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The world returns to an era of nuclear angst

Russia’s suspension of its arms control treaty with the US augurs a new period of military deterrence, arms races and instability


Dmitry Medvedev is currently the deputy chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF), a consultative body that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision-making on national security affairs. In April 2010, when the United States and Russia signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in Prague, limiting the nuclear offensive capabilities of both countries, the man in charge in Moscow, at least on paper, was Medvedev, then the president of the country. In late February, Putin suspended the treaty that Obama and Medvedev signed almost 13 years ago. At the New START signing ceremony, Medvedev said, “This will turn a new page for cooperation between our two countries and will create safer conditions for life here and around the world.” Not anymore.

Medvedev is one of the best examples of how nuclear security has changed since the Cold War between the US and Russia. He now fervently supports suspending the treaty he signed in 2010

and said in a Telegram post, “If the US intends to defeat Russia [by providing military support to Ukraine], then we are on the brink of a global conflict. We have the right to defend ourselves with any weapon, including nuclear ones.”

EL PAÍS consulted four arms control and security policy experts on the consequences of Putin’s suspension of the New START treaty. They all concurred that both countries had been complying with limits on warheads, missiles and delivery systems and felt that controlling such weapons would become complicated and potentially lead to a new arms race. Moscow’s move is an attempt to curb Western support for Ukraine, and without New START, there will be more uncertainty, instability and potential nuclear miscalculations. These same words and scenarios defined the Cold War geopolitical tension that dominated US-Russian relations for 40 years after World War II.

“Without the treaty, [the US and Russia] can do whatever they want,” said Olga Oliker, an expert on Russian and Ukrainian security policy for the International Crisis Group. “They can build whatever strategic offensive weapons they feel like and can afford. They won’t be able to verify what the other is or isn’t doing. They will still have intelligence-collecting capabilities but not the inspections, data exchanges and consultations to ensure compliance. Theoretically, they could deceive each other more easily.” Oliker believes the most significant risk in suspending the treaty lies in the potential “misunderstandings” arising from a lack of information.

New START limits the number of immediately deployable nuclear weapons owned by the US and Russia, which account for 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal. They can only have a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 long-range missile delivery systems between ground launchers, submarines and bombers. According to the US State Department, as of September 2022, both countries were below those numbers. It was a drastic reduction compared to the 1991 treaty Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed. New START also initiated a compliance mechanism that permitted up to 18 inspections a year, regular information exchange and a monitoring commission, all of which are now suspended.

Non-compliance with inspections

Todd Sechser is a professor at the University of Virginia (USA) and a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The treaty is important not only because it limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads,” said Sechser, “but because it provides a way for the two countries to build trust. This move undermines that trust.” ……………………………………………………………………….. more


February 28, 2023 - Posted by | ANTARCTICA, politics international, weapons and war

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