Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Senators Todd Young (Republican-Indiana) and Chris Van Hollen (Democrat-Maryland) on December 16 in asking what would occur if the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) were to expire in February 2021.
“If New START is allowed to dissolve and no replacement agreement arises, the United States will find itself in an environment in which Russia’s nuclear arsenal is entirely unconstrained,” the senators wrote. “We believe the negative consequences for the United States of abandoning New START, when Russia is in compliance with the treaty and is seeking to extend it, would be grave in the short-term and long-term.”
The administration of President Donald Trump has said it wants an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to include China.
However, some lawmakers don’t believe an agreement can be reached with China before the treaty expires.
“We are also concerned about how China will interpret a decision to abandon strategic arms control,” the three senators wrote. “In addition, U.S.-China relations have never been defined, as was the case with Russia, by nuclear competition. It is unclear to us if this current status-quo would continue if the arms control process between the United States and Russia completely broke down.”
Other lawmakers in the Senate fear that an arms race will ensue if the treaty isn’t extended, which could significantly widen an already bloated federal deficit.
The United States and Russia are the two signatories of the New START treaty that went into effect in 2011.
China, the third-largest nuclear power, is on track to double its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, Christopher Ford, assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on December 2. However, China’s arsenal would still be less than half of that of the United States and Russia.