recent statements by US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea who admitted that "there has been a shift" in the approach of the Trump administration to nuclear talks with Russia

WASHINGTON, August 27. /TASS/. The United States has toned down its positions on nuclear disarmament but may have lost essential time to cultivate further bilateral agreements with Russia in this area, Director of American Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball said in an interview with TASS on Wednesday.

He commented on recent statements by US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea who admitted that "there has been a shift" in the approach of the Trump administration to nuclear talks with Russia.

A new round of interagency Russia-US consultations on these issues, including the possibility of extending the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) was concluded on August 18 in Vienna chaired by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Billingslea.

Rhetoric toned down

The disarmament expert stated that the US basically had to backpedal and give up on its previous unrealistic demands on China’s immediate involvement in the Russia-US dialogue on arms control, although its stance on a number of issues remains unwavering.

"While the Trump administration has toned down its demand that China should become engaged in a trilateral nuclear arms control process, Billingslea is still seeking terms for a political understanding about an ambitious new agreement with Russia before agreeing to any sort of extension of New START. Billingslea insists such a political framework agreement must cover all types of nuclear warheads, which would involve a much more intrusive and complex system of verification, and must be structured in a way that could involve China in the future, though he [Billingslea] cannot explain clearly how that would work vis-a-vis China," the arms reduction specialist noted.

"It also appears that Billingslea is unwilling to factor in the longstanding Russian demand that any future agreement should address missile defenses, US forward-deployed substrategic nuclear weapons in Europe, and certain types of conventional prompt strike weapons that could affect strategic stability. Billingslea has made it very obvious that the Trump administration’s antipathy toward New START has more to do with the fact it was negotiated by the Obama administration than with any substantive criticism of the treaty," the association director added.

Significant differences remain

In the expert’s opinion, "obviously, at this point, there are very significant differences between the US and Russian approaches." "Given these differences and the slow pace of the US-Russian talks, and the fact that Presidents Putin and Trump will not likely be meeting in person before February to hammer out any differences, it remains very, very unlikely there will be a "political framework" agreement in the near future, and certainly not before New START is due to expire in February 2021," the arms control specialist added.

Deal’s extension is in everyone’s interest

"The bottom line is that a five-year, unconditional extension of New START would benefit US, Russian, and global security and provide a stable environment for further talks on the difficult issues regarding the next phase of negotiations to reduce each side’s bloated and excessive nuclear arsenals, and would improve the prospect that China, and other nuclear-armed states, can be drawn into meaningful talks on nuclear risk reduction and multilateral nuclear disarmament," the expert asserted.

However, he acknowledged that the clock may have simply stopped for Trump and now it is too late to hammer out any new agreements. "Furthermore, with the US election just weeks away, the Trump administration may have run out of time to pursue its 11th hour attempt at nuclear arms control," the arms control guru emphasized.

In his opinion, it "is not likely" that Russian leadership will "agree to new terms on arms control ahead of the US election." "Especially in light of the fact that the front-runner in the presidential race, Joe Biden, is on record in support of a long-term extension of New START and has a more reliable track record as a competent negotiating partner," the head of the association added.

New START facts

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was signed by Russia and the United States in 2010. It will remain effective until February 5, 2021, unless a new document is signed to replace it. The document can be extended for no more than five years, that is, until 2026, by mutual agreement of the parties. Moscow has urged Washington not to postpone the decision on the extension of the arms control deal, characterizing it as the gold standard in the disarmament sphere.