The Last Ring of Nuclear Cooperation: The New START Treaty

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The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is at the forefront of events that demonstrate how close the world is to nuclear war. Although on the brink of war, because of the wise actions of the leaders in the United States of America (USA) and the Soviet Union, the problem was solved peacefully and the international community, which was on the knife’s edge during the crisis, breathed a sigh of relief.

On the other hand, the crisis resulted in a time of easing during which the two sides’ dialogue expanded and nuclear weapons agreements were signed. As a matter of fact, immediately after the crisis, the “Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” was signed in 1963[1], which stipulates the prohibition of nuclear weapon tests in all areas except the underground.

In addition to international conventions, the USA, and the Soviet Union, which have the largest nuclear weapons infrastructure in the world, have aimed to restrict the production of nuclear weapons with bilateral conventions and then reduce the number of nuclear weapons in their inventories. In this context, the “Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty” dated 1972[2] was signed because of the negotiations that started in 1969 and provides for the limitation of strategic nuclear weapons. Thus, the goal was to prevent the research and manufacture of new strategic weapons.

Despite the various crises experienced at that time, the cooperation between the USA and the Soviet Union resulted in the signing of the second of the same agreement in 1979, but the US senate did not sign the agreement upon the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and the agreement did not enter into force.

Over time, the delimitation negotiations of nuclear weapons have evolved into a process of reducing the number of existing nuclear weapons. Although it resulted in the reduction of nuclear weapons in 1982 and the “Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty” in 1987 by Ronald Reagan,[3] the “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty” was signed between George Bush and Michael Gorbachev, the President of the Soviet Union, immediately after the Cold War in 1991.[4] With this convention, which entered into force in 1994, an agreement was reached on the reduction of the number of strategic nuclear weapons. With the contract, both parties stipulated that the number of nuclear warheads should be limited to 6,000 and launch vehicles to 1,600.

In this period, in parallel with the cooperation process between the USA and Russia for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, both states signed THE START-II Treaty in 1993, which was complementary to THE START-I Treaty. Aside from the nuclear weapons limit, which will be implemented in two stages, many other concerns have been addressed, including the prohibition of the use of more than one head in intercontinental ballistic missiles.[5] The USA ratified the START-II Treaty in 1996 and Russia in 2000, providing that the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty[6] was maintained. However, Russia withdrew from this treaty on June 13, 2002.

Although the USA and Russia have started to experience a crisis in bilateral conventions since then, they have agreed on the prohibition of nuclear weapons before the international community. It completely banned nuclear weapon tests with “The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty” in 1996.[7]

Although START-II did not stay in force for a long time, the USA and Russia continued their determination in this regard by signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.[8] With the treaty signed on May 24, 2002, and entered into force on June 1, 2003, the USA and Russia agreed to keep the number of strategic nuclear weapons to 1700-2200. The end date of the treaty is December 31, 2012.

The 2009 Prague speech, in which then-US President Barack Obama announced his vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world, also accompanied the signing of a new START agreement between the USA and Russia to replace the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). This contract, which entered into force on February 5, 2021, within 7 years.

  • The number of nuclear missiles and bombers ready for duty is limited to 700,
  • The number of nuclear-heads ready for duty is limited to 1500 and
  • The number of all nuclear weapon launch vehicles is limited to 800, whether they are ready for duty.

START’s validity ended on February 5, 2021. The New START Treaty was worked on to renew the treaty, but then-US President Trump refused to sign the contract, especially under the influence of then-National Security Adviser John Bolton. In his early days in office, President Biden signed off on the treaty the former President Trump had rejected and agreed to extend the New START Treaty for another five years. Thus, they agreed to extend the duration of the only remaining treaty between the USA and Russia for strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.

Within the scope of the treaty, periodic meetings between the delegations are required. However, there were problems in conducting these meetings, especially during the pandemic period. The Russia-Ukraine War and the tension between the West and the East were other factors in this regard. As a matter of fact, regarding the negotiations expected to be held in 2022, Russia suspended the negotiations due to the arms support provided by the USA to Ukraine and stated that they expected the USA to meet conditions for the negotiations for the next year.[9]

In this period, when the world is on the verge of a tipping point due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, when nuclear weaponry, particularly hypersonic missiles, is approaching a more dangerous point than ever before, and nuclear deterrence has returned to the forefront of national and international security, it is highly unlikely that both parties will reach a compromise and sign an agreement. In other words, it would not be a surprise if the last legal treaty on nuclear weapons was repealed during the “New Cold War” period, which started with the USA’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002.

[1] 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (PTBT)

[2] 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)

[3] 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)

[4] 1994 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty-I (START-I)

[5] Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV)

[6] 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty (ABMT)

[7] 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

[8] Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT)

[9] Robyn Dixon, “Russia Postpones Talks on New START Pact, Imperiling Major Nuclear Accord”, The Washington Post,, (Date of Accession: 06.12.2022).

Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
2019 yılında Doçentlik unvanını alan Şafak OĞUZ, Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri’ndeki (TSK) 23 yıllık hizmetinden sonra 2021 yılında emekli olmuştur. Görevi esnasında Birleşmiş Milletler (BM) ve Kuzey Atlantik Antlaşması Örgütü (NATO) bünyesinde de çalışan OĞUZ, Kitle İmha Silahları, Terörizm, Uluslararası Güvenlik, Uluslararası Örgütler ve Barış ve Çatışma Çalışmaları konularında çalışmalar yapmaktadır. OĞUZ, halen Kapadokya Üniversitesi İktisadi, İdari ve Sosyal Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde öğretim üyeliği görevini sürdürmektedir. İyi derece İngilizce ve Almanca bilmektedir.