Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department released the latest numbers on U.S. and Russian strategic forces as part of the data exchange required by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Talks Treaty (New START).
The New START Treaty, signed by the U.S. and Russia in April 2010, has utterly failed to accomplish anything in the way of arms control on the Russian side. Loopholes in New START actually allow Russia to build up its strategic forces, while the treaty forces the U.S. to reduce its arsenal and limits its missile defense options. The treaty’s toothless verification regime also makes it difficult for the U.S. to monitor Russian compliance.
Russia’s Growing Arsenal
The latest numbers tell a sobering story. Since New START entered into force in February 2011, Russia has actually increased its arsenal in all three categories that the treaty was supposed to limit: deployed warheads, deployed delivery vehicles, and deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles. In four and a half years under New START, Russia has gone from 1,537 deployed warheads—below the New START limit of 1,550—to 1,648 warheads, well over the limit.
These numbers are based on New START’s counting rules, which, for example, undercount the number of warheads deployed on bombers. According to arms control expert Dr. Mark Schneider, Russia likely has deployed 300 to 500 more warheads than the declared number and is on track to deploy around 3,200 warheads, twice the New START limit.
The Shrinking U.S. Arsenal
In response to Russian rearmament, the U.S. has drastically reduced the size of its own arsenal, cutting the number of deployed warheads from a high of 1,800 when New START entered into force to 1,538 today.
The 110-warhead advantage Russia now enjoys may appear trivial on its face, but it actually presents a serious problem. The U.S. extends nuclear security guarantees to approximately 30 countries, while Russia has no such commitments. Russia also enjoys a ten-to-one advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, which are not covered by New START.
As the U.S. nuclear arsenal shrinks, it is also growing older. The U.S. is executing minimalist nuclear modernization programs for the next 15 years and is not planning to design any new nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, as Schneider warns, Russia is undertaking an extensive modernization program, upgrading many of its legacy systems, and developing several new weapons systems not covered by New START.
Russian Saber Rattling
Russia is a serious strategic adversary of the United States, as evidenced by its incursions into Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. Putin and other Russian military and government officials continue to rattle the nuclear saber, making nuclear threats against NATO and refusing to preclude the first use of Russian nuclear weapons.
New START serves Russian interests much more than it serves U.S. interests. The treaty allows Russia to expand its nuclear arsenal, forces the U.S. to reduce its own arsenal, and limits U.S. missile defense options at a time of increasing threat. The United States should withdraw from New START.