STARTing over again: US Senate approves arms cuts treaty

The US Senate finally ratified the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia by a 71-26 vote, although with a number of conditions.

The START treaty needed the support of two-thirds of the Senate to be ratified. It took 18 hearings and seven days of intense debate when members of the Obama administration had to answer more than a thousand questions from the senators – not to mention months of wrangling between the White House and Republicans.

Ahead of the Senate vote, Pentagon chief Robert Gates called on the lawmakers to ratify the START treaty saying it would help strengthen US security.

The green light for the treaty has some strings attached, though. First of all, the Senate wants Obama to provide guarantees that the US has enough tools to monitor Russia’s compliance with the document.

The lawmakers also made it clear that the new treaty will not affect the US anti-missile defense plans in Europe – which are currently suspended. This has been one of the main divisive issues between Russia and the US. The Republicans have insisted the United States should continue with the AMD project, which they say is essential not only for national security but also international security. They also demanded the modernization of the US nuclear complex and antimissile defense from President Obama. Those were the last amendments on the day of the vote.

It is now up to Russia to ratify the treaty. Russian lawmakers earlier said this would not be a problem – that once START had got the go-ahead in the American Senate, the Russian parliament would ratify it by the year’s end. Parliamentarians began preliminary work on the treaty just after its signing by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in April this year.

“New START is good news” – read Fyodor Lukyanov’s column

­On the way to a new START

­Back in April, Medvedev called the deal “a win-win situation” and said “it fully complies with the interests of both Russia and the US”.

Still, there has been strong opposition to the agreement from the Republicans, who were convinced the treaty hampers US security.

“It’s not really about the merits of the treaty; it’s about the politics of the Republicans versus the Obama administration,” Josh Rogin, a blogger and staff writer for Foreign Policy magazine told RT.

President Medvedev said on Wednesday, ahead of the Senate vote, “My counterpart, President Obama, is struggling with his lawmakers, trying to convince them of the need to ratify this document, I hope he will be lucky,”

President Obama has indeed been lucky, if “luck” is the word to describe the huge amount of intense work he had to do. For Obama the eventual ratification of the treaty is a major achievement, reaffirming his political status and international weight after the Democratic failure in November’s mid-term elections.


­The new START treaty significantly reduces Russian and US nuclear weapons from the current 2,000 warheads on each side to 1,550. It also limits the amount of deployed ballistic missiles to 700 and deployed and non-deployed missile-launchers to 800. Another major issue in the agreement is the possibility for the sides to inspect the other’s nuclear facilities.

The document replaces the previous START-1 deal, which was signed two decades ago in the midst of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR.

If the path toward ratification by US lawmakers has been long and troublesome, the road to actually hammer out the new treaty was even longer and bumpier, involving exhausting talks between the two delegations and the two presidents themselves.