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The New Strategic Arms Treaty (New START) between the US and Russia is set to expire in February 2021, unless the two nations decide to extend the agreement. But Donald Trump has been reluctant to continue the treaty without the participation of China.
Stephen Herzog, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow with the Harvard University Project on Managing the Atom, told Express.co.uk the prospect of an extension looks bleak.
The treaty limits the US and Russia to a total number of 1,550 nuclear warheads and allows for on-site intrusive inspections.
The two nations have been reducing their nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War.
Mr Herzog said: “US and Russian inspectors are regularly on each other’s military sites to ensure compliance with the treaty and exchanges of technical data are frequent.
“If New START is allowed to expire, there will be no arms control agreement limiting the US and Russian nuclear arsenals.”
Mr Herzog, who is a former US Department of Energy arms control specialist, explained this would be remarkable because it will be the first time there are no arms controls between the US and Russia for nearly five decades.
There will also be no way for either side to verify the size and compositions of the other’s nuclear arsenal.
Mr Herzog warned that this should be avoided as the US and Russia have over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
He added: “Trump’s reluctance to extend New START doesn’t make a lot of sense unless he is interested in expanding the US nuclear arsenal.
“And it isn’t clear just how many weapons will be enough for Trump if he goes down that road.”
China has a much smaller nuclear arsenal than the US or Russia with around 300 nuclear weapons.
This is only less than one-fifth of the amount allowed under the New START agreement.
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China is expanding its nuclear powers to match the US and Russia through land, sea and air-based capabilities.
But Mr Herzog said: “The Trump administration is now following a pattern of logic in economic and security arrangements that can roughly be equated to saying ‘What about China?’”
He explained that this logic is used by Mr Trump in everything from nuclear weapons, to free trade, to the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He added: “The Trump administration has made it clear that they will not extend New START without Chinese participation.
“Yet, Chinese officials have stated that they will ‘never’ participate in negotiations to join the treaty due to their smaller arsenal and defensive nuclear posture.”
Mr Herzog said the “China card” appears to be a distraction from meaningful nuclear talks between the US and Russia.
Chinese nuclear weapons could increase if New START is not extended which could also threaten the country’s tensions with India.
Mr Herzog said: “The implication is that a Chinese nuclear weapons build-up if New START expires, and the US and Russia expand their arsenals, will exacerbate pressures on Indian leaders.
He added: “If the US and Russia continue to limit their nuclear arsenals through New START and follow-on treaties, this should reduce the risk of Chinese nuclear expansion.
“But finger-pointing and ‘What about China?’ logic are already having the opposite effect.”
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