OFF TO A QUICK START

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United States and Russia are fast-tracking a new arms control agreement

Russia and the USA have held the first expert-level consultations on preparing a new strategic offensive arms reduction agreement. This issue will be discussed by the Russian foreign minister and the US secretary of state on May 7, and by the two presidents when they meet in early July.


Late last week, Russia and the USA held the first expert-level consultations on preparing a new strategic offensive arms reduction agreement. This issue will be discussed by the Russian foreign minister and the US secretary of state on May 7, and by the two presidents when they meet in early July. But even at this rapid pace, Moscow and Washington probably won’t be able to reach agreement on a new treaty before START I expires.

A group of experts met in Rome on April 24 for the first consultations. The Russian delegation is led by Anatoly Antonov, director of the Foreign Ministry’s security and disarmement department; the US deleation is headed by Rose Gottemoeller, recently director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, appointed in February as deputy secretary of state for arms control.

At a press conference after the meeting, Gottemoeller said that the talks were off to a quick start. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are scheduled to meet on May 7 to look at a preliminary draft of the new agreement. In July, when President Dmitri Medvedev is due to visit Washington, he will discuss the final version with President Barack Obama.

It isn’t clear whether the two sides will be able to keep up this pace. Russia and the USA still haven’t reached agreement on delivery vehicle reductions. During a recent visit to Finland, President Medvedev confirmed that Moscow still insists that the new treaty’s cuts should apply not only to nuclear warheads, but also to delivery vehicles – ballistic missiles, bombers, and naval missiles.

But even if the delivery vehicles question is resolved, and Medvedev and Obama do sign a new agreement in July, there simply won’t be time for it to come into force by December 5, when START I (signed in July 1991) expires.

Petr Topychkanov, coordinator of the Non-Proliferation Problems program, says: “Documents at that level need to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries.” In the Russian parliament and the US Congress, the treaty will be thoroughly analyzed – a process that takes time.

Nevertheless, says Topychkanov, “there is no need to fear the prospect of Russia and the USA ending up in a legal vacuum regarding WMD reductions as of December 6.” While the new treaty is being developed, START I can be extended via formal ratification or an agreement between presidents Medvedev and Obama. Topychkanov says: “The important point is that the presidents of Russia and the USA are demonstrating the will to achieve a new agreement. The details will be sorted out during the process.”

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