The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is the last remaining bilateral arms control agreement between the United States and Russia. A basic overview of the treaty can be found in our New START fact sheet. Below are answers to questions based on recent developments and statements on New START.
What is the current status of New START?
New START is officially still in place. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on February 21, 2023 that Russia would suspend its implementation of some provisions of New START. However, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released a statement saying Russia would continue to adhere to the central weapons limits under New START.
This announcement is an official confirmation of the previously existing Russian policy on New START. Concretely, this means:
- Russia refuses on-site inspections of their nuclear facilities.
- Russia refuses to meet New START’s implementation body, the bilateral consultative commission. This organization resolves technical disputes between the United States and Russia.
- Russia refuses to provide treaty-mandated data and notifications on its nuclear arsenal. This includes information like the status and movement of its accountable delivery vehicles, launchers and warheads. Moscow failed to respect New START’s March 1, 2023 data exchange.
Putin claims that Russia has not been allowed full-scale inspections under New START. Is that true?
New START permits Russia to inspect U.S. facilities and weapons without obstruction. As a reminder, on-site inspections under New START include verifying the number of reentry vehicles on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, confirming numbers related to non-deployed launcher limits and counting the number of weapons onboard or attached to heavy bombers.
Russia claims that its inspectors are barred from entering the United States due to sanctions and travel restrictions related to the Ukrainian war. Both sides paused inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic however, the U.S. State Department responded to this saying, “Russia has everything it needs to conduct inspections on U.S. territory.” Russian inspectors have the visas, treaty-designated airplanes, unimpeded flight routes and access to commercial flights to conduct inspections. There is no public evidence that inspectors were denied entry to the United States for these inspections.
Is Putin’s claim that New START should include France and the United Kingdom reasonable?
Vladimir Putin argued in his February 21, 2023 speech that the treaty should include all of NATO’s combined nuclear capabilities. Putin’s logic misses a few key points. Firstly, France does not participate in NATO’s nuclear dimension and is not involved in the development and implementation of NATO’s nuclear policy. While the United Kingdom does participate in NATO’s nuclear planning, it does not contribute its arsenal to the alliance nor serve as a base for NATO-affiliated nuclear weapons. This means that in the case of a NATO decision to use nuclear weapons in response to an external attack, neither French nor British-owned conventional or nuclear weapons would be used. NATO-affiliated nuclear weapons are based in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey and would use dual-capable American or pan-European aircraft.
Ultimately, New START is a treaty signed between the United States and Russia. France and the United Kingdom are not parties to the agreement. Moscow signed and ratified New START knowing it covered strategic arms control solely between the United States and Russia. Putin’s reasoning is a case of “moving the goalposts” to justify Russia’s actions.
Has Russia violated arms control treaties before?
Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing and deploying a ground-launched cruise missile. After raising the issue with the Russians as early as 2013 and receiving no response, the United States officially withdrew from the treaty in 2019. Russia also routinely violated the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty throughout its existence. The key distinction is that the United States has never found Russia not in compliance with numerical limits on nuclear weapons.
In the context of New START, previous data exchanges and on-site inspections have not publicly revealed violations.
Despite the suspension of some verification measures, there is no indication that Russia violated, or plans to violate, the central weapons limits under New START. Both countries remain compliant with the weapons limit established in 2018.
Does the Russian announcement undermine U.S. deterrence?
No. The Russian move is largely symbolic and does not change the numbers of nuclear weapons nor the deterrence value of U.S. capabilities.
Is there still value in nuclear arms control?
Nuclear arms control continues to be a valuable tool to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons. Russia’s suspension of participation in New START is a concerning step but does not render arms control useless. The data exchanges, on-site verification and bilateral dialogue that are included in agreements like New START are invaluable to global and national security. The world would be safer with these provisions revived, not by also dropping numerical limits.
Continued efforts to return to the table on New START and negotiate additional arms control agreements serve the interest of the United States, of Russia and of the broader global community.