new start treaty

The U.S. State Department released nuclear warhead data on May 15. As of March 1, the United States had deployed a total of 1,419 nuclear warheads. The U.S. has also urged Russia to release data on its nuclear warheads as well. 

According to Agence France-Presse, the Russian government announced at the end of February this year that it would suspend its implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and stop sharing detailed information about its nuclear weapons with the United States. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed at the time that Russia could no longer abide by the treaty while the U.S. and NATO openly stated that they were targeting Ukraine.

So, what exactly is New START? What effect does it have on world peace? Why does the United States want to publish nuclear warhead data, but Russia dares not respond? This article will reveal the answers to these questions for you.

What is New START?

The New START is a bilateral nuclear disarmament agreement signed by the United States and Russia in 2010 and entered into force in 2011. The treaty limits the upper limit of the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the two sides can deploy. Each deploys no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and 800 nuclear warhead delivery vehicles. 

U.S.- Russia Nuclear Weapons "Nuclear Warhead" Confrontation: Can the New START Treaty Save World Peace?

Delivery vehicles include land-based and submarine missiles and bombers to deliver them. The treaty also stipulates a compliance verification mechanism, and the two parties can conduct up to 18 “on-site inspections of short-notice nature” each other each year. 

In addition, the treaty also established a bilateral committee composed of U.S. and Russian nuclear experts, which meets twice a year to discuss issues related to the treaty’s implementation.

The treaty aims to reduce the nuclear threat between the United States and Russia, increase transparency and trust between the two sides, prevent miscalculation and arms race, and maintain world peace and security. The treaty was originally due to expire in 2021, but at the last minute, the two sides agreed to extend it until 2026.

Why does the United States publish nuclear warhead data?

The United States released the data on nuclear warheads to comply with its commitments under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and demonstrate its sincerity and leadership in nuclear disarmament.

 “The United States has long believed that transparency among nuclear-weapon states is critical to reducing the likelihood of misunderstanding, miscalculation, and a costly arms race,” the State Department said.

  • The U.S. wants to pressure Russia to resume full implementation of the New START treaty, whose participation was suspended in February 2022 because of U.S. support for Ukraine.
  • The U.S. wants to demonstrate transparency and accountability about its nuclear weapons and its efforts toward disarmament, which the State Department says are part of U.S. commitments under the New START treaty.
  • The United States wants to prove that the number of its nuclear weapons has fallen to the lowest level since 1965, with only 3,750 active and inactive nuclear warheads, a decrease of 72 since Trump took office in 2017.

The United States released the nuclear warhead data to send a signal to Russia that the United States is willing to abide by the “New START Treaty” and hopes that Russia can also return to the negotiating table. 

At the same time, the United States also wants to show its achievements in reducing nuclear threats, claiming that the number of its nuclear warheads has dropped significantly.

Why is Russia afraid to respond?

There are two reasons why Russia is afraid to respond to the U.S. release of nuclear warhead data. One is that the number of nuclear weapons in Russia may be lower than that of the United States, and the release of the data will expose its relatively weak position.

Second, the quality of Russia’s nuclear weapons may not be as good as that of the United States. The release of the data will arouse domestic and international doubts and criticisms.

According to the latest data of the United States and Russia under the New START Treaty, as of September 1, 2021, the United States has a total of 5,800 nuclear warheads, of which 1,800 have been deployed; Russia has a total of 6,375 nuclear warheadsof which 1,450 have been deployed. 

Judging from these figures, Russia’s total number of nuclear warheads is slightly higher than that of the United States, but the number of deployed nuclear warheads is much lower than that of the United States. This means that Russia’s nuclear deterrence capability is inferior to that of the United States, and it may fall further behind in the future.

In addition, the quality of Russia’s nuclear weapons may not be as good as that of the United States. According to reports, Russia’s nuclear weapons have problems such as aging, insufficient maintenance, and potential safety hazards. 

In 2018, for example, Russia tested a new nuclear-powered cruise missile called Poseidon, but the missile exploded in flight, killing at least five engineers and triggering a radiation leak. Such an accident shows Russia’s technical shortcomings and risks in the field of nuclear weapons.

Therefore, if Russia releases its nuclear warhead data, it may be ridiculed and provoked by the United States and the West, and it may also cause domestic dissatisfaction and anxiety. Russia may believe that in the current crisis in Ukraine, its image and interests should remain silent rather than speak out.

What are the prospects for New START?

The New START Treaty is currently the only effective agreement limiting the number of strategic nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia. The treaty is significant for preventing nuclear proliferation, reducing the risk of nuclear war, and maintaining global strategic stability. However, the treaty also faces many challenges and difficulties.

On the one hand, the political mutual trust between the U.S. and Russia has been seriously damaged. The Ukrainian crisis, cyber attacks, and human rights issues have all led to the deterioration of bilateral relations. 

The two sides also have differences and misgivings on the issue of nuclear weapons. For example, the United States is worried that Russia has developed some new nuclear weapons that are not restricted by the treaty, such as the “Poseidon” missile, the “Dagger” hypersonic missile, and the “Pioneer” hypersonic glide vehicle, etc.; Russia is worried that the United States has deployed anti-missile systems in Europe. 

The U.S. anti-missile system is a comprehensive defense system established by the United States to defend against ballistic missile attacks from hostile countries or organizations, including land-based, sea-based, air-based and space-based interception systems and detection systems.

The advantages of the U.S. anti-missile system are:

  • It can improve the security of the United States and its allies and prevent or reduce the threat of enemy ballistic missiles.
  • It can enhance the military influence and political status of the United States in the world and maintain the hegemony of the United States.
  • It can promote the scientific and technological innovation and industrial development of the United States and promote technological progress in anti-missile-related fields.

The disadvantages of the U.S. anti-missile system are:

  • It may trigger an arms race and a new round of cold war, undermining international strategic stability and the nuclear non-proliferation system.
  • It could intensify regional tensions and conflicts and damage U.S. relations with other countries, especially with major powers such as Russia and China.
  • It may cause a huge economic burden and waste of resources and affect the social welfare and livelihood development of the United States.