Bush and Gorbachev sign nuclear arms pact, July 31, 1991
By ANDREW GLASS 07/31/2018 12:00 AM EDT
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On this day in 1991, President George Bush Sr. and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, seated beside each other at a Kremlin ceremony, signed a bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START I. It was the first treaty between the two superpowers that provided for deep cuts in their respective nuclear arsenals.
Its final implementation in late 2001 resulted in the removal of about four-fifths of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence. By the time the treaty expired in 2009, their strategic nuclear arsenals were significantly below the upper limits stipulated by the pact.
When the Soviet Union broke up that December, it spun off four nuclear-armed powers: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Under the Lisbon Protocol of May 23, 1992, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine either eventually destroyed their weapons or else turned them over to Russian control, thereby honoring their arms reduction pledges under the agreement.
Negotiations that led to the signing of this treaty had begun in May 1982. In November 1983, the Soviet Union “discontinued” communication with the United States in response to President Ronald Reagan’s decision to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
During January 1985, George Schultz, the secretary of state, and Andrei Gromyko, his Soviet counterpart, negotiated a three-part plan that included strategic weapons, intermediate missiles and missile defense. These talks got lots of attention from Reagan and Gorbachev when they met at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986. Follow-on negotiations ultimately led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in December 1987.
On March 17, 2009, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev declared that Russia would begin “large-scale” rearmament and renew its nuclear arsenal. Medvedev accused NATO of pushing ahead with expansion near Russia’s borders and ordered that the rearmament drive commence in 2011 with increased army, naval and nuclear capabilities. Additionally, Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, told news agencies that Russia would start deploying its next-generation RS-24 missiles after the START I treaty expired.
(The START I treaty had gone to force on Dec. 5, 1994, and expired on the same date 15 years later.)