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New START: It’s in the Bag!

The New START treaty is in the bag, approved by the US Congress and Russian Duma.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

The upper house of the Russian Parliament (Duma) earlier today approved the New START treaty signed by presidents Medvedev and Obama in Prague on April 8, 2010. This follows approval of the treaty by the U.S. Senate in December despite opposition from hard-liners.

The Russian approval was followed by optimistic statements by Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the international affairs committee, who declared: “The arms race is a thing of the past. The disarmament race is taking its place.”

What Now?

Now that the treaty has been ratified by both countries, the next step will be an exchange of Instruments of Ratification, at which point the treaty formally enters into effect. When that happens, the Moscow Treaty from 2002 will expire. Within 45 days after entry into force, the two countries will have an initial exchange of data (an initial exchange of site diagrams occurred 45 days after the treaty was signed on April 8, 2010), and photographs of the strategic offensive arms covered by the treaty will be exchanged. After that the inspectors go to work.

No it Doesn’t

But the treaty does not, as the New York Times report mistakenly states, “require the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals…to 1,550 warheads each, from between 1,700 and 2,200 now.” This is a misreporting that is frequent in the news media (see also RIA Novosti). In fact, the treaty does not place any limits on the total size of their nuclear arsenals — in fact, it doesn’t require destruction of a single nuclear warhead. Rather, New START reduces the limit for how many of their strategic warheads the two countries may deploy on long-range delivery vehicles at any given time. Both countries may – and do – have thousands of other nuclear warheads that are not deployed or not counted.

Of the estimated 5,000 and 8,000 US and Russian, respectively, nuclear warheads in their military stockpiles, New START affects how 1,550 can be deployed on each side. How to deal with the remaining thousands of non-deployed and nonstrategic nuclear warheads is the focus of the next round of US-Russian nuclear arms control efforts. In addition, both countries have thousands of additional retired but intact warheads awaiting dismantlement, for total estimated inventories of 8,500 US and 11,000 Russian warheads.

New START is in the bag but a lot of work remains to be done.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.


Senate Approval of New START Moves Nuclear Arms Control Forward

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Federation of American Scientists today applauded the Senate’s ratification of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) between the United States and Russia.

The Senate voted 71 to 26 in favor of ratification of the treaty.

The approval of the treaty is a victory for common sense and an impressive achievement for the Obama administration in overcoming stubborn opposition from Cold Warriors to modest nuclear arms reductions.

New START does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead, but it reduces the limit for how many of them can be deployed on long-range ballistic missiles and heavy bombers.

The United States and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and will continue to do so when the treaty limit is reached seven years from now.

During the past year and in an effort to ensure Congressional support for New START, the administration has committed to significant increases in spending on modernizing nuclear weapons and the production complex over the next decade: well over $100 billion for modernization of missiles and bombers, and more than $85 billion for modernizing warheads and production facilities.

This modernization will have to be balanced against the other important goal of U.S. nuclear policy: securing international support for strengthening non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. Demonstrating clear intensions to reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons will be essential to winning support for this agenda.

Despite its limitations, the approval of the New START treaty brings U.S-Russian strategic relations back on track, reestablishes a vital on-site inspection regime, and potentially opens the way for negotiations on additional reductions in the future.

Those negotiations must establish limits on and verification of U.S. and Russian non-deployed and non-strategic nuclear weapons, and prepare the ground for broadening nuclear arms control to the other nuclear weapons states.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New START Ratification: Seeing the Bigger Picture

Morton Halperin speaks at CSIS

By Hans M. Kristensen

Kevin Kallmyer at CSIS has an interesting recap of a recent debate between Paula DeSutter and Mort Halperin about the New START Treaty.

Ratification of the treaty is held up in Congress by a handful of Senators who (mis)use questions about, among other issues, verification to extort billions of dollars to pet nuclear modernization projects at the expense of greater U.S. interests.

During the CSIS debate, Mort Halperin provided an enlightening anecdote about how to judge whether ratification of the treaty is in the U.S. interest. It cuts to the heart of what is important and deserves a repost here: Continue Reading →

Nonsense about New START and ICBMs

Because of what appears to have been a computer glitch, a group of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was temporarily off-line last week and not ready to launch on a moment’s notice. According to an article in The Atlantic, some Republicans have suggested that this means that New START, the nuclear arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification, is unwise and should be rejected. This assertion is nonsense but is a useful illustration of how much of current nuclear “thinking” is just a holdover from now irrelevant Cold War doctrine. Continue Reading →

New START and Missile Defense

I have not written here on the New START treaty, in part because everything that can be said has been said, well, almost everything…see below.  The treaty is in no way revolutionary.  I don’t think Reagan would bat an eyelash at it.  Yet, while there is widespread bipartisan support for the treaty, including almost all the leading defense specialists from former Republican administrations, there is also some opposition to the treaty, with the Heritage Foundation having taken it on as a cause.  Some of the critiques are truly bizarre, such as the treaty does not address Russian tactical nuclear weapons or North Korea.  (On that last point, would one of the critics please sketch out how we would have included North Korea in the negotiation?)  Of course, no past arms control treaty has ever covered every type of weapon and if New START is not ratified then any chance of negotiating limits on tactical nuclear weapons is off the table completely.  (The treaty does not cure world hunger either, another good cause.)

The one issue that opponents consistently latch onto is the supposed limits on missile defense.  There is language in the preamble drawing attention to the connection between offensive and defensive missiles and in the text there is a limit on converting offensive missile launchers to be able to launch defensive missiles.  Administration spokesmen have addressed these criticisms by saying the preamble language is not binding.  I find it very strange that advocates of missile defense would like to argue that there is no connection between offensive and defensive missiles. Of course there is a connection between the two of them.  Isn’t one supposed to shoot down the other?  Isn’t that a connection? It is like arguing there is no connection between ships and torpedoes.  (I think the connection is actually quite weak because defensive missiles probably cannot shoot much down, but that is a different story.)  Simply saying that doesn’t seem to change much. Continue Reading →

NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document

by Alicia Godsberg

The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues.  While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals. Continue Reading →

FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue Reading →

United States Moves Rapidly Toward New START Warhead Limit

Current pace of U.S. strategic warhead downloading could reach New START limit in 2010.


By Hans M. Kristensen

The United States appears to be moving toward early implementation of the New START treaty signed with Russian less than one month ago.

The rapid implementation is evident in the State Department’s latest fact sheet, which declares that the United States as of December 31, 2009, deployed 1,968 strategic warheads.

The New START force level of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads is not required to be reached until 2017 at the earliest. But at the current downloading rate, the United States could reach the limit before the end of this year. Continue Reading →

Hardly a Jump START

Four months past a “deadline” imposed by the expiration of the old START treaty and amid much fanfare, President Obama announced that he and Russian President Medvedev had agreed on a new arms control treaty.  I am not as excited as most are about the treaty and much of the following might be interpreted as raining on the parade so let me begin by saying that the negotiation of this treaty is an important step.  While not as big a step as I had hoped for, it is an essential step.

Whatever the actual reductions mandated by the treaty—and they are modest—it was vital to get the United States and Russia talking about nuclear weapons again.  The U.S. and Russia have at least 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons and they have to lead the world in nuclear reductions.  Without this first step there cannot be a second step and there are many steps between where we are today and a world free of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration did not simply dismiss arms control as irrelevant but argued that negotiating agreements was actually counter productive, potentially creating confrontation where it would not otherwise arise.  Avoid talking and let sleeping dogs lie was the philosophy.  The Bush administration had the best of both worlds, from its perspective, by negotiating the nearly meaningless Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, SORT, sometimes called the Moscow Treaty, that simply allowed each side to declare their plans for what they were going to do anyway and contained no verification provisions.

This treaty is different.  The White House has released summaries of the main features of the treaty, not the full text, but it is clear this is a real treaty with real limits and real verification.  This treaty and, more importantly, the process that produced it, gets the arms control train back on the track.

Even so, this treaty is a modest step.  Hans Kristensen has described the numbers and their implications for the nuclear force structure.  The treaty makes some modest reductions from the SORT limits but not large enough changes to make a qualitative difference in the nuclear standoff between the legacy forces of the two Cold War superpowers.  (If anyone can explain to me why we and the Russians continue to need over a thousand nuclear bombs, each five to twenty five times more powerful than the bomb that flattened Hiroshima, pointed at each other, please send me an email. I want to know what the beef between us is that makes that seem proportionate.) Continue Reading →

New START Treaty Has New Counting

An important new treaty reduces the limit for deployed strategic warheads but not the number.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The White House has announced that it has reached agreement with Russia on the New START Treaty. Although some of the documents still have to be finished, a White House fact sheet describes that the treaty limits the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles and long-range bombers on both sides to 1,550 and the number of missiles and bombers capable of launching those warheads to no more than 700.

The long-awaited treaty is a vital symbol of progress in U.S.-Russian relations and an important additional step in the process of reducing and eventually perhaps even achieving the elimination nuclear weapons. It represents a significant arms control milestone that both countries should ratify as soon as possible so they can negotiate deeper cuts.

Yet while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads.  Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. Continue Reading →