Perhaps one of the most storied issues in American political history continued with a new chapter this past weekend. President Barack Obama and Russian Pres. Dmitri Medvedev of Russia spoke about taking steps toward a disarmament agreement between the two nuclear-weapon powerhouses that would decrease both arsenals by about 25 percent.
The talks stem from the need to renew the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, otherwise known as START, signed in 1991 by George H.W. Bush and Mikael Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union.
The original agreement came at the end of the Cold War, and was responsible for the disarmament of almost 80 percent of the nuclear weapons existing at the time of the agreement’s signing. The agreement mandated that neither country could possess more than 6,000 missiles at a time.
Obama and Medvedev spoke in order to get the ball rolling for a potential agreement at an upcoming summit on the issue in Washington, D.C., in April. A statement released from the Kremlin said, “It is now possible to talk about specific dates for the submission of the draft START treaty for signing by the heads of state.”
Both countries have “rich” histories of nuclear weaponry. The entire Cold War was based around American-Russian nuclear relations. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United States’ peak stockpile of nuclear warheads was 32,193 in 1966. The Russians’ peak stockpile was near 40,000 as recently as 1991. The U.S. has roughly 2,700 missiles left, while the Russians are believed to have less.
The first significant negotiations between the two nuclear powers started with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT I and II. These negotiations started in the early 1970s and aimed to limit the growth of both countries’ nuclear arsenals. Former President Gerald Ford signed SALT I, while Pres. Jimmy Carter signed the second form of the treaty.
Talks may meet an obstacle in the form of Russia’s unwillingness to accept Obama’s plan for a missile defense system in Europe. Although the main goal of this system would be to check a potential nuclear threat in Iran, Russia has voiced its opposition to missile sites in European countries near its border. However, Obama has presented a revamped system that is more favorable to Russia and, according to several officials, negotiations are indeed nearing an agreement.
According to Reuters, White House spokesman Mike Hammer said, “The results of their talks are encouraging, and both leaders are committed to concluding an agreement soon.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also planning on visiting Moscow in the upcoming week for further talks.