Strategic Arms Control (START)

A. Official Documents
I. Background
II. START I and the Lisbon Protocol
     1. Unilateral Cuts
   2. Cooperative Threat Reduction
   1. 1993 Treaty Text and Protocol
   2. Ratification Process 

V. The Bush Administration and Strategic Arms Control

B. Government and other Official Reports
C. Research and Policy Reports
  START General
  Tactical Weapons
  Cooperative Threat Reduction

A. Official Documents

I. Background

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) of  June 1991, which took nine years of negotiation to complete, was the first arms control agreement to require reductions in the number of nuclear warheads deployed on strategic offensive weapons.  The limitation of strategic offensive weapons had already been negotiated between the United States and the Soviet Union since the late 1960s,  resulting in the signing by both countries of the 1972 SALT I  treaty and the 1979 SALT II treaty.  However, the concept of large reductions rather than merely limitations remained on hold until the 1980s. In 1985, the United States and the Soviet Union both agreed to address this issue, and soon afterwards began to conduct negotiations on strategic offensive weapons as part of the umbrella Nuclear and Space Talks (NST). 

II. START I and the Lisbon Protocol

At the Washington Summit of 1 June 1990, the U.S. and the USSR agreed to complete negotiations on strategic weapons reduction by the end of the year. On 31 July 1991, U.S. President George Bush and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) during a Moscow summit. START is one of the most comprehensive post-Cold War arms control agreements. The treaty codifies in international law the specific obligations and rights which the United States, the Soviet Union and its successor states (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan) had to carry out in order to  reduce their nuclear weapons and delivery systems, including  land-based missiles, intercontinental bombers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. 

The START Treaty also created the Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission (JCIC), a Geneva-based policy body dealing with the solution of treaty implementation issues. Since 1991, the JCIC has issued forty-seven agreements and more than fifty joint statements. 

Joint Compliance Inspection Commission Agreements #1-47

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 delayed the initial ratification of START and created the additional danger of proliferation of Soviet nuclear weapons to a multiplicity of states, specifically Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The United States had initially favored a bilateral treaty, making Moscow responsible for working out implementation arrangements with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. In a meeting in Alma Ata on December 21, 1991, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) leaders agreed to a joint command of nuclear weapons. On December 30, 1991, the CIS further modified their nuclear weapon policies at a meeting in Minsk, Belarus. They agreed to maintain a single, unified control over all nuclear weapons with the Russian president given charge of the nuclear armaments, but with the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan having the right to veto any use of nuclear weapons as long as the weapons remained on their soil. Ukraine and Kazakhstan demanded an equal status under START I, and  the Ukraine also announced  that it would abolish its nuclear weapons only in return for international security guarantees as well as compensation for the nuclear material contained in the warheads and assistance in its disposal.  Thus, the U.S. Senate ratified START on 1 October 1992, pending completion of implementation arrangements among the four republics. On May 23, 1992, the foreign ministers of the four republics and the U.S. signed the Lisbon Protocol which formally recognised Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan as successors to the Soviet Union for START purposes. Kazakhstan ratified it on 2 July 1992, the Russian parliament followed suit on 4 November 1992, but delayed the exchange of instruments of ratification until the other three republics had joined the NPT and made arrangements for implementing the treaty. 

On 8 April 1992, the Bush administration certified to Congress that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine had met the requirements for up to $400 million in Nunn-Lugar assistance for dismantling their nuclear and chemical warheads. As an incentive to persuade the Ukraine to ratify START I, the United States and the Ukraine signed an umbrella agreement 25 October 1993, in which Washington promised $135 million in Nunn-Lugar assistance for dismantling Ukrainian strategic nuclear weapons. On 18 November 1993 the Ukraine ratified START I. On 14 January 1994, the Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk joined US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow to sign a trilateral statement designed to facilitate the removal of nuclear weapons from the Ukraine. Kiev was provided with a number of security assurances, including commitments to respect Ukraineís existing borders and to refrain from economic coercion. The three states also outlined the terms for compensating the  Ukraine for the transfers of the highly enriched uranium. After security assurances were signed on 5 December 1994 in ceremonies at a CSCE summit in Budapest, Ukraine provided the instruments of accession to the NPT, thereby making it possible for START II to become effective. 
The period of strategic offensive arms reductions provided by the START I Treaty ended on December 5, 2001. Russia declared that it had fully honored its obligations under the treaty and that it wants to continue the START process: The "complete and timely implementation of the provisions of the START I Treaty creates a good basis for elaborating an agreement on further drastic reductions of strategic offensive arms".

See also U.S., Russia Complete START I Reductions, Philipp Bleek, Arms Control Today, January/February 2002.

1. Unilateral Nuclear Reductions

American concern about the security of Soviet nuclear weapons motivated the  administration of George Bush Sr. to propose the most far-reaching nuclear reductions ever. On 27 September 1991, the United States announced that it would dismantle or destroy all Amercian tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe,  Asia and on U.S. war-ships, including some 2,150 sea-based and land-based naval nuclear weapons (but not strategic sea-launched ballistic missiles). President Bush also announced unilateral decisions affecting strategic weapons: to take U.S. strategic bombers as well as the 450 Minuteman II single-warhead ICBMs scheduled for elimination under START off alert; as well as to terminate the MX and mobile Midgetman ICBM programs and some modernisation programs for short-range missiles.  On October 5, 1991, Gorbachev matched U.S. unilateral cuts in tactical nuclear arms, strategic alerts, and missile modernization. The Soviet president announced that all nuclear warheads used for for artillery and land-based tactical missiles would be destroyed while all naval tactical-nuclear weapons would be withdrawn and either stored or destroyed. All Soviet nuclear landmines also would be destroyed; while some nuclear warheads for air-defense missiles would be stored and some destroyed. 

2. Cooperative Threat Reduction

The Bush Administration did not insist on rigid verification procedures for the dismantling of Soviet nuclear weapons. It was the US Congress that finally compelled the administration to accept the need to verify the nuclear arms reductions called for in the presidentís September 27 initiative. In November 1991, Congress established the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Programs, which authorized the Pentagon to transfer $400 million from other programs to assist in the the safe dismantling and storage of nuclear weapons and materials within the republics of the former Soviet Union. The CTR Programs were expanded in subsequent years and covered seven major areas: nuclear warhead safety and transportation, nuclear material storage facilities, nonproliferation, strategic delivery vehicle launcher elimination, chemical weapons destruction, and defense conversion.  CTR facilitated the return to Russia of over 1000 warheads from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the removal and secure storage of over 2,500 warheads from missile and bomber bases, the deactivation of four regiments of SS-19 ICBMs in Ukraine, the removal of 750 missiles from their launchers and the elimination of approximately 630 strategic launchers and bombers throughout the NIS. CTR assistance also helped prompt the Ukraine to begin early deactivation and shipment to Russia of SS-19 and SS-24 warheads as well as to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, thereby allowing the START I treaty to become effective. 


1. 1993 Treaty Text and Protocols

Shortly after a brief summit between Us President Bush and the new Russian President Boris Yeltsin on February 1, 1992, in Camp David, the two presidents announced a new round of unilateral cutbacks in strategic modernization and proposed a new round of bilateral nuclear reductions. Bush outlined his proposal in his State of the Union address on January 28, 1992, which focused on strategic nuclear weapons following the previous autumnís reciprocal nuclear cutbacks, which had dealt with tactical weapons. Bush proposed an agreement to eliminate all land-based missiles with multiple warheads and announced a number of unilateral cuts in ongoing U.S. strategic programs. A series of meetings between foreign ministers Baker and Kozyrev produced the Joint Understanding at the June 16-17 meeting between Bush and Yeltsin in Washington.  Presidents Bush and Yeltsin signed START II in Moscow on January 3, 1993. By January 1, 2003, each side would retain only a quarter of the nuclear warheads it had possessed at the beginning of the 1990s. They would be left with 3,000 to 3,500 warheads each. In addition to the limits on quantity, another major result was a ban on the deployment of multiple warhead ICBMs. As of these types of weapons are ´in principal first-strike weapons, the ban realized the claim that strategic forces existed only for the purpose of deterring a strategic attack from the other side. But the deeper cuts called for under START II made the agreement a controversial issue in the Russian Duma. 

2. Ratification Process and New York Protocol

By late March 1995, START II ratification had become a political football between the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Clinton administration. The Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, refused to permit his committee to act on the START Treaty until Senate Democrats would permit voting on a controversial bill to decide State Department reorganization. On January 26, 1996, START II was finally brought to a vote and the Senate overwhelmingly approved the ratification resolution. However, eight conditions and twelve declarations were attached to it. On the Russian side, ratification of the treaty was delayed in the State Duma. In 1997, as a response to this deadlock, the United States and Russia signed the New York protocol which extended the timeframe for the implementation of START II until December 31, 2007.  During 1997 and 1998, the Duma postponed ratification hearings. In March 1999, the Duma took a number of procedural and legislative steps towards ratification. But these efforts were delayed because of NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo and U.S. reluctance to ratify the ABM Treaty protocols (see ABM-TMD demarcation agreements) to which Russian START II ratification is bound by domestic legislation. In August 1999, President Yeltsin submitted another bill for ratification which was declined to be put on the state Duma's parliamentary agenda. On April 14, 2000, the Russian Duma eventually ratified START II by a vote of 228 to 131. The Russian parliament added an important caveat to START II that would allow the Russian president to abrogate all arms control treaties if the American side would pull out of the ABM Treaty and deploy an national missile defense system. President Putin signed the treaty on May 4. The modifications made by the Russian parliament now require ratification by the U.S. Senate, which has not scheduled a time for hearings on this issue. 


At the March 1997 Helsinki summit, Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to begin negotiations on a START III agreement that would reduce each side's nuclear arsenals to 2000-2500 warheads by December 31, 2007.  With the Duma stubbornly unwilling to ratify START II, President Yeltsin urged for even deeper cuts under START III. In December 1997, an announcement made by Yeltsin that Russia would reduce its nuclear arsenal by another third prompted the creation of an U.S. interagency review group tasked with determining an American START III posture. In an April 4, 1998, report to Congress, the administration stated that it was considering option but has not made any decisions. 

Bilateral talks on START III and the ABM Treaty took place in June 1999 and continued throughout the rest of the year without any significant progress. The United States argued in favour of a tradeoff between cutbacks under START III, which Russia desired for financial reasons, and modifications of the ABM Treaty to permit the deployment of a limited national missile defense system. (see ABM section) Russia continued to disagree to such a policy tradeoff. Due to continuing disputes about the conflict between the ABM Treaty and the planned NMD system, the Pentagon began considering START III options that would permit limited deployments of the new Russian Topol-M ICBM with a MIRVed three-warhead configuration. 

On November 13, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the earlier offer to reduce to 1500 strategic warheads was not a lower limit. His administration would consider even lower limits, given the continued acceptance and observation of the ABM Treaty. Putin proposed intensification of the disarmament process, limitation of strategic nuclear arsenals to 1500 warheads by 2008, negotiations on further reductions, U.S. ratification of START II and the 1997 ABM Treaty amendments, preservation of the ABM Treaty and development of an alternative to NMD. The U.S. position comes from a negotiating proposal presented to Russia between January 20 and 21, 2000, that leaked to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Magazine. The document deals mostly with NMD, but there are also sigificant aspects relevant to the U.S. perspective on START III. 

V. The Bush Administration and Strategic Arms Control

The Bush administration, which took office in early 2001, indicated that it favors unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal , as part of its effort to promote a new strategic framework replacing the traditional approach of negotiated arms control treaties. In 1997, Congress had adopted legislation that prohibited any nuclear reductions below certain levels until the START II Treaty entered into force. This move had been generally understood as a congressional attempt to restrict the Clinton administration's freedom of action in this area. In August 2001, the House Armed Services Committee blocked a measure that would have permitted such unilateral reductions. The Committee rejected a proposal to repeal the 1997 law by a vote of 31-22.  

Early on the new administration made it clear that it would pursue a concept of deterrence, different from the past. Reductions to the operational nuclear posture would be accompanied by investing in broad efforts to build missile defenses and maintain the capability to modernize nuclear forces while adapting them to a changing security environment.

More about the Bush administration's diplomacy on strategic stability issues in the
Missile Defense Section

1. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review

On January 8 2002, President Bush sent the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to Congress , the first comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear forces since 1994. The report was written upon congressional recommendation and came about one year later envisaged in the original congressional deadline. While the document provides a wide range of recommendations for keeping US nuclear forces modern, adapt their capabilities to a changing risk environment and provide options for new nuclear weapon systems, it also provides for a new triad. The new triad is made up by nuclear and non-nuclear offensive strike systems, (missile) defense systems and a revitalized nuclear weapons infrastructure. One other result of the long-awaited document was the plan to reduce the number of operationally deployed U.S. nuclear warheads from 6,000 to 3,800 over the next five years as part of the Bush administration's new strategic policy. Additional cuts down to a level of 1.700 -2.200 operationally deployed strategic warheads were envisaged for the time thereafter. Beyond operationally deployed warheads US planning foresees that the US by 2007 should keep at least 2.400 additional warheads for rebuilding the nuclear posture as well as an even larger reserve for possible longer term re-use The administration foresaw to make the cuts independent of Russia's reaction, saw no need for a treaty with Russia or a law that would require congressional approval. However, the option for an arms control agreement with Russia was not foreclosed.

    Influential Background Documents


    Analysis on the NPR 2002


2. Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty

Even though the Bush administration saw no need for a new arms control treaty with Russia it finally agreed to negotiate one. President Bush announced on the eve if the Crawford Summit (13.-15.November 2001), his decision to reduce U.S. offensive weapons stockpile to 1.700 - 2.200 operationally deployed weapons over ten years. Shortly after the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that Russia was prepared to respond in kind.

One month later the US notified Russia that it would withdraw from the ABM-Treaty on June 13, 2002. However, bilateral negotiations on an agreement to reduce the numbers of operationally deployed nuclear forces and a political document describing US-Russia relations, the "new strategic framework", went on.

After several rounds of fierce negotiations it was agreed to finalize two documents. Both were signed and released during a May 23-25 Summit in Moscow. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty is a legally binding arms-control treaty requiring national ratifications that commits both sides to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to between 1.700 and 2.200 warheads by 31.December 2012. It does not contain any provisions on what to do with either the launch-systems or the nuclear warheads. Each side can decide individually on what to do with them. No new transparency or verification measures were agreed. Both sides thus remain extremely flexible on how to implement the treaty. In addition a Joint Declaration was signed which is politically binding. It covers a wide range of topics such as missile defense, strategic stability, US-Russia cooperation, NATO-Russia relations and announces the formation of a bilateral consultative forum on Strategic Stability.

None of the Summit documents mentions the START-2 Treaty, making it likely that Russia will feel no longer bound by this treaty once the US officially leaves the ABM-Treaty on June 13, 2002. If Russia feels no longer bound by START-2, she can modernize and keep in service some of its heavy MIRVED SS-18 missiles, each carrying 10 warheads. Under START-2 these missiles would have to be destroyed.

Just prior to the Moscow Summit, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry agreed a Joint statement to the effect of Russia feeleing no longer bound to START-2. For the text of the Joint Statement as reported please click here The Russian statement was finally published on June 14, 2002. The main immediate effect of this statement is that Russia will extend the service-life of its SS-18 missiles from 2008 to probably 2015.

B. Government and Other Official Reports 


C. Research and Policy Reports

  • A New Agenda for Nuclear Weapons, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, Brookings Institution, January 9, 2002 (pdf)
    President Bush should adapt a new framework for nuclear weapons in the coming decades. In order to facilitate stability in foreign and domestic policy, the Bush administration should decrease the nuclear forces to 1000 strategic weapons and encourage Russia to do the same. By reducing both the threat and reliance on these weapons, the U.S. would be taking the first step at avoiding nuclear conflict.
  • The End of Strategic Arms Control? Pavel Podvig, Center for Arms Control Studies, PONARS Policy Memo No. 217, December 2001 (pdf)
    The traditional strategic arms control process may never recover from the end of the Cold War. Russian attempts to revitalize it by using the threat of a new arms race have largely failed. This is not to say that questions of strategic parity including missile defense will disappear from the U.S.-Russia agenda. Both countries seem to understand that they need to replace the old framework with something new, but so far their efforts remained at a rhetorical level.
  • De-alerting Russian and US nuclear weapons: A path to reducing nuclear dangers, A.G. Arbatov, V.S. Belous, A.A. Pikaev, V.G. Baranovsky, Institute of International Economy and Foreign Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Winter 2001
    Points out that the current situation is unacceptable: Ten years after the end of the Cold War, strategic nuclear weapons of both Russia and the U.S. are still on high alert and can be launched against one another within several minutes.
  • Return of the Nuclear Debate, Leon Fuerth, The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2001 (pdf)
    Vice President Al Goreís former national security adviser on the Bush administrationís security strategy and alternative policy options.
  • Russia and Global Security, Approaches to Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Igor Khripunov, National Bureau of Asian Research, August 2001 (also in pdf)
    The post-Cold War period demonstrated a growing linkage, if not merger, of arms control and nonproliferation. Russia's stance on these policy areas will be increasingly shaped by other countriesí approaches and preferences rather than its own exclusive national interests. A formula needs to be carefully developed to provide an unprecedented degree of mutual transparency and verification that would enable Russia to further reduce the nuclear weapons stockpiles. But while this new arms control framework does not require immediate solutions, the prevention of proliferation from Russia does call for speedy action.
  • The Myths About Unilateral Nuclear Arms Reductions, Nikolai Sokov, Monterey Institute, April 2001
    The idea that unilateral nuclear arms reduction is better than the traditional but slower process of negotiated formal arms control treaties is becoming increasingly popular. This is because the assumptions about the advantages of unilateral reductions satisfy both liberal proponents of arms control and their conservative opponents. But rather than unilateral measures alone, a mix of unilateral initiatives and formal negotiations can probably yield optimal results.
  • U.S.-Russian Relations: An Agenda for Renewal, Andrew Kuchins, Carnegie Endowment, March 26, 2001 

  • The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia has become more complex over the past 10 years. The power asymmetry between both countries has widened, and Russia is increasingly less of a foreign policy priority for the United States. The Bush administration needs to be more careful in how they deal with Russia. Propagating an image of Russia in negative terms as a growing threat for the U.S. in many areas is counterproductive. 
  • Renovating U.S. Strategic Arms Control Policy, Richard Sokolsky, Strategic Forum, February 2001 

  • The traditional arms control process has reached an impasse. The United States and Russia should embrace a new framework for strategic nuclear forces reductions, centered around unilateral and parallel unilateral measures. The Bush administration should give priority to repealing legislation that prohibits the U.S. from unilaterally reducing strategic forces until START II enters into force. 
  • START II Ratification: More Than Meets the Eye, Nikolai Sokov, CNS Report, April 17, 2000

  • The central importance about START II ratification is that it enables negotiations on a START III treaty which would entail even deeper reductions. 
  • The Rise and Fall of START II: The Russian View, Alexander Pikayev, Carnegie Endowment, 1999 (pdf)

  • Discusses the history of START II and the strategic rationale behind Russian nuclear force structures, and outlines a proposal for a new nuclear relationship between the United States and Russia. 
  • Jump-START: Retaking the Initiative to Reduce Post-Cold War Nuclear Dangers, Committee on Nulcear Policy, February 25, 1999 (pdf)

  • This report suggests to move beyond the traditional START process, arguing that the formal treaty negotiation process has not dealt effectively with the post-Cold War situation. Instead, the report calls for deep cuts, transparency and verification measures and removing the hair-trigger status. 
  • START Implementation: A Report, Joseph Harahan, Disarmament Forum 1999 (pdf)

  • START established an arms control system to monitor all of the activities of the operational nuclear forces whether deployed, stored, transported or being reduced, over the vast territories of the former Soviet Union and the United States. 

Tactical Weapons

  • Uncovered Nukes: A fact sheet on tactical nuclear weapons, Alistair Millar and Brian Alexander, Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, Issue Brief, Volume 5, Number 19, November 30, 2001
    Updated short version of the November 16 report.

  • Uncovered Nukes: Arms Control and the Challenge of Tactical Nuclear Weapons, Alistair Millar and Brian Alexander, Fourth Freedom Forum, November 16, 2001 (pdf)
    Addresses currently deployed and stored arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons, and problems related to the potential for future development of low-yield, bunker buster, earth penetration tactical nuclear weapons on the other. To prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons, an adequate formal security regime for the control of all nuclear weapons, including tactical weapons, is essential.

  • The Future of Tactical Nuclear Weapons, William Conrad, June 26, 2001
    This U.S. Air Force paper argues that there will be entirely new types of nuclear weapon deployed in the future. Because these weapons will be less contaminating, more discriminate, and more versatile, they will likely break down the nuclear taboo to some extent, freeing decisionmakers to use them.

  • Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Nature of the Problem, William Potter and Nikolai Sokov, CNS Reports, January 4, 2001 
    Although the American-Russian unilateral statements in the early 1990s have resulted in significant reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, they remain the least arms control regulated nuclear weapons. This report analyzes the properties of tactical nuclear weapons, the dynamic of the U.S.-Russian relationship, and developments in American and Russian military doctrines; the shortcomings of the 1991-92 informal regime and alternative approaches for rectifying them; and concrete policy recommendations for both the immediate and longer-term.

  • The Tactical Nuclear Weapons Scare of 2001, Nikolai Sokov, CNS Reports, January 2001
    Analyzes the supposed transferring of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad Oblast in early 2001.

Cooperative Threat Reduction