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Milestones in U.S.-Russian Arms Control

20 March 2012

The United States worked together with the Soviet Union and then Russia on ways to prevent nuclear war and the spread of nuclear weapons.


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ALT: Missile in silo (AP Images)


The United States and Russia seek to curb nuclear arms and safeguard material that can lead to nuclear proliferation. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) aims to ban all nuclear explosions; it awaits ratification by nine countries. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), expiring in 2009, led to the removal of all nuclear arms from Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The United States and Russia sought a new bilateral accord by the end of 2009. Pictured is a former South Dakota intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) site, now a Cold War museum.


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ALT: President Kennedy signing document at table, with men behind him (AP Images)


President John F. Kennedy signs the Limited Test Ban Treaty in October 1963, banning nuclear arms tests in the air, in space and under water, but not under ground. It was a precursor to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Watching from left are Senator John Pastore, Under Secretary of State Averell Harriman, and senators Fulbright, Smathers and Aiken. Signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, the treaty allayed fear of the danger of atmospheric nuclear fallout. Two of the then five world nuclear powers — France and China — were not included in the treaty.



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ALT: President Johnson and others seated at long table (LBJ Presidential Library)


President Lyndon Johnson watches as Secretary of State Dean Rusk prepares to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on July 1, 1968. The treaty set the stage for global cooperation against nuclear proliferation. The treaty had a 25-year lifespan, and was extended indefinitely by the parties in 1995. Only four states are not a party to the NPT: India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan. Signatories agreed to cooperate in developing peaceful nuclear technology, to work to end the nuclear arms race and to limit the spread of nuclear technology.


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ALT: President Nixon and Premier Leonid Brezhnev shaking hands as other men look on (AP Images)


The first round of Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT I) produced the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and a framework for reduced caps on nuclear warhead delivery systems. President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev exchanged the treaty document on May 29, 1972. Active discussions on arms control from the late 1960s to the late 1970s contributed to the emergence of an era of improved bilateral relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, a time known as detente. The ABM Treaty remained in effect until 2002, when the United States withdrew from the pact.


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ALT: Aerial shot of dust rising from underground test crater (AP Images)


Dust rises after an underground test at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) limited underground nuclear weapons tests and each side agreed to share program data. The TTBT banned tests of more than 150 kilotons. Both sides also signed a Peaceful (underground) Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNET). Verification limitations caused a delay in ratification, but the United States and the Soviet Union promised to observe the limits nonetheless. Agreement on verification means was reached in June 1990. The TTBT and PNET took effect in December 1990.


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ALT: President Carter and Premier Leonid Brezhnev signing documents at table, with men standing behind (AP Images)


U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II Treaty in Vienna in June 1979. SALT II was a comprehensive treaty setting limits on strategic offensive weapons systems. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan stalled ratification, but both sides pledged to meet the SALT II terms anyway. In 1986, the United States declared that the Soviet Union had not met its SALT commitments, stating that future U.S. decisions on strategic arms would be based on the magnitude and nature of the threat posed to it by Soviet strategic forces, not by SALT terms.


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ALT: Missiles on parade in Moscow before large Lenin poster (AP Images)


The detente era waned in the 1980s, spurring a renewed nuclear and conventional military buildup. Pictured is a military parade through Moscow’s Red Square in 1982. That same year, U.S. President Ronald Reagan proposed a 50 percent cut in strategic weapons. While not initially embraced by the Soviets, the proposal led to talks on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to reduce and limit strategic offensive arms.


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ALT: President Reagan and President Mikhail Gorbachev seated, exchanging pens, with man leaning over them (AP Images)


President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens after signing the Treaty on Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF) in 1987, which eliminated a whole class of nuclear weapons and restricted deployment of intermediate- and short-range land-based missiles, including cruise missiles with ranges of 300 miles to 3,400 miles (483–5,472 kilometers). The treaty called for major verification measures, including intrusive inspections, and called for limits on future deployments as well as the destruction of existing weapons.


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ALT: Group of people looking down into missile silo (AP Images)


In 1991, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) requiring cuts of a third in warheads. The dissolution of the Soviet Union raised concerns about the efficacy of START, but by 1992, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus had ratified the treaty and agreed to destroy their weapons or give them to Russia. START made cuts in nuclear arsenals and delivery systems: submarine-launched ballistic missiles, ICBMs and strategic bombers. This photo shows a missile silo in Ukraine’s Khmelnitsky oblast just before it was destroyed under the terms of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.


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ALT: President George H.W. Bush and President Boris Yeltsin facing each other, raising glasses (AP Images)


U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin toast the signing of the START II Treaty in Moscow on January 3, 1993. START II called for an overall 50 percent reduction in nuclear weapons. The United States ratified the START II agreement in 1996, and Russia followed suit in 2000, contingent on U.S. observance of the ABM Treaty. Following U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia declared itself no longer bound by the START II provisions.


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President Bill Clinton, flanked by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, applauds the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996. The treaty set the goal of banning nuclear weapons tests. All 44 states taking part in the 1996 Conference on Disarmament and possessing nuclear power or research reactors at the time (the Annex II states) must sign and ratify for it to enter in force. So far, 35 have done so. In 1999, the CTBT fell short of the two-thirds U.S. Senate vote needed to ratify it. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to lead a new effort to obtain the Senate’s consent.


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The last U.S. Minuteman II missile silo is imploded in 1997 in accordance with the START mandate to cut strategic nuclear arms and delivery vehicles. To meet lower levels, each nation destroyed or eliminated deployed systems. In 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to a new round of talks for a START III pact to further reduce nuclear stockpiles, but little progress was made. Also in 1997, the United States and Russia agreed to cap their stockpiles of nuclear-weapons-grade plutonium, prohibiting the use in nuclear weapons of recently produced plutonium.


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A U.S. test rocket is shown before launch from the Marshall Islands as a part of the U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) program. In 1999, President Clinton signed the National Missile Defense Act to develop an NMD system, making clear that deployment was subject to congressional approval, and thus no deployment order had been made, and that it was U.S. policy to seek further negotiated cuts in Russian nuclear forces. Moscow balked at U.S. calls to amend the ABM Treaty to allow each side to build national defenses against limited nuclear attack by other states.


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President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, in May 2002. The treaty cuts strategic nuclear warheads over 10 years. START I remains in force, expiring December 5, 2009. SORT was ratified and came into force in 2003. In its annual SORT report of April 2009, the United States reported having 2,246 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads, and reported continued expected progress in further reducing warheads to meet the Moscow Treaty goal of 1,700 to 2,200 by 2012.


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ALT: President George W. Bush and President Putin at podiums (AP Images)


President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin appear at a joint press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, on February 24, 2005. They committed their governments to securing nuclear weapons and material to prevent the possibility that such weapons or materials could fall into the hands of terrorists. In addition, the Bratislava Nuclear Security Initiative addressed emergency response and research reactors.


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ALT: Presidents Obama and Medvedev signing New START Treaty (AP Images)


The United States and the Russian Federation finalize a landmark agreement that will cut the number of deployed nuclear weapons and replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), agreed to by the United States and the Soviet Union, and also the 2002 Moscow Treaty. Presidents Obama and Medvedev sign the New START Treaty in Prague on April 8. The agreement limits the countries to 1,550 nuclear warheads, which is 30 percent lower than the limit of the Moscow Treaty. It also limits the number of missile launchers and bombers on each side.