(CNSNews.com) – A month after Russia informed the U.S. that it is suspending participation in the last remaining nuclear pact between the two countries, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday that Moscow is now refusing to hand over data on its nuclear warheads, due at the end of this week.
In response, the U.S. will not provide Russia with data on its deployed strategic warheads, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said on Capitol Hill.
Plumb told a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces that the U.S. had pressed the Russians on the issue during an “interaction” on Monday.
“Every six months, under the [New START] treaty, we exchange data on kind of high-level [warhead] numbers. Russia responded that they will not be providing that information,” he said.
“And so, as a diplomatic countermeasure, the United States will not be providing that information back.”
Plumb said the Pentagon was seeking a balanced approach between “responding to Russia’s irresponsible behavior” and continuing to “demonstrate what we believe a responsible nuclear power’s actions should be.”
Plumb did not say why the U.S. had thought Russia may agree to cooperate even though it had suspended participation in New START. But at the State Department, principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said the U.S. had “offered to continue reciprocal implementation of this [data exchange] obligation,” notwithstanding the suspension.
Patel said Russia’s refusal to provide the data will be a further “violation” of the treaty, adding to its existing violations.
He described the Russian decision as “another example of the dangerous and reckless actions it’s taking as it relates to its responsibilities to New START.”
Patel also said the “countermeasures” – the U.S. decision to withhold its own data – were “intended to encourage Russia to return to compliance with the treaty.”
Under the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty, the U.S. and Russia agreed to restrict the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, the number of deployed missiles and bombers to 700 each, and the number of nuclear weapons launchers to 800 each.
In data updates due twice a year, each side must declare the number of total deployed warheads that count toward the 1,550 limit, the number of warheads on deployed delivery vehicles at each land and sea base subject to inspection, the total number of warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the total number of warheads on deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
In the most recent data update, six months ago, Russia reported that it has 1,549 warheads that count towards the 1,550 limit, while the U.S. declared 1,420.
According to the State Department, that Russian figure – just one below the limit – was closer to the limit of permitted warheads than in any previous Russian declaration since the treaty first took effect. (In the fall of 2020, by contrast, Russia had declared 1,447 deployed strategic warheads.)
In recent weeks Russia has said that, despite its suspension of participation in New START, it will continue to comply with the limitations set by the treaty. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the TASS news agency that it was doing so as a “gesture of goodwill.”
Also testifying before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday, Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, pointed to the nuclear weapons-related challenges posed by both Russia and China.
“For the first time in history the U.S. faces two major nuclear powers as strategic competitors,” he said. “China continues to expand, modernize, diversify their nuclear forces. It is the foremost country positioned to reshape its region and the international order to comply with its authoritarian purposes.”
“Meanwhile [Russian] President Putin has engaged in reckless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons, as Russia persists in their unprovoked attacks on Ukraine in an attempt to expand their power and influence.”
Bussiere said the command he oversees, which is responsible for the land- and air-based legs of the nuclear triad, is “the bedrock of our nation’s defense and the international assurance against these threats.”
“Fundamentally, we are the long-range strike force for the free world.”
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