Don’t Let START Stop

December 05, 2019
James F. Collins, David Mathews, Vitaliy Naumkin and Yury Shafranik

Drawing upon six decades of constructive contacts between American and Russian citizens, we the participants in the latest Dartmouth Conference have decided to issue this urgent appeal to our governments, warning of the dangers of a new nuclear arms race and strongly urging both governments to act immediately to extend the New START Treaty beyond its February 2021 expiration.

The Dartmouth Conference, initiated with the support of President Eisenhower and Chairman Khrushchev, has met 147 times since 1960.  Under its auspices, experienced and thoughtful American and Russian citizens from the fields of diplomacy, military affairs, medicine, religion and others have gathered regularly to develop joint recommendations on the entire range of issues in our relationship. 

Given the deep concerns we share about the security of our peoples, for the first time in our history we are compelled by the urgency of the situation to issue this public appeal to our governments, founded on our view that the clear threat of an uncontrolled nuclear arms race has re-emerged with the collapse in recent years of key elements of the post-Cold War arms control architecture. 

For more than four decades, the strategic stability, safety and security of the United States, Russia and the world at large have been protected by this arms control regime.  Those agreements, and the continuing bilateral contacts they required and facilitated, also have helped to limit the risks of military clashes between the two countries.  We express our concern in this regard at the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev, and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev.  

Against this backdrop, we deem it absolutely essential that the two governments take immediate action to ensure the continuation of the final major nuclear arms agreement remaining in force between us: the New START Treaty.   Signed by the American and Russian Presidents in 2010, the Treaty continued the steep reductions of the nuclear arsenals on both sides that began in the 1980s, and sustained the inspection and data exchange mechanisms that verify compliance with Treaty obligations, thereby strengthening confidence and trust between our two governments and militaries.   The Treaty is scheduled to expire in February 2021, but includes a provision enabling a relatively simple five-year extension at any point before that date, if the two governments agree to do so.

The New START Treaty is a crucial element of the broader U.S.-Russian agenda of security issues, which includes among others the ongoing development of a new generation of technologically advanced conventional arms and delivery systems, and cyber warfare.   It is also clear that the strategic stability dialogue, which for decades has been a predominantly bilateral discussion between the United States and Russia, needs to be broadened to include other global nuclear powers.   This can form the basis of a more comprehensive global dialogue on strategic stability, one which the U.S. and Russia, as the two nuclear superpowers, must ultimately lead. 

But the immediate imperative is extension of the New START Treaty.   Its extension will provide a solid foundation upon which to base a broadened, global security dialogue, and will send a positive signal of the ability of Russia and the United States to reach agreement on issues of existential global and national importance, despite our significant differences in other areas.  We see this as a paramount moral obligation of both our governments before our own peoples, and the world at large.   We respectfully urge our governments to begin discussions immediately to this end.

James F. Collins, David Mathews, Vitaliy Naumkin and Yury Shafranik are co-chairs of the Dartmouth Conference. Amb. James F. Collins was the U.S. ambassador to Russia in 1997 to 2001 and is an expert on the former Soviet Union; David Mathews is the president of the Kettering Foundation; Dr. Vitaliy Naumkin is director of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences; and  Dr. Yury Shafranik was Minister of Energy of Russia in 1993-1996 and founder of International Group Soyuzneftegaz.

Photo by U.S. Air Force.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.