Often described as the most effective arms control accord in history, START led to the removal of more than two-thirds of all strategic weapons and limited each side to the then-radical ceiling of 6,000 warheads deployed on no more than 1,600 delivery systems.
Moscow welcomes Obama's goal
But experts warn that the global security environment has shifted dangerously in two decades, and the old bipolar superpower standoff has been deeply complicated by the emergence of new nuclear wild cards, such as India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
They also worry that the old arms control framework may have been fatally damaged by the Bush administration's unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned defensive strategic weapons, followed by a decision to station anti-missile interceptors in Poland. Despite such concerns, official Moscow appears enthusiastic.
"Nuclear arms control is the one, single area where Russians feel like complete equals when they face their American counterparts across a table," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading foreign policy journal. "When we start serious talks [on START], it will say to us that Russia is finally back as a serious player."
Russian experts say they are excited by the signs coming out of Washington. According to a statement published on the White House website, Mr. Obama wants to move toward "a world without nuclear weapons" and is ready to partner with Moscow to seek "dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles," of nuclear arms. A recent story in The Times of London quoted a White House official saying the US might seek to slash strategic arsenals down to 1,000 weapons on each side – an 80 percent reduction.