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March/April 2011
Vol. 36, No. 2


Nuclear policy in 2011

On February 2, President Obama officially ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which focuses on nuclear arms reductions by the U.S. and Russia and was approved in Congress with wide bipartisan support. [See previous articles on the "New START" in the May-June 2010 and January-February 2011 issues of NewsNotes.]

New START mandates that Russia and the U.S. reduce their nuclear warheads to 1,550 each, and limits the number of deployed warheads 700 allowed in delivery systems and 100 in reserve. The treaty lasts 10 years with the option of extending it five more years at the most. (The first START took effect in 1991 and expired in December 2009.)

Yet, in the FY2011 budget, the Obama administration requested $18 billion for nuclear weapons activities through the Department of Energy (DOE), according to a report from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. According to the report, the U.S. spends roughly $20 billion operating and maintaining nuclear delivery vehicles and $7 billion stockpiling nuclear warheads.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the U.S. signed in 1995, remains in effect. Signed by 187 nations, the NPT requires signatories to work to eliminate nuclear weapons in exchange for the treaty to be extended indefinitely. Article IV of the NPT requires states with nuclear weapons to phase out their reliance on them and finally to phase them out completely.

The five acknowledged nuclear states – France, Russia, the U.S., China and the United Kingdom – plan to meet in Paris, possibly this June, as a follow-up to the nuclear deterrence summit held in Arlington, VA in September 2009. According to Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State, it is possible that a non-governmental conference will be held alongside the discussion amongst the five countries. (It is understood but not officially acknowledged that India, Pakistan and North Korea possess nuclear weapons; it is strongly believed that Israel has nuclear weapons, though its government refuses to confirm or deny this. South Africa is the only country known to have built nuclear weapons and then dismantled them.)

For information on efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons, visit Abolition 2000 and Global Zero. The Friends Committee on National Legislation website has good data and action suggestions on nuclear disarmament.

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