New START is the final linchpin of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control. If the treaty isn’t extended, Washington’s and Moscow’s nuclear arsenals will be wholly unconstrained for the first time in decades.
New START is the only nuclear arms control treaty left between the United States and Russia. But it expires on February 5, 2021, unless extended by up to five years.
Without it, there will be no limits on—or transparency into—the size and composition of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
Essentially, the treaty:
caps each country at 1,550 deployed long-range nuclear warheads
restricts each side to 700 deployed long-range nuclear delivery vehicles
limits each country to 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers and delivery vehicles.
Long-range nuclear delivery systems include:
New START does not attempt to limit:
nondeployed, stockpiled nuclear warheads
research and development, or testing of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems
current missile defense programs
or conventional weapons (not based on missiles, bombers, or submarines restricted by the treaty)
656 deployed long-range ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers
1,365 long-range nuclear warheads on deployed nuclear delivery systems
800 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers
524 deployed long-range ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers
1,461 long-range nuclear warheads on deployed nuclear delivery systems
760 deployed and nondeployed launchers of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers
* Data is accurate as of March 2019.
The United States and Russia can each carry out up to eighteen short-notice, on-site inspections of each other’s nuclear bases and support facilities annually. Inspectors check the location of nuclear weapons, their deployment status, and the production of new ballistic missiles. This includes inspecting ballistic missiles and bombers to ensure the number of warheads they were declared to be carrying is accurate.
306 on-site inspections have been carried out since New START took effect.
Failing to extend New START would not solve common complaints about the treaty and would create or compound other national security risks as well.
More Nuclear Weapons Without the treaty’s limits, Russia will be able to build and deploy more nuclear weapons targeting the United States. Both sides could get sucked into a dangerous arms race.
An Information Gap Under the treaty, Russia shares information about its nuclear arsenal and allow inspections. Without this information, U.S. intelligence would have to pull resources from other missions and would still have a less complete picture of Russia’s nuclear weapons, raising the risk of miscalculations.
Ballooning Costs The costs for U.S. nuclear weapons modernization, sustainment, and related infrastructure are already pegged at nearly $1.2 trillion over the next thirty years—and this is assuming New START stays in force. If the treaty ends, Washington and Moscow may enter a new arms race, creating even greater costs.
Undermining Future Agreements Arms control has been a progression of one treaty to the next. If New START expires with no replacement, it will leave the United States and Russia without a common starting point for future efforts.