Posts Tagged START

Making Sense of the START Debate

Making Sense of the START Debate is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

By George Friedman

Last week, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which had been signed in April. The Russian legislature still has to provide final approval of the treaty, but it is likely to do so, and therefore a New START is set to go into force. That leaves two questions to discuss. First, what exactly have the two sides agreed to and, second, what does it mean? Let’s begin with the first.

The original START was signed July 31, 1991, and reductions were completed in 2001. The treaty put a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that could be deployed. In addition to limiting the number of land- and submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and strategic bombers, it capped the number of warheads that were available to launch at 6,000. The fact that this is a staggering number of nuclear weapons should give you some idea of the staggering number in existence prior to START. START I lapsed in 2009, and the new treaty is essentially designed to reinstate it.

It is important to remember that Ronald Reagan first proposed START. His initial proposal focused on reducing the number of ICBMs. Given that the Soviets did not have an effective intercontinental bomber force and the United States had a massive B-52 force and follow-on bombers in the works, the treaty he proposed would have decreased the Soviet quantitative advantage in missile-based systems without meaningfully reducing the U.S. advantage in bombers. The Soviets, of course, objected, and a more balanced treaty emerged.

What is striking is that START was signed just before the Soviet Union collapsed and implemented long after it was gone. It derived from the political realities that existed during the early 1980s. One of the things the signers of both the original START and the New START have ignored is that nuclear weapons by themselves are not the issue. The issue is the geopolitical relationship between the two powers. The number of weapons may affect budgetary considerations and theoretical targeting metrics, but the danger of nuclear war does not derive from the number of weapons but from the political relationship between nations. Read the rest of this entry »

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