International Unitarian Universalism: Disarmament
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The Significance of a Treaty as it Applies to the New START Process

U.S. President Obama and Russian President Medvedev signing the New START Treaty in 2010

U.S. President Obama and Russian President Medvedev signing the New START Treaty in 2010

By Joanne Dufour

If conflict is inevitable in human relations, so might be efforts to reconcile and reach a state of peace.

How can this peace be ensured? Over the years of evolution, wise souls have developed an instrument known as a treaty: a written document with input and agreement from the contentious sides of the conflict and a promise to abide by its conditions. When it comes to countries at war, the conditions regarding the drafting and signing of a treaty can be very complicated, especially if the government in power might change and disagree with its terms. Such was the case with the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I, as well as current treaty situations. There was no treaty drafted after World War II, or the Vietnam War, or the Korean War (though efforts in the Koreas are underway to remedy that).

On the positive side: Treaties can guide future performance by signatory governments and help to keep the peace. And if monitoring methods are in place, there will be existing procedures to negotiate any violations. The call to “Give Peace A Chance” is real and necessary.

Let’s consider the current attention to the New New START Treaty, better known as the New START Treaty II. But first let’s look at the current New Start Treaty, in effect until February 2021  although options to extend that treaty are being proposed. From the Arms Control Association:

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) was signed April 8, 2010 in Prague by Russia and the United States and entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011. New START replaced the 1991 START I treaty, which expired December 2009, and superseded the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which terminated when New START entered into force. 

New START continues the bipartisan process of verifiably reducing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals begun by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  New START is the first verifiable U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty to take effect since START I in 1994.

Total verification of the 2011 treaty’s mandated reductions was achieved by both sides by February 2018.

The important Verification Process employed the use of inspections, as the Arms Control Association explains:

New START allows for 18 on-site inspections per yearInspections may include confirming the number of reentry vehicles on deployed Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)[1] and Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)[2], confirming numbers related to non-deployed launcher limits, and counting the number of weapons onboard or attached to heavy weapons bombers. The United States and Russia are allowed ten Type 1 inspections, conducted on short notice at bases that deploy strategic launchers. Each side can choose one ICBM or SLBM to inspect and count the warheads. This type of inspection is designed to deter both sides from deploying a missile with more than the declared number of warheads. Eight Type 2 inspections are allowed each year, conducted at facilities that are designated only for non-deployed delivery systems. The United States and Russia have each used all of their inspections every year since the treaty entered into force.

A US Department of Defense fact sheet shows a comparison between the U.S. and Russia of (a) Deployed ICBMs, Deployed SLBMs, and Deployed Heavy Bombers, (b) Warheads on Deployed ICBMs, on Deployed SLBMs, and Nuclear Warheads Counted for Deployed Heavy Bombers and (c) Deployed and Non-deployed Launchers of ICBMs, Deployed and Non-deployed Launchers of SLBMs, and Deployed and Non-deployed Heavy Bombers. The sets of data are thanks to an exchange of data required by the New Start Treaty and are current as of September 1, 2019  .

Concurrent to discussions and efforts to renew the New START Treaty before its 2021 conclusion, action was taken by both the U.S. and Russia to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. As Arms Control Association reports, that landmark treaty:

had led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. On February 2, 2019, the Trump administration announced its decision to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty and its intention to withdraw from agreement in six months. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty [took] effect on Friday, August 2.   

The importance of this New START Treaty is that it is now the only treaty between Russia and the United States putting limits on their arsenals—the world’s two largest. The current treaty has the possibility of a five year extension if the two presidents agree to do so. This would include the ”irreplaceable verification and monitoring system”. Given their reluctance to take action on this issue (though Russian President Putin has spoken out in favor of it recently), a growing number of Republican and Democrat members of Congress have spoken up in support of extending the New START Treaty   for five years with the Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces (HR 2529, S845). This bill would allow time for more diplomacy and more complicated multi-lateral negotiations for a New START Treaty II to enter into force.

One can certainly applaud the effectiveness of the START Treaties in reducing the arsenals of the United States and Russia and the importance of continuing this process. Treaties can make a significant difference.

[1] An Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of 5,500 kilometres (3,400 mi)[1] primarily designed for nuclear weapons delivery (delivering one or more thermonuclear warheads). 

[2] The UGM-133A Trident II, or Trident D5 is a Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)