Putin Suspends New START Treaty: A Blow to Global Security

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would be suspending its participation in the New START treaty, the last central pillar of post-Cold War nuclear arms control between Moscow and Washington.[0] The New START agreement, signed by Russia and the US in 2010, limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads both countries can deploy.[1] It also allows both sides to regularly and with limited advance notice, inspect each other’s nuclear weapons arsenals.[2]

By Putin's declaration, the final arms control pact is significantly weakened, yet not immediately terminated.[2] Nevertheless, the decision is still a blow to the stability of global security, says Rose Gottemoeller, a retired US diplomat who served as chief negotiator for New START.[3] She warns that if all restrictions are removed, it will lead to a nuclear arms race.[3] No nation, including Russia and China, should be desirous of that result.[3]

The Russian leader also threatened to resume nuclear testing if the US does the same, claiming that the US is considering renewed nuclear testing.[4] The US has repeatedly reaffirmed that it can modernize and certify the reliability of its nuclear weapons without resorting to testing.[2]

The US and Russia halted all inspections of each other’s nuclear weapon sites and operations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2] Despite this, there were still a large number of notifications exchanged between the two states, minimizing the possibility of incorrect assumptions and miscommunications.[2] In November of 2022, Russia terminated negotiations to reinstate inspections.[2] The US considers these violations of the agreement, but not an altogether outright material breach of the treaty.[2]

The US and Russia account for around 90% of the world's nuclear warheads, and Putin’s move puts this last treaty standing in grave danger.[5] Should his suspension continue, it is likely that the treaty will not be replaced with a new agreement that calls for more significant reductions in armaments; instead, it will expire.[1] The Federation of American Scientists has calculated that, should the treaty limits be eliminated, the United States and Russia would be able to almost double their deployed warheads without creating any new armaments.[1]

Ultimately, Putin’s declaration is a reminder that nuclear weapons are not a magic wand.[6] It is up to the US and Russia to act responsibly and support the nonproliferation regime.[7]

0. “Putin Speech: Russia Defiant as Ukraine Invasion Nears Second Year” Bloomberg, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-02-21/putin-defiant-as-struggling-ukraine-invasion-nears-second-year

1. “Don't Panic About Putin's Nuclear Saber-Rattling” The Daily Beast, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/dont-panic-about-putins-nuclear-saber-rattling

2. “Russia announces its suspension from last nuclear arms agreement with the US, escalating nuclear tension” The Conversation, 21 Feb. 2023, https://theconversation.com/russia-announces-its-suspension-from-last-nuclear-arms-agreement-with-the-us-escalating-nuclear-tension-200398

3. “Putin Stokes Tensions By Suspending Nuclear Deal With U.S. | Time” TIME, 21 Feb. 2023, https://time.com/6257209/putin-new-start-nuclear-arms-treaty

4. “In Speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin Suspends Nuclear Arms Treaty With U.S.” The Wall Street Journal, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-suspends-new-start-nuclear-arms-treaty-with-u-s-6498b44

5. “Vladimir Putin blames West for starting war in Ukraine as he suspends participation in key nuclear treaty” Sky News, 21 Feb. 2023, https://news.sky.com/story/vladimir-putin-blames-west-for-starting-war-in-ukraine-as-he-suspends-participation-in-key-nuclear-treaty-12816219

6. “What to know about Russia's latest move on nuclear weapons” CNN, 21 Feb. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/21/politics/nuclear-weapons-new-start-treaty-what-matters/index.html

7. “Interview: Steve Fetter on the meaning of Putin's New START announcement” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 22 Feb. 2023, https://thebulletin.org/2023/02/interview-steve-fetter-on-the-meaning-of-putins-new-start-announcement