by Kingston Reif
Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on February 2, 2012
Article summary below; read the full text online
February 5 marks the one-year anniversary of the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty’s (New START) entry into force. Signed by the United States and Russia in April 2010, New START caps each country’s nuclear arsenal at 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles (long-range missiles and bombers), and 800 deployed and non-deployed strategic launchers (long-range missile tubes on submarines, missile silos, and bombers). The treaty also restores an essential means of monitoring and verifying the size and location of these forces, which lapsed when the START I treaty expired in 2009.
Despite New START’s substantive merits and overwhelming support from the US military, the eight-month-long campaign to win over the Senate was a partisan knock-down-drag-out fight, the successful outcome of which was in doubt until the last moment. So how did this hard-won treaty fare over the last year? The New START anniversary is an opportune time to examine progress, as well as to assess opportunities and challenges ahead.
New START implementation. During Senate deliberations, New START supporters maintained that the treaty’s legally binding limits and monitoring and verification provisions would cap Russia’s deployed forces and give the United States an essential window into their composition and location — information the United States would not otherwise have. So far, New START’s implementation has proved this correct: While US satellites and other technical means provide substantial information about Russia’s nuclear forces, the cooperative verification and monitoring provisions in New START afford key insights and facts on the ground that cannot be acquired by any other means.
To date, the United States and Russia have conducted two comprehensive data exchanges regarding strategic nuclear forces, including the number of deployed strategic warheads — a first for an arms control treaty. The exchanges revealed:
- As of September 2011, the United States had 1,790 deployed accountable strategic warheads and 822 deployed strategic delivery vehicles.
- Russia had 1,566 deployed accountable strategic warheads and 516 deployed strategic delivery vehicles.
- As of January 2012, the United States and Russia had exchanged 1,800 notifications.
- The United States has conducted 18 out of an allowed 18 annual onsite inspections in Russia.
- Russia has also conducted 18 such inspections in the United States.
- The United States has had the opportunity to view the RS-24, Russia’s new MIRV’d (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) ballistic missile.
In short, New START has yielded invaluable, precise information essential to US national security.