Russia and the United States once possessed more than 30,000 nuclear weapons each. Arms control agreements helped cap and eventually shrink the size of these dangerous arsenals during and after the Cold War. The New START agreement — which entered into force four years ago on February 5, 2011 — is the latest of these landmark reduction agreements and replaced the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired in December 2009.
New START requires each country to have no more than 1,550 deployed strategic offensive nuclear weapons by February 5, 2018. Without New START, Russia and the United States would be unable to effectively verify the size of each other’s nuclear forces, injecting even greater risk into an increasingly tense relationship.
Upon entering office, President Obama immediately recognized the risks of allowing the original START treaty to lapse without a successor agreement in place. The START treaty, conceived by President Reagan and brought to fruition by President George H.W. Bush, was groundbreaking in scope and an essential tool for ending the Cold War.
Wanting to preserve the essential verification measures of the soon-to-expire START agreement, the Obama administration negotiated the New START accord in record time. Led by the efforts of Vice President Biden and then-Senator Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Obama built bipartisan support for this agreement in the Senate. On December 22, 2010, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of the treaty.
Four years ago today, New START entered into force. Since day one, the treaty has contributed to U.S. and global security.
Despite the rising tensions resulting from Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the United States and Russia continue to fully implement the terms of New START. The United States has inspectors on the ground in Russia because of the treaty, verifying that Russia is meeting its commitments. The treaty also provides for notifications that give both the United States and Russia a view into each other’s arsenals, fostering a more stable, resilient, and transparent security relationship.
The success of New START is a reminder of the contribution that arms control agreements play in our national security, and how such agreements can help manage the risks of unpredictable relations between major states. It is a further reminder of how the Prague Agenda, announced by President Obama in April 2009, has produced real security benefits for us and our allies, and is a sign of how we can responsibly pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
Jon B. Wolfsthal is the Senior Director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.