WASHINGTON ― Ahead of a U.S.-Russia summit this month, one Republican lawmaker is proposing a higher bar for any new limits on America’s ballistic missile arsenal that the two sides might want to set.
Citing China’s expanding missile inventory, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., unveiled a nonbinding resolution Wednesday that would demand any restrictions on U.S. ballistic missiles also be imposed on Russia and China. The agreement should also be subject to consent from the Senate, the resolution said.
The measure comes nearly two years after President Donald Trump terminated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty over alleged Russian violations and unsuccessfully pursued a trilateral treaty with China, a rising nuclear power. the INF Treaty reduced the number of short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.
“Since the United States first entered the INF treaty with Russia, China has been developing and building an arsenal of ballistic missiles,” Daines said in a statement. “Any treaty moving forward must hold both Russia and China to the same standards, and it must be approved by the Senate according to the Constitution.”
Daines, whose state hosts 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos, plans to either seek unanimous consent or look to include his resolution in a related package in consultation with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While nonbonding, the resolution would make clear to the Biden administration the intent of the Senate, a spokesperson for Daines said.
Some Republicans criticized President Joe Biden earlier this year when he extended New START for five years, the last remaining U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control treaty. Signed in 2010, it limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.
China, with the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal after the U.S. and Russia, has about 200 warheads and plans to double them, according to a recent Pentagon report. The report said China aims to deploy close to 200 warheads on its land-based ICBMs, which can threaten the United States, and aims to expand its inventory of ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
While a number of Republicans supported Trump’s efforts to include China in arms control efforts, nonproliferation-minded lawmakers are likely to push back on the measure over its potential to stifle arms control talks between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Arms Control Association’s director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, Kingston Reif, called the resolution a “poison pill intended to prevent any reductions to the U.S. ICBM force” and argued instead that “bilateral limits would advance U.S. and global security.”
“Holding any further limits on U.S. and Russia strategic nuclear forces hostage to the inclusion of China’s much smaller nuclear arsenal is a recipe for failure. China has made it clear it will not agree to such a trilateral arrangement,” Reif said in a Wednesday statement. “The Trump administration tried a version of this maximalist approach and it failed.”
Reif predicted that Biden and Putin could use the summit to tee up future talks on options to bring all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons into the arms control process, as well as issues like reducing uncertainty about each other’s nuclear postures, clarifying factors that impact the nuclear balance and addressing nuclear escalation risks.
“It is also possible that the two presidents could launch more formal talks on further arms control measures beyond New START,” Reif said.
Going into the summit, the two sides are facing tensions over myriad issues, including Ukraine, cyber malfeasance, and the treatment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his supporters.
The Biden administration informed Russia last month it would not rejoin the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries before Trump withdrew from the pact.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.