Monday, January 3, 2011

Senate Approves U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Treaty

In a 71-26 vote Dec. 22, the U.S. Senate ratified the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a pact intended to level the nuclear arms playing field between the U.S. and Russia.

The vote followed the senators' 67-28 vote Dec. 21 to move the bill from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the full Senate.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in a Dec. 21 statement that the treaty, considered critical to U.S. national security, "will enhance strategic stability at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, provide a rigorous inspection regime including on-site access to Russian missile silos, strengthen our leadership role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and provide the necessary flexibility to structure our strategic nuclear forces to best meet national security interests."

The former arms treaty between the two world superpowers, along with its on-site arms inspections, ended nearly a year ago.

The treaty allows U.S. and Russian officials to conduct as many as 18 short-notice, on-site inspections each year, with as many as 10 "type 1" inspections, which focus on strategic systems, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and bombers, and up to eight "type 2" inspections, which cover storage sites, test ranges and other operations.

On-site inspections work in synergy with other elements of the treaty, including data exchanges on the technical characteristics, locations and distribution of weapons. Any changes in the status of strategic systems must be reported through timely notifications and biannual reports, according to the treaty.

The treaty also mandates that 35 facilities in Russia and 17 in the U.S. are subject to inspections. Russian inspectors will be permitted entry into the United States via Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, escorted by Defense Threat Reduction Agency officials. Each side has to give 32 hours’ notice during normal working hours before a short-notice inspection.

The new treaty will be carried out in conjunction with the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, a 20-year-old effort to advance nuclear non-proliferation around the world. As of June 21, the program has supported the elimination of 783 ICBMs and 672 ICBM launchers, 651 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and 476 SLBM launchers, 155 heavy bombers, 906 air-to-surface missiles, and deactivation of 7,545 nuclear warheads.

Russian officials are expected to ratify the treaty by the end of the year.

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