Will we see more nuclear arms in the future? What Vladimir Putin’s suspension of New START means for the world


Is the world inching closer to a nuclear war? Not yet, but it seems to be heading in that direction. On Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin in his 100-minute long address to the nation announced Russia’s suspension from participating in the New START treaty — the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the two nations.

“Our relations have degraded, and that’s completely and utterly the US’ fault,” said Putin, who stopped short of entirely withdrawing Russia from the deal that aims to limit nuclear arms expansion.

In the same speech, the Russian strongman also threatened to resume nuclear testing if the US does the same, claiming that Washington is considering renewed nuclear testing.

Responding to Putin’s announcement, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “With today’s decision on New START, the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken called Putin’s decision “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible”. He added that President Joe Biden’s administration remains ready to talk about the nuclear arms treaty “at any time with Russia, irrespective of anything else going on in the world.”

We take a deeper look at what Putin’s announcement could mean for the future of arms control.

What is New START treaty?

Before we delve into the effect that Putin’s announcement could have on the world, here’s a better understanding of what this treaty entails. Signed in 2010 by then US president Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, the New START treaty — also known as The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — capped the number of warheads at 1,550 with additional ceilings on the individual number of deployed missiles, bombers and launchers as well.

The New START is the only remaining agreement between the US and Russia limiting the development of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. It allows both countries to regularly, and with limited advance notice, inspect each other’s nuclear weapons arsenals.

As The Guardian reports, deploy as New START mentions means ready for immediate use, rather than have in storage. As an explainer on the treaty written by the EU parliament states, ““Warheads count as deployed if loaded onto a missile that is itself deployed”.

The treaty came into force in 2011 and was extended in 2021 for five more years after Joe Biden took office.

The New START treaty was the last remaining nuclear arms pact between Russia and Washington. The suspension of the deal is a dangerous situation for the world. Image used for representational purposes/AFP

Is this a suspension or withdrawal?

Now that Putin has made his announcement, does this mean that it’s permanent? Not really. The Russian strongman was very clear that he was not pulling out of the treaty, which expires in February 2026.

His foreign ministry said the decision to suspend participation in the treaty is “reversible,” saying that “Washington must show political will, make conscientious efforts for a general de-escalation and create conditions for the resumption of the full functioning of the Treaty and, accordingly, comprehensively ensuring its viability.”

The ministry urged “the American side to do just that. Until then, any of our steps towards Washington in the context of START are absolutely out of the question.”

Russia also declared that it had no intention to deploy more strategic nuclear arms — the kind that can soar across continents.

What does this mean for the world?

The suspension of the New START treaty has put the US and the West on edge. It is important to note here that Washington and Moscow own 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

With the suspension, it becomes harder to monitor compliance. The New York Times in a report wrote that Putin’s declaration to block US inspectors from verifying treaty compliance makes it clear that the Russian leader views his nuclear arsenal as a key element of power.

Retreating from the treaty, even temporarily, is an indicator that the world may be on the verge of a new era of nuclear breakout.

John Erath, senior policy director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said in an interview with the Washington Post that the move is “entirely symbolic”. He said that Putin made the announcement to pressure Biden into approaching Russia about ending the war, “so Russia can dictate the terms under which that would happen”.

The suspension of the New START treaty is worrying as there won’t be any transparency on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Image used for representational purposes/Reuters

This sentiment was shared by Jon Wolfsthal, who helped negotiate the New START Treaty in 2009 as a member of the National Security Council. In an NBC report, he was quoted as saying, “This is designed to unsettle us. The question will be whether the United States and its allies take the bait.”

Besides using it as a leverage, Putin’s decision is a big deal as it would set in motion an arms race — very similar to the times of the Cold War when tensions between nations perhaps were the highest.

Wolfsthal added that “it is likely to stoke the growing calls for the US to expand its nuclear arsenal to both compete with Russia and show China they cannot catch us.” A worrying trend for world peace.

Andrey Baklitskiy, a senior researcher at the weapons of mass destruction and other strategic weapons programme at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, told The Guardian that the suspension was a “big deal”. He said that currently Russia would abide by the limits, but it would be difficult to verify compliance.

This would also lead to a lack of transparency — a concern for the world when nations such as China, Iran and North Korea are attempting to build up their arsenal.

Rose Gottemoeller, who served as chief US negotiator of New START, added that the suspension would also pose a problem for Russia. Speaking to Foreign Policy, she said, “The implications are serious for predictability for the United States, but — and this is what is so puzzling about this — it’s equally serious for Russia. How are they expecting to plan for their nuclear operations in the future if they don’t know what’s going on in the US strategic nuclear forces?”

What happens next is completely unknown. But we hope for better times and calmer minds.

With inputs from agencies

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Will we see more nuclear arms in the future? What Vladimir Putin’s suspension of New START means for the world
Will we see more nuclear arms in the future? What Vladimir Putin’s suspension of New START means for the world
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