Biden Offers Russia Five-Year Extension of Arms Control Treaty – with No China Provision

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AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

The White House said on Thursday that President Joe Biden will offer a five-year extension of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) to Russia, an offer far more generous than the Russians were expecting. Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a one-year extension of New START in October.

Without an extension, the New START treaty, which was signed in 2010, is due to expire in February 2021. Negotiations for an extension have been underway for much of the past year. The Trump administration accused Russia of violating the treaty, citing various Russian boasts about deploying weapons and installing upgrades that were prohibited under the agreement. However, the 2020 State Department report to Congress on New START said that both the U.S. and Russia were substantially in compliance with the “central limits” of the agreement.

Former President Donald Trump expressed a strong preference for expanding New START to include China as well as Russia, arguing that a bilateral agreement with Russia was insufficient to protect America’s interests given China’s rapid development of its arsenal.

“Extending New START at this point would probably be the easy thing to do, but it may not be the right thing to do. Getting China involved in some sort of an arms control framework is what’s needed today in order to stave off a potential three-way arms race in the future,” a Trump administration official told Foreign Policy in July.

“Why not agree to some restraint today instead of spending all the money [to] build up your nuclear capabilities? At the end of the day you’re no better off because now you’ve forced Russia and the United States to build up its capabilities,” the official elaborated.

In August, the Trump administration adjusted its negotiating stance and signaled it would consider a bilateral extension of the treaty with Russia while working to bring China into New START “in due course.” 

The Chinese government flatly stated it had no interest in joining the treaty, claiming its nuclear arsenal is too small to merit membership. Critics of Trump’s approach said the U.S. had no real leverage to drag Beijing into the arms control agreement, while supporters thought Beijing might ultimately agree because it wants Russian nuclear arms controlled, and would prefer a trilateral agreement to none at all.

The Trump administration continued to drive a hard bargain with Russia in negotiations, demanding expanded coverage of shorter-range nuclear weapons through follow-on treaties and tougher verification measures. Trump suggested he would prefer to discuss the agreement with Putin directly.

“Russia stands for an extension of the START Treaty, but is not ready to pay any price for that,” lead Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov said in response to the U.S. demands.

Then-candidate Joe Biden indicated he would pursue New START extension if he won the election, describing the treaty as “an anchor of strategic stability.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited Biden’s earlier remarks when announcing his surprisingly generous offer of a five-year extension to Putin, asserting that a renewal of the treaty was even more important because of Russia’s recent bad behavior.

“The President has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interests of the United States. And this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” Psaki said on Thursday.

“Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, so too we work to hold Russia to account for its reckless and adversarial actions,” Psaki said, promising aggressive investigations of misdeeds such as “the Solar Winds cyber breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, Russia’s use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny and alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan,” as reported by Reuters.

The Pentagon asserted that Americans are “much safer” with New START extended, and vowed to remain “clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses and committed to defending the nation against their reckless and adversarial actions.”

The Kremlin welcomed Biden’s offer on Friday but said it would still need to review the terms of the proposed five-year extension.

“Russia stands for the preservation of the New START and for its extension. We can only welcome the political will to extend the document, but everything will depend on the details of this proposal, which is yet to be studied,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

The Chinese government also applauded Biden’s offer, stating the extended New START agreement would be “conducive to safeguarding global strategic stability and international peace and security.” 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry hoped the U.S. will “continue to work with Russia to ensure a successful extension of the treaty.”

 

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