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'Makes Us All Safer': Biden Admin Announces Five-Year Extension of New START Nuclear Treaty With Russia

"This welcome step is the start of our efforts to pursue effective arms control that lowers the risks of war and helps prevent arms races," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2021. (Photo: Carlos Barria/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2021. (Photo: Carlos Barria/AFP via Getty Images)

In a widely praised move, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday formally announced a five-year extension of the last existing nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, just two days before the pact was set to expire.

"Extending the New START treaty makes the United States, U.S. allies and partners, and the world safer," Blinken said. "An unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all."

"The treaty is an essential guardrail against nuclear arms-racing that imposes equal limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons."
—Derek Johnson, Global Zero

The New START treaty—the only remaining pact regulating the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world—caps the number of offensively deployed nuclear weapons that each country is allowed to have at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers.

"This is good news," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). "If New START had not been extended, it could have been the end of decades of arms control diplomacy between the U.S. and Russia."

Murphy added that former President Donald Trump "spent four years diddling on this issue," leaving President Joe Biden with just two weeks to negotiate an extension.

Biden reached out to Moscow on January 21 with an offer to extend the treaty, which was set to expire on February 5, as Common Dreams reported at the time.

The State Department's announcement of the five-year extension comes one week after the Russian parliament voted unanimously to extend the treaty, Politico reported Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill prolonging the agreement last Friday.

Derek Johnson, chief executive officer of Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, said in a statement last month that "the treaty is an essential guardrail against nuclear arms-racing that imposes equal limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons. Both countries are in full compliance with the agreement, and its intrusive verification provisions ensure neither side can cheat without detection."

"Unless you're a defense contractor," Johnson added, "this is good news for everyone."

Blinken called the extension a "welcome step" and "the start of our efforts to pursue effective arms control that lowers the risks of war and helps prevent arms races." 

The U.S. "will also pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China's modern and growing nuclear arsenal," the secretary of state added. "The United States is committed to effective arms control that enhances stability, transparency, and predictability while reducing the risks of costly, dangerous arms races."

Acknowledging that the extension of the New START treaty "makes us all safer," Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for policy and political affairs at Peace Action, called on the Biden administration to go further by reducing national spending on nuclear weapons, which increased under Trump.

"We all wonder, will the new administration's budget reduce Trump's skyrocketing nuclear weapons spending at amounts that could fund several Departments of State?" Martin asked in a statement last month.

In a tweet last week, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) welcomed the fact that the treaty would be extended and added, "We now need more bold action to remove the 'nuclear sword of Damocles' that hangs over us all."

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