WASHINGTON -- The U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control accord is operating “exactly as advertised,” Secretary of State John Kerry declared Monday on the third anniversary of the treaty’s signing.
One expert, though, characterized the reductions in actual warhead counts under the pact so far as unimpressive.
President Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev inked the treaty on April 8, 2010. It entered into force less than a year later, requiring both nations to by 2018 deploy no more than 1,550 long-range nuclear warheads on 700 delivery vehicles.
Kerry, who was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, guided the treaty through the upper chamber. Thirteen Republicans joined 56 Democratic senators and two independents to vote in favor of ratification.
“I'm proud that in the end we sent a signal to the world that in American foreign policy, however uphill the slog and improbable the victory, partisan politics can still stop at the water's edge,” Kerry wrote in a Foreign Policy commentary. “But I'd like to see our country get back to the days of near unanimity on these vital issues -- because the commitment to nonproliferation and arms control that began under Presidents Nixon and Reagan should continue well into the future.”
That could be accomplished in part by “relentlessly following the facts,” which demonstrate that “despite any of the alarm bells treaty foes may have run, the treaty is working -- exactly as advertised,” he wrote.
The treaty provides both nations with insight into the other’s strategic nuclear operations in order to avoid instability or sudden dangers,” according to Kerry.
Moscow and Washington have conducted 78 on-site examinations of weapons systems and have traded more than 4,000 notifications on arms counts, placements and transit.
“Accurate and timely knowledge of each other's nuclear forces dampens the risks of misunderstanding, mistrust, and worst-case analysis and decision-making,” Kerry stated. “Such mutual confidence and predictability are crucial to international stability.”
The majority of Republican lawmakers have remained skeptical at best of the treaty, wary of Russia’s intentions and worried about undermining the U.S. deterrent as the nation is faced with threats from nations such as Iran and North Korea. They have lambasted the Obama administration for walking back from nuclear complex modernization funding pledges made during the 2010 campaign for New START ratification.
Kerry reaffirmed the Obama administration’s intent to pursue further nuclear cuts with Russia, which would also cover short-range and reserve weapons, while dealing with Iran and North Korea and ensuring terrorists cannot obtain nuclear-weapon material.
“We will follow through on this goal in a deliberate, step-by step manner, proactively consulting with Capitol Hill, talking with our allies and engaging Russia on future negotiations,” Kerry wrote. “To be clear: reducing nuclear weapons is not an end in and of itself, but a means toward creating a safer and more stable world. We'll only make reductions that are in our national security interest, and that of our allies.”
The State Department last week released the latest New START figures. As of March 1, the United States had 1,654 fielded strategic warheads and 792 active ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers. Russia had 1,480 deployed warheads and 492 delivery vehicles, already placing it below treaty caps.
“The warhead reductions achieved under New START so far are not impressive,” according to Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project. “Since the treaty entered into effect in February 2011, the world’s two largest nuclear weapons states -- with combined stockpiles of nearly 10,000 warheads -- have only reduced their deployed arsenals by a total of 203 warheads,” he stated in a blog post last week.
Kristensen warned of the potential ramifications of the U.S. 300-missile and bomber advantage over Russia. Faced with that deficit, Moscow places more warheads on each delivery system and engages in “worst-case military planning and paranoia about treaty breakout plans,” he said.