New START: To succeed, plan for failure

New START: To succeed, plan for failure
White House photo by Pete Souza

New START: To succeed, plan for failure

By Mr John Erath, Former Government Fellow and current Digital Fellow, Global Fellowship Initiative, GCSP

Sometimes, the best way to succeed is to be prepared to fail. This is particularly true in the world of diplomacy, and even more so of arms control.

Over the past year, there has been concern in the arms control community about the future of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), sometimes referred to as, if somewhat misleadingly, the last remaining arms control agreement. Such concern is understandable. Without New START’s limits, there would no longer be a legal obstacle keeping the United States and Russia from following China’s lead and dramatically increasing—their nuclear arsenals.

With New START set to expire in 2026, the options seem clear: Either both countries find a way to extend the treaty’s limits, or they should prepare for a new and ruinously expensive arms race. Given the difficulty of securing congressional approval on anything, some experts have suggested informal arrangements to preserve treaty limits on nuclear numbers. Although it would seem clearly in the interests of both New START parties—as well as China’s—to avoid unconstrained buildups of nuclear arsenals, preserving the treaty’s limits requires more than Washington’s willingness to do so. New START is bilateral, and its fate will depend at least as much on Russia’s decisions and actions as anything happening inside the Beltway. And it won’t be easy.

John Erath returns to GCSP after a two-year assignment on the U.S. National Security Council, where he was responsible for European issues. In this capacity, he focused on cooperation with NATO and the EU, as well as heading White House efforts to improve stability in the Balkans. He has thirty years of diplomatic experience and who began his career in the 1990s working in what was then Yugoslavia. He was later seconded to the OSCE in Kosovo and the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo. Subsequently, he covered the Balkans at the U.S. Mission the NATO and for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Mr. Erath also has extensive experience in arms control and non-proliferation, having worked on the delegation for adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and led the U.S. Delegation to the Wassenaar Arrangement General Working Group. He has also held diplomatic positions in India and Brazil. Most recently, he headed the political-military affairs office at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. Mr. Erath is a graduate of Georgetown University and has a master’s degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington. He is the author of several articles on military history and three plays. He is married to Tara Erath, State Department Chair at the Eisenhower School of the National Defense University, and has two children.

Disclaimer: This publication was originally published on Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website. The views, information and opinions expressed in this publication are the author’s/authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of the GCSP or the members of its Foundation Council. The GCSP is not responsible for the accuracy of the information