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USSTRATCOM commander paints dour future for New START

27 February 2019
A rendering of Lockheed Martin’s expected offering for the US Army’s PrSM programme. PrSM is currently capped at 499 km to keep it from violating the INF treaty. Source: Lockheed Martin

With just over five months to go before Washington withdraws from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the top US general charged with nuclear weapons oversight painted a gloomy forecast for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) set to expire in 2021.

Air Force General John Hyten, the commander of US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 26 February to discuss his take on challenges poised by China and Russia and the likely disintegration of weapons' treaties with the latter nation.

"I want Russia in every treaty. I want Russia in the INF treaty. I want Russia in the New START treaty," the four-star general told lawmakers. "I support those treaties but they have to be parties to that treaty. It takes two to participate in a treaty."

In early February, the Trump administration formally announced its intention to withdraw from the INF treaty, an agreement between Russia and the US banning ground-based missiles that fly between 500 km and 5,500 km. Washington is demanding that Moscow destroy all of its 9M729 missiles, launchers, and associated equipment before August. Although the 9M729/SSC-8 capabilities remain unconfirmed, in December 2018 NATO allies also declared that Russia had developed and fielded the weapon, and violated the treaty.

"Russia has violated the INF treaty for five years now and despite our best efforts, we've not been able to bring them into compliance," Gen Hyten said, also mentioning New START.

"We want them to participate, but if they won't, we're tying our own hands to deal with the adversaries in the world including China, which is not part of that treaty," he later added.

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