The New START Agreement

  • photo courtesy of mag3737
    Apr 12, 2010

    Q1: Does the new START represent significant reductions in strategic nuclear forces?

    A1: Compared to the original START agreement, which removed 80 percent of strategic weapons then in service, the reductions under new START are modest. The new START limits deployed strategic warheads to a level of 1,550—down from levels of between 1,700 and 2,200 under the Moscow, or SORT, agreement. This is a 30 percent reduction in deployed nuclear warheads from SORT levels. Each country will be restricted to 800 launchers total, of which 700 can be deployed. Russia will not be affected by this limitation, given its 608 strategic delivery vehicles; the United States will have to trim down from 880—94 bombers, 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs, and 336 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)—a reduction of about 20 percent. The new START rules count one nuclear warhead per heavy bomber, although these bombers can be equipped to carry 16 to 20 warheads. This means that the United States retains the ability to “upload” warheads, and the Nuclear Posture Review states that preference will be given to uploading capacity on bomber and strategic submarines. There are no limits on non-deployed warheads. The United States and Russia have seven years to shrink their stockpiles.

    Q2: What made this treaty so difficult to negotiate?

    A2: In the context of arms negotiations, this was relatively quick. The SALT agreement took two and one-half years; the original START agreement took almost nine years. Given that the original START’s expiration loomed at the end of 2009, negotiators sought relatively modest gains with the intention of achieving deeper reductions in subsequent negotiations. Nonetheless, factors like the conflict with Georgia in 2008, differences on verification, and the planned missile defense systems in Eastern Europe slowed the talks somewhat.

    Q3: How does this contribute to President Obama’s disarmament and nonproliferation agenda?

    A3: Eliminating nuclear weapons doesn’t happen overnight or perhaps even in a few decades. Given that Russia and the United States hold 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, reducing those arsenals first makes eminent sense. In fact, conventional wisdom holds that U.S.-Russia reductions are a prerequisite for later multilateral reductions. They are also critical to shaping strategic stability, another prerequisite for eliminating all nuclear weapons. Finally, progress toward disarmament is critical in securing agreement to further strengthen the nonproliferation regime. By upholding commitments under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work toward disarmament, nuclear weapon states can more easily gain the cooperation of all states in combating proliferation.

    Sharon Squassoni is a senior fellow and director, and Jane Kaminski a researcher, in the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

    Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

    © 2010 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

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