On Wednesday, 24 March, both Russia and the United States indicated that after months of delay they are finally about to sign a new nuclear arms reduction treaty in the Czech capital Prague early next month.

The new treaty replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed in July 1991 by US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in the largest bilateral reduction of nuclear weapons in history. START I expired last year. Its successor will require both nations to further reduce their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads by about 25 to 30 percent from present levels.

The breakthrough ends nearly a year of protracted negotiations that went on far longer than originally expected and beyond the deadline of 5 December when START I expired. The two sides got bogged down over issues like data sharing, verifying compliance and limiting missile defense programs.

Under the new treaty the limit on deployed strategic warheads will be lowered from 2200 under the 2002 Moscow Treaty to between 1500 and 1675 for each side. The limit on launch vehicles (bombers and missiles) will be reduced from 1600 to between 500 and 1100. The treaty also establishes a new inspection regime that will be more restrictive than its predecessor in the 1991 treaty.

Arms control proponents consider the reductions in the new treaty to be a modest achievement. However, the present agreement signals an improvement in US-Russian relations and would allow for another round of further strategic arms cuts later this year. Once this treaty is signed, the US government wants to start talks on further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads, possibly down to 1000, as well as elimination of part of the thousands of strategic warheads in storage, and the thousands more tactical nuclear weapons that both nations have. In the near future both governments will be closely followed about the next steps in meeting their common nuclear disarmamentgoals.

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