US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien has stated that the White House views Putin's offer of a one-year extension of the New START Treaty without any preconditions as a "non-starter". O'Brien said he instead hoped that Moscow would take Washington's earlier offer to extend the treaty for one year, but on the condition of freezing the number of nuclear warheads.
(2/3) This would have been a win for both sides, and we believed the Russians were willing to accept this proposal when I met with my counterpart in Geneva. President Putin’s response today to extend New START without freezing nuclear warheads is a non-starter.— NSC (@WHNSC) October 16, 2020
The national security adviser went on to claim that the US remains "serious" about maintaining the arms control regime, thereby keeping the world safe. He expressed hope that Moscow will change its mind and take the US offer "before a costly arms race ensues".
At the same time, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires on 5 February 2021, should be a priority for Russia and the US. A UN spokesperson said the global body hopes the two states will find "a path forward" to keep the accord alive.
One Year to Negotiate Proper Extension
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin made a counteroffer to the US on 16 October, suggesting prolonging the New START for one year without any preconditions in order to get enough time to negotiate a longer extension to the critical and last remaining nuclear arms reduction accord. So far, the talks on a long-term extension of the treaty have been unsuccessful.
The president pointed out that Russia possesses new types of weapons that the US doesn't have, but that it is still interested in preserving the treaty. Putin noted that the New START has served its purpose without fail and said that it would be deplorable to let it go down the drain, at least without an alternative to replace it. Russia earlier suggested it could include two out five of its new cutting-edge weapons in the renewed START accord with the US as a gesture of good will towards Washington.
The issue of prolonging the New START first arose back in 2019, after the US withdrew from another important arms control accord – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – under the pretext of unfounded accusations against Moscow. Washington claimed that Russia had developed a missile operating in the forbidden range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometres, but refused to consider evidence to the contrary. Around a month after leaving the accord, the US presented its first missile operating in the previously forbidden range.
Both during the course of talks to preserve the INF Treaty and the discussions on prolonging the New START, the US expressed its desire to include China in the two accords. However, Beijing expressed no interest in joining either and noted that in regards to possible inclusion in the New START, its nuclear arsenal is far from the size of the US or Russia’s.