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EDITORIAL | New START Nuke Treaty Suspension Exposes Russia's Weakness

If the nuclear arms race intensifies after suspending new START, Russia may fall behind the US and China, which surpass it in technological and economic power.



Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 14, 2022. (via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin unilaterally announced the suspension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia in his annual State of the Nation address on February 21.

Putin claimed that the United States was at fault, saying that Washington was not fulfilling its obligations. But this is nothing more than sophistry. As a responsible nuclear power, Russia should immediately return to fulfilling the treaty.

Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, and since then Mr Putin has repeatedly hinted at the use of nuclear weapons. This latest statement seems to follow the rhetoric.

Even though the rift between the US and Russia over Ukraine has deepened, Russian statements referencing the use of nuclear forces as a shield are entirely unacceptable. They show Russia's disregard for the heavy responsibility of being a nuclear power.

new Start
Ukraine's Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, attacked by Russian troops on March 4, 2022 (Reuters from a YouTube capture from a camera at the same nuclear power plant)

Revenge for Russia's Powerlessness 

Russia has been unable to achieve any notable military results in its war. That is because of Ukraine's determination to defend itself against the aggressor and the solidarity of Western nations supporting it. 

New START, which entered into force in 2011, is the only remaining nuclear disarmament treaty between the United States and Russia. It limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, the lowest level in history. And it focuses on verification. Both countries are obligated to inspect the other's nuclear missile facilities.

The two parties agreed to a five-year extension in 2021. However, Russia stopped accepting inspections in August 2022, citing the sanctions against Russia by the US and European nations. Since the beginning of 2023, senior Russian officials have said, "There is a possibility that the successor treaty will cease to exist."

In his speech on February 21, Mr Putin claimed that the international environment had drastically changed since the treaty was signed. Moreover, he said that the US was aiming to destroy Russia's deterrence capability. Nevertheless, it is he who has worsened the international environment. The suspension of the treaty's implementation concedes Russia's position of inferiority and proves its weakness.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also took the opportunity to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 4, 2022, ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

An Imperfect Treaty

New START has long been faulted for its limited effectiveness because of China's absence. Meanwhile, China, without obligations under the treaty, has been busy strengthening its nuclear capability.

According to the US Department of Defense, China possessed over 400 operational nuclear warheads in 2021, which could increase to 1,500 by 2035.

Russia's suspension of New START disables the nuclear disarmament regime. That will make it even more difficult to secure China's cooperation. 

If the nuclear arms race intensifies, Russia may fall behind the US and China, which surpass it in technological and economic power. This may be the reality behind Vladimir Putin's failure to mention withdrawal from the New START treaty stipulations. However, he should know that his words and actions in toying with nuclear weapons are strangling Russia's future options.


(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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