Russia Threatens to Suspend Inspections Under New START: What’s Next for the U.S.

© Ben Pelosse/QMI Agency/

The Obama Administration’s mismanagement of relations with Russia failed to prevent Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, in response to the Administration’s plans to sanction the Russians responsible for the invasion, Moscow is threatening to suspend inspections of its nuclear forces—inspections that are mandated by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). For once, however, Moscow’s belligerence might actually advance America’s national interests.

New START is flawed beyond repair, and places Washington at a considerable geopolitical disadvantage. Therefore, the U.S. should withdraw from the treaty immediately—regardless of whether Russia continues with the mandated inspections. In fact, Representatives Trent Franks (R–AZ) and Doug Lamborn (R–CO) make a similar case in a recent Moscow Times op-ed.

For a number of reasons, the New START inspections are of scant relevance to the United States:

  1. Washington’s information on Russia’s strategic build-up comes from America’s existing national technical means and intelligence means; New START provides little new data.
  2. New START accords Russia several “special” inspections that involve only the examination of U.S. sites; and
  3. The U.S. is responsible for the vast majority of New START strategic nuclear weapons reductions, while Russia is allowed to increase its own nuclear forces.

In fact, shortly after New START entered into force, Russia announced the most extensive nuclear weapons modernization program since the end of the Cold War.  Meanwhile, the U.S. nuclear weapons infrastructure continues to atrophy.

Russia has also used New START to increase the pressure, and political costs, of U.S. missile-defense deployments to Europe. Such deployments are vital to U.S. allies and forward-deployed troops, especially given the advancing Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear threat.

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New START aside, Russia is already in violation of its previous arms-control obligations, including the Conventional Forces Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The latter agreement is particularly concerning because intermediate nuclear forces would give Russia additional leverage in the European theatre. By invading Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated its discontent with the status quo in Europe and its willingness to challenge it. Time and time again, Russia has shown itself to be a poor arms-control partner: it should be treated as such.

The U.S. has options to address Russian arms control violations and aggression in Ukraine. It should stop any further unilateral nuclear reduction and withdraw from the Conventional Forces Treaty. America should modernize its nuclear arsenal, for example, by providing funding for the B-61 short-range nuclear weapon life-extension program and the Long-Range Standoff missile program. It must maintain dual-capability for the F-35 fighter and certify bombers for nuclear delivery as soon as possible. Finally, the U.S. should strengthen cooperation with its allies and stop withdrawing its troops from Europe.

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