Strategic Weapons: The Profitable Death Of Overkill


June 9, 2012: The U.S. and Russia are still negotiating disarmament deals to reduce their enormous Cold War nuclear weapons arsenals. Two decades of budget cuts and disarmament treaties have changed the "balance of terror" between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia). Both nations still have enough weapons to wipe each other out but there is now a lot less overkill.

START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) came into force in 1994, and brought with it on-site inspections of Russian and American nuclear weapons and delivery systems, to insure that everyone was in compliance. The treaty called for each side to reduce their nuclear arsenal to 1,600 delivery systems and 6,000 warheads. The first START agreement expired in December, 2009, and a new one was signed in April, 2010. The new agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to each have no more than 1,550 nukes and no more than 700 delivery systems to carry them.

Back in 1991, the U.S. had 1,947 delivery systems (ICBM, SLBMs, and bombers) and 9,745 nuclear warheads. The Soviet Union had 2,483 delivery systems and 11,159 nuclear warheads. Currently, the U.S. has 812 delivery systems and 1,737 warheads. Russia has 494 delivery systems and 1,492 nuclear warheads. While major reductions were made in the 1990s, the disarmament process goes on, with delivery system and warhead counts being reduced each year. The new treaty (called START 2) lasts until 2021, by which time the goals are to be reached or surpassed.

ICBMs cost over $50 million each and over a million dollars a year to maintain. Then there's the warheads for an ICBM, which cost as much to buy and maintain as the missile itself. Thus these disarmament deals save a lot of money, a factor the U.S. and Russia eventually came to appreciate.






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