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On Feb. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially suspended Moscow’s participation in the New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the United States. This development raises significant concerns about the prospect of a renewed nuclear arms race and even further deterioration of the relationship between the two nations, who jointly control 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

This development makes it far more likely that after New START expires in February 2026, there will be no agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The New START Treaty, which was signed in 2010 and then extended for five years by President Joe Biden in 2021, limits the number of the United States’ and Russia’s deployed strategic nuclear warheads, as well as the number of deployed strategic delivery systems. It also provides for on-site inspections and data exchanges to verify compliance and reduce the risks of miscommunication or miscalculation. When the treaty was extended, the United States and Russia issued a joint statement which reiterated that New START was in their national security interests. The two nations also reaffirmed their commitment to further negotiations and made clear that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

President Putin’s announcement that Russia is “suspending” implementation of the New START Treaty is a major violation of the treaty’s terms and not allowed for in the agreement. Russia’s suspension means that there will likely be no inspections of each country’s nuclear facilities, no commitments for bilateral nuclear negotiations between the two countries, and no data exchanges on arsenal deployments as required by the treaty. Russia has already prevented inspections and postponed bilateral talks due to the war in Ukraine, but Putin’s announcement adds a stamp of officiality to what was already Russia’s policy for some time. 

This development makes it far more likely that after New START expires in February 2026, there will be no agreement limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The Impact of the War in Ukraine on Arms Control and Nuclear Risk

The impact of the war in Ukraine on U.S.-Russian arms control cannot be overstated. Putin’s primary purpose in suspending the New START Treaty is to rattle his nuclear saber and apply pressure to Western leaders who support Ukraine. The move also pushes policymakers to begin planning for what Russia’s nuclear arsenal may look like without New START limits, and attempts to raise fears in the West that aiding Ukraine could lead to nuclear war.

In response to the announcement, the Biden administration has stated that it remains ready to expedite negotiations for a new nuclear arms control framework with Russia, but that Russia must agree to resume its full participation in the New START Treaty. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rightly reiterated that the United States and Russia have a responsibility to the rest of the world to act responsibly and pursue arms control negotiations. 

There is no winning a nuclear arms race. We learned as much over the course of the Cold War. And as we approach the one year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s New START decision is just another reminder that the longer this war goes on, the higher the risk is for the world as a whole. 

Nuclear weapons don’t make the world safer. They merely increase the risk of global catastrophe when nuclear weapon states engage in geopolitical conflicts. The Doomsday Clock, an annual measure of how close we are to human-caused apocalypse, is closer to midnight than it’s ever been. That’s in large part because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. 

The international community must renew its focus on finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Further, the United States should continue its commitment to nuclear weapon negotiations. There is still a path for Russia to return to compliance with New START, and the United States should keep it open. The threat of nuclear war is too great to ignore.

Allen Hester

Allen Hester

Legislative Representative, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Allen Hester leads FCNL’s Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending portfolio. He develops legislative strategies and lobbies Congress for reductions in Pentagon spending, strengthened arms control regimes, and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.