Russia Pulled Out of Its Nuclear Transparency Pact With the United States. The Biden Administration Still Shares Sensitive Data.

'This is bizarre behavior, and a reckless threat to American national security'

Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. president Joe Biden / Getty Images
May 31, 2023

The Biden administration has resumed the public disclosure of sensitive nuclear data as part of a treaty with Russia that Moscow pulled out of months ago, providing the country with critical information about America's offensive capabilities at a time when Russian president Vladimir Putin is threatening to launch an atomic war in Europe.

The United States earlier this month began publishing—after a two-month pause—detailed information about its offensive nuclear capabilities as part of the New START treaty, an arms transparency pact that Moscow stopped implementing in February amid its war in Ukraine. Defense experts warn that pulling out of New START is part of Putin's plan to bolster a nuclear Russia—and lawmakers share their concerns.

"In the interest of transparency and the U.S. commitment to responsible nuclear conduct, the United States is voluntarily releasing aggregate data for its nuclear forces," the State Department said in a May 12 announcement that included detailed information about America's ballistic missiles, nuclear warheads, and heavy bombers.

The data were released just days before Moscow deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a major escalation potentially made in response to the new information about America's capabilities. Defense hawks on Capitol Hill said they are baffled by the Biden administration's decision to publish sensitive nuclear data at a time when Russia is not only hiding its own capabilities but also threatening to start an atomic war in Eastern Europe.

"The U.S. is making concessions while our adversaries and enemies proliferate their nuclear arsenals," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Worse, the Biden administration seems to be proud about it. This is bizarre behavior, and a reckless threat to American national security."

The State Department's data dump is only the latest foreign policy issue to land the White House in the hot seat. Members of the House China Committee raised concerns earlier this month that the United States is ill-equipped to combat China, and a government watchdog concluded that America's missile defense system is in tatters.

Cruz says the Biden administration's commitment to implementing New START is on par with its dedication to implementing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, even as Tehran "is brazenly violating" the agreement.

The State Department says its voluntary release of sensitive U.S. military data is "especially important in periods of high tension."

But Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Biden administration's commitment to New START will not moderate a leader like Putin.

"Transparency might sound good in theory, but exposing secrets isn't going to moderate Putin," Rubin said. "To the contrary, it will only help him plan as he seeks his own nuclear dominance."

This kind of thinking, Rubin said, suggests that "it's time for a serious purge of our national security and diplomatic bureaucracy. No one should ever gain decision-making authority absent any experience in the real world, divorced from the government teat."

Moscow said last week that it is moving forward with the deployment of tactical nukes in Belarus, its first movement of these weapons outside its borders since 1991.

Russia is believed to have around 2,000 operable tactical warheads at its disposal, while the United States has just 200, half of which are based in Europe, according to Reuters. While Putin has vowed to use nuclear weapons as part of its offensive operations in Ukraine, American officials reportedly believe he is bluffing.

Defense experts, however, say Putin is increasingly relying on nuclear blackmail to achieve victory in Ukraine.

"Suspending New START is just the latest in a larger trend of Russia's increasing reliance on nuclear weapons," Heather Williams, an atomic weapons analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a recent policy analysis. "Vladimir Putin is telling the world who he is. He is a nuclear bully, attempting to use nuclear weapons to deter conventional Western support and intervention."

The release of the New START data could also prove useful to China, North Korea, and Iran, which are seeking to counter America's nuclear forces while growing their own.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said the administration's continued adherence to the New START treaty is "idiotic and puts our nationals security at risk."

"It’s foolish to believe that continuing to send data to Russia on U.S. nuclear forces will somehow convince Putin to comply with a treaty he effectively abandoned," Rogers said. "All the Biden administration is doing is sharing sensitive U.S. national security data with an adversary—while receiving nothing in return."