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The US Air Force tests an intercontinental ballistic missile, not an unloaded one, in February 2020

The United States and Russia open negotiations on Monday on their main nuclear deal, but many observers believe it is the beginning of the end.

The government of Donald Trump insisted in vain with joining China to the discussions to be held in Vienna on the New START; a treaty that limits the nuclear warheads of the United States and Russia.

The New START expires on February 5 and the deadline seems too tight to modernize that complex treaty, much less if you want to involve a third power.

Marshall Billingslea, the US envoy to the negotiations, pushed to include Beijing on the grounds that it can help make the dialogue constructive.

China, whose nuclear arsenal is expanding rapidly but remains far inferior to those of the United States and Russia, has refused to join the agreement amid multiple tensions with President Donald Trump.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of a Washington arms control center, said the insistence on including China shows that the United States is not acting seriously.

« The only conclusion I come to is that Marshall Billingslea and the Trump administration do not want to extend the New START and are betting on exposing China’s disinterest … as an excuse to allow the New START to expire, » he estimated.

Trump has already pulled the United States out of two treaties with Russia; one on overflights and one on medium-range nuclear weapons.

– Russian pessimism –

Russia has simply proposed to extend the New START to give more time to negotiate.

But Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said he was « quite pessimistic. » « For now, I don’t see any positive signs, » he said.

The New START is a legacy of the Cold War whose latest version was negotiated by President Barack Obama. The treaty allows the United States and Russia to deploy up to 1,550 nuclear warheads each and halves strategic nuclear launchers.

Russia, whose nuclear arsenal is a key power factor, said it wants to ensure parity with Washington.

He also wants a broader discussion on arms control; including threats by the United States to resume the nuclear tests it suspended nearly 30 years ago.

Billingslea said last month that the United States is not only concerned with Russia and China, and accused Moscow of modernizing thousands of « non-strategic » nuclear weapons that are not covered by the New START.

« They adopted a highly provocative nuclear doctrine that encompasses the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons, » said Billingslea. He emphasized that any new treaty must include the surveillance of more Russian weapons.

Russian analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said that Moscow still believes that the New START can ensure arms control and transparency.

« It creates a certain level of confidence, albeit modest, that currently exists, » he said. « But not to the degree that if the treaty disappears, Russia feels abandoned and cries, » he said.

– End of an era –

The blockade of the New START and the disappearance of other treaties « suggests that the era of bilateral arms control between Russia and the United States may be ending, » said Shannon Kile, an analyst at a Stockholm geopolitical research institute.

According to that institute, Russia has 6,375 nuclear warheads, including those that are not yet deployed. The United States, meanwhile, has 5,800 and China only 320.

However, US officials say China is expanding and needs to be transparent if it wants to be treated as a great power.

Song Zhongping, a defense analyst in Beijing, said 2,000 nuclear warheads would be an ideal arsenal for China; whose greatest incentive is to confront the United States.

« China will never participate in nuclear disarmament negotiations between Russia and the United States, » he said. « The talks on nuclear disarmament proposed by the United States are only a trap, » he added.

Russia responded to Washington’s idea of ​​adding China, proposing that US allies such as France and Great Britain participate, which respectively have 290 and 215 warheads, according to the Stockholm Institute.

Four other countries have much smaller arsenals: India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.