Back from the brink of annihilation, the Obama administration’s treaty with Russia on reducing nuclear weapons is looking like it’ll pass the Senate after all, possibly as early as Wednesday. The only thing that everyone’s overlooked in the past several months’ political theater over the treaty is what it actually does — and doesn’t do. So we’re here to help.
The headlines first: New START caps strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 on each side. (According to the nuke wonks at the Ploughshares Fund, the Russians have 2,600 strategic nuclear weapons and the United States has just under 2,000.) The intercontinental ballistic missiles, subs and bombers that deliver them have to be capped at 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers.
By most arms-control experts’ accounts, these are pretty modest cuts, still allowing each side to incinerate the Earth several times over.
Additionally, every year, each side will conduct 18 on-site inspections at places where those warheads and delivery vehicles are stored. That’s 10 annual inspections fewer than under the old treaty, but more data is extracted from each inspection. The 1991 predecessor treaty only allowed inspectors to count launchers and approximate the number of warheads they contained, for instance, but the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty requires the United States and Russia to individually catalog each weapon with its distinct warhead payload.