On Saturday, 5 February, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged the documents of ratification at the Munich Conference on Security Policy with which a new treaty on strategic arms reduction (New START [PDF]) entered into force.
The new treaty replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed in July 1991 by US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in the largest bilateral reduction of nuclear weapons in history. START I expired in December 2009. Its successor, which regulates strategic nuclear arms reductions for the coming ten years, requires both nations to further reduce their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads and launch vehicles. The new treaty also replaces the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).
The New START treaty was signed by the Russian and US presidents in Prague in April 2010 after nearly a year of protracted negotiations over issues like data sharing, verifying compliance and limiting missile defense programs and went on far longer than originally expected. The treaty was ratified by the US Senate after months of wrangling in December and by the Russian parliament in January.
Under the new treaty the limit on deployed strategic nuclear warheads will be lowered from 2200 under the 2002 SORT (also called Moscow Treaty) to a maximum of 1550 for each side within seven years from the date the treaty enters into force. This represents a further reduction of 30 percent from the current limit set in the Moscow Treaty. The limit on deployed and non-deployed nuclear warhead delivery systems (missile launchers, nuclear submarines and heavy bombers) will be reduced to a maximum of 800. The treaty also establishes a new inspection and verification regime that will be more restrictive than its predecessor in the 1991 treaty.
Arms control proponents consider the reductions in the new treaty to be a modest achievement and start towards President Obama’s goal of a “world without nuclear weapons.” However, the New START treaty marks a considerable improvement in Russian-US relations over the last three years after reaching a low point with the Russian military intervention in Georgia in 2008 and possibly opens the door for further progress on nuclear disarmament in the near future. The US government indicated that it wants to continue talks on further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads as well as elimination of part of the thousands of strategic warheads in storage, and the thousands more tactical nuclear weapons that both nations have. At the present stage the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US account for more than ninety percent of the world's nuclear weapons.