New START Treaty Extended

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

We received news on Tuesday afternoon the New START Treaty was extended.

“A week ago, the United States and Russia ‘exchanged diplomatic papers’ in order to extend the New START treaty for 5 years,” wrote Physicians for Social Responsibility in a Feb. 2 email.  “Biden and Putin got this done in time — before New START was set to expire this Friday, Feb 5.”

Recent Republican administrations have not favored arms control treaties. In fact, the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations exited existing agreements. U.S. Admiral Charles Richard recently wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute journal Proceedings, the potential for nuclear war remains present.

“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” the four-star admiral wrote.

There’s nothing new in the Richard’s statement. While our relations with Russia and China require scrutiny, not only with regard to nuclear weapons, but with every facet of their complexity, a few things remain clear about the course the United States should be taking to prevent the detonation of nuclear weapons which may escalate into a full on war. In their new book, The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power From Truman to Trump, William J. Parry and Tom Z. Collina outline a framework that includes these items:

The president should not have sole authority to launch a nuclear weapons attack. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress sole authority to declare war. They should be engaged with any decision to launch nuclear weapons against another state or non-state actor. There is no need for the “nuclear football” that has been shadowing the president since the Kennedy administration.

We should never rush into nuclear war. Experience has shown us time is required to gather all the information needed to verify an attack is in progress. There is simply no need for the president to decide to retaliate based on sketchy or incomplete information in a matter of a few minutes. Launch on warning should be prohibited.

First use of nuclear weapons should be prohibited. Given U.S. conventional force superiority, there is little reason to use nuclear weapons.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads, positioned in silos to launch on warning are obsolete. If the U.S. were attacked with a large-scale nuclear missile launch, ICBMs in silos would be the among the first targets. They are part of the so-called nuclear triad which includes submarines and bombers ready to launch a nuclear attack or counter attack. If there were a nuclear attack on the U.S., submarines and bombers would comprise our primary retaliatory response. ICBMs are obsolete sitting ducks.

Strategic missile defense systems don’t work, despite billions of dollars spent developing them. Russia sees U.S. missile defense systems as a threat to their ability to retaliate in the event of a U.S. nuclear attack. U.S. missile defense systems, by their existence, block advancement of arms control negotiations between the world’s two owners of 90 percent of nuclear armaments.

The bigger picture is nuclear states should take seriously Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and work toward elimination of nuclear weapons. For those nuclear states which haven’t joined the treaty, they should. Countries should reduce and eliminate spending on weapons of mass destruction.

While I don’t agree with the Biden administration’s military spending priorities, I’m glad to receive the news they extended New START for five more years. Now build upon it.