Obama's US-Russia reset hangs on Senate approval of START treaty
If Obama fails to make good on his weekend vow to get Senate approval of the START nuclear arms control by January, Russia could turn toward China.
President Obama has pledged to make it a top priority to get US Senate approval for the START nuclear arms reduction treaty that he signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, and he says it must get done during the current lame-duck session of Congress.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Russians, who have pinned a lot of their own foreign policy calculations on the success of the treaty, are watching nervously and signaling that future cooperation in trouble zones like Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan is at stake if Mr. Obama fails.
Nuclear arms control is the single area where Russians feel they can sit down and talk with Americans as equals, and Obama's decision last year to make START the engine driving his effort to improve US-Russian relations means that if it stalls now, the entire effort could collapse.
Monitor List article: World's top 10 military spenders
"The START accord was the key result of Obama's policy of 'resetting' relations with Russia, and if it doesn't get ratified it means that the whole concept will have to be rethought," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow.
"For Medvedev, it would be a disaster," he adds. "If START fails, he will immediately face attacks over his policy of making concessions to the US, and we know there are plenty of people here who will say that his decision to cut off arms sales to Iran was against Russia's national interests."
"When we look upon how important Russian support has been" on issues like getting the UN Security Council to approve tough Iran sanctions and setting up a resupply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan through former Soviet territory, "my hope is that because this is a good treaty we should get it done," he said.
Urgency before newly elected Republicans take office
Medvedev and Obama will meet again at the NATO summit this weekend in Lisbon, and Russian experts say they hope to hear good tidings about the fate of START by then.
"This treaty is such an important step for our two countries, but to go further down this road we need to see it ratified," says Gennady Yevstafiev, an expert with the PIR Center, an independent Moscow think tank that specializes in nuclear security issues. "On the other hand, how can we trust the US if the president signs an agreement, but Congress says no? A lot of people are watching this very carefully."