Nuclear risks after the suspension of the “New Start” Agreement

Based on Putin’s relevant statements, Russia is ultimately not withdrawing from the agreement but “suspending” its participation. But this means stopping international inspections on the ground, since, as the President of Russia mentioned, his country will not allow the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to inspect its nuclear facilities, although he emphasized that it will not be the first to resume testing its atomic weapons.

At the same time, the uncontrolled possession of other such weapons systems by a number of countries, as well as the withdrawal of the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, creates an era of new nuclear risks.

Also, the limit of 1,550 nuclear warheads for each side, which can be carried by long-range missiles – as foreseen by START – is not disputed, but the question is whether it can be applied in practice without checks. However, two points of the Agreement that Moscow seems to intend to adhere to are the provisions for uranium enrichment, as well as the commitments placed on the nuclear market by third countries.

Western countries, for their part, criticized, as expected, Russia’s announcements. “Russia’s announcement that it is suspending its participation in New START is highly irresponsible,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, adding that the United States is “ready to discuss strategic arms limitation at any time with Russia, regardless of anything else going on in the world or in our relationships.”

Also, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he “regrets” Russia’s decision, pointing out that “the entire arms control architecture has been dismantled.” He added, “I strongly encourage Russia to reconsider its decision and respect existing agreements.” However, the question is how realistic, as well as convincing, these exhortations can be made in the geopolitical realities we live in.

The Russian president, pointing out that Russia is not withdrawing from the agreement, but suspending its participation, explained that “before we return to the discussion of this issue, we must understand for ourselves what weapons the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, such as France and Great Britain”. He also announced that his country will pay increased attention to strengthening the nuclear triad. i.e. land, sea and air based nuclear weapons.

It is known that Russia has developed Sarmat-type hypersonic missiles, will continue production of Kinzhal hypersonic air systems and will begin mass procurement of Zircon sea-going hypersonic missiles, in conjunction with the development of the Borei-A “Emperor Alexander III” nuclear submarine and new cruisers that will carry advanced nuclear weapons. But it is not only Russia that is acquiring new nuclear weapon systems, as the USA, China, but also France and Britain are doing the same. Therefore, the crucial question arises whether, beyond the implementation of START, the remaining nuclear weapon armaments in East and West remain unchecked.

Even more critical – especially for Europe – is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, from which the US withdrew in 2019, accusing Russia of violating it (which in turn accused the US of the opposite). A number of experts believe that the imbalance created by the abandonment of this Treaty was one of the causes that made the war in Ukraine a reality

Finally, since we cannot imagine that some even have a Holocaust in mind, then nuclear threats are about a “limited” and “local” use of such weapons. The question, however, is whether the concept of a “limited use of nuclear weapons” makes sense, both in terms of the escalation that is most likely to occur, as well as the range of casualties and destruction it will cause.

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