The START treaty, or "Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty", has actually been about since the 1980's, signed by Ronald Reagan on the US side. This treaty is a renewal of that, and boils down to this:
The United States will cut down it's stockpiles of nuclear missiles to only 1500. In return, so will Russia. There's plenty of other language, such as how they'll verify that the missiles are really destroyed and so on - but that's the gist of it. The two largest nuclear stockpiles in the world will be reduced to having the capacity to destroy the entire world only twice over, instead of 3-4 times over. Both sides will save money (since maintaining, securing, updating nukes is a pretty expensive business).
At the same time, Obama is now hosting a nuclear summit with some 40 other countries, the whole idea being "OK, nuclear weapons in terrorist hands are bad, so how about we figure out ways to keep them from getting any, and at the same time we'll all make less. Sound good?"
Along with this, there's the new US Nuclear Stance. This is the official position as to when the US would determine we should use nuclear weapons. The new stance boils down to this:
1. The US won't use nuclear weapons first against other countries unless we're hit with nuclear weapons first.
2. In fact, if you're a country that signs onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty , which says "We won't make more nukes, we won't ship nukes to other places, and we'll try not to let people who shouldn't have nukes get them" - if you're a signer of that treaty, then we won't even threaten you with nuclear weapons, even if you have chemical and biological weapons.
3. Did we mention #2 only applies to countries that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? If you're not on that list (like, say, Iran and North Korea), then we can threaten to nuke you into Hell when you start acting like you're going to invade someone or offer nukes to terrorist groups.
4. One other note about #2. That bit about "we won't threaten you with nukes even if you have biological or chemical weapons"? That doesn't mean we won't *use* them on you if, say, you hit us with chemical or biological weapons. In fact, if you do, we're more likely to say "Well, we didn't *threaten* you with them - we're just going to use them." So as long as you play nice, we'll play nice.
Seems pretty common sense to me. Ronald Reagen started the process by reducing nuclear weapons by 33%, then the treaty stalled for decades, and now Obama wants to bring it back. He's getting countries to agree to give up their uranium, and is bringing pressure onto nations like Iran and North Korea to do the same.
And then - there's the screeching hordes.
You have Charles Krauthammer writing for the Washington Post with this little bit of willful ignorance:
Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. (Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs and other conventional munitions.)
Then, there's the actual Nuclear Posture Review (Warning: PDF link!) that says this:
In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response – and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat. (Emphasis added.)
Now, I know the entire report is 45 pages long (oh, the horror!) so maybe it was too long for Mr. Krauthammer to read through in any kind of detail. But the part about "the US reserves the right ot make any adjustment" makes his argument of "Oh, noes, we've been hit with chemical weapons and Obama is preventing us from doing *anything*" is rather silly.
Speaking of silly - guess who? Yes, Sarah Palin (R-Quitter) gave her own little analogy:
Go ahead and punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.
I rather like the analogy of "A bunch of kids on the playground. One says 'Let's not even fight. But if you do, I promise not to use my gun and blow your head off - unless you pull a knife, in which case your ass is grass.'"
Granted, the fact that Obama's senior thesis in law school was evidently about Soviet nuclear disarmament, and Palin's accomplishment was quitting halfway through her governorship, I don't think this is a contest.
So let's get this right:
Obama wants to continue the path set by Ronald Reagan to eventually disarm the world of all nuclear weapons.
Obama gets Russia to agree to reduce its nukes, removes one of the reasons for countries to get nuclear weapons themselves, and is holding a summit that's getting countries to agree to give up their nuclear bomb making material.
And somehow, according to "serious thinkiners" like Mr. Krauthammer and ms. Palin, that's a bad thing.
Right. Tell you what - while the adults are out there doing things to make the world safer, you guys can stay on the playground and keep fighting amongst yourselves.