US willing to discuss nuclear weapons control with Russia 'without conditions'
The United States is ready to talk to Russia about a future nuclear arms control framework without preconditions, a top White House official said on Friday, even as it takes countermeasures in response to the Kremlin's decision to suspend the two countries' last nuclear arms control treaty.
The Biden administration's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association that the US is committed to adhering to the New START treaty provided that Russia also does.
According to Sullivan, Washington wants to open a dialogue on a new framework for managing nuclear risks once the treaty expires in February 2026.
"It is in neither of our countries' interest to embark on opening the competition in the strategic nuclear forces," Sullivan said. "And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post 2026" agreement.
He added that the US is willing to stick to the treaty's warhead caps until the pact ends.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in February he was suspending Russia's cooperation with New START, which provides for inspections of the two country's nuclear warhead and missile inspections.
The treaty, which was signed by then-Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers and provides for on-site inspections to verify compliance.
The move came one year into Moscow's attack on Ukraine, in the course of which the safety of key nuclear sites has been placed in severe jeopardy.
However, Russia has also said it will respect the treaty's caps on weapons numbers.
The White House push on Moscow on nuclear arms control comes the day after the administration announced new measures to respond to Russia's suspending its participation in the treaty.
The State Department said it no longer would notify Russia of any updates on the status or location of "treaty-accountable items", such as missiles and launchers, while revoking US visas issued to Russian treaty inspectors and aircrew members and ceasing to provide telemetric information on missile test launches.
The US and Russia already stopped sharing biannual nuclear weapons data required by the treaty earlier this year.
The inspections have been dormant since 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions on resuming them were supposed to have taken place in November 2022, but Russia abruptly called them off, citing American support for Ukraine.
The China factor
Figuring out details about a post-2026 framework will be complicated not only by US-Russia tensions, but by China's growing nuclear arsenal.
According to an annual survey from the Federation of American Scientists, China now has about 410 nuclear warheads. But in November, the Pentagon estimated China's warhead count could grow to 1,000 by the end of the decade – and to 1,500 by around 2035.
This mounting stockpile will need to be addressed if the US is to calibrate its nuclear force posture for the upcoming decades, but Sullivan said today there are few signs of Chinese engagement with the international nonproliferation imperative.
"Simply put, we have not yet seen the willingness from (China) to compartmentalise strategic stability from broader issues in the relationship," Sullivan said.
US-China relations have been badly strained in recent years. Among the various incidents the shooting down a Chinese spy balloon this year after it crossed the continental US, tensions about the status of Taiwan, and American export controls aimed at limiting China's advanced semiconductor sector.