The United States declared in September that any discussion of a new nuclear arms control arrangement to follow on from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) depends on the resumption of the treaty’s on location inspections of nuclear-related facilities, which Russia has obstructed.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wesley Baptiste (L) and Airman Daniel Peryer play out a “simulated missile reduction” as per the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2011. Such inspections, and the treaty itself, are presently at risk because of Russia’s failure to resume the inspections in the midst of its conflict on Ukraine. (Photograph credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito)U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wesley Baptiste (L) and Airman Daniel Peryer play out a “simulated missile reduction” as per the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2011. Such inspections, and the treaty itself, are currently at risk because of Russia’s failure to resume the inspections in the midst of its conflict on Ukraine. (Photograph credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito)The two countries consented to suspend inspections in Walk 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Although talks had been continuous since last year to resume these inspections, Russia undermined such efforts and further broadened the pause with its decision in August to preclude inspections of its relevant facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.)
“The first step is to resume inspections” under New START, “and we have been attempting to work with the Russians toward that end,” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said on Sept. 1. New START is the last excess U.S.- Russian nuclear arms control arrangement and will lapse in February 2026. Washington paused arms control talks with Moscow following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. (See ACT, Walk 2022.)
Russia claimed that its flight team and inspectors have confronted difficulties in acquiring the necessary documents, such as visas, to complete inspections in the United States, which has imposed, alongside U.S. allies, sanctions and restrictions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.
But U.S. State Division spokesperson Ned Cost said on Aug. 16 that “U.S. sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s conflict against Ukraine are fully compatible” with New START and “don’t keep Russian inspectors from conducting treaty inspections in the United States.” Another State Division spokesperson later added, “The United States has and will continue to draw in Russia on the resumption of inspections through diplomatic channels,” such as the Bilateral Consultative Commission established by the treaty to address implementation and check concerns.
Although the pause of on location inspections is unsettling, U.S. officials continue to assess that Russia does not seem poised to imminently employ nuclear weapons.
Since the outset of the conflict, the United States has consistently observed Russian nuclear forces for any signs of approaching use, thus far seeing none.
Against this setting of rising tensions, the United States pushed forward with a long-planned test of an unarmed nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Minuteman III, on Sept. 7. The test ICBM conveyed three reemergence vehicles and traveled 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California to a test range at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
In Spring, the Pentagon delayed and then, at that point, cancelled an ICBM test so as not to worsen tensions in the midst of the Russian conflict in Ukraine. It also delayed by two weeks an ICBM test in August due to uplifted tensions with China over Taiwan. (See ACT, April and September 2022.)
Meanwhile, Moscow announced in mid-August the deployment of Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles on Mikoyan MiG-31 warrior jets based at the Chkalovsk Air Base in the Kaliningrad enclave as a component of “additional measures of strategic prevention,” as per the Russian Defense Ministry. Although the deployed missiles are conventional, the Kinzhal is thought to be nuclear capable.
Throughout the conflict, Russia has used Kinzhal missiles to strike targets in Ukraine in Spring and possibly in May, leading a U.S. defense official to estimate that Russian forces have employed about twelve hypersonic missiles altogether. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)
“We have deployed [the Kinzhal system] three times during the special military activity” in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an Aug. 31 meeting with Russian media, “and three times it showed brilliant characteristics.” U.S. defense officials, in contrast, have asserted that the Russian use of hypersonic weapons has not ended up being a game-changing decision in the conflict.
Russia declared that the United States would turn into involved with the conflict in the event that it “cross[ed] the red line” by supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles, such as the Military Tactical Missile System that has a scope of up to 300 kilometers.
“We reserve the option to safeguard the Russian region by all available means,” Maria Zakharova, Russian Unfamiliar Ministry spokesperson, said in a Sept. 15 preparation.