After more than a year of intense negotiations, President Barck Obama announced on March 26, 2010, that an agreement had finally been reached on a new START arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Obama said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would meet in Prague, the Czech Republic, on April 8, to sign it.
"Broadly speaking, the new START treaty makes progress in several areas," Obama said. "It cuts -- by about a third -- the nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia will deploy. It significantly reduces missiles and launchers. It puts in place a strong and effective verification regime. And it maintains the flexibility that we need to protect and advance our national security, and to guarantee our unwavering commitment to the security of our allies."
Here are the particulars, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House: over the next 10 years, the United States and Russia would reduce their number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 warheads. That's 74 percent lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30 percent lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the release notes.
In addition, the countries agreed to cut to 800 the combined limit of deployed and nondeployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments. It also includes a separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
In other words, it addresses Obama's goal of reducing nuclear weapons — whether deployed or nondeployed, whether strategic or nonstrategic.
On the specific issue of verification and openness, the fact sheet states, "Measures under the Treaty include on-site inspections and exhibitions, data exchanges and notifications related to strategic offensive arms and facilities covered by the Treaty, and provisions to facilitate the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring." According to the New York Times, the agreement calls for 18 inspections a year, up from 10 originally proposed by the Russians. In addition, the White House stated, "To increase confidence and transparency, the Treaty also provides for the exchange of telemetry."
Some critics, however, believe the issue of verification is still unclear.
"In addition, the White House clearly lost ground on the issue of verification," Ariel Cohen of the conservative Heritage Foundation wrote on the organization's Web site. "When the START treaty expired in December, the U.S. had to abandon a monitoring station for Russian weapons at the entry and exit portals in Votkinsk, Russia.
"By agreeing to leave this station, the U.S. will be unable to monitor the production of Russia"s highly destabilizing RS-24 mobile multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)," Cohen wrote. "Open sources indicate that this missile will be the mainstay of Russian strategic forces by 2016."
And the agreement, while a significant milestone, is not a done deal. Even after it is signed by Obama and Medvedev on April 8, 2010, it would still need to be approved by the U.S. Senate and the Russian legislature before it can enter into force. In the Senate, it would need to be ratified by two-thirds of the members, 67 votes, not an easy task these days.
Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations called the announced agreement is a "modest, necessary step." But future arms reduction treaties will only get tougher as the number of weapons dips into the hundreds rather than thousands, and the two countries get closer to parity with the nuclear arsenal of other countries like China, France and the United Kingdom. At that point, he said, it will require the United States and Russia to engage those countries in future arms reduction treaties.
So the jury is still out on Obama's promise to work not only with Russia but also with other nuclear powers to reduce global stockpiles dramatically. As Zenko said, that hard work is yet to come.
Still, the agreement is progress. But for now, we'll keep this promise at In the Works.