The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee [official website] on Thursday voted 14-4 [press release] to approve the so-called New START treaty [materials; BBC backgrounder] between Russia and the US. Along with 11 Democrats, three Republicans voted for its passage, including the committee's ranking member Richard Lugar (R-IN) [official website]. The new START treaty replaces the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I treaty) [materials], with Russia and the US each pledging to reduce their countries' nuclear warheads by about 30 percent. Under the terms of the treaty and its protocol, both countries would only be allowed to deploy 1,550 strategic warheads, a decrease from the 2,200 currently permitted. The treaty will now go before the full Senate, where it requires a two-thirds majority vote before it can take effect. In a statement, President Barack Obama [official website] encouraged continued bipartisan support [press release], saying the treaty's passage "will advance American leadership in the world, while strengthening our national security interest in the 21st century."
Reaction to the new treaty has been mixed. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called it a significant achievement [press release], while Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) [official website] said in April that it stands no chance [JURIST report] of passage this year. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] signed the treaty [JURIST report] in Prague in April. The agreement, reached [JURIST report] in February, is the first nuclear agreement between the two nations in nearly 20 years. The US State Department began negotiating [JURIST report] the treaty 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].