“New START” an essential new start to nuclear arms control

It was genuinely a landmark moment yesterday (December 22) when the US Senate voted of 71 to 26 to ratify the New START Treaty. Of course, in the ponderously slow path toward nuclear disarmament no single success is ever enough – and the same goes for this one. But without this ratification there would have been little hope for further progress, at least in the near term, in taking up the other key measures awaiting attention on the long and onerous disarmament agenda .

The New START Treaty, as the now US-ratified US-Russia agreement is known, will reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads down to 1,550 on each side – a total of  3,100 deployed strategic warheads.

And the next big challenge? There are many and among them is the need to get working on that bigger nuclear number – 22,000.

That is roughly the total number of nuclear warheads worldwide. In other words, only about 15 per cent of the weapons in global arsenals are covered by the Treaty. START puts a ceiling on the number of strategic or long-range warheads that are actually deployed – it doesn’t address non-strategic (short-range or battlefield nuclear weapons) deployed by the US and Russia; it doesn’t address the warheads that are in storage; and it obviously doesn’t address the warheads held by other nuclear powers (since it is a bilateral US-Russia Treaty only).  

Besides its deployed strategic warheads, the US has roughly an additional 500 non-strategic warheads deployed, another 2,500 warheads are held in reserve and available for deployment, and about 4,200 are in storage and awaiting dismantlement – about 250 to 400 weapons are dismantled each year. Russia has another 2,000 deployed non-strategic warheads and about 7,300 warheads in reserve and waiting to be dismantled. Roughly another 1,000 warheads are held by the other states with nuclear weapons (the UK, France, China each maintain between 150 and 400 warheads; and India, Pakistan, and Israel collectively have another 300).

Reducing those numbers will take further US-Russia negotiations and serious attention to regional conflicts in North East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.

There are two other major global nuclear Treaties that are pending and on the arms control priority list.

The first is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which has been agreed to since 1996 and signed by all the major nuclear weapon states. The United States and China still have to ratify it, and President Barack Obama has said ratification is a priority – not a sentiment likely to be shared by most Republicans coming into the US Congress in 2011. Israel has signed but not ratified it. India, North Korea, and Pakistan have yet to sign it.

The second major Treaty is yet to be negotiated – a global agreement to halt all further production of fissile materials for weapons purposes. It has long been on the global arms control agenda but has been held hostage to a dysfunctional Conference on Disarmament, the Geneva-based disarmament forum that is mandated to host the negotiations.

But START ratification by the US Senate is a celebration-worthy achievement (now it’s the Russians’ turn). US civil society organizations had a huge hand in getting this done. Joined by a broad range of political leaders and security professionals, civil society led a compelling coalition of the willing. As one of the leading organizations, the Arms Control Association put it after the vote: “New START advocates include a range of supporters from the Air Force Association to the Arms Control Association, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Assn. of Evangelicals, from retired generals to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, plus a long list of former Secretaries of State, former Secretaries of Defense, former national security advisers, former presidents, and all major U.S. allies urging approval of the treaty this year.”[i]

It turned out be an effective community of support for White House and Congressional champions of the Treaty.

Now civil society will mark the accomplishment and then turn attention to the next items on the nuclear disarmament agenda.



[i] Daryl Kimball press statement — http://www.armscontrol.org.

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