The “New Start” of Nuclear Disarmament

By Carolyn McVeigh

The U.S. Senate’s recent ratification of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia is a great first step in the Obama Administration’s quest for worldwide nuclear disarmament. The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the third of such treaties between the US and Russia and was created in response to the expiration of the 1991 START II, which expired in 2009. The treaty, which would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads and establish a system for monitoring and verification, was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April and was ratified by the U.S. Senate on December 21st, 2010. The treaty attained the required 2/3 of votes, gaining approval by a count of 71-26. The treaty faced opposition from conservatives who said the pact would limit U.S. options on missile defense, lacked sufficient procedures to verify Russia’s adherence, and deserved more time for consideration. However, the treaty received support from almost a third of Senate Republicans.

The treaty will limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is lowered nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, and 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The treaty will limit the missile ICBM launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 800. Also, the treaty will reduce the number of deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments to 700. The treaty allows for satellite and remote monitoring, as well as 18 on-site inspections per year to verify limits. These commitments must be met within seven years from the date the new treaty is implemented. The treaty will last ten years, with an option to renew it for up to five years upon agreement of both parties. New START highlights a more effective and transparent verification method that requires quicker data exchanges than START II. New START will also include innovative techniques to identify each side’s strategic delivery vehicles and verify with incredibly high accuracy definite warhead deployment levels.

The treaty is a step in the right direction for reduction of nuclear arms not only in Russia, but also throughout the world. The treaty is critical for credibility; the United States and Russia cannot convincingly argue for restricting the nuclear aspirations of Iran, North Korea, and other power-seeking nations unless they keep working to bring their own numbers down. One of the greatest tasks facing the United States and Russia moving forward is limiting or even doing away with their tactical nuclear weapons. These smaller arms, with a 300- to 400-mile range, have no deterrent value or military utility. They also have never been the focus of any treaty or verification. That is what makes them especially frightening and dangerous to our security. The United States has about 500 tactical nukes, including 180 in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. These weapons are deemed secure. Russia’s arsenal is much larger—between 3,000 and 5,000—and may be vulnerable to covert sale and/or theft. Hopefully the NEW START treaty will be the force that sets off a series of nuclear disarmament actions. Ideally, tactical nukes will be the focus of attention in future resolutions since they are a large threat facing our security today. Those types of weapons are susceptible to terrorists acquiring them since they are not as well guarded and are often transported from place to place. The treaty is significant in the sense that it may open the door for reducing tactical nuclear weapons sometime in the near future. Another crucial achievement of the treaty, as the result of the good nature following the U.S. ratifying the treaty, is greater cooperation from Russia with stronger restrictions against Iran in order to deter Iran from creating nuclear weapons.

The ratification of the NEW START is a tremendous success for the Obama administration, who cited the treaty and nuclear relations with Russia as among their top foreign policy priorities. The ratification of the treaty has enhanced President Obama’s status. In recent months no one thought that the Senate would be able to get the treaty passed. With this recent achievement, Obama can utilize this newly created prestige in order to more effectively accomplish his other international security objects such as eliminating loose nuclear materials and keeping them out of the hands of terrorists. The successful conclusion of the treaty after a year of highly intense U.S.-Russian negotiations is certainly a considerable diplomatic achievement for the Obama administration. However, the ratification of New START is merely the first step toward the goal of attaining nuclear disarmament. New START only moderately lessens U.S. warheads and delivery systems and still leaves the U.S. and Russia with thousands of surfeit nuclear weapons. However, it is certainly a step in the right direction and makes a statement to the world that two of the most powerful nations in the world are aiming for nuclear disarmament.

New START assures to enhance U.S. and international security by further reducing unnecessary Cold War nuclear weapons. It certainly deserves complete support of the Senate and nation. It is a tangible example of U.S. and Russian action on nuclear disarmament that will strengthen support for sanctions designed to augment the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at the May review conference. It is a measure that has the potential to transform the condition of our international security. As Senator Kerry aptly stated, “This is one of those rare times in the United States Senate when we have it in our power to safeguard or to endanger human life on this planet.”

This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 4, Issue 2, Winter 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

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