US and Russia to discuss nuclear arms control

Representatives from the US and Russia will meet in Vienna today for talks on the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms

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Photo: Clayton Wear/US air force/AFP via Getty Images

Representatives from the US and Russia will meet in Vienna today for talks on the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control treaty. Their task is to decide whether to renegotiate limitations on nuclear armaments under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in 2010. The treaty is due to expire in February 2021.

President Donald Trump’s administration wants to include China in the talks, but Beijing has thus far refused. Moscow and Washington possess 91% of nuclear warheads globally between them; given this disparity, Beijing does not see a need to join. Moscow supports Beijing joining the agreement, but has not declared its neighbour’s non-attendance as a deal-breaker.

Expect difficulty in reaching a new agreement. American insistence on Russia including all nuclear weapons in any new deal, not just strategic weapons (i.e. long-range warheads), is likely to meet resistance. Moscow claims a lack of time to renegotiate a replacement treaty, and therefore favours renewing the current treaty for five years.

However, given that Trump has pulled the US out of other arms control treaties with Russia in the past year, there is an even chance that Trump may let the treaty lapse and blame the failure on China’s refusal to join the talks. This plays to a Trump narrative that, similar to the lack of transparency in economic and pandemic matters, China is concealing its true nuclear stockpile build-up.

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