BRIEFER: Russia Signed on to Extend New START. What’s Next for Nuclear Arms Control?

By Natasha Bajema and Christine Parthemore 

As one of his early actions as President, Joe Biden pushed for a five-year extension of the U.S.-Russia New START Treaty. On Friday, Russian President Putin signed a law committing his nation to this extension. 

While a few steps are required to finalize the extension, this salvaging of the last remaining U.S.-Russian bilateral nuclear arms control agreement is excellent news. It also begs the question: what will come next in nuclear arms control?

Today, we release a briefer detailing one promising proposal: a nuclear-only successor to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that ended in 2018. Former NATO Deputy Director Rose Gottemoeller proposed this step in a Washington Quarterly article last September, and it inspired us to pull together a Track 1.5 discussion to explore it further. 

Our full proposal is detailed in the briefer. Some key elements of what we recommend include:

  • Focusing only on intermediate-range nuclear weapons, rather than including conventional forces
  • To begin, pursuing an agreement focused on cruise missiles with the intent of including intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles in the future
  • Starting soon with talks between the United States and Russia, aiming to set a basis for agreement that can expand into a “bilateral-plus” manner and include other countries later 
  • Seeking an outright ban on this type of nuclear weapons, rather than numerical limits that would be less straightforward to verify and may turn off other future signatories
  • Pursuing parallel strategic stability and technical exchanges, and being ready to agree to an agreement that includes additional nuclear weapons capabilities if the political will is there

As we outline, there are numerous mutual benefits to an arms control step focused on these specific nuclear capabilities. It is one potential element of a strategic framework first proposed by UK Rear Admiral John Gower. First outlined in 2019 and expanded on through the CSR blog here and here, this concept focuses on confidence-building and arms control steps that would make significant progress in reducing the risks of nuclear conflict, whether deliberately or by miscalculation, and prioritizes removing nuclear weapons from any tactical or operational consideration while maintaining strategic deterrence. 

Read the full briefer here


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