State Of the Union 2013: Obama to Address New START Treaty

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Obama will address the continual push of his vision to reduce nuclear weapons between Russia, the U.S., and worldwide.

It’s a laudable start.

The president expressed his desire to cut the U.S. arsenal from 1,700 to a little over 1,000 under his negotiations. The New START Treaty, which went into affect February 2011, is an agreement the U.S. made with Russia to meet these requirements by February 5, 2018:

1,550 warheads. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit.

A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.

Russia currently has the second largest amount known of nuclear weapons in the world, the U.S. falling in first place. At the height of the Cold War, both the U.S. and Soviet Union was said to have had tens of thousands of nuclear arsenal in supply. The international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with the purpose of keeping the peace between countries harboring nuclear capabilities include not only the U.S. and Russia, but the United Kingdom, France, and China — the big five nuclear states. Non-members include India, Pakistan, and Israel. North Korea withdrew in 2003. The U.S. remains the only nation in history to have deployed the use of nuclear technology in war.

The problem with nuclear weapons can be aligned to the issue of gun control within the U.S. on a smaller scale. Everyone wants to be in possession of them for the overarching sake of protection and yet in owning them, leaves themselves at risk for a fatal hiccup. But unlike a mass shooting, the nuclear arms race has been kept in the balance from seeing more causality through the mutually assured destruction theory, or M.A.D. for short. In an all-out war, neither attacker nor defender would win — so what else is there to do but disarm? And what better way to be models for other countries to follow after if the top two players are transparent in their efforts to make the world a (theoretically) safer place by minimizing their devastating capabilities?

Such direction is needed in a time where Iran threatens to disrupt the power balance with its allegedly peaceful nuclear program and North Korea threatening to conduct more tests.  However, the battle uphill will not be simple — despite what Obama may have suggested when he was picked up by open microphone, assuring then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” in terms of talks concerning missile defense issues after the presidential election.

Obama will have to fight against Republicans in both the House and Senate who are against the cuts outlined in the New START Treaty. During the presidential elections, Mitt Romney and other opponents also argued that START interferes greatly with the U.S.’s ability to protect itself in the case of any future attacks, in addition to giving Russia leverage. There is also the matter of Russia pulling out of the treaty as it has claimed possible in the past. If the aforementioned were to occur, think of the type of message that it would send to the rest of the world? Much more rides on this treaty than given credit — a chance to improve relations and a dangerous mindset that still lingers from decades ago. An aspect of peace hangs in the balance of moving forward. 

In the words of Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war."