Obama in Russia: Good Start or False Start?
Yesterday Presidents Obama and Medvedev called for sharp reductions in the numbers of nuclear weapons in each of their countries arsenals:
July 6 (Bloomberg) — U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev called for a reduction of their nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads and between 500 and 1,100 delivery vehicles, according to a “joint understanding” reached today in Moscow.
Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December, and a 2002 Moscow agreement the maximum allowable number of warheads is 2,200 and the maximum number of launch vehicles is 1,600, according to the document.
There are apparently differences of opinion on the wisdom of this move. In an editorial this morning the LA Times hails it:
The agreement of the two presidents to cut deployed nuclear warheads from the range of 1,700-2,200 each to 1,500-1,675 each, and to reduce delivery systems, sets the stage for negotiations to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires in December. This is a far more modest goal than we would have liked, but perhaps the numbers are less important than the goal itself. The two sides renewed their commitment to pursuing nuclear arms reduction, and that’s what matters.
while professor of defense and strategic studies Keith Payne is more skeptical:
In the first place, locking in specific reductions for U.S. forces prior to the conclusion of the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review is putting the cart before the horse. The Obama administration’s team at the Pentagon is currently examining U.S. strategic force requirements. Before specific limits are set on U.S. forces, it should complete the review. Strategic requirements should drive force numbers; arms-control numbers should not dictate strategy.
Second, the new agreement not only calls for reductions in the number of nuclear warheads (to between 1,500 and 1,675), but for cuts in the number of strategic force launchers. Under the 1991 START I Treaty, each side was limited to 1,600 launchers. Yesterday’s agreement calls for each side to be limited to between 500 and 1,100 launchers each.
According to open Russian sources, it was Russia that pushed for the lower limit of 500 launchers in negotiations. In the weeks leading up to this summit, it also has been openly stated that Moscow would like the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched missiles (SLBMS), and strategic bombers to be reduced “several times” below the current limit of 1,600. Moving toward very low numbers of launchers is a smart position for Russia, but not for the U.S.
I’ll hold my water until we can take the Senate’s temperature on this issue. Recall Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. The president makes treaties but two-thirds of Senate must concur. Any number of treaties negotiated and signed by presidents have languished for lack of the Senate’s support.
UPDATE (James Joyner): I add my two cents’ worth at New Atlanticist: “Russia Summit Achieves Little, As Expected.” The upshot:
Ultimately, then, the two men practiced classic Realpolitik, foregoing public talks about irreconcilable differences while striving to make some advances in areas of mutual interest. That, frankly, falls far short of a “reset” in the relationship that the Obama administration has been touting. But it not nothing.
More at the link.