America is risking a nuclear “free-for-all” by delaying an extension of an arms control treaty with Russia that's due to lapse next year, according to a former White House National Security Council member.
In remarks to Newsweek, Lynn Rusten, who had been senior director for arms control and nonproliferation for the NSC, the delay represents a major security risk.
The New START accord capped the number of accountable deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550 for both the United States and Russia. It also limited the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers used for nuclear missions to 700.
The United States, however, has voiced concerns that Russia is developing weapons that may one day violate the treaty. Rusten told Newsweek there's no basis for the worries – and the alternative is far worse.
Extending the accord means "an environment where we're maintaining limits and verification on the other country that has, with us, 90% of nuclear weapons in the world," she told the news outlet. The alternative "in the near term it is a free-for-all.It's hard to argue why a free-for-all is in our interest,” she added.
According to Rusten, letting the accord lapse would ultimately mean for the first time in 70 years, there would be "no mutual regulation between the United States and Russia on their massive nuclear arsenals.”
Some administration officials, she suggested, think "that there's some added leverage that they're getting by delaying, but I would say I think that's unwise."
A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek the United States "remains committed to effective arms control that advances U.S., Allied, and partner security, is verifiable and enforceable, and includes partners that comply responsibly with their obligations."
The spokesperson said the administration is "taking into account the threats we face today, the changing security environment, and Russia's statement that it has no preconditions to extension" while considering the extension.
The Trump administration has also suggested it might like to set New START aside in favor of a deal that also includes China. Rusten dismissed that scenario, telling Newsweek, "Most experts understand that it's not a realistic short-term prospect.”
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