By André de Nesnera
The U.S. Senate has ratified the New START Treaty. The Senate action, represents a major victory for President Barack Obama who has made better relations with Moscow a cornerstone of his foreign policy.
Steven Pifer is an arms control expert with the Brookings Institution. “If you go back and look at the Georgia conflict and the aftermath, say in September 2008, that was probably the lowest point in U.S.-Russian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The relationship today is much stronger and I think the New START treaty, and the effort that the administration made to address some Russian concerns in that process were important to giving the relationship a much more positive boost,” he said.
Pifer says a key Russian concern was that the Bush administration wanted to limit only nuclear warheads – but not missiles and bombers. The Obama administration, on the other hand, was willing to limit warheads and delivery systems. That led to the final treaty provisions which set a limit of 1,550 deployed strategic – or long-range – nuclear warheads. The treaty also limits to 700 the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear delivery vehicles such as long-range launchers and heavy bombers.
The accord also provides for what the Obama administration calls strong verification measures – provisions that ensure each side complies with its treaty obligations.
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (George H. W. Bush administration, 1992), a proponent of the treaty, says those verification provisions are vital.
“What it does more than anything else is it provides us an opportunity again to be able to assure ourselves through our inspection mechanisms that the treaty is in fact being followed by the Russians,” he said. “Because we will then be able to verify the terms of the agreement and whether they are being followed. We haven’t had that right since the earlier START treaty became inoperative as of about a year ago.”
But some Republican Senators critical of the treaty have said the verification provisions are too weak. And they have argued that the treaty limits U.S. missile defense capabilities.
“The United States must be able to rapidly adapt and respond to new threats to our security,” said Republican Senator John Ensign from Nevada. “Now is the time for more flexible deterrent capability not less. New START is riddled with U.S. concessions from which I can see little gain.”
That view was rejected by administration officials.
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, a private research organization, says the treaty is important not only for U.S.-Russian relations. “It makes a lot of sense from the U.S. national security standpoint. It has the overwhelming support of the U.S. military, the republican and democratic foreign policy establishment, all secretaries of state, former president George Herbert Walker Bush,” he said.
Now that the New START treaty has been ratified by the U.S. Senate, analysts, such as Steven Pifer, are looking at what might be the next step in arms negotiations between Washington and Moscow.
“When he signed the New START treaty back in April, President Obama made clear that he would like to continue, and in the next negotiation, address not only deployed strategic forces but address non-deployed strategic warheads, for example those nuclear warheads that are sitting in storage areas and also address non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons,” he said.
“And that opens up for the first time that the United States and Russia might be negotiating limits on all of their nuclear arsenals with the exception of those weapons that are in the dismantlement queue. That’s going to be a hard negotiation because the sides will get into questions that they haven’t had to address before. The verification challenges will be big,” he added.
But before there is any talk about new arms negotiations, the New START Treaty must now be ratified by the Russian Parliament – or Duma. Experts say that is very likely to happen.