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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Strategic Arms Control After START: Issues and Options

Amy F. Woolf
Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy

The United States and Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991; it entered into force in December 1994 and expired on December 5, 2009. They are currently negotiating a new Treaty that would replace START. 

START counts each deployed ICBM, SLBM, and bomber as a single delivery vehicle under the Treaty limit of 1,600 delivery vehicles and attributes an agreed number of warheads to each deployed delivery vehicle. This attribution rule provides the total number of warheads that count under the 6,000 warhead limit in the Treaty. To verify compliance with START, each side monitors the numbers and locations of ballistic missiles, launchers and heavy bombers deployed by the other country. The parties use a wide variety of means to collect information—or monitor—these forces and activities. Some of these monitoring systems, such as overhead satellites, operate outside the territories of the treaty parties. They have also been required to exchange copious amounts of data on locations, operations, and technical characteristics of the treaty-limited items. This verification regime has allowed the parties to remain confident in each other's compliance with the Treaty. 

The United States and Russia began to discuss their options for arms control after START in mid- 2006. During the Bush Administration, they were unable to agree on a path forward. Neither side wanted to extend START in its current form, as some of the Treaty's provisions have begun to interfere with some military programs on both sides. Russia wants to replace START with a new Treaty that would further reduce deployed forces while using many of the same definitions and counting rules in START. The United States initially did not want to negotiate a new treaty, but, under the Bush Administration, would have been willing to extend, informally, some of START's monitoring provisions. In 2008, the Bush Administration agreed to conclude a new Treaty, with monitoring provisions attached, but this Treaty would resemble the far less formal Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty that the two sides signed in 2002. In December 2008, the two sides agreed that they wanted to replace START before it expired, but acknowledged that this task would have to be left to negotiations between Russia and the Obama Administration. President Obama and President Medvedev agreed at their meeting on April 2, 2009, to pursue "new and verifiable reductions" in their strategic offensive arms. The two sides are now pursuing negotiations on the new Treaty. 

The United States and Russia could have chosen from a number of options for the future of their arms control relationship. They have allowed START to lapse while negotiating a new Treaty, but they could have extended START for five years during this process. They could also have extended START, then amended it to ease some of the outdated provisions. Instead of negotiating a new Treaty, they could have pursued less formal arrangements to manage their nuclear forces. Moreover, if a new treaty includes further reductions in nuclear weapons, it could use some START definitions and counting rules or the less formal Moscow Treaty declarations.


Date of Report: March 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: R40084
Price: $29.95

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