Report to Congress on Arms Control Treaties

July 9, 2024 3:40 PM

The following is the July 8, 2024, Congressional Research Service report, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: A Catalog of Treaties and Agreements.

Arms control and nonproliferation efforts are two of the tools that the United States has used to implement its national security strategy. Although some believe these tools do little to restrain the behavior of U.S. adversaries, while doing too much to restrain U.S. military forces and operations, many others see them as an effective means to promote transparency, ease military planning, limit forces, and protect against uncertainty and surprise. Arms control and nonproliferation efforts have produced formal treaties and agreements, informal arrangements, and cooperative threat reduction and monitoring mechanisms.

The United States and the Soviet Union began to sign agreements limiting their strategic offensive nuclear weapons in the early 1970s. Progress in negotiating and implementing these agreements was often slow, and subject to the tenor of the broader U.S.-Soviet relationship. As the Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s, the pace of negotiations quickened, with the two sides signing treaties limiting intermediate-range and long-range weapons. Since then, a series of progressive U.S.-Russian agreements reduced both sides’ nuclear stockpiles and delivery vehicles. U.S.-Russian arms control cooperation has sharply deteriorated in recent years, as has Russian compliance with long-standing arms control commitments. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the further deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations in 2022, the prospect for new arms control negotiations and bilateral strategic risk reduction measures is uncertain, at least in the short- to medium-term. Nevertheless, the United States has sought to engage in bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts to reduce the risk of conflict involving the employment of nuclear weapons.

The United States is a prominent actor in an international regime that attempts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to new countries, or nuclear “nonproliferation.” This regime includes formal treaties, international organizations that monitor compliance, and export control arrangements. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) serves as the cornerstone of this regime, with all but four states participating in it. The International Atomic Energy Agency monitors nuclear energy programs to make sure they remain peaceful, and helps countries develop and access the benefits of nuclear science. Other measures, such as sanctions, interdiction efforts, and informal cooperative endeavors, also seek to slow or stop the spread of nuclear materials and the means to produce nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as their means of delivery.

The international community has adopted a number of agreements that address nonnuclear weapons. The Chemical Weapons and Biological Weapons Conventions prohibit both types of weapons. Other arrangements seek to slow the spread of technologies that countries could use to develop advanced conventional weapons. The United States and international partners have also worked to prevent terrorist access or use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, known collectively as weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

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