What is New START?

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 8:53 PM

Here are some of the basics on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which appears likely to be ratified Wednesday or Thursday in the Senate:

What is New START?

The 10-year treaty between the United States and Russia is a successor to START, the nuclear arms-reduction treaty signed in 1991. That pact expired last year. What does New START do?

Three main things: It would cap the number of deployed, long-range nuclear warheads on each side at 1,550, down from 2,200. It would reduce the number of deployed nuclear-capable submarines, long-range missiles and heavy bombers to a maximum of 700, with 100 more in reserve (the United States currently has about 850 deployed; Russia has an estimated 565). Finally, it would reestablish a system in which each of the nuclear giants monitors the other's arsenal. That system ended last year.

Is it a dramatic step in disarmament?

Not really. Because there are different rules in START 1 and New START on counting warheads, the reduction may well amount to less than 30 percent. Also, the treaty does not mandate that the warheads be destroyed - they would be added to the thousands the United States keeps in storage.

But the treaty is a first step in President Obama's nuclear agenda, which envisions moving on to a second round of more ambitious negotiations.

In addition, the Obama administration believes that the treaty will bolster U.S. leadership in the pursuit of nuclear cheaters.

What do opponents say?

They fall into different camps. Some say that traditional arms control is outdated and that it would be better to focus on building an ambitious missile shield, something akin to President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" vision.

Others accept recent presidents' policy of a more limited shield to protect against threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea. But they worry about a few references to missile defense in New START. Although the phrases would not legally bar the United States from carrying out its missile-defense plans, some Republicans worry that Russia would seize on them to pressure Washington.

Some senators are angry about the process. Republicans have complained about considering the treaty in the waning days of a lame-duck session in which Obama has racked up several legislative victories. Republican leaders had wanted the vote postponed until next year, when they will have more clout thanks to victories in the midterm elections.

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