Start Treaties

Start Treaties

The Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) Treaties, START I (1991) and START II (1993), provided for large cuts in the nuclear arms possessed by the United States and the Soviet Union (later the Russian Federation). START I was the first arms-control treaty to reduce, rather than merely limit, the strategic offensive nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States and Russia have also negotiated additional treaties, including START II (1993), START III (1997), and the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT) (2002).


The Soviet Union and the United States began the START negotiations in 1982, following the disappointing results of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), which had not led to significant reductions in the number of nuclear arms possessed by the superpowers. Nine years later, on July 31, 1991, presidents george h. w. bush of the United States and Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union signed the 700-page START Treaty (START I), formally designated as the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.

START I provided for the reduction of U.S. nuclear capacity by roughly 15 percent and Soviet capacity by 25 percent within seven years after ratification. The treaty contained a number of verification procedures, including on-site inspections with spot checks, monitoring of missile-production plants, and the exchange of data tapes from missile tests.

Although START I reductions appeared formidable, critics noted that they simply returned both countries to the levels of nuclear arms that they had possessed in 1982, when negotiations had begun. Both superpowers still maintained the capacity to destroy each other several times over. Others claimed that because START I allowed for the modernization and expansion of certain weapon categories by both parties, it would lead to a continuation of the arms race.


Changes in the political climate between the superpowers, particularly the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1991, inspired further START negotiations. In September 1991, President Bush declared that the superpowers had an historic opportunity to negotiate significant reductions in Nuclear Weapons. He made a significant gesture toward this goal by calling U.S. long-range bombers off 24-hour alert and discontinuing development of the MX missile.

New Russian president Boris Yeltsin reciprocated Bush's conciliatory gestures when he announced on January 25, 1992, that Russia "no longer consider[ed] the United States our potential adversary" and declared that his country would no longer target U.S. cities with nuclear missiles. Four days later, President Bush announced further arms cuts in his State of the Union address, including cancellation of the B-2 bomber, the mobile Midgetman missile, and advanced cruise missiles. Yeltsin later responded with an even more ambitious proposal to reduce nuclear arsenals to an amount between 2,000 and 2,500 warheads each and to eliminate strategic nuclear weapons entirely by the year 2000. Although the latter goal proved too radical to implement, the former would be nearly achieved.

Yeltsin and Bush fulfilled their historic announcements in June 1992 by signing an accord, the Joint Understanding on the Elimination of MIRVed ICBMs (multiple warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles) and Further Reductions in Strategic Offensive Arms, that promised to reduce their combined nuclear arsenals from about 15,000 warheads to 6,000 or 7,000 by the year 2003. According to Bush, "With this agreement, the nuclear nightmare recedes more and more for ourselves, for our children, and for our grandchildren."

The June 1992 accord led to the development of START II, formally called the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. It was signed by Bush and Yeltsin on January 3, 1993. Under its provisions, the United States and Russia would each have between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads by 2003, an amount roughly two-thirds that of pre-START levels. Warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be limited to no more than 1,750 for each country. The treaty also required the elimination of all land-based heavy ICBMs and multiple warhead missiles. As a result, ICBMs may carry only one nuclear warhead, a development that many agreed would lead to improved strategic stability.

In December 1994, President bill clinton of the United States and the leaders of the nations of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine—the former Soviet republics still possessing nuclear arms—formally ratified the START I treaty into force, clearing the way for further consideration of START II by the U.S. Senate. On January 26, 1996, the U.S. Senate ratified the START II Treaty on a vote of 87-4.

The START II treaty was originally scheduled to be implemented by January 2003. However, a 1997 protocol extended the deadline until December 2007 due to concerns by Russian leaders about their ability to meet the earlier date. Because the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify the 1997 protocol, START II has not yet entered into force.


Clinton and Yeltsin negotiated for a START III treaty, which would have reduced the number of deployed strategic warheads to between 2,000 and 2,500. The two leaders agreed to a framework in March 1997, and the negotiations were scheduled to begin after the START II treaty entered into force. However, because START II never became effective, the START III treaty was never negotiated. The most significant aspects of the START III treaty were proposed provisions regarding the destruction of warheads.

Five years after the START III negotiations stalled, President george w. bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the SORT treaty, in which the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals to an amount between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each. These limitations are similar to the proposed START III treaty, but the new SORT treaty does not contain provisions regarding the destruction of warheads or the destruction of delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons. As of May 2003, neither the U.S. Senate nor the Russian Duma had ratified the treaty. The proposed implementation and expiration dates for the treaty occur in 2012.

Further readings

Arms Control Association. 2002. "Arms Control Today." Available online at <> (accessed May 19, 2003).

Bennett, Paul R. 1997. Russian Negotiating Strategy: Analytic Case Studies from SALT to START. Commack, N.Y.: Nova Science.

Kartchner, Kerry M. 1992. Negotiating START: Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and the Quest for Strategic Stability. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction.

Mazarr, Michael J. 1991. START and the Future of Deterrence. New York: St. Martin's.


Arms Control and Disarmament.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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