On February 5, 2018 the United States and Russia announced that they had each met the central limits required by the New START Treaty.
The Treaty, which entered into force on February 5, 2011 limits the strategic nuclear forces of both countries and includes extensive verification provisions including data exchanges and on-site inspections. The Treaty’s duration is 10 years (through February 5, 2021), but it allows the parties to agree to extend the Treaty for an additional five years until February 5, 2026.
The Treaty limits each country to no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads on a maximum of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers; and no more than a combined total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. These limits were required to be met by February 5, 2018—seven years after the Treaty’s entry into force.
So, are we done? Can we now declare victory and move on? Not quite. Brian Rose, a program officer in NTI’s Global Nuclear Policy Program, explains why.
What happens now? Are we done now that we’ve met the central limits of New START?
No, we’re definitely not done. The limits remain in force and the essential verification provisions in the Treaty will continue to allow both the United States and Russia to confirm that each party remains in compliance through the rest of the treaty’s lifetime.
The verification measures under New START are robust. They include 18 on-site inspections per year for each side, regular notifications (almost 15,000 to date), and twice-annual comprehensive data exchanges regarding the status and movements of strategic nuclear forces and facilities. They also include provisions that facilitate monitoring the Treaty using technical means such as satellite imagery. The United States and Russia also conduct an annual exchange of telemetry data on an agreed number of missile tests in order to discern information about the actual performance of the other side’s strategic missiles.
Now that the central limits of the Treaty have been met, it will be even more important to do these inspections and get this information to verify that both sides remain compliant.