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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Obama said he reiterated to Medvedev his "commitment to getting the START treaty done during the lame-duck session," he said, referring to the period before January, when newly elected Congressmen take office.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
After Republicans swept midterm elections earlier this month, the key international committee of Russia's State Duma voted to withdraw its pledge of automatic ratification for START. The committee's chairman, Konstantin Kosachyov warned that the whole treaty – now awaiting ratification by a two-thirds Senate vote – might have to be negotiated if Republican senators try to engineer major amendments on the pact.
"I am very much concerned about ratification of the treaty in the US Senate, taking into account the results of the mid-term elections there," Mr. Kosachyov said. "If the 'lame duck' senators do not ratify it in the next two weeks, the chances it will be done by the new Republican-dominated Congress are slimmer than ever."
START failure could push Russia back toward China
The START treaty would reduce the limit on strategic warheads for the US and Russia from the current ceiling of 2,200 to 1,550. It would also establish new procedures to enable both countries to inspect each other's weapons sites to verify compliance.
Unlike the US Senate, there is little chance that Russia's Duma will depart from the Kremlin's chosen script. But analysts point out that Russia is heading into a period of domestic political uncertainty, as the treaty's sponsor, Medvedev, struggles with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the establishment's nomination for presidential elections slated for 2012.
And Mr. Putin has more than once publicly criticized the START deal, for what he and many Russian hawks see as a lack of protection for Russia's ageing nuclear deterrent against US plans to build a globe-girdling missile defense shield.
Putin's concerns are widely shared by Russian military policymakers.
"The principal disagreement is that the Americans tell us: 'Our missile defense program is not aimed against you,' while we say: 'No, according to our calculations it actually is,' " Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said after a visit to the US in September.
Mr. Medvedev has tweaked the Kremlin's foreign policy to become more friendly to the West over the past year, arguing that if Russia hopes to modernize its sagging economy and become a player in the globalized economy, it needs to befriend advanced Western countries and cut loose former associates like Iran, Venezuela, and even China.
"If it turns out that we cannot even get a responsible, mutually beneficial, and properly negotiated arms control treaty accepted, then people will inevitably say the US is not a country we can do business with," says Mr. Kremeniuk.
"There are a lot of people here who say our natural partner should be China," he says. "The danger is that the failure of START could lead to a major strategic reversal."
Monitor List article: World's top 10 military spenders