It’s hard to imagine reinstating arms control with Russia, when the Russians justifiably believe the U.S. Government wouldn’t observe an agreement to save its life. From Scott Ritter at consortiumnews.com:
Having used arms control to gain unilateral advantage over Russia, the cost to the U.S. and NATO in getting Moscow back to the negotiating table will be high.
Checking out the rise and fall of nuclear warheads over the years of the nuclear arms race at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, 2017. (Wayne Hsieh, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)
U.S.-Russian arms control is in a state of extreme distress.
The U.S. withdrawal from the foundational Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002 undid the functional and theoretical premise of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that provided logical equilibrium to the fundamentals of nuclear deterrence theory.
Similarly, the Trump administration’s precipitous termination of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 2019 attacked both elements of the “trust but verify” maxim that governed issues of compliance verification that made arms control viable in the first place.
The last remaining arms control agreement that places limits on the strategic nuclear arsenals of both the U.S. and Russia is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Signed in 2010, and extended for five years in 2021, the treaty will expire in 2026. It places restrictions on the number of deployed nuclear warheads each side is permitted to have (1,550), as well as vehicles (missiles, bombers, submarines) to deliver these warheads (700).
Equally important to the numerical caps is the compliance verification regime mandated by the treaty, which includes the right of each side to conduct up to 18 on-site inspections per year. Up to 10 of these inspections can be done at operational bases where nuclear delivery systems are based. Inspectors there can visually confirm the presence of nuclear warheads by randomly selecting missiles for inspection.