Under President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989), in the early 1980s the United States launched an arms buildup that was part of an overall strategy to confront the Soviet Union. Reagan hoped to improve the American bargaining position vis-à-vis the Soviets by increasing the nation's military strength. He also hoped to force the Soviets to allocate more of their resources to the military in order to keep up. The most notable aspect of this renewed arms race was Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which was an attempt to create a space-based missile shield that would render offensive nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete. Critics viewed the SDI proposal as an expensive, unworkable, and possibly offensive weapons system that violated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began installing Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in 1983 in response to the Soviets' refusal to downsize their arsenal of forward-deployed SS-20 theater-range missiles. This move caused the Soviets to walk out of arms control talks that had been ongoing in Geneva since 1982. Negotiations did not resume until March 1985.
In October 1986, Reagan abruptly reversed himself. During his first summit meeting with new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík, Iceland, the American president expressed his willingness to remove intermediate-range nuclear force (INF) weapons from Europe and to eliminate all strategic nuclear weapons. The initiative failed because Reagan was unwilling to include SDI in the proposal, and Gorbachev was unwilling to proceed unless SDI was part of the package.
Some two months later, the Soviets declared that they would negotiate according to the agenda laid out by the Americans, although initially focusing on the INF issue. The Soviets accepted the American proposal in February 1987, which called for the complete elimination of medium-range nuclear weapons from Europe. At the Washington Summit in December 1987, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF Treaty. This treaty established a double-zero solution, calling for the removal of two classes of intermediate-range missiles—those with a range of roughly 600–3,500 miles and those with a range of 300–600 miles. An extensive on-site verification process was established as well. By the end of 1988, the removal of the missiles was complete.
START I. The START negotiations that had resumed in Geneva in 1985 bore fruit in 1991 with the signing of the Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as the START I treaty. Under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Gorbachev, the two nations concluded the treaty on 31 July 1991, just months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The complex document served to reduce strategic nuclear delivery systems to 1,600 on each side, with attributed nuclear warheads (a somewhat arbitrary but agreed-upon number associated with certain delivery systems) restricted to 6,000 each.
There were additional sublimits for attributed warheads: 4,900 on deployed ballistic missiles, of which no more than 1,100 could be on mobile launchers. The Soviet Union was also limited to 154 heavy ICBMs, each carrying ten warheads. The treaty placed a limit on total nuclear throw weight, provided for verification processes, and also placed limitations on the types of vehicles that could carry nuclear warheads (including limits on the numbers of U.S. nuclear armed cruise missiles and Russian Backfire bombers).
On 23 May 1992 the Lisbon Protocol was signed, making START I a multilateral agreement among the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The treaty entered into force on 5 December 1994. The three new member states returned their residual Soviet-era nuclear arsenals to Russia prior to the implementation of the treaty and also joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as nonnuclear weapons states.
The START I treaty had a duration of fifteen years, with the option to extend it at five-year intervals. All parties officially reached their treaty limits on 5 December 2001. The parties created a Joint Compliance and Inspection Commission tasked with monitoring compliance with the treaty. The commission began meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1991. The treaty is scheduled to expire in 2009.
START II. START I was followed by the signing of the Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as START II, by Bush and Boris Yeltsin at the Moscow summit on 3 January 1993. START II relied heavily on START I for its definitions, procedures, and verification. The U.S. Senate ratified START II on 26 January 1996, and the Russian Duma ratified in on 14 April 2000.
This agreement called for a two-phase series of reductions. Phase one called for each side to reduce its deployed strategic forces to 3,800–4,250 attributed warheads within seven years of entry into force. There were sublimits for several categories within that total. Phase two, which was originally supposed to be completed by the year 2003, required each side to further reduce their deployed strategic forces to 3,000–3,500 attributed warheads. The following sublimits applied to phase two: 1,700–1,750 warheads on nuclear submarines, the elimination of multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on ballistic missiles, and the elimination of heavy ICBMs. America's B-2 bomber was left out of the START I treaty process since it was not scheduled to carry air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). In START II, however, the two parties agreed to include the B-2 as a strategic weapons delivery vehicle with a U.S. commitment not to hang ALCMs on its wings. This meant that it was accountable under the warhead limits and inspectable under the treaty's verification and compliance rules. The B-1 bomber was declared to have only a conventional mission. START II also significantly increased the level of on-site inspections necessary for implementation and compliance verification.
In March 1997, Yeltsin and President Bill Clinton met in Helsinki and agreed to extend the time period for START II implementation to 31 December 2007, as long as warheads were removed from the applicable systems by December 2003. Because of the delayed entry into force, phases one and two were to be completed simultaneously. The treaty parties created the Bilateral Implementation Commission, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, to monitor the compliance regime.
Although eventually ratified by both sides, START II lost its relevance over the years, as the United States became more concerned with obtaining a modification to the ABM Treaty in order to deploy a ballistic missile defense system, to which the Russians remained opposed. START II was supplanted by the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (the Moscow Treaty), signed by Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush in May 2002. That agreement further reduces the number of nuclear warheads that can be deployed by each nation to 1,700–2,200 by the year 2012. Neither country any longer feels obliged to abide by the provisions of the START II treaty, but both are complying with START I.
Jeffrey A. Larsen and A. Gregory Moore
Cimbala, Stephen J., ed. Strategic Arms Control after SALT. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1989.; Fitzgerald, Frances. Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.; Graham, Thomas, Jr., and Damien J. LaVera. Cornerstones of Security: Arms Control Treaties in the Nuclear Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003.; Krepon, Michael. Arms Control in the Reagan Administration. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989.; Mazarr, Michael J. START and the Future of Deterrence. London: Macmillan, 1990.; Talbott, Strobe. Deadly Gambits: The Reagan Administration and the Stalemate in Nuclear Arms Control. New York: Knopf, 1984.; Talbott, Strobe. The Master of the Game: Paul Nitze and the Nuclear Peace. New York: Knopf, 1988.