On Jan. 26, President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin of Russia agreed to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years. The renewal of New START was far from a certainty. New START was negotiated between former President Barack Obama and former President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 and was a significant next step in reducing nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. While limiting each country to roughly 1,500 nuclear weapons may not sound like much of a limit, it is important to remember that at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union had between 30,000 and 40,000 nuclear weapons each. In roughly 30 years, the START treaties have dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons of the two countries by roughly 2,000%. That is beyond significant.
There were some serious concerns, however, as to whether or not New START would continue. After all, it is the only remaining nuclear treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) was ended by the Bush administration in 2002 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) was abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018 due to alleged Russian noncompliance and the rise of China’s capabilities. If New START, which was set to expire February 5, 2021, was not renewed, there would be no remaining nuclear treaty between the two largest nuclear powers. This could obviously result in yet another arms race.
Politics also seemingly stood in the way of this treaty’s renewal. There is certainly no love lost between the United States and Russia and between Biden and Putin. Biden made it clear that Russia would have to “pay a price” for the hacking and election interference they have conducted within the United States. Adding to the tension, was the recent situation regarding political dissident Alexei Navalny. Navalny was poisoned by the Russian government and upon his return to Russia after treatment, was arrested. Large protests have erupted in response and President Biden has made his opposition to the arrest and crackdown on protests clear. Yet, despite all of this, President Biden and President Putin were able to come to an agreement over the phone regarding New START and have extended it for five years.
The renewal of New START was far from certain and Presidents Biden and Putin deserve recognition for doing the right thing despite politics. The world is a safer and hopefully more peaceful place because of it.