By Tom Collina
Observers of last year’s Senate debate on the New START treaty may be surprised to learn that Russia has already met most of its arsenal reduction obligations under the treaty. According to a State Department fact sheet released today, Russia is below the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles, and close to the 800 limit on launchers.
As of Feb. 5, 2011, Russia had 1,537 deployed strategic warheads and 521 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. The United States had 1,800 deployed strategic warheads and 882 deployed strategic delivery vehicles. Both countries have until 2018 to meet the treaty’s limits.
Why has Russia already met its obligations? Because Moscow was in the process of retiring older strategic missiles while the treaty was under negotiation, and these reductions are expected to continue. Current U.S. delivery systems, by comparison, will stay in service for decades.
This means three things:
1. New START is working. Russia has already deactivated hundreds of nuclear weapons that otherwise could have been aimed at the United States, and the United States is using on-site inspections to verify these reductions. Previously, Russia was estimated to have over 2,000 deployed strategic warheads. This is good news for U.S. security.
2. We need a new treaty. Moscow now faces a choice: it can “build up” its nuclear forces to fully exploit New START limits in the coming years, or it can keep reducing. It is not in U.S. or Russian interests for Moscow to increase its nuclear forces. Instead, both countries should set new lower limits in a new agreement.
3. If Russia can accelerate its reductions, so can the United States. There is no need for the Pentagon to wait until 2018 to get to New START levels. As a confidence building measure, the United States should speed up its reductions, too.
New START critics may say that the treaty was unnecessary, since Russia was reducing its forces anyway. But in fact New START gave Russia the confidence, in terms of being able to predict future U.S. force levels, to continue its reductions and not stop or reverse them. In the same way, a new treaty could give Moscow a reason not to rush to rebuild.