US claim Russia ‘probably’ running secret nuke tests as Cold War treaty expires
Jan. 23, 2020
THE US claimed that Russia is "probably" running secret underground low yield nuke tests as a Cold War treaty aimed at reducing and limiting the development of strategic offensive arms is set to expire next year.
START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was a bilateral agreement between the US and the Soviet Union signed four months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the time it was the largest and most complex arms control treaty in history and saw the removal of around 80 percent of strategic nuclear weapons after banning each nation from possessing more than 6,000 nuclear warheads and a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The treaty expired on December 5, 2009, and was replaced by the New START treaty that capped the number to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads that will last until February 5, 2021.
There is an option to extend the treaty for another five years, but Donald Trump is reportedly playing hardball, as Washington suspects Moscow is already in violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), to develop new nuclear weapons.
This is an international organisation that prevents nuclear test explosions, but the head of the US defence intelligence agency has claimed Russia may be carrying out “low yield” tests in a remote Arctic facility.
Lieutenant Robert P. Ashley said in May 2019: “Russia’s development of new warhead designs and overall stockpile management efforts have been enhanced by its approach to nuclear testing.
“The US believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield standard’."
The US believes that Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium
Lieutenant Robert P. Ashley
Officials have said the allegations refer to a facility in a remote Arctic chain of islands called Novaya Zemlya, which was used by the Soviet Union for nuclear testing as well.
Asked twice whether the US knew Russia was carrying out low-yield nuclear testing, however, Lt Ashley would not go beyond saying: “They have the capability to do it.”
Russia insists it is compliance with all test ban treaties.
Pavel Podvig, an independent analyst who runs the Russian Nuclear Forces research project in Geneva, said he was “extremely sceptical” about the US claims.
He said in May: “It’s not a secret that Russia keeps the Novaya Zemlya site in readiness to resume tests, but that’s what the US official policy is too.
“To make a jump from ‘have the facilities that allow testing’ to ‘probably testing’ is very irresponsible.”
Nuclear watchdogs at CTBTO said its international monitoring system (IMS) was operating normally and had detected nothing unusual.
A spokesman said: “The CTBTO has full confidence in the ability of the IMS to detect nuclear test explosions according to the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
“The CTBT verification regime is already working and effective, with over 300 monitoring stations deployed around the world and sending data.”
In early December, Vladimir Putin stated that he was ready to extend the New START treaty without preconditions and negotiations.
Russia has also confirmed the treaty will cover two new strategic delivery systems that are of great concern to Washington, the new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile and hypersonic glide vehicle.
Mr Trump is reportedly hoping to scrap the New START treaty for a huge new agreement including China.
But in the process, he risks Mr Putin walking away from the table and waging the start of a new nuclear arms race that could surpass that of the Cold War era.
The tension comes amid an eerily similar situation we have already seen in the Trump administration after the US withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was first agreed between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987 after similar claims.
The treaty banned either nation possessing missiles with range capabilities between 310 and 3,400 miles.
Washington threatened to leave after accusing Russia of violating the terms by deploying a new type of cruise weapon – the 9M729 missile – known to NATO as SSC-8.
However, Mr Putin refuted these claims on numerous occasions.
Despite this and under continuing growth of China's missile forces, Mr Trump formally withdrew the US from the treaty on August 2, 2019, setting a worrying precedent.
After the US withdrew from the treaty, multiple sources stated that it would allow the country to more effectively counter China's missile forces, which it favours over air support.
On August 18, 2019, the US then conducted a test firing of a missile that would not have been allowed under the treaty.
The Pentagon said that the data collected and lessons learned from this test would inform its future development of intermediate-range capabilities while the Russian foreign ministry said that it was a cause for regret, and accused the US of escalating military tensions.