U.S. and Russian negotiators are continuing talks in an effort to agree on a new follow-on treaty to the 1991 START-1 pact that expired Saturday, December 5. Both sides say an agreement is more likely at the end of the month.
The START-1 agreement is one of the most complex treaties in history dealing with reducing nuclear weapons. It was signed in 1991 by U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. It came into force in 1994.
Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, a private research firm, says that treaty helped end the Cold War.
"It slashed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces from 1990 levels of about 10,000 deployed strategic warheads each down to approximately 6,000 by the year 2001," said Kimball. "And it also established a far-reaching network and system of on-site inspections, verification provisions, information exchanges to provide each side with high confidence that the other was complying with the terms of the treaty."
Frank Miller, a former senior official on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush says those verification provisions are crucial.
"It's important to have confidence. It's important to have on the ground inspections which this treaty provisions call for," said Miller. "It's important to have exchanges of telemetric data. So in addition to what each side's own intelligence services are able to pick up, the treaty provides additional information which has always been seen as being of great confidence-building value."
Daryl Kimball says since the START-1 treaty was signed, the United States and Russia have slashed their strategic nuclear arsenals even more.
"Today, the United States deploys approximately 2,200 strategic warheads on approximately 800 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, which is the jargon for the missiles and the bombers with long ranges," added Kimball. "Russia deploys somewhere slightly above 2,200 strategic warheads today on a smaller number of strategic delivery vehicles estimated to be around 620. So both sides have gone well below the original START-1 ceilings for their nuclear forces."
Last July President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, agreed to work on a follow-on treaty to START-1.
"The new treaty that the U.S. and Russia are now negotiating would drop these levels even lower to somewhere between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed strategic warheads and somewhere probably below 800 strategic nuclear delivery systems," continued Kimball.
The two sides were hoping to get a new treaty in place by December 5 - the date of START-1's expiration. But now Russian and American officials say they are aiming for the end of the year.
Frank Miller says Washington and Moscow have to bridge several differences.
"There are two sets of issues," said Miller. "One relating to the numbers of warheads and launchers that each side would be allowed under the treaty - there are some differences between the two sides. And the Russian side is objecting to many of the inspection provisions of the old treaty."
Miller says Moscow wants to have less intrusive verification procedures put into the follow-on START-1 treaty whereas Washington wants stronger measures.
Analysts say whenever the two sides agree on a new treaty, that pact must still be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian parliament - or Duma. And that process, say experts, may take months.