The New START Treaty's effect on nuclear warhead deployment

The New START Treaty's effect on nuclear warhead deployment
Cold War nuclear missile control deals were effective in reducing the arsenals of both Russia and the US. But following Russia's suspension of START III none of those deals are now operational. / bne IntelliNews
By Martin Armstrong for Statista February 23, 2023

The New START missile treaty (New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was signed by the United States and Russia in 2010 and came into force from February 2011 as a replacement for 2003's Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which was due to expire in December 2012, Statista reports.

Its main function is to impose upper limits on the number of nuclear warheads deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers set at 1,550.

The two countries had until February 2018 to comply, and, as this infographic using official government figures shows, the treaty had been successful in this regard up to the last inspections in March 2022.

Infographic: The New START Treaty's Effect on Nuclear Warhead Deployment | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

In his national address on February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the suspension of his country's participation in the treaty, saying it could no longer accept US inspections of its nuclear sites. In a statement after the speech, the head of Russia's Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, blamed the US for the situation: "By ceasing to comply with its obligations and rejecting our country's proposals on global security issues, the US destroyed the architecture of international stability".

In response to the move, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: "I regret today’s decision by Russia to suspend its participation in the New START Treaty.

"Over the last years Russia has violated and walked away from key arms control agreements. With today’s decision on New START, the whole arms control architecture has been dismantled. I strongly encourage Russia to reconsider its decision and to respect existing agreements."

Over 75 years have passed since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and more than 12,000 nuclear warheads are still scattered across the world from silos in Montana to isolated corners of European airbases and even in the ocean depths, where ballistic missile submarines lurk as a deterrent nearly impossible to detect. Hiroshima was the first of two atomic bombings in 1945 and it involved a 15-kilotonne device, while the weapon used in the attack on Nagasaki three days later had a 22-kilotonne yield.

Modern nuclear warheads are far more powerful, with the US Trident missile yielding a 455- kilotonne warhead, while Russia's SS ICBM has an 800-kilotonne yield. Together, the United States and Russia possess roughly 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons with a stockpile of over 8,000 between them, according to the Federation of American Scientists. This figure rises to over 11,000 when counting retired but still intact warheads in the queue for dismantlement.

Even though these are awfully high numbers, they still represent a huge reduction on the number of warheads in existence at the height of the Cold War. This infographic shows how stockpiles have evolved, particularly when various arms limitation treaties are taken into account. The number of warheads fell significantly in the wake of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which was signed by the US and USSR in 1987 at a time when both countries possessed more than 60,000 nuclear weapons. The trend towards disarmament continued after the Berlin Wall came down and accelerated when the Soviet Union collapsed. The New START Treaty, which came into force in 2011 to restrict the number of warheads deployed by each country from 2018 onwards, has helped to keep levels relatively stable in recent years.


Infographic: How U.S. and Russian Nuclear Arsenals Have Evolved | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista