Russia’s Suspension of New START Is No Reason for America to Do the Same

April 14, 2023 Topic: Arms Control Region: Global Tags: United StatesRussiaNew STARTICBMsArms Control

Russia’s Suspension of New START Is No Reason for America to Do the Same

Efforts toward strategic stability must endure, as the goal that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” remains the same.


Despite Vladimir Putin’s move to “suspend” Russia’s participation in the New START treaty and the recent decision by the United States to stop sharing nuclear stockpile data, Washington should not abandon all hope of this treaty or future arms control/risk mitigation endeavors.

It is possible Russia and the United States can come to terms on another extension or update of this treaty, although unlikely given the current state of relations. However, America should continue to adhere to the tenets of the treaty even after its likely expiration. This would show continued U.S. resolve and commitment to arms control not only to Russia but the entire global community.


Some will argue the demise of New START will spark another arms race, and that the United States will have no choice but to keep pace with Russia should the latter decide to deploy more nuclear warheads above the treaty limit. Yet this line of thinking causes more problems than it solves. The New START limits of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, along with the warheads currently in storage, is enough for the United States to maintain a capable and credible force that can counter any adversary. There is no reason to discard treaty limits to pursue greater numbers of deployed nuclear weapons unless absolutely necessary. A recent State Department annual report on arms control concluded that despite Russia’s suspension and noncompliance with New START, there is no “strategic imbalance”, at least for now, with regard to nuclear capabilities between Russia and the United States

It’s important to note that Moscow’s use of the word “suspension” of the treaty does not mean “cancellation.” While Moscow has eschewed all data exchanges and on-site verification, the Russian Foreign Ministry has publicly stated they will continue to abide by the treaty limits as well as the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement. Separate from New START, this 1988 Agreement requires U.S. and Russian notification of impending unarmed test launches of any Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and Sea Launch Ballistic Missile (SLBM). The agreement stipulates the notification must occur at least twenty-four hours prior to the launch and provide the planned date, launch location, and planned impact area of the relevant unarmed reentry vehicle(s). This prudent agreement provides transparency to the ICBM and SLBM test launch process and reduces the risk of misinterpretation. As someone who participated in numerous ICBM test launches as a member of an ICBM test launch squadron, this is a welcome relief.

Additionally, if the treaty does expire, a lapse in arms control is not without precedent. During the transition to New START from the original START treaty there was a gap of well over a year from expiration to ratification. During this time, there was no interim treaty in place and both countries successfully navigated through that process. This fact, plus recent statements from Moscow, at least provide a glimmer of hope.

In concert with pursuing future arms control and risk mitigation, the United States should continue the current path toward modernizing the nuclear force to include deployment of the Sentinel ICBM, the Columbia class nuclear submarine, and the B-21 bomber. It would seem paradoxical to relate upgrading our nuclear force with arms control. However, history suggests that past U.S. nuclear modernization efforts provided negotiators with leverage and options that actually helped negotiators find common ground during treaty deliberations. Moreover, America still requires a capable nuclear force to provide security for the homeland and allies while bringing the United States closer to nuclear modernization “parity” with Russia, if indeed their nuclear force is nearly 90 percent modernized.

To be clear, modernization does not mean an increase in deployed warheads over the New START limit nor is that needed. Modernization means increased reliability and capability; not more.

If New START can’t be saved, it is essential to retain agreements such as the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement and any other type of communication that could facilitate crisis management with Russia. The road ahead for nuclear arms control will look much different and likely not just between Russia and the United States. China will certainly figure into the equation due to its rapid nuclear force buildup. Reducing the risk of a nuclear conflict should be a primary concern not only to Washington and Moscow, but also Beijing. Current tensions notwithstanding, the United States and Russia have well-established communication, protocols, and data sharing which provide confidence and transparency (at least it did, and still can) that is vital to avoid stumbling into a nuclear conflict. Despite the fact there is no similar relationship with China, leveraging protocols such as those in New START and the Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement could provide an opportunity, at the very least, to begin a dialogue with Beijing toward the goal of strategic stability. Moreover, future agreements between all three, while difficult, should not be considered an impossibility.

While any type of formal nuclear arms treaty or risk reduction agreement between Russia and/or China will be incredibly difficult to achieve, efforts toward strategic stability must endure. The rules and the players of the game may be changing, but the goal remains, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Dana Struckman is a retired Air Force Colonel and a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College. He was a missile launch officer on active duty and commanded an intercontinental ballistic missile squadron at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not of the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.

Image: U.S. Department of Defense.