50 Years of Bilateral Nuclear Arms Control and Much More to Be Done

Inside the Arms Control Association
September 2022

Five decades ago, the first bilateral nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union were concluded: the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Interim Agreement on Strategic Arms Limitations (SALT), the latter being approved by a joint Congressional resolution and signed by President Richard Nixon in September 1972.

“This is not an agreement which guarantees that there will be no war,” Nixon said. “But it is the beginning of a process that is enormously important, that will limit now and, we hope, later reduce the burden of arms and thereby reduce the danger of war.”

SALT limited the United States to 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes. The Soviet Union was limited to 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes. Though imperfect, SALT and ABM created the foundation for subsequent bilateral nuclear arms control treaty negotiations that would lead to more ambitious verifiable reductions of the two sides' excessive nuclear stockpiles.

Today, the only remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in 2026. 

In a statement Aug. 1 President Biden said: “Today, my administration is ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026. But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith.”

President Putin says he supports New START and talks on follow-on agreements, but Russia announced Aug. 8 that it would not allow the resumption of U.S. inspections under New START given U.S. travel and visa restrictions since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine that make it difficult for Russian inspectors to conduct inspections. The U.S. has said talks on a follow-on agreement cannot begin until New START inspections resume.

It is imperative that Moscow and Washington immediately resolve the differences blocking the restart of New START inspections and begin negotiations on new arms control arrangements to supersede New START.

You can count on ACA to continue to provide leadership and ideas necessary to get nuclear arms reduction talks back on track. Please consider making a special contribution to support ACA’s work by contacting the White House (see below) to share your views.

TAKE ACTION: Support Biden’s Call for Negotiations on a New Arms Reduction Agreement

Even as the world rallies against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, now is the moment to renew disarmament diplomacy.

In August, the United States and Russia agreed in the draft NPT final outcome document “to pursue negotiations in good faith on a successor framework to New START before its expiration in 2026, in order to achieve deeper, irreversible, and verifiable reductions in their nuclear arsenals.”  

Without a new nuclear arms control framework, in less than two and a half years there will be no limits on the size or composition of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Write to President Biden today and support his call for the resumption of nuclear disarmament diplomacy with Russia.

Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal Remains Uncertain

In early August, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell circulated what he described as a final draft agreement to restore the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Barrel said that if Washington and Tehran respond positively, “we can sign this deal.”

But Iran has taken "a step backward" with its latest response according to senior U.S. and European officials. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called a near-term agreement "unlikely."

As ACA director for nonproliferation policy, Kelsey Davenport, noted in an Aug. 15 essay for the Atlantic Council, Iran is demanding guarantees Washington will not leave the deal again and ensure the IAEA closes a years-long investigation into whether Iran failed to declare all of its nuclear materials.

But Davenport explains that “...the United States and its partners cannot, and should not, give any assurances on concluding the investigation. Any perception that the agency is being pressured to close the probe or politicize the inquiry would jeopardize the IAEA’s critical safeguards mandate and have negative implications for the nonproliferation regime.”

For more on the situation, see Kelsey’s presentation at a Sept. 15 webinar organized by the Atlantic Council titled “What’s Next for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

Assessing the Disappointing NPT Outcome 

After four weeks of speeches, debate, and closed-door negotiations the 2022 NPT Review Conference failed to reach consensus on a final document due to Russian objections to language addressing the nuclear safety crisis at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which was seized by Russia in March.

“The NPT is often called the cornerstone of global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, but the debate and results of this meeting reveal there are cracks in the foundation of the treaty and deep divisions between nuclear-armed states,” noted Daryl G. Kimball in ACA’s Aug. 26 press statement on the result. 

"Even if Russia had been more flexible, the draft text that emerged from the conference negotiations illustrates there is general support for the treaty, but a deficit of leadership -- and concrete action -- on disarmament goals and objectives, particularly from the NPT's five nuclear-armed states," Kimball said. 

Many states also expressed disappointment about the lack of ambition, especially in the forward-looking section of the draft outcome document, but unlike Russia, did not wish to block the adoption of the final outcome document.

On the final day of the conference, Aug. 26, almost 50 states delivered statements until nearly midnight to convey their reactions to the outcome, their support for the treaty, and their proposals for moving forward on implementation of its ambitious goals on nonproliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. See ACA policy intern Heather Foy’s blog post for a summary.

As Daryl Kimball noted in an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Sept. 1 (left), one bright spot was that the U.S. and Russia did agree at the NPT conference that they should resume talks on a new nuclear arms control framework agreement. 

As Amb. Adam Scheinman, the head of the U.S. delegation, noted in his closing statement at the conference, “while we still have much work to do, we do agree on more than we disagree.”

Look for more analysis on the NPT Review Conference in the forthcoming (October) issue of Arms Control Today.

Introducing the New Physicists Coalition Coordinator

We are pleased to announce that beginning Oct. 1, Chris Rostampour will begin serving as the Policy and Communications Coordinator for the Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction, which will be hosted by the Arms Control Association.

Chris holds a master's degree in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Born and raised in Iran, Chris also has a Master's in World Studies from the University of Tehran and a BA in English Language and Literature. 

The Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction is a growing network founded in 2020 by Princeton’s Program on Science and Global Security with support from the American Physical Society. The Coalition involves over 800 physicist-advocates and supports dozens of expert colloquia each year on nuclear arms control issues at physics institutions across the country.

"While there is growing awareness about the climate crisis, not enough attention is being focused on the threat of nuclear warfare or the possibility of accidental nuclear catastrophe. ” Chris says.

ACA Board of Directors to Meet Oct. 24

Throughout our 50-year-long history, a key strength of the Arms Control Association has always been our expert board of directors. At its next meeting, the board will examine some of the tough issues the organization is trying to tackle—efforts to encourage the resumption of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction talks, the uncertain future of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and the effect of the Russian attack on Ukraine on the nonproliferation regime—and ACA projects and plans for 2023.

We welcome back Tom Countryman to the chair after a leave of absence from the board while he served as a special advisor to the State Department in 2021 and 2022 at the NPT Review Conference. We will also welcome our two newest board members, Victoria Holt, Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College, and Jayita Sarkar, Professor at the University of Glasgow and author of Ploughshares and Swords: India's Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2022).

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