According to media reports and Administration statements, U.S. and Russian teams are reaching the final stages of negotiating a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Since Presidents Obama and Medvedev made their joint announcement in April to pursue further reductions in strategic arms, U.S. and Russian negotiating teams have held nine formal rounds of talks. Although the teams were unable to complete negotiations before the expiration of START on December 5, analysts expect that a new treaty will be secured at the conclusion of the current round of discussions, which began in late January. When the deal is completed, Presidents Obama and Medvedev will meet to sign the treaty and it then will be sent to the U.S. Senate and the Russian parliament to seek advice and consent for its ratification.
The following report provides general background on the START and the START follow-on treaty; outlines the clear national security imperatives for ratifying a new, verifiable nuclear arms agreement with Russia; and underscores the strong bipartisan support for a new treaty.
Background to START
The United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on July 31, 1991. The agreement required the two parties to reduce their deployed strategic (long-range) nuclear-capable arsenals to 1,600 delivery vehicles (intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers) carrying no more than 6,000 nuclear warheads, as defined by the treaty’s rules. The treaty enumerated a complex set of accounting rules that attribute specific numbers of warheads to each type of strategic nuclear delivery vehicle. Further, it put in place a comprehensive system for monitoring and verification, including requirements for detailed declarations and intrusive inspections, to ensure compliance with the treaty’s terms.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 delayed the treaty’s entry into force because it led to the establishment of four states with nuclear weapons: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. In May 1992, these states, along with the United States, signed the Lisbon Protocol, making all five countries parties to START. The treaty officially entered force on December 5, 1994. It included a seven-year deadline to comply with the required reductions and a 15-year term, expiring on December 5, 2009. All parties met the seven year compliance deadline in December 2001. According to the Department of State, the United States has conducted over 600 inspections in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine and Russia has conducted over 400 inspections in the United States. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine each subsequently eliminated their nuclear weapons arsenals and joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear nations.
For further background information, please see an updated report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
START Follow-On Treaty
The Obama Administration has made the negotiation of a new START treaty a central priority:
- On April 1, at a meeting prior to the G-20 summit in London, President Obama and President Medvedev agreed that U.S. and Russian negotiating teams would begin work on a new, comprehensive, and legally binding agreement “to move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms” to replace START, with the goal of reaching an agreement before the Treaty expired in December 2009.
- When Presidents Medvedev and Obama met in Moscow on July 6 and 7, they signed a Joint Understanding for the START follow-on treaty, based on three initial rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and Russian teams. The statement outlined key elements for the follow-on treaty, including a provision for setting numerical reductions and limitations for strategic offensive arms – in the range of 500 to 1,100 for strategic delivery vehicles and in the range of 1,500 to 1,675 for their associated warheads. Additionally, it listed several other issues that would be addressed in the treaty, including provisions for calculating these limits, verification measures, provisions on definitions, and provisions covering conventionally armed ballistic missiles and the relationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms, among others.
- Acknowledging that a new treaty to replace START would not be negotiated by December 5, Presidents Medvedev and Obama issued a joint statement on December 4: “Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, we express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date.” This joint statement is intended to ensure that the original START treaty continues in force until the signing of a follow-on treaty. In previous arms control negotiations, there have been precedents for the continued implementation of expiring treaties by administration statement, including during the Reagan Administration’s negotiation of the original START treaty.
START is a Vital Tool for Strengthening U.S. National Security
As Secretary Clinton underscored in October, “the United States is interested in a new START agreement because it will bolster our national security. We and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons than we need or could ever potentially use without destroying our ways of life. We can reduce our stockpiles of nuclear weapons without posing any risk to our homeland, our deployed troops or our allies. Clinging to nuclear weapons in excess of our security needs does not make the United States safer. And the nuclear status quo is neither desirable nor sustainable. It gives other countries the motivation or the excuse to pursue their own nuclear options.”
Reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles will make America safer and significantly reduce the possibility of nuclear war.
The START Treaty has led to significant reductions in the U.S. and Russian Cold War nuclear stockpiles. According to data from the State Department, the United States had more than 10,500 accountable warheads deployed on an estimated 2,250 delivery vehicles and Russia had more than 10,000 accountable warheads deployed on 2,500 delivery vehicles in September 1990, prior to the treaty’s entrance into force. During the Cold War, each one of these 20,000 U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads was maintained on a hair trigger alert, keeping the world’s two superpowers locked in a dangerous military posture, known as mutually assured destruction. The risk of nuclear war was real and posed an existential threat to both countries as well as the world. Beyond the threat of an intentional attack, there was a possibility of inadvertent war from an unauthorized or accidental launch. Although data on Russian nuclear incidents are unavailable, according to conservative figures from the Department of Defense, there were 32 nuclear weapons incidents involving U.S. nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1980 – twenty of which, experts say, could have started an accidental nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.
With the implementation of the START, both sides have markedly reduced their stockpiles – and markedly reduced the risk of nuclear war. As of July 2009, the United States had 5,916 accountable warheads on 1,188 delivery vehicles and Russia had 3,897 accountable warheads on 809 delivery vehicles. These mutual reductions have ensured stability in our nuclear relationship, while significantly contributing to American, Russian, and global security.
As the former co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton have underscored, negotiating deeper reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles is a national security imperative. In a November 2008 op-ed, they wrote: “The highest priority for the Obama presidency must be securing nuclear weapons and materials to prevent them from falling into dangerous hands… More nuclear-armed states means more risks to peace and stability…We can help by making deeper nuclear arms reductions, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and fulfilling the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty – steps that would have a powerful, positive effect.”
- The United States will continue to maintain a reliable and effective nuclear deterrent, even as make reductions in our arsenal in concert with Russia. Experts assert that we can continue to make cuts in the U.S. nuclear force while preserving our robust deterrent. As the JASON report, a recent assessment of the U.S. nuclear force conducted by independent scientists, explicitly asserts, we have a secure, reliable, and effective nuclear arsenal and an effective system in place for maintaining it: “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs [Life Extension Programs] to date.”
- Further reductions will lower the risk of nuclear theft or accidents that pose a real threat to our homeland and global security. The U.S. and Russia together possess about 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons – far more than is necessary to provide an effective deterrent. Responsibly reducing the size of these arsenals is critical to lowering the inherent risks of nuclear weapons to global and national security.
- Our allies support further reductions. As arms control expert Steven Pifer recently underscored, “U.S. security commitments to our NATO and Asian allies do not depend on maintaining more than 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads on more than 800 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. Our allies support deeper, verifiable U.S.-Russian strategic reductions as a contribution to disarmament and strengthening the global nuclear risk reduction and nonproliferation effort.”
- Mutual reductions will preserve strategic stability and enhance global nonproliferation goals. Because the United States and Russia are working in parallel to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, START will not affect strategic stability and would actually contribute to the larger global nonproliferation effort.
- A new START treaty will help us move to more rational limits on our nuclear arsenal that are economically sustainable and allow us to focus on the more real and pressing proliferation threats.
· Oversized U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals are a relic of the Cold War that no longer serve our national interest and, in fact, detract from efforts to combat 21st century security threats. Despite significant reductions, the United States and Russia each still maintain more than 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads – more than enough to destroy every life on the planet. As Daryl Kimball recently stated, “Massive arsenals capable of annihilating entire nations within an hour are more of a liability than an asset because they breed mistrust and worst-case assumptions among other states and perpetuate the risk of accidental or unauthorized launch, nor do U.S. nuclear weapons serve a necessary or practical role in deterring threats from non-nuclear adversaries or in response to non-nuclear attacks.”
· Responsibly reducing our arsenal, in concert with the Russians, will enable us to better focus our attention and resources on the more pressing nuclear proliferation challenges we face today. The resource and cost savings that will result from reducing the size of our arsenal will allow us to devote greater attention to addressing the real global proliferation threats we face, including efforts to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program, prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear bomb, reign in illicit proliferation networks, and better secure loose nuclear materials around the globe to ensure that they do not fall into the hands of terrorists.
A new START treaty will contribute to predictability and transparency in the United States and Russia strategic nuclear relationship. President Obama, President Medvedev, as well as U.S. and Russian negotiation teams have asserted that a new treaty will contain effective monitoring and verification measures to ensure continued transparency, openness, and predictability in the U.S.-Russian relationship. These measures will be based on the existing START regime, but will be significantly modified and simplified to reflect the current security environment. As chief negotiator Rose Gottemoeller stated in August, the new treaty “will combine the predictability of START with the flexibility of the Moscow Treaty, but at lower numbers of delivery vehicles and their associated warheads… The new treaty will also draw from the START verification regime; and, therefore, will provide predictability regarding the strategic forces on both sides – both for existing force structure and modernization programs” in order to “establish a strategic balance that reflects the current security environment in a way that benefits each party and promotes peace and stability.”
In December, State Department briefers described progress toward reaching an agreement on essential monitoring and verification measures that will preserve strategic stability in the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship: “We’re actively pursuing the means to continue transparency and verification measures on a bilateral basis with Russia during the period between START expiration and entry into force of the new treaty. We believe that the success of the verification procedures in the existing START treaty has given us a positive base to build on in the new treaty. This positive base includes transparency, openness and predictability as part of this relationship with Russia that’s come out of the START treaty, and we want this new kind of relationship to continue. Just to reiterate, the two presidents agreed in July that the new treaty would contain verification treaties that are adapted, simplified, and made less costly in comparison with the procedures in the START treaty. We believe the new treaty will not be identical to START in terms of the verification regime, but what is in the new treaty has to ensure effective verification of the terms of the treaty.”
A follow-on START treaty is a key first step in strengthening international nonproliferation efforts and continuing nuclear arms reductions. Presidents Obama and Medvedev have made it clear that the negotiation of a follow-on START treaty is the first item on a broader and sustained agenda to combat nuclear proliferation and address other mutual national security challenges. Achieving a new START treaty will give momentum to these efforts, paving the way to long-term successes. In the words of William Perry, the START follow-on is “a very important step, not just because reducing nuclear weapons is important in and of itself, but because they make an indispensable contribution to reducing the danger of proliferation.”
- A new START treaty is essential for demonstrating U.S. and Russian commitment to nonproliferation. As a recent article from the Federation of American Scientists outlined, “the rest of the world is looking for the possessors of 95 percent of the global nuclear weapon stockpiles to show greater effort in working toward their nuclear disarmament obligation under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT is both a nonproliferation and disarmament treaty, and at the NPT Review Conferences (RC’s) and Preparatory Committees (PrepComs) the Non-Nuclear Weapons States Parties (NNWS) continue to voice their growing concern and anger over what they perceive to be lack of real progress on nuclear disarmament. At the PrepCom this past May those voices – including many of our closest allies – spoke loudly, stating that continued failure by the NWS to work in good faith toward their nuclear disarmament obligation could eventually break up the nonproliferation regime, spelling the end of the other part of the Treaty’s bargain: the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.”
- START is vital to preventing a new nuclear arms race. A follow-on treaty is critical to wider nonproliferation efforts and central to addressing concerns of a potential spread of nuclear technology across the Middle East. As President Obama stated in his first press conference last February, “…if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally. I think that it’s important for the United States, in concert with Russia, to lead the way on this… I’ve mentioned this in conversations with the Russian president, Mr. Medvedev, to let him know that it is important for us to restart the conversations about how we can start reducing our nuclear arsenals in an effective way.”
- START will help pave the way for more comprehensive U.S.-Russian arms reduction initiatives. A new START treaty would open the opportunity for more comprehensive U.S. and Russian arms reduction talks, starting over the next year, which would address all types of nuclear warheads, including deployed and non-deployed as well as strategic and non-strategic warheads.
- A new START treaty will strengthen the international nonproliferation regime. As President Obama has asserted, “The United States and Russia must lead by example” in order to make progress toward global nonproliferation objectives. In the words of one arms control expert, an agreement on a new START treaty would “demonstrate that the two countries are truly committed to fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This will, in turn, bolster efforts to win international support for new measures to strengthen the beleaguered treaty at the Review Conference in May 2010. A common approach on strategic missile defense would open the way for more dramatic reductions in the offensive nuclear forces…”
U.S. leadership is required to combat the threat of nuclear proliferation. As William Perry, Brent Scowcroft and Charles Ferguson wrote in an op-ed this summer, “The dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism are real and imminent. Any serious effort to combat them will require the leadership of the United States. In a more recent interview, William Perry elaborated on that point, noting that U.S. and Russian cooperation is fundamental to halting nuclear proliferation and securing loose nuclear materials. Perry emphasized that efforts by the United States and Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles would help convince other nations to give up their nuclear weapons: “Most of the other nuclear powers that I’ve talked to, when we talked with them about reducing nuclear weapons and nuclear danger, they said: ‘We will follow the lead of Russia and the United States.’ So, if the US and Russia take the leadership in bringing the nuclear weapons down, I do think that the other nations will follow this lead.”
START plays an important role in the larger U.S.-Russia relationship: it promotes cooperation and builds trust at a time when partnership is critical to addressing many national and global security concerns.
- A new START treaty would help to improve the political relationship between the United States and Russia. Recent years have seen the deterioration of relations between the two sides, with tensions rising over Russia’s moves away from democratic rule and its concerns regarding possible U.S. missile defense plans. A new treaty could work to limit suspicions and even open the door to cooperation on critical national security issues, including efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, address proliferation challenges in North Korea and better secure loose nuclear materials in Russia and throughout the region.
- Failure to renew start could lead to unnecessary tensions with Russia. Arms control experts have underscored the importance of a follow-on treaty in preventing a revival of Cold War tensions with Russia and for avoiding a new nuclear arms race. As national security experts, William Perry, Brent Scowcroft, and Charles Ferguson wrote in a recent op-ed, “With thousands of U.S. and Russian warheads still deployed, the threat of a nuclear war through strategic miscalculation is not entirely removed. Thankfully, Russia has neither shown nor threatened such intent against the U.S. The two nations cooperated through much of the post-Cold War period on reducing nuclear arsenals and curbing nuclear proliferation. But given the recent chill in U.S.-Russia relations – a result of NATO expansion efforts and missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic – the relationship faces significant challenges.”
There is bipartisan consensus that a follow-on START agreement is critical to our national security
The Independent Task Force on U.S. Nuclear Weapons emphasized the need for securing a follow-on agreement to START. In its April 2009 report, the task force, co-chaired by Brent Scowcroft and William Perry, underscored that “renewed U.S. leadership to shape global nuclear weapons policy and posture is critical” to addressing the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear use. It identified the negotiation of a new START treaty as one of the key steps for strengthening the global nonproliferation system. The report highlighted “the need to strengthen nuclear risk reduction with the two major nuclear-armed states of Russia and China. The U.S. and Russian presidents recently pledged to reduce their nuclear arsenals. The Task Force supports efforts to renew legally binding arms control pacts with Russia by seeking follow-on agreements to START and the 2001 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).”
The bipartisan Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States emphasized the need for successor agreement to START. In May, the congressionally-mandated commission, co-chaired by former Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and James Schlesinger, released its final report, stating that “the moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia, and this bodes well for a continued reduction in the nuclear arsenal. The United States and Russia should pursue a step-by-step approach and take a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009.”
The bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction described the negotiation of a new START treaty as an “imperative.” In its December 2008 report, the commission wrote, “The United States must work with Russia to negotiate a post-START strategic nuclear framework. The Commission believes it imperative that we continue to reduce the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles in a structured and transparent manner. Consequently, we believe that the next administration should engage with Russia at the earliest possible date to negotiate additional reductions in both countries’ strategic stockpiles… Such an agreement would send an important signal to the rest of the world regarding U.S. and Russian commitments to negotiate in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. Setting additional benchmarks for further reductions would serve as a natural reinforcement to continue this important strategic partnership in fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
Secretary Gates has described a post-START agreement as a key step in moving toward a nuclear weapons-free world. President Obama is the fourth president that I have worked for who has…said publicly he would like to see an end to nuclear weapons and having a nuclear weapons-free world. I think that’s a laudable objective. I think it’s clear to everyone it’s a goal that you have to move toward step by step. I think that continued nonproliferation efforts, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, another post-START agreement with the Russians in terms of further reducing our stockpile, I think these are all important steps in that direction.”
Senator Lugar, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As Senator Lugar recently asserted, the, “failure to renew START will be seen worldwide as weakening the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and a further sign to many foreign leaders and experts that the U.S. nonproliferation policy is adrift.”
Senator McCain, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has called for reducing our nuclear arsenal to the “lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments.” On the Senate Floor, McCain stated, “The Cold War ended almost twenty years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals. In so doing, the United States can – and indeed, must – show the kind of leadership the world expects from us, in the tradition of American presidents who worked to reduce the nuclear threat to mankind…As the Administration reviews its nuclear weapons posture, it should, I believe, seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments. This means a move, as rapidly as possible, to a significantly smaller force.”
Former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger as well as former Secretaries of Defense Sam Nunn and William Perry have called for further reductions under START and the extension of the treaty’s key monitoring and verification requirements. In a January 2008 op-ed, these former national security leaders called for the extension of the key provisions of START, writing that “The key provisions of this treaty, including their essential monitoring and verification requirements, should be extended, and the further reductions agreed upon in the 2002 Moscow Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions should be completed as soon as possible.”
Many other key national security advisors – both Republicans and Democrats – have endorsed efforts to work with Russia to reduce our strategic nuclear arsenals in order to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and move toward the goal of nuclear disarmament, including Colin Powell, Jim Baker, Frank Carlucci, and Madeleine Albright. For additional quotes from moderates and conservatives endorsing nuclear weapons cuts, please see a report from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
 Arms Control Association. Background Briefing for Reporters: The Follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, 12/4/09; Congressional Research Service, Strategic Arms Control After START: Issues and Options, 1/13/10.
 Arms Control Association. Background Briefing for Reporters: The Follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, 12/4/09; Department of State, Fact Sheet, The Legacy of START and Related U.S. Policies, 7/16/09.
 Joint Statement by Dmitry Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, and Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, Regarding Negotiations on Further Reductions in Strategic Offensive Arms, 4/1/09.
 Congressional Research Service, Strategic Arms Control After START: Issues and Options, 1/13/10; Alan Philips, 20 Mishaps That Might Have Started Accidental Nuclear War, and Significant Nuclear Accidents nuclearfiles.org; Center for Defense Information, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents.
 Arms Control Association, Event: START Follow-on Treaty: Assessing Progress on Nuclear Risk Reduction. 12/9/09; Daryl Kimball, “Jump-STARTing U.S.-Russian Disarmament,” Arms Control Association, 11/08.