US President Barack Obama [official website] on Wednesday signed documents ratifying [WH blog] the New START treaty [materials, PDF; JURIST news archive], an agreement between Russia and the US intended to reduce nuclear arms in both countries. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] signed a bill into law last week ratifying the treaty after the Russian Federation Council approved [JURIST reports] the treaty's ratification. The new treaty, which replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START 1) [materials] that expired in December 2009, calls for each country to reduce its nuclear arsenal by about 30 percent and allows each country to maintain a nuclear arsenal of 1,550 warheads, as opposed to the 2,200 allowed under START 1. The treaty, agreed to [JURIST report] in February, also allows for visual inspections of nuclear capabilities [BBC report] in order to verify compliance with the treaty's terms. The previous right of mutual inspection of the nuclear arsenals ended [CNN report] with the expiration of START 1. New START will formally go into effect on Saturday when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [official profiles] exchange the signed documents.
New START is the first nuclear agreement between the two nations in nearly 20 years. In December, the US Senate voted 71-26 to ratify the treaty after the Russian Duma voted overwhelmingly for approval [JURIST reports] earlier in the month. US approval of the treaty came after some members of the legislative body expressed doubt [JURIST report] that the Senate would have the 67 votes required for approval. Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April after the US State Department began negotiating the treaty [JURIST reports] with Russia in 2009. Nuclear disarmament between the US and Russia, whose nuclear arsenals comprise 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, languished during the Bush administration. The treaty is considered a key part of easing tensions between the two countries, which reached a high point after the 2008 Georgia conflict [BBC backgrounder].