Congressmen urge Bush to extend strategic arms treaty

Pressure is building on President Bush to extend a landmark treaty aimed at reducing nuclear arms in the world. The strategic arms reduction treaty was signed back in 1991 between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. However, it's due to expire in two ye

Now a group in Congress is urging Bush to re-evaluate the treaty to ensure it continues into the future.

Highlighting the importance of nuclear arms reduction, nearly 30 members of Congress sent a letter to President Bush urging the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, known as START. The letter signed by 28 congressmen, includes chairmen of three key House committees, asks President Bush to “consider extending START in its current form in order to enable your and President Putin's successors to negotiate a new legally binding agreement that achieves greater, verifiable reductions in each nation's nuclear forces.”

Following nine years of negotiations, the nuclear weapons reductions treaty was signed in July 1991 just five months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Considered to be one of the largest arms control treaties in history, it has led to the removal of nearly 80% of nuclear weapons in existence.

“The purpose was to reduce the large numbers of stockpiles that both the former Soviet Union had as well as the United States. They each had at least 6,000 and this was seen to be excessive,” explains Jenifer Mackby, arms control expert.

A series of treaties limiting both countries nuclear arsenals followed, the latest signed by President Bush and President Putin in 2002, known as the Moscow Treaty, pledging to further reduce nuclear warheads by 2012. Currently there are seven countries in the world known to possess nuclear weapons. Russia and the U.S., members of the so-called 'nuclear club' have the largest stockpiles, which have been greatly reduced thanks in part to the START treaty, which is set to expire in December 2009.
 
“The countries are supposed to meet no later than a year in advance of 2009 to figure out what should be the future of it. As you know we both have upcoming elections, so that makes it a little bit complicated. Presumably for the U.S., even should a decision be made before President Bush leaves office, this could be then re-done and re-visited with a new administration,” Jenifer Mackby said.

Russia and the U.S. have already reaffirmed their intentions to continue reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles. However, looming leadership changes in both countries, disagreements over verifications measures and language of the draft have already hindered the discussions of the new arms treaty.