US National Security Advisor John Bolton visited Moscow on October 22nd. The visit and discussions that followed happened 48 hours after US President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Defense News cited experts who are concerned that the US could possibly also withdraw from the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which was signed in 2010 between the US and Russia. It limits the deployed forces of both nations to 1,550 nuclear warheads over 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and bombers.
National Public Radio’s David Welna also was skeptical about the future of the new START treaty, following the INF withdrawal.
When he was asked about the treaty, while in Moscow, Bolton said that the US government is “currently considering” its position on the agreement. He, however, said that the Trump administration “does not have a position that we’re prepared to negotiate.”
This is further reinforced by Trump’s remarks in February 2017 when he called the agreement “a one-sided deal” and a “bad deal.” There was no follow-up to his words, in March 2017, Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, then the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, said the agreement was of “huge value” to the U.S., adding that it has “been good for us.”
TASS reported that Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and US National Security Adviser John Bolton discussed rospects for extending the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the new START Treaty) for five more years after 2021.
“During the meeting, both sides exchanged opinions regarding the issue of extending the term of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms for five more years after 2021,” the press service of the Russian Security Council announced. “They have discussed in detail the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [NPT], the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty [CTBT], the Treaty on Open Skies, as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC] and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention [BTWC],” the statement added.
Defense News also cited Frank Miller, who served as senior director for defense policy and arms control for President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He said that the treaty provides 18 on-site inspections of Russian weapons a year, which “valuable” information for America’s military.
“The Russians need to see consequences from noncompliance on INF, I fundamentally agree with that,” Miller said. But “if the Russians don’t see us as reliable partners in arms control agreements and think they are likely to be surprised by us, as they were by some degree from the withdraw of the ABM treaty and by the abrupt nature of the withdraw from INF, they may begin to hedge and they may be more inclined, rather than less inclined, to prepare themselves for a [nuclear] breakout.”
Richard Burt, who served as chief negotiator in the original START talks between the U.S. and Russia, said the INF decision is “very bad news for anybody who is a supporter of extending New START.”
“That decision doesn’t have to be formally taken until 2021, so a lot will depend on the outcome of the 2020 elections. I would say that if you do see Donald Trump re-elected and his national security adviser remains John Bolton, I think it’s a better than even chance that New START is not extended,” he said.
Bolton himself said that the treaty expires in 2021, so the Trump administration “has plenty of time.”
James Acton of the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is not positive about new START’s future. “New START is in deep trouble, but not because of this,” he said. “Russia, I think, would agree to extending New START even if the US withdraws from INF. The problem is that it’s increasingly clear that this administration doesn’t want to extend New START.”
The US has accused Russia of violating the INF agreement in past years. The Obama administration said Russia violated the INF treaty in 2014 by testing a ground-launched cruise missile. But the Obama administration “chose not to leave the agreement because of objections from the Europeans — particularly Germany — and out of concern that it would rekindle an arms race.”
Russia has repeatedly accused the US of violating the INF. For example, Aegis ballistic missile defense systems installed by the US across Europe use the MK 41 vertical launching system to launch interceptors. The similar system is used by US guided-missile destroyers to launch Tomahawk naval cruise missiles. The deployment of the missiles and launchers of this type on the ground is forbidden by the INF treaty.
In December 2017 the US also violated the agreement by selling two missile defense systems to Japan. “Actions like these are in direct contradiction to the priority of building military and political trust between Russia and Japan, and, unfortunately, will impact in a negative way on the whole atmosphere in bilateral relations, including negotiations over the peace treaty problem,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on December 28, 2017. “In practice, it will mean one more breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by the Americans with, in fact, Japan’s assistance,” she added.
TASS also cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov that withdrawal from the INF “would be a very dangerous step, which, I’m sure, won’t be just understood by the international community, but arouse serious condemnation of all members of the world community, who are committed to security and stability and are ready to work on strengthening the current regimes in arms control.”
He further elaborated that the US decision to withdraw from one more international treaty hinders its own agenda of global dominance.