The failures of the aging U.S. and British strategic nuclear deterrence force
contrasts sharply with a series of successful tests carried out by the Russian
counterparts, including the recent launches of a modern Bulava missile from a
new Borei-class submarine, a Yars ICBM equipped with an advanced Avangard
hypersonic warhead, and the successful test launch of a new nuclear-powered
Burevestnik cruise missile (the Russians are not immune to test failures,
either, as demonstrated by the failure of a Sarmat heavy ICBM earlier this
The fielding of a new generation of Russian strategic nuclear missiles places
additional pressure on both the U.S. and U.K. to push forward with expensive
modernization programs at a time when competition for funding has created
domestic political challenges in both nations.
Missing Arms Control Framework
Complicating things further is the lack of any viable arms control framework to
keep the rush to deploy new strategic systems by all three nations from
exploding into an arms race that could destabilize the strategic balance of
power that has existed for decades. Citing the incompatibility of strategic arms
control with the U.S. at a time when Washington's official policy is to
strategically defeat Russia, Moscow has suspended its participation in the New
The New START treaty expires in February 2026. While both Russia and the
U.S. had indicated an interest in pursuing a follow-on treaty that would
maintain the strategic equilibrium that existed under New START, the lack of any
ongoing contact between arms control negotiators from the U.S. and Russia makes
any chance of having a new treaty vehicle ready in time to replace New START
But the fact is that Russia appears unlikely to pursue such an option even if it
were doable. Based upon a series of discussions with senior Russian officials
who are knowledgeable about strategic nuclear policy, Russian officials are no
longer interested in trying to patch up an arms control relationship with the
U.S. that is founded in the legacy of the Cold War. The prevailing mood in
Russia is that the U.S. has, over the years, negotiated in bad faith, seeking to
use arms control as a vehicle to sustain U.S. strategic dominance as opposed to
nuclear parity and stability.
When treaties are negotiated that achieve a modicum of reciprocal benefit, such
as the anti-ballistic missile treaty and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF)
treaty, the U.S. withdraws once the treaty is deemed to be inconvenient to
U.S. strategic objectives, such as missile defense or responding to developments
outside the framework of the treaty (such as Chinese missile systems not covered
under the INF treaty.)
Russians believe that the strategic arms reduction treaties, individually and
collectively, were never designed to produce nuclear parity, but rather to
sustain U.S. nuclear superiority. The New START treaty has been singled out as
an example of U.S. duplicity, where the Obama administration kept issues
pertaining to missile reductions separate from missile defense, promising to
address each separately, only to walk away from missile defense once the missile
reduction treaty (New START) was ratified.
When New START expires in 2026, Russia is positioning itself to pursue its
current nuclear modernization programs free of any treaty constraints. This will
complicate the nuclear modernization efforts of both the U.S. and U.K., whose
follow-on capabilities, being developed at a cost of hundreds of billions of
dollars, will be inferior to the systems Russia is in the process of deploying.
Russia will not entertain any negotiating process which seeks to nullify its
strategic advantage, especially so long as the U.S. and its Western allies
embrace policies which paint Russia as a strategic enemy and seek the strategic
defeat of Russia.
If there is to be any hope for a revival of nuclear arms control between the
U.S. and Russia, it will not be through a vehicle which sustains the legacy of
the Cold War.
Instead, a new strategic relationship will have to emerge based upon modern
realities, where the U.S. either must spend huge amounts of money to reach
nuclear parity with Russia or negotiate from a position of strategic
The day and age of unquestioned American nuclear superiority has passed.
Whether U.S. policy makers can adjust to this new circumstance remains to be
seen. But any failure to do so will only trigger an inevitable arms race which
the U.S. cannot win, and for which the consequences of failure could be fatal to
the entire world.