WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in requesting Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire formally conduct a National Intelligence Estimate on how Russia and China will react if the United States allows the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to expire in February 2021.
Since it entered into force in 2011, New START has significantly limited the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and provided transparency through onsite inspections and other means into Russia’s nuclear capabilities.
“If New START is allowed to dissolve and no replacement agreement arises, the United States will find itself in an environment in which Russia’s nuclear arsenal is entirely unconstrained,” wrote the senators. “We believe the negative consequences for the United States of abandoning New START, when Russia is in compliance with the treaty and is seeking to extend it, would be grave in the short-term and long-term.”
In addition to today’s NIE request, Menendez has previously requested the Congressional Budget Office examine the costs of New START’s expiration, which could force the United States to increase production of expensive nuclear warheads and related infrastructure.
A copy of today’s letter can be found here and below:
Dear Acting Director Maguire:
We write to you regarding the impact of New START on Russian and Chinese nuclear forces. This letter arises following the hearing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held on December 3rd, 2019 on the future of U.S. policy toward Russia.
As you are aware, the New START Treaty will expire, if it is not extended, in fifteen months. If New START is allowed to dissolve and no replacement agreement arises, the United States will find itself in an environment in which Russia’s nuclear arsenal is entirely unconstrained. We believe the negative consequences for the United States of abandoning New START, when Russia is in compliance with the treaty and is seeking to extend it, would be grave in the short-term and long-term.
The United States and Russia have been engaged in strategic arms control since the early 1970s. These interactions have profoundly affected the nuclear relations and overall relations between the two states. If the United States decided to completely abandon strategic arms agreements/treaties it would be a pivotal moment in U.S.-Russian relations. We are concerned that Moscow would interpret such a decision as a signal the United States was abandoning its nuclear calculus principle of strategic stability and instead was seeking a permanent strategic nuclear advantage over Russia. The Russian government will not accept this situation and the result could be open strategic nuclear competition between the United States and Russia. This has the potential to create a situation very much like the one that occurred during the Cold War which was characterized by a costly arms race and a series of nuclear showdowns.
We are also concerned about how China will be interpret a decision to abandon strategic arms control. China’s nuclear forces have remained a great deal smaller than U.S. and Russian forces despite the industrial capacity of China to build a much larger nuclear arsenal. In addition, U.S.-China relations have never been defined, as was the case with Russia, by nuclear competition. It is unclear to us if this current status-quo would continue if the arms control process between the United States and Russia completely broke down.
Considering the important issues surrounding international security in an unconstrained nuclear environment, we ask the DNI to provide a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on what would occur if New START was not extended. Specifically we would like a NIE to answer these specific questions:
· What changes in the short and long term will Russia make to its nuclear forces if New START expires in February 2021?
· In the DNI’s estimation, what conclusions about U.S. strategy will the Russian government and military draw from a decision by the United States not to extend New START?
· How will these conclusions shape Russian thinking about its nuclear forces and doctrine? How will they shape Russian thinking about overall U.S.-Russian relations?
· What impact will the abandonment of strategic arms have on Chinese nuclear forces and doctrine? How will this shape Chinese thinking about overall U.S.-Chinese relations?
· Is a future arms control agreement with China more or less likely if the United States fails to extend the New START agreement?
We look forward to your speedy response to the questions posed.