Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When START Began

Sixteen years ago today, U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The Treaty barred its signatories (initially the U.S. and the USSR, but subsequently Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan) from deploying more than 6,000 “countable” nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

While both the U.S. and Russia are well below these limitations, START I also established an elaborate scheme of inspections, data sharing, advance missile test notifications and satellite surveillance, which later provided the foundation for monitoring compliance with the subsequently negotiated (and otherwise toothless) Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty.

The Bush administration announced in May that it plans to let START I expire when it runs out at the end of 2009 and would instead seek to replace the Treaty with a less formal agreement that contains weaker verification mechanisms. That decision hasn’t gone over very well with the intelligence community or ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chairman of the Committee, even went so far as to say, ''I think it would be the single greatest negative legacy this administration could leave if it leaves us in a situation where there is no future architecture to follow on to START.”

Similar concerns over the expiration of START I run deep in the House. Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, and nearly 30 other Representatives sent a letter to President Bush last week urging him to extend START I until a new agreement is reached. Notably, Tauscher was joined by Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton, and Chairman of House International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos, among others.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Russian counterpart did recently issue a brief joint statement on July 3 indicating that both sides would continue to discuss START I, but their joint statement lacked any new information and reflected persistent disagreements between the two countries on the specifics of a follow-on or extension to START I. The statement merely indicated that both sides were discussing the issue, but that differences between both sides remain.


Russ Wellen said...

I created a link to this on high-traffic news aggregator http://www.opednews.com/. Under "Best Web OpEds": "The single greatest. . ."

Jeff Lindemyer said...

Great, thanks for the link Russ.