WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats have warned that failing to extend the last remaining nuclear arms treaty with Russia would hurt U.S. national security and lead to an arms race, which could widen the already large federal deficit.
The Trump administration has said it wants an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) — which is set to expire in February 2021 — to include China. 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.
Senator Edward Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts) said the United States was unlikely to reach an agreement with China by the time the treaty expires, running the risk of its collapse.
“My concern — amongst other things — is that, if we mishandle this, we could wind up with a new nuclear arms race that could unnecessarily cost us trillions of dollars because we missed the opportunity to have a negotiated resolution of the issue first with the Russians,” Markey said.
New START limits deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs held by the United States and Russia to 1,550, a reduction of nearly 75 percent from the 6,000 cap set by START 1, according to the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based, nongovernmental organization.
The treaty also allows for the verification of warheads held by each side, something Markey called “a huge breakthrough” for nonproliferation.
Senator Jeff Merkley (Democrat-Oregon) complained that the Trump administration has not yet engaged in “serious negotiations” with China about its participation in the treaty.
China currently has 300 nuclear warheads and its program is in an infant stage of development compared to the United States and Russia, he said.
Talks with Beijing could take “many, many years” because of the “huge disparity” between the arsenals of the United States and Russia, on the one hand, and China on the other, he said.
“What we don’t want to see is China used as an excuse to blow up the existing or potential extension of an agreement with Russia that contributes to international security,” he added.