START I Treaty

START I Treaty


The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, now known as START I, was one of the key weapons agreements forged during the détente period of the late Cold War era. Negotiations for strategic weapon reductions of the United States and Soviet Union arsenals began in 1982, when both nations sought a lessening of Cold War tensions. The initial enthusiasm for the treaty waned when the Soviet Union withdrew from talks regarding weapons reduction after the United States deployed several immediate-range missiles in allied nations in western Europe. Negotiations did not begin again until 1985, and then progressed slowly until the fall the Iron Curtain and Soviet-influenced communism in Eastern Europe. START I was finally signed by United States President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhel Gorbachev in Moscow on July 31, 1991.

START I called for a drastic reduction of United States and Soviet arsenals. The treaty was originally designed to cover a fifteen-year period, in which the total Cold War build-up of weapons would be reduced to a third of its pretreaty strength. The two nations agreed to limit strategic arms, and maintain similarly strengthened arsenals. The treaty covered not only warheads, but also long-range delivery vehicles including Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). START I limited each nation to 1,600 nuclear delivery vehicles, 6,000 warheads, and less than 7,000 ballistic missile warheads. Both nations began developing plans and facilities for weapons destruction during the negotiation process, however, the United States was better equipped to handle limited disarmament at the time START I was signed.

Though an indication of diminishing Cold War era tensions between the two nations, the treaty was controversial. Some argued that the treaty handicapped new weapons development and downplayed national security threats from other nations aside from the Soviet Union. Environmentalists feared that large-scale weapons destruction would not be adequately planned or contained, causing damage similar to that of already controversial weapons testing.

The largest hurdle to START I, however, came just a few months after its ratification. In 1991, The Soviet Union dissolved, leaving its nuclear arsenal scattered in the newly independent nations of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. The four Soviet successor states signed an addendum to the START I treaty on May 23, 1992. The Lisbon Protocol to the START I treaty added these nations to the treaty, each agreeing to dismantle their weapons arsenals to meet the provisions of the original treaty. The protocol further bound the nations to a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, strictly curtailing the sale or transmission of nuclear technology to non-nuclear nations and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear weapons from Soviet successor states, with the exception of Russia. Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, all warheads in Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan were transferred back to Russia by 1997.

START I does not expire until 2009, but in December 2001, all START I reductions were completed. Russia and the United States signed a subsequent START treaty in 1993, and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) in 2002. These treaties further reduce the permitted number of strategic arms, but also address the problems of aging nuclear arsenals and the possibility of long-term weapons storage as an alternative to destruction.



United States Department of Energy, Atomic Century < > (20 December 2002).



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