Reagan and Gorbachev sign the INF Treaty (1987). Reagan library.
By the late 1960s, it became apparent that while the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union was yielding thousands of additional nuclear weapons, it was not leading to greater security for either country or the world at-large.
In 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the NPT, was opened for signature. In addition to establishing an international commitment to nonproliferation, the NPT laid the groundwork for eventual disarmament by all existing nuclear states. This disarmament vision was embodied in Article VI, which called upon signatories to negotiate "effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race" as well as "general and complete disarmament."
The NPT served as a prelude to the first round of Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT I) between the U.S. and Soviet Union. On May 26, 1972, SALT I produced bilateral pledges to freeze at existing levels the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers possessed by each country and to take other steps to mitigate the arms race. Most notably, SALT I also produced the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty banning missile defense systems as well as an interim agreement on strategic offensive arms.
In the past 30 years, various important agreements were negotiated, signed, and ratified between the United States, Soviet Union (and its successor states), and other parties to reduce strategic nuclear stockpiles. These include the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I (START I) and the associated Lisbon Protocol, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT or Moscow Treaty), and the New START treaty.
Thanks to these agreements and significant unilateral reductions by the United States, Russia, and other nuclear weapons states, the global stockpile of nuclear weapons is significantly less that it was during the Cold War. However, there are still approximately 19,000 nuclear weapons in nine countries, 95% of which belong to the United States and Russia. Meanwhile, the nuclear weapons states continue to spend large amounts of money to sustain and modernize their nuclear arsenals. According to a recent estimate, the United States spent $31 billion in FY 2011 on its strategic offensive nuclear forces.
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- Congressional Research Service, "U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Development, and Issues," updated February 22, 2012.
- Congressional Research Service, "The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions," updated February 14, 2012.
- Congressional Research Service, "Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban-Treaty: Background and Current Developments," updated December 7, 2011.
- Final Report of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, May 2009