ACTION ALERT: Biden: Critical Opportunity to Reduce Nuclear Threat Is at Risk
November 17, 2010
BBC World News
Vice-President Joseph Biden has warned the US that failure to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia will "endanger our national security." Get up to speed on the debate over nuclear arms reduction and the new START treaty by reading the following background articles. And then get involved by contacting your representatives.
Biden Warns Failure to Pass Nuclear Treaty Endangers US
• New Start: 1,550 each, maximum
• Russia (2010): 2,600
• US (2009): 2,252
• New Start: 700 each, maximum
• Russia (2010): 566
• US (2009): 798 Source: White House and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
WASHINGTON (November 16, 2010) -- Vice-President Joseph Biden has warned the US that failure to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia will "endanger our national security".
He was reacting to comments by Jon Kyl, a Republican senator who said he did not think ratification of the New Start treaty should be considered this year. Mr Biden said without such approval, the US would be unable to inspect and track the Russian nuclear arsenal.
The treaty aims to reduce the nuclear arsenal of the two countries.
Signed in April by US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev New Start replaces the Start treaty which expired in December of last year.
"The New Start treaty is a fundamental part of our relationship with Russia, which has been critical to our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan and to impose and enforce strong sanctions on the Iranian government," Mr Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
Senate Fight Ahead
BBC State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas says there is an all out effort by the Obama administration to get ratification during the lame duck session of Congress.
In January, the Democratic majority in the new Congress shrinks to 51. Sixty-seven votes are required to pass the treaty.
Our correspondent says that frustrated Democrats believe Republicans are keen to deprive Barack Obama of any political victory after the mid-terms elections but warn that voters will not want their representatives to play with the country's national security.
The treaty was designed in part to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, which expired in December 2009.
It commits the former Cold War enemies each to reducing the number of deployed strategic warheads and delivery vehicles, and establishes a compliance and verification regime.
Senate Republicans have said they need further reassurance about America's deterrent capability after Start.
Mr Kyl said in a statement: "When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to Start and modernization."
But Mr Biden noted the treaty had been vetted in 18 Senate hearings and had been endorsed by prominent former national security and diplomatic officials of both parties.
The vice-president said the Obama administration had made clear its plans to spend $80 billion (£50.4) to upgrade the nuclear arsenal over the next decade, and plans to request an additional $4.1 billion.
• Warheads: 1,550 (74% lower than the 1991 Start Treaty and 30% lower than the figure of 2,200 that each side was meant to reach by 2012 under the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (Sort))
• Launchers: 700 deployed intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments
• New limit on delivery systems less than half current ceiling of 1,600
• Q&A: New Start
• US and Russian nuclear arsenals
• Global map of nuclear arsenals
Q&A: New Start
The New Start treaty, signed by the US and Russian presidents, replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start), first proposed by US President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and signed in 1991, as the USSR sped towards collapse.
How does New Start differ from Start?
It puts new, lower limits on the size of each country's nuclear arsenal, and updates the verification mechanism.
What are the new limits?
There are limits on warheads and on launchers, which must be implemented within seven years of the treaty's entry into force.
Warheads: Under the New Start treaty each side is allowed a maximum of 1,550 warheads. This is about 30% lower than the figure of 2,200 that each side was meant to reach by 2012 under the Start treaty (as revised in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty).
Launchers: Each country is allowed, in total, no more than 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear arms. Another 100 are allowed if they are not operationally deployed -- for example, missiles removed from a sub undergoing a long-term overhaul.
The new limit on delivery systems is less than half the ceiling of 1,600 specified in the original Start treaty.
How dramatic are these cuts?
Not as dramatic as they might appear. The rules for counting warheads contain a big loophole. While each warhead on a ballistic missile is counted as one warhead, a heavy bomber is counted as carrying "one warhead" even though it may carry (in the case of a US B-52) up to 20 of them.
According to the Arms Control Association, a pro-disarmament pressure group, the US could theoretically meet the new limits by cutting just 100 warheads, while Russia would only need to cut 190.
In addition, the agreed ceilings refer to deployed warheads, not to warheads in storage.
A warhead could, in theory, be put into storage, and then redeployed when needed.
The cuts in launchers are also, in practice, not all that challenging. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that Russia currently has 566 -- well under the permitted ceiling of 700. It estimates that the US has 798, necessitating a cut of about 12%.
So is President Obama failing to make real progress towards his goal of cutting nuclear arms?
Supporters of the deal say that while it does not make big cuts, it is a useful confidence-building measure, which could pave the way for further nuclear deals with Russia.
They say it also signals to the rest of the world that the US and Russia are not ignoring their commitment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to progressively disarm.
How does the new verification regime differ from the old one?
The important difference, according to the Arms Control Association, is that each side will now be able to carry out on-site inspections to verify how many warheads a missile is carrying. Together with satellite imagery, this should give an accurate picture of the other country's nuclear strength. Some other forms of verification will cease.
Does the new treaty mention missile defence?
Yes, it says that both sides can engage in "limited" missile defence. Russia has warned that it will withdraw from the treaty if a future US missile defence shield weakens its nuclear deterrent.
Does the treaty need to be ratified by legislators?
Yes, it will need approval from the US Senate and the Russian Duma. The Obama administration is hoping it will be ratified by the end of 2010 -- though some senators argue that the cuts go too far and are expected to vote against.
What could be included in future arms control negotiations?
The US wants further cuts in strategic nuclear arms, but is also keen to negotiate a reduction in Russia's short-range nuclear missile arsenal.
Russia wants the US to remove its 200 nuclear bombs from Europe (based in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey) and would like to restrict the US's ability to put conventional warheads on long-range missiles.
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