Anxiety looms as the last nuclear arms control treaty between the United States and Russia may be expiring. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as New START, will expire in February 2021. Thomas Countryman, former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-proliferation, explains the impact that New START has had.
“New START is significant because it brings the number of warheads that each side has deployed down to its lowest levels since the 1960s,” he says on the Global Dispatches podcast. Since the Cold War, the nuclear weapon count has decreased quite a bit. Along with the statistics, Countryman explains.
“The fact that the US has moved from 30,000 warheads in the 1960s down to about 6,000 today is a demonstration that we take seriously that commitment to build down our nuclear arsenal.” Although New START expires in less than a year, Countryman describes a unique aspect of this treaty. He explains, “The New START treaty … gives the two countries the option to renew the agreement for up to five more years without having to go through the ratification process again.”
The Hesitation Behind Extending New START
Russia has communicated that they would like to extend the New START agreement for another five years. But, as of right now, the Trump administration has not declared whether or not the United States would like to extend the agreement. Thomas Countryman shared two perspectives on why Trump is hesitating to extend the treaty. He first shed light on President Trump’s “official reason.” “He wants to have not only an agreement between Moscow and Washington that limits the number of strategic weapons, but also an agreement that limits the number of smaller or non-strategic nuclear weapons. And more importantly, he wants an agreement that China would sign as well,” he says,
The second perspective he provides is derived from popular opinion and it may be a key part in President Trump’s reluctance. He states, “I think most people understand that the actual reason that President Trump does not want to simply sign an extension is because this is a treaty negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.” Countryman points out that Trump would like to do something “unprecedented and certainly better than what Barack Obama did.”
Besides President Donald Trump’s viewpoint, there are others within areas of the government, including the Senate, that are disinclined to extend New START. Their perspective is that “the United States is the strongest power in the world, military and economic and political power should not sign treaties because treaties restrained the US, and restraining the stronger power means you are giving up more than the weaker power is giving up.”
How New START Protects Our Nation
Thomas Countryman looks at the treaty’s extension and the president’s role in a different light. He expresses, “In my view, it is the most fundamental responsibility of a president to minimize the risk that the US will be subject to an attack with nuclear weapons.” He believes that New START is a defensive tool that Trump should utilize in order to ensure protection for the United States. “What we should be seeking to do is to restrain the most dangerous behavior of the countries that threaten us. And if that includes us putting restraints on our ability to destroy them, it is a strong deal for national security.”
According to Countryman, it would be a smart move to extend the New START treaty, but it’s up to Trump’s administration. As for now, it is nearly impossible to discern what decision will be made.
To learn more about New START and its impact on national security, you can listen to this podcast episode.