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A 'New START' to an arms race between the US and Russia?

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Russia has also been increasing its deployed strategic nuclear stockpile. Russian warhead numbers had already dipped below the New START limits earlier this year, but have now increased to 16 warheads above the treaty limits. While the increase is not large, the trajectory of change is discouraging: Instead of continuing the decline in warhead numbers, Russia is now evidently increasing its deployed strategic stockpile.

That more of the three-warhead RS-24 missiles are now being used – and fewer of the single warhead SS-25s – strongly suggests that this is a direct reaction to NATO missile defense, since the RS-24s were specifically developed in response to earlier missile-defense plans.

While New START is a modest treaty in terms of strategic warhead reductions, it represents an important accomplishment for Russia and the United States: It re-establishes the data exchange on strategic-weapon systems and resets the US-Russia nuclear arms control relationship by building in a degree of predictability. It regularly brings together experts from both nations and increases transparency and decreases the possibility of misunderstanding.

But the domestic bargains struck to ensure the passage of this modest treaty in the US were much more significant – and, ultimately, destabilizing – than its meager benefits.

Huge funding increases for America’s nuclear-weapons complex and “modernization” programs as well as the green-lighting of the flawed missile-defense system were offered as concessions to reluctant hawks to get their agreement to sign on the dotted line. Obama entered office not favoring the ill-tested missile defense system but changed his mind because he needed additional votes to pass New START.

And this missile-defense “time bomb” in New START is what is now going off.

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