New START agreement reached to reduce US, Russian nuclear weapons
On Friday, the White House announced that negotiations with Russia on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) to cut both US and Russian deployed nuclear weapons stockpiles as well as delivery vehicles were complete. This treaty is an essential part of the Obama administration’s overall agenda to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons. With 95 percent of the world’s more than 23,000 nuclear weapons in their arsenals, it is important that the US and Russia complete this first round of nuclear weapons reductions smoothly and move on to negotiations for deeper reductions. The White House released some key facts about the new treaty:
- 1,550 warheads. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.
- This limit is 74% lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
- A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
- A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
- This limit is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty.
Verification and Transparency: The Treaty has a verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of the Treaty. Measures under the Treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring. To increase confidence and transparency, the Treaty also provides for the exchange of telemetry.
Treaty Terms: The Treaty’s duration will be ten years, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. The Parties may agree to extend the Treaty for a period of no more than five years.
The timing of the announcement couldn’t be better. With the first-ever Security Summit on preventing nuclear terrorism coming up in April and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May, the announcement provides some momentum going into these international conferences.
Now that the negotiations are finished, the presidents will need to meet and sign the treaty. Reports are saying the signing ceremony will be held April 8 in Prague, where President Obama first laid out his nuclear security agenda and emphasized the importance of working toward a nuclear weapons free world. Following the signing of the treaty, New START will need to be submitted to the US Senate and the Russian Duma for ratification. Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes, are needed for the treaty to be ratified and enter into force. While no senators have come out in direct opposition to the treaty, ratification is expected to be challenging. This Reuters article notes:
Some Republicans have warned Obama that they will not consider the START follow-on until the administration provides a modernization plan for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, required by recent legislation.
None of this means ratification won’t happen, but it could take a while, possibly beyond the November congressional elections in which the Republicans are expected to pick up seats.
“Given the bruising partisan fracas over healthcare reform, Republicans can be expected to demand several pounds of nuclear and missile defense modernization flesh in exchange for their approval of START,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Kerry, will be one of the key committees holding hearings on the new treaty. The ranking member of the committee is Republican Sen. Lugar, who has a long history of supporting arms control. Politico notes an important statement issued by Sen. Lugar following the announcement of the treaty:
Obama has found an important Republican ally in his effort to push for Senate ratification of the new nuclear arms treaty with Russia: Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for the swift ratification of the START treaty that will reduce both countries’ nuclear arsenals by about a third:
“I commend the U.S. and Russian delegations for months of dedicated effort. I look forward to the President’s submission of the new treaty, its protocols, annexes and all associated documents to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. I also look forward to working with Chairman Kerry to begin scheduling hearings and briefings for the Foreign Relations Committee so that we can work quickly to achieve ratification of the new treaty.”
What is important is not just that Lugar endorses the treaty, but that he calls for moving quickly on it. That signals cooperation on doing it as soon as possible, i.e., this year. The fact that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member and one of the most credible guys on nonproliferation in the Senate altogether is doing so is no doubt welcome news for the administration.
The ratification effort will take time and we will keep you updated on its progress and how you can help.