A Brief History
On May 24, 2002, emissaries of the United States and Russia signed a treaty to reduce each country’s nuclear arsenal to between 1700 and 2200 warheads. Called the “Moscow Treaty,” the official name of the pact was much longer, “Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT),” another step in a long line of treaties and agreements to limit nuclear weapons between the premier wielders of such devices.
Going into effect on June 1, 2003, the Moscow Treaty was meant as a stop-gap measure and was only in effect until February of 2011. At that time, a more encompassing pact called the “New START” (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) went into effect. Having been extended in 2021, the New START treaty is expected to remain in force through 2026. The US and the Russian Federation failed to cement new START agreements with the failure of START II and START III, leading to the adoption of SORT as a temporary measure.
While START and SORT limit active duty nuclear warheads, no limit is placed on stockpiles of nuclear warheads each nation is allowed to possess. Inspectors from each signatory country confirm that limits on deployable systems of nuclear weapons are indeed being adhered to.
Exactly how fast each nation can take stockpiled nuclear warheads out of storage and deploy them in delivery systems (bombers, rockets, missiles and the like) is unknown. Presumably, the US and Russia each have carefully made plans for such a contingency, causing us to wonder just how valuable such treaties are.
Hopefully, the fact that there is a limit on ready to use nuclear weapons means less of a chance of accidentally deployment of such bombs, but again, we honestly do not know if this assumption is correct. Perhaps you have some insight into the question?
Question for students (and subscribers): Should all nuclear weapons be banned? Is such a ban possible? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Gavin, Francis. Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy. Brookings Institution Press, 2020.
Woolf, Amy. Nuclear Arms Control: The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. CreateSpace, 2013.
The featured image in this article, a White House photograph of President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the United States George W. Bush signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in Moscow on 24 May 2002, is a work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain.