Last April, President Obama met with President Medvedev of Russia to sign the New START Treaty. Although this treaty would result with a 30% reduction in nuclear warheads on behalf of both Russia and the United States, the more significant goal of this treaty allows each country to inspect or verify the nuclear facilities of the other country. The two countries have allowed regular inspections of nuclear facilities in the past, which began under the original START Treaty passed in 1991, but this provision allowing for an inspections system expired on December 5th, 2009. Therefore, neither country has been able to inspect the nuclear facilities of the country for over a year, according to the Defense Department [.pdf]. This capacity to verify the nuclear facilities of each country is arguably the central motivation of the New START Treaty.
Further, since there is an absence of any verification regimen at this time, the New START Treaty would establish the “Bilateral Consultative Commission.” This would be the third-party mechanism between the countries that oversees compliance of the obligations within the treaty. According to the New START Treaty [.pdf], as well as the Congressional Research Service [.pdf], this new system would be less expensive than the previous verification system setup under the 1991 START Treaty.
As a result, the New START Treaty would not only include a 30% reduction in the amount of nuclear warheads, but it would also implement a much needed, as well as a less costly, compliance mechanism. Though, before these accomplishments are reached, two-thirds of the Senate must approve the treaty, as is stated in Article II of the Constitution. Past treaties dealing with nuclear weapons have received widespread support in the Senate.
The original START Treaty was signed on July 31st, 1991, and approved by the Senate with a 93-6 vote on December 5th, 1991. This is a difference of about 4 months from when the President signed the treaty and when the Senate approved it. The Moscow Treaty of 2002, which reduced the amount of nuclear warheads but did not contain verification provisions, was signed on May 24th, 2002, and was approved by the Senate with a 95-0 vote on June 1, 2003. This is a difference of about 12 months from when the President signed the treaty and when the Senate approved it.
There’s been a span of about 7 months since President Obama signed the New START Treaty. As the records of the similar treaties indicate, 7 months is not an uncommon time-frame for these matters. Similar to prior treaties, the New START Treaty will likely receive near unanimous support in the Senate. Though, exactly when the Senate will approve the treaty remains unclear.