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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

New global arms race?

by our European Affairs correspondent

FEARS ARE GROWING in the chancelleries of Europe about the imminent collapse of a Russian–American nuclear arms treaty that could spark off a new global arms race and a return to the Cold War in Europe.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which limits the number of strategic launchers, such as intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers, that both super-powers can deploy, expires in February 2021. The deal, signed in 2010, halved the number of strategic missile launchers possessed by Russia and the USA, and set up new inspection regimes for verifying the process.

The Trump government has consistently walked away from international nuclear disarmament agreements agreed by previous US administrations, including the Iran nuclear deal that successfully prevented the development of nuclear weapons by the Islamic Republic and the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty with Russia.

Many believe that the Trump administration is now going to dump the New START treaty, signed in 2010, which limits the number of nuclear warheads of both Russia and the USA to no more than 700. But unlike the old START agreement between the USA and the Soviet Union, the new one places no limitation on the number of nuclear weapons either power can possess.

Early in his presidency, Trump maligned the New START treaty as “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration” that he claimed favoured the Russians.

The Putin government has long pushed for an extension of the agreement without preconditions, but the Kremlin argues there is no longer enough time for a renegotiation of the treaty itself.

no agreement

Now, for electoral reasons, Trump’s crowd say they’ve reached “agreement in principle” with Russia to extend the treaty. But the Kremlin says no such agreement exists.

Top US arms negotiator Marshall Billingslea claimed this week that Washington and Moscow had reached a tentative agreement on extending New START.

“We are in fact willing to extend the New START Treaty for some period of time provided that they in return agree to a limitation or freeze on their nuclear arsenal. We are willing to do the same,” Billingslea said. He did not say for how long New START would be extended.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Washington’s position on freezing nuclear arsenals was “unacceptable”. He said Moscow would refuse to sign any agreement on the New START that was timed to coincide with the 3rd November US presidential poll when US President Donald Trump will stand for re-election.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, had previously proposed a five-year extension of the agreement without preconditions. The USA, however, has insisted on unrealistic pre-condition such as the inclusion of People’s China to create a new trilateral nuclear deal. There was a wry response from Beijing.

In July, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official said the people’s government would “be happy to” join those talks if the USA, which has about 20 times as many nuclear weapons as China, cuts its arsenal down to Chinese levels. “But actually, we know that’s not going to happen,” the official said, adding that the US request was just a ploy to justify it exiting the treaty.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that if Washington wants to include tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty, then the USA needs to bring their missiles from other NATO countries back to their home soil. Lavrov said Russia is ready to include new weapons in a future deal but he sees no prospect of that happening at the moment, “although we will never say that we slam the door and we end all contacts”.