02/04/2021, 15.01
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With an eye on China, US and Russia agree to limit nuclear weapons

by Emanuele Scimia

The New START treaty is extended for another five years. It reduces the number of nuclear warheads to 1,500. Russian expert: China has 430 nuclear weapons, its position is understandable. The Kremlin will not put pressure on the Chinese: they need it to counterbalance the United States and the European Union. The failure of non-proliferation efforts.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The United States and Russia have agreed to continue to limit their nuclear arsenals. Yesterday Washington and Moscow renewed the New START Treaty for a further five years. The nuclear weapons reduction deal was set to expire tomorrow. New US president Joe Biden has agreed on the extension with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. China refuses to join in unless Moscow and Washington agree to nuclear parity.

Former US President Donald Trump had conditioned renewal of the New START agreement to Beijing’s inclusion. The new White House administration has dropped the precondition, but also specified that it will work to pursue “arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”

China claims that it has a small arsenal, incomparable to with respective potentials of Russia and the US. Beijing has stated that it is willing to enter into such an agreement only when Moscow and Washington have downgraded their arsenals approximately to China’s level.

According to Alexander Savelyev, chief research fellow at the Moscow-based Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, China's position is understandable from a political, military and strategic point of view. However, the Russian expert, who participated as an adviser in the START-1 negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991, observes that from a practical viewpoint it is different. He points out that to achieve nuclear parity between the three powers, Washington and Moscow would have to decrease their arsenal by 90%.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the US has 3,800 deployed and non-deployed nuclear warheads, and Russia 4,312. China has 320 non-deployed nukes.

Under the New START pact, the US and Russia pledge to limit their arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers. After Trump decided on the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in February 2019, the New START is the last arms deal still in force between the two powers.

Russia hopes that all nuclear-armed states will join an enlarged New START. However, Russian authorities have said several times that they do not intend to put pressure on Beijing. The Kremlin’s relations with the US and the European Union are tenuous. Its strategic partnership with the Asian giant serves it to counter-balance the hostility of the Western bloc.

Savelyev does not believe that the Chinese will enter into a multilateral agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons, at least for the time being. In addition to fuelling further tensions with the US, the Chinese stance is a further thorn in the side to the wider efforts of the international community to rein in atomic proliferation. On January 22, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force, but the non-adhesion of all countries with nuclear weapons renders it useless.

Without the participation of nuclear powers in non-proliferation efforts, world security will continue to be based on the "balance of terror", a risky doctrine in the face of technological advancement of military capabilities. The development of hypersonic weapons and armed drones driven by artificial intelligence systems make nuclear weapons even more lethal and operational in more restricted situations.

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