Obama and Medvedev step closer to nuclear weapons-free world
A phone call today between Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev sealed the deal for the US and Russia to reduce strategic nuclear weapons by almost one-third and to halve the number of delivery vehicles, such as missiles and bombers.
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Russian security experts fondly recall that cold war-era arms control began with the 1972 framing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which curtailed further work on defensive weapons. The logic of follow-on SALT and START agreements was based on the certainty that neither side could defend itself from a nuclear attack, and therefore had no option but to negotiate controls on offensive weapons. But President George W. Bush radically altered the strategic landscape, and deeply antagonized the Kremlin, by unilaterally pulling out of the ABM treaty in 2001.Skip to next paragraph
"We face a very different strategic landscape from that in which previous arms control accords were negotiated," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "America needs nuclear weapons less and less, because it is shifting its focus toward high-precision conventional weapons of both defensive and offensive types. Russia, on the other hand, depends increasingly upon its nuclear deterrent as the bedrock of our national security."
Final resolution needed, but roadblocks remain
Some US experts agree that the problem of defensive weapons is likely to resurface, perhaps in dangerous ways, if not dealt with soon.
"The agreement seems to be a compromise on the linkage between offensive and defensive weapons," says Stanley Kober, Research Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. "The Russians, according to the reports, have accepted the linkage implicitly by confining the language to the preamble. They are thus sending a political signal of their intentions... Just as we withdrew from the ABM Treaty, which we were entitled to do, they are indicating they might withdraw from this treaty, assuming it is ratified, if they conclude we are doing things that jeopardize their security."
Experts say future relations between Moscow and Washington will depend heavily on the – as yet unknown – extent to which the US has compromised with Russian demands that the new START accord explicitly link the need to control defensive weapons with the deal to eliminate large numbers of offensive ones.
"Any treaty is a series of compromises, and it seems very likely that the US has accepted some sort of language connecting the two issues," says Mr. Konovalov. "But it seems very unlikely that the Americans would have agreed to anything binding, or which obligates them to curb their plans down the road."
Russia's State Duma last month passed a resolution warning it might refuse to ratify the START deal if it doesn't contain a strong mechanism leading to onward talks to limit antimissile systems, and many conservatives have echoed that sentiment.