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Editorial: Extension of U.S.-Russia arms treaty is 1st step toward new framework

It could be the first step toward creating an environment for nuclear disarmament and easing tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which possess 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads. It is hoped this will serve as a springboard to build a new framework for disarmament that includes China.


The leaders of the United States and Russia held telephone talks and agreed in principle to extend the New START arms control treaty for five years. It was decided before the expiration date of Feb. 5 that the only remaining nuclear disarmament treaty between the two nuclear superpowers would be kept in place.


New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) limits the number of deployments of long-range nuclear weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles based on the number of warheads and their means of delivery.


If it had expired, the two countries would have lost opportunities for reciprocal inspections and regular meetings, possibly leaving room for the nuclear arms race to intensify. It is of value that they averted the worst-case scenario.


However, this is not enough. A new arms control system that includes short-range tactical nuclear weapons and intermediate-range nuclear weapons needs to be created. The INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty between the United States and Russia expired in 2019.


The U.S.-Russia framework of nuclear disarmament inherited from the Cold War era has not been able to cope with the current security environment.


China has to be included.


China’s buildup of its conventional forces and advanced technology, including missile capabilities, has become a threat to neighboring countries. China should not be allowed to turn its back on disarmament with the excuse of having a drastically smaller number of nuclear warheads.


U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed support for the idea of a “no first strike” policy in which the United States will not use nuclear weapons unless it faces a nuclear attack. This is concerning for Japan.


If a “no first strike” policy is declared, when the United States or an ally such as Japan faces a large-scale attack by conventional weapons, biological and chemical weapons or cyber-attack, the United States will not retaliate with nuclear weapons.


With the sophistication and diversification of military technologies, the power of nonnuclear attacks has strengthened, and it has become possible to neutralize a command and communications system with a cyber-attack. The “no first strike” policy may lead to allowing North Korea, China and Russia to undertake invasive action, and it must be said that this is a dangerous policy.


Japan has to urge the Biden administration to maintain the reliability of the “nuclear umbrella,” through which the United States protects its allies with its military power, including nuclear capabilities.


The content of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force on Jan. 22, rejects the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. As no nuclear powers or U.S. allies are participating in the treaty, it lacks effectiveness. Many of the parties that ratified the treaty are not under actual nuclear threat.


First of all, the United States, Russia and China should work toward nuclear disarmament and ease their confrontations with nonnuclear countries. Japan must work as a bridge between them.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 30, 2021.

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