When U.S. President Bush and Russian President Putin signed the Moscow Treaty in 2002, they addressed the nuclear threat by reducing offensive weapons, as their predecessors had. But the Moscow Treaty was different. It came in the wake of America's 2001 withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, and for the first time the United States and Russia reduced their offensive nuclear weapons with no agreement in place that constrained missile defenses.
Breaking the link between offensive force reductions and limits on defense marked a key moment in the establishment of a new nuclear agenda no longer focused on the Cold War face-off between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. The real threat was that the world's most dangerous weapons could end up in the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes—or of terrorists who would launch attacks more devastating than 9/11. And since those very rogue states also pursued ballistic missiles, defenses would (alongside offensive weapons) be integral to the security of the United States and our allies.
It is in this context that we should consider the potential contribution of the New Start treaty to U.S. national security. The treaty is modest, reducing offensive nuclear weapons to 1,550 on each side—more than enough for deterrence. While the treaty puts limits on launchers, U.S. military commanders have testified that we will be able to maintain a triad of bombers, submarine-based delivery vehicles and land-based delivery vehicles. Moreover, the treaty helpfully reinstates on-site verification of Russian nuclear forces, which lapsed with the expiration of the original Start treaty last year. Meaningful verification was a significant achievement of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and its reinstatement is crucial.
(photo credit: x-ray delta one)