Strategic Arms Reduction Talks: 1982-1991
On 31 July 1991, Presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the first START agreement. 1 The treaty was a remarkable achievement in many ways. Nuclear weapons--the warheads, bombs, and cruise missiles--would be reduced by about a third. Most affected by the treaty would be land-based intercontinental missiles, of which the Soviet Union had a significant advantage. Far more lightly affected (even, in some ways, privileged) would be the nuclear weapons carried on long-range bombers, of which the United States had a numerical and technological edge. Like the INF agreement of 1987, START I created a detailed system of intrusive inspection rights and responsibilities. In the new treaty, however, inspection provisions would apply even to the remaining nuclear arsenal, meaning that each side was permitted to examine directly the operational weapons systems of its opponent.
Neither president could have predicted the course of events that would transpire in the next eighteen months, and probably neither expected their commitments to seek further reductions to be fulfilled so soon. Momentum to reduce nuclear forces increased in September 1991, when President Bush announced unilateral reductions in the American arsenal. Bush announced that the United States would redeploy all tactical nuclear weapons from overseas to the continental United States, including all tactical nuclear weapons on American surface ships and attack submarines. Furthermore, the United States would terminate its two mobile ICBM programs, remove from alert status over 1,000 ICBMs and SLBMs, as well as all strategic bombers. President Gorbachev responded quickly, saying the Soviet Union would destroy all remaining land-based tactical nuclear weapons (almost 10,000) and withdraw tactical nuclear warheads from surface ships and submarines. The Soviet Union would also unilaterally cut its strategic warheads to 5,000 (1,000 fewer than the START treaty prescribed), re