The Arms Control Association explains key components of a "new START" deal and the importance of a strategic nuclear reduction deal.
Washington, DC): U.S. and Russian negotiators continue to work out the final details of a new arms control treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires on Dec. 5. When the "New START" deal is completed, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are expected to meet to sign it and then will go to their respective legislatures early next year to seek advice and consent for its ratification.
On Dec. 4 Presidents Medvedev and Obama issued a Joint Understanding, which says: "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."
The START follow-on would be the first new meaningful, verifiable nuclear arms reduction agreement in force between the United States and Russia in almost two decades and would lock-in lower numbers of deployed strategic warheads held by the world's two largest nuclear-armed nations.
As President Barack Obama, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and many prominent national security leaders, including former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have argued, deeper U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear reductions are possible and prudent.
Together the United States and Russia possess a grand total of some 20,000 nuclear weapons, about 95 percent of global stocks. Of that total, the United States and Russia each deploy more than 2,000 strategic warheads, most of which exist only to deter a massive nuclear attack by the other. No other country possesses more than 300 nuclear warheads, and China currently has fewer than 30 nuclear-armed missiles capable of striking the continental United States. Designed for the Cold War, such massive arsenals are useless against current priority threats such as terrorism.
The New START deal is particularly important because past Democratic and Republican administrations have squandered opportunities to conclude meaningful, legally binding, and verifiable nuclear cuts. Instead, U.S. and Russian leaders concluded the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for no more than 2,200 strategic deployed warheads each by the year 2012.