WASHINGTON – The United States and Russia have agreed to a new arms reduction treaty that will slash each of their nuclear arsenals by a third and improve the way the terms of the agreement are verified, President Barack Obama announced today.
Pending Senate approval, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, replaces a predecessor agreement that expired in December, and would represent the achievement of an arms reduction goal that has figured as a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s national security agenda.
“Today, we have taken another step forward in leaving behind the legacy of the 20th century while building a more secure future for our children. We have turned words into action. We have made progress that is clear and concrete,” Obama said at a White House briefing. “And we have demonstrated the importance of American leadership -- and American partnership -- on behalf of our own security, and the world’s.”
Obama, who spoke to reporters after a phone call with Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev, hailed the treaty as the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades and a move that brings the world further from the specter of the Cold War.
Under the treaty, which requires Senate approval before ratification, the United States and Russia would be limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the treaty enters into force. The parameters were based on a Defense Department analysis in support of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said is due out in coming weeks.
Gates, who appeared alongside Obama and other Cabinet members at the briefing, said the treaty strengthens nuclear stability. He also noted that America's nuclear arsenal remains an important pillar of the U.S. defense posture -- both as a deterrent and as reassurance to more than two dozen allies who rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for their security.
“But it is clear that we can accomplish these goals with fewer nuclear weapons,” he said. “The reductions in this treaty will not affect the strength of our nuclear triad, nor does this treaty limit plans to protect the United States and our allies by improving and deploying missile-defense systems.”
The treaty holds personal meaning for Gates, whose lengthy public service career has been partly defined by Cold War considerations and nuclear strategy, including his stint more than four decades ago as a junior Air Force officer in Strategic Air Command.
“The journey we have taken, from being one misstep away from mutual assured destruction to the substantial arms reductions of this new agreement, is testimony to just how much the world has changed,” he said, “and all of the opportunities we still have to make our planet safer and more secure.”
The provisions engendered in the treaty have been embraced by the top military commanders, according to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the nation’s military leaders were allowed to submit their input during the process.
“I would only like to add that I, the vice chairman and the Joint Chiefs, as well as our combatant commanders around the world stand solidly behind this new treaty,” he said, “having had the opportunity to provide our counsel, to make our recommendations and to help shape the final agreements.
“Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires and the flexibility it preserves,” Mullen added, “this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States.”
The treaty caps the number of deployable warheads at 1,550 – either as intercontinental ballistic missiles or deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles – which represents a 74-percent lower limit than the terms set out in the previous treaty. In addition to other reductions, the treaty also implements a beefed-up regimen for verifying compliance with the treaty’s terms.
The previous treaty, signed in July 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, had been considered the biggest arms reduction treaty ever brokered.
Under that agreement, Russia has more than halved its nuclear arsenal, destroying more than 3,000 intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 45 atomic submarines and more than 65 strategic bombers, according to Russia’s foreign ministry.
The United States also reduced by more than 3,000 its arsenal of intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and cut the numbers of its launchers and heavy bombers.