RUSSIA AND USA RESETTING THE START TREATY

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Toward a new strategic arms treaty: opportunities and differences

On May 19, Moscow will see the start of the first official Russian-American negotiations aimed at working out a new strategic offensive arms agreement. The Russian delegation is headed by Anatoly Antonov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s security and disarmament department; the US delegation is headed by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.


On May 19, Moscow will see the start of the first official Russian-American negotiations aimed at working out a new strategic offensive arms agreement. The Russian delegation is headed by Anatoly Antonov, head of the Foreign Ministry’s security and disarmament department; the US delegation is headed by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, until recently the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. The US delegation also includes Robert Einhorn, the State Department official in charge of relations with Russia (formerly with the Center for Strategic and International Studies), and Ellen Tauscher (until recently a member of Congress for California).

One of the controversial points in the new treaty negotiations is expected to be the question of restrictions on warheads held in reserve. Rose Gottemoeller said in early May that in working on a new treaty, the USA is only prepared to consider restrictions on deployed warheads and delivery vehicles. Russia, as usual, is demanding limits on mothballed warheads as well; this demand was emphasized repeatedly by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov when he met with VP Joe Biden in Munich in February. A week ago, however, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow does not intend to say “a categorical no” to the position currently being stated by the Americans. Lavrov visited the USA, meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama; on his way home, he told journalists: “The most important thing is to have an agreement that covers all warheads and all delivery vehicles. As for mothballed warheads, it’s important to work out how their numbers should be tracked. In short, we’re waiting for the American proposal – then we will analyze it, primarily according to equal security criteria.”

According to the plan, the two teams of negotiators are supposed to work out some sort of common principles by July 6, when Obama arrives in Moscow – since according to Lavrov, work on this treaty will be the main item on the agenda for talks between presidents Medvedev and Obama.

While diplomats will certainly manage to report to the heads of state by July 6, it would be extremely difficult to work out the full text of a new treaty by December. For one thing, there are sure to be some technical difficulties; the treaty must be approved by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US State Department, as well as by the Russian Defense Ministry and the US Defense Department. According to sources close to the talks, this could take a very long time. For example, American diplomats have expressed concerns about the fact that most of Russia’s experienced disarmament negotiators have left the Defense Ministry in recent years.

But the political differences between Russia and the USA may prove an even greater obstacle. For example, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said during his visit to Japan: “Russia, of course, will link missile defense issues and everything related to them with strategic offensive arms.” Putin went on to say: “As we understand it, the new US administration has yet to make a decision about the national missile defense system – the European part of it, at least. But it’s entirely obvious that the offensive and defensive components of strategic forces are closely and inextricably interrelated.”

Tying the issues in this way could make signing a new strategic offensive arms treaty practically impossible unless the new US administration decides to radically revise its plans to deploy missile defense elements in Europe. But members of Obama’s team have repeatedly emphasized that the fate of missile defense elements in Eastern Europe depends entirely on the system’s effectiveness. For example, Ellen Tauscher told us that the future of missile defense elements in Europe does not depend on political reasons and will not become an object of Russian-American bartering. At any rate, discussing START in a package with missile defense is bound to delay negotiations and reduce the chances of getting a treaty ready by December.

For Moscow and Washington alike, a strategic offensive arms treaty is largely a matter of image – since negotiating such a treaty would be the first tangible evidence of “pressing the reset button” in Russian-US relations. But if the two countries are unable to reach agreement by December, it would indicate that no real “resetting” has taken place. According to our sources at the Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow’s disillusionment with the Obama Administration has been growing in recent months, since there is still no sign of the Americans being willing to completely reconsider all of the Bush Administration’s positions, including the US stance on missile defense. This means that the July meeting of the two presidents could be the last public demonstration of “resetting” – to be followed by the usual Cold War between Russia and the USA.

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