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New START Treaty Frequently Asked Questions

New START Treaty Frequently Asked Questions
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
June 10, 2010

What does the New START Treaty do?
The New START Treaty reduces the legal limit on the number of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia can deploy. For the purposes of the treaty, you can think of a nuclear weapon as having three parts: a warhead; a delivery vehicle, such as a missile; and a launcher that houses the delivery vehicle, like a missile silo. (In the case of bombs delivered by airplane, the bomber is both the delivery vehicle and the launcher.) The New START Treaty places numerical caps on each of these components. Each side is allowed 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery vehicles, and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers. The terms “deployed” and “non-deployed” are defined in the treaty, but essentially a deployed weapon is one that is ready for use, and a non-deployed launcher is one that is part of a test or training facility.

How do these numbers compare to previous treaties?
The only U.S.-Russian strategic arms control agreement now in force is the Moscow Treaty, which was signed in 2002. It only limits deployed warheads, to between 1,700 and 2,200 on each side. Using the upper end of that range as a baseline, one could say that the New START Treaty reduces each side’s deployed arsenal by 30 percent. However, the actual reductions will be different, in part because warheads are counted differently under the two treaties and in part because, according to publicly available data, the United States is thought to currently deploy about 1,950 strategic warheads and Russia 2,600. The Moscow Treaty does not limit either delivery vehicles or launchers, but the original START Treaty capped each country’s delivery vehicles at 1,600. At present Russia only deploys about 575 delivery vehicles and so will not have to remove any from deployment to come into compliance with New START; the United States, which deploys 880, will.

Will any weapons be destroyed?
Because the treaty limits only deployed warheads and delivery vehicles, the United States and Russia can meet those limits by removing items from active service. Because the treaty limits both deployed and non-deployed launchers, the United States will have to disable or dismantle a small number of launchers or convert them so that they can carry only conventional weapons. The United States will retain a significant ability in an emergency, however, to load additional warheads on its remaining strategic missiles.

How can we tell whether the Russians are complying with the treaty?
Arms control treaties have traditionally established mechanisms that allow each side to verify whether the other is in fact observing the terms of the agreement. The New START Treaty requires that the United States and Russia exchange data about their force size and structure, notify each other of changes, and permit 18 short-notice inspections each year to verify the accuracy of those claims. New START permits fewer inspections than the original START treaty, but there are also fewer facilities and weapons to inspect because of past reductions. The new treaty also requires for the first time that every delivery vehicle be given a unique identification number that will make it easier to track its movement. Currently, there are no formal verification mechanisms in place because the original START Treaty expired on December 5th of last year. (The Moscow Treaty, which is still in force, does not contain any verification provisions.)

Why do we still do arms control with Russia?
Together, the United States and Russia have more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, so it makes sense to stabilize their relationship. Arms control does this by establishing rough parity in force levels while increasing transparency and predictability. That helps keep each side from wasting money and time building unneeded weapons out of false worries that the other side is secretly building up its arsenal. Because they establish a track record of cooperation, negotiations on nuclear weapons may also help the United States and Russia to work together on other issues of mutual concern. And, finally, reducing their nuclear arsenals helps the United States and Russia meet their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which calls for states that have nuclear weapons to work toward eventual disarmament. The New START Treaty can therefore increase our credibility with the more than 180 non-nuclear-weapon states and secure their help in fighting the spread of weapons to rogues like North Korea and Iran—and to terrorists.

How does this treaty affect our missile defense plans?
It doesn’t. The Obama administration will be able to proceed with the plans for ballistic missile defense that it announced last year. The treaty contains only one restriction on missile defense: the United States and Russia cannot use existing ICBM silos or SLBM launch tubes to house missile defense interceptors. Our most senior military leaders have repeatedly said that they did not want to do that anyway, because converting existing silos is more expensive and less effective than building new facilities. The treaty’s preamble also acknowledges that there is a relationship between one country’s deployment of missile defenses and the effectiveness of the other’s offensive forces, but that is a widely accepted truism. Some skeptics have expressed concern because Russia has said that it will pull out of the treaty if U.S. missile defenses ever threaten Russia’s deterrent—and that the preamble could provide a pretext for doing so. But the preamble language is not legally binding, and throughout the negotiations we were explicit with the Russians about our plans to protect ourselves and our allies. Arms control treaties since Kennedy administration have allowed signatories to withdraw if they felt their national interests were threatened—and we want to keep it that way, in case our interests are somehow threatened in the future.

What happens next?
Under the Constitution, the Senate must provide its advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the New START Treaty. The Foreign Relations Committee is currently reviewing the treaty, considering associated documents, and holding hearings with officials from the Obama administration, officials from previous administrations, and supporters and skeptics regarding the treaty. This summer, the Committee plans to draw up and vote on a resolution of ratification that it would recommend to the Senate. Two-thirds of the full Senate—at least 67 senators—must approve such a resolution. Russia’s parliament must also approve the treaty. Once the treaty is ratified, the United States and Russia may hold further negotiations on other nuclear issues, such as the role, number, and security of tactical nuclear weapons.

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